We live in a very fearful world. We face illness, disease, natural disasters, financial stresses, environmental concerns, the evils that men do to one another, and more.The news media brings us a constant flow of bad reports. We feel relatively safe within our homes and communities, but keep a caution eye out for trouble. The biblical world was equally uncertain for the course of a human life. Yet it was to that world, and ours, that Scripture speaks. God spoke through Isaiah, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”(41:10) Jesus, Almighty God incarnate, came among us to share this fearful life, and to break the power of death for all time. He taught us of God’s Kingdom, a realm beyond fear, a realm that we share even now through faith in Him. We will still face many fearful things throughout our years, but in Jesus Christ we know that those things are not the final word. In Him we have strength to endure. Paul encourages us saying, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 4:6-7)
Our local paper always has a short saying at the bottom of the front page by some famous person. The one yesterday said that is doesn’t matter where one lives in the world or what their culture it is always good to come home after being away. How true. I’ve just come home after three weeks in the hospital and rehab facility. How good it is to be here. We’ve all experienced this when coming home from a vacation, no matter how good a time we’ve had. This seems to be a universal longing to get back to where we belong. I think this universal longing also points to something deeper. We all have a longing to get back to Eden, to the true and pure place of our relationship with our Lord. I’ve written this week about Jesus’ parables of the Kingdom. That is our true home. That is what all of our other longings and desires point to. But it is also what we seek to bring into this present world, at least in many small ways, by our life in Jesus Christ lived for the good of others.
Jesus preached “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand”. Many of his parables began “the Kingdom of God is like…”. What is this Kingdom He is talking about? We believe there is an eternal Kingdom. We speak of going to heaven when we die. But there is another aspect of the Kingdom that is important now. Because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus paying the penalty for our sins we have been brought into God’s Kingdom now. It is a growing reality in our hearts. Paul wrote, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,…”(Colossians 1:13) The Kingdom is not out there in the sweet by and by. We are agents of God’s Kingdom today sharing the truth and grace of that Kingdom in daily words and actions. Just as Jesus and the disciples shared the Good News throughout Israel, so you and I, with the presence of Jesus, share the Good News in our part of the world.
When we share together in worship, Bible study, family, or some other close personal relationships we experience a joy in this fellowship. Likewise, when we view things in this life, the beauty of nature, the miracle of birth, the good relationships we have with people, the relationship we have with our Lord, the answers we have seen to prayers, the changes we have seen the Lord bring about in our life and the lives of others – these are but a little glimpse of the blessing and joy that God has for us in the Kingdom. Paul wrote, “now we
see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face…” (I Corinthians 13:12) We share in the wonder of God’s Kingdom now, and soon we shall have it in its fullness.
In Luke 13 Jesus asks the question “What shall I compare the Kingdom of God to?” and He said “It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough. “(vs.21)This struck me when I read it again recently. Thinking about the yeast mixed into the dough it all looks like one lump. There is no way to visually see where the yeast is, and where the dough is. And then thinking about the definition of what the yeast does. It is a substance that causes fermentation and expansion of the dough. Another definition said that it is “an element that produces an altering or transforming influence”. Consider that dear Christian. I think you probably look pretty much like everyone else in your community. Your clothes, your car, the cell phone you carry, are all pretty much like the rest. But your presence in your community has an expanding effect. It has an altering and transforming influence. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”(John 7:38) You are that yeast where you live, and that is the beginning of the Kingdom.
I need to make a clarification on something I wrote earlier in the week. I was writing about God’s Kingdom being a real place and perhaps making it sound like it is far off and only real after we die. Two friends reminded me that the Kingdom is present wherever our Lord reigns. Jesus said, “repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The Kingdom is present now through faith in Jesus Christ. The Kingdom is in our midst in many ways as God, by His grace reveals Himself, especially through His Holy Word and Sacrament. The Kingdom was present, as I shared on Monday, at the memorial service we had for a beloved sister. We now see the fullness of the Kingdom only dimly, but even that is a magnificent foretaste of all God has prepared for those who love Him. The God’s Kingdom is real, now and forever.
Yesterday I wrote about the memorial gathering being a foretaste of God’s Kingdom. It is interesting when reading the Gospels about Jesus’ preaching and that of the disciples. They all preached about the Kingdom of God. They didn’t present it as some etherial place of eternal bliss in the sweet by-and-by when we die. It is a real place of the greatest beauty, and fulfillment. In the Book of Revelation it is pictured as the New Heaven and New Earth where righteousness dwells. For a couple of days my wife and I are away at a B and B for a time of rest and refreshment. We all plan such trips and vacations. Get-a-ways we call them. But I also think that the desire for a time of internal quiet and renewal is also a desire God has built into us as a longing for the Kingdom. We were created for the Kingdom and our longing is to return to the Garden of our origin. This doesn’t mean, as some may say, that we are so heavenly minded we are no earthly good. Quite to the contrary. Out desire for the Kingdom’s fulfillment increases our desire to share the love of Christ in as many ways as possible so that many will come into a relationship with our gracious Lord. Our message is as it has been since Christ first came among us. Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
When I was in seminary jokes were made about the common conception of the three story universe. We are on earth, heaven is up there somewhere, hell is down below. People often speak that way, but it doesn’t tell us much about God’s Kingdom. Our family, along with many hundreds of others, had the privilege this past Saturday of worshiping in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston at the ordination of our son-in-law, and five other men, into the permanent diaconate of the Catholic Church. It was a marvelous experience. The Cathedral is a majestic place. The music was magnificent. The worshipers joined their voices together in glorious hymns of praise. The liturgy in all of its pageantry conveyed the sense of coming into the holy presence of our Lord. We all shared together in the Eucharist sensing the unity of the Body of Christ with all those, past, present, and future, who are there only because of the sacrificial grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. That service on Saturday morning was a small and imperfect taste of God’s Kingdom. It is a taste that is repeated in my own small congregation in Germantown, and countless other Christian fellowship across this globe. The Kingdom of Heaven is not some place far off, but among us where the eternal values of faith, hope, and love abide.(I Corinthians 13:13) One day we will see that Kingdom fully and brilliantly in the presence of our Lord. But for now God has given us the privilege of seeing it in small ways, even where two join their hearts together in prayer.
As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we know that we are living in two realms. The one is physical, and apprehended by our five senses. The other is spiritual, not made aware to our senses, but nonetheless real. In fact, it is the unseen realm that is truly real and eternal. We do not ignore the physical realm. It is here we live and work. It is here we grow in Christ’s nature. It is here we share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. But it is also here that we face all of the trials and pains associated with our fallen human nature in a broken world. Yet, it is the unseen realm that makes sense out of all we face. Paul wrote, “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. ” (II Corinthians 4:16-18) We do our best in the strength the Lord provides for each day, and draw our hope from the truth He has given us in our Saviour, Jesus.
When a person see a beautiful sight we sometimes hear the expression “it is breathtaking”. There is a sense of awe and wonder concerning the experience. I have a CD recording of Mozart’s Ave Verum that I will sometimes play through my computer while I’m working. I don’t understand the words of the composition but the music and vocals are wonderful. I’ve been in groups of Christians singing a majestic hymn of our faith. At times its beauty has been so great I’ve had to stop singing and let the sound surround me with its wonder. I hope you can identify with this in one form or another. It is more than an emotional experience. It is being enveloped in a beauty beyond words. We can’t live in those experiences continually while on earth, but I think they are windows that God gives for a brief look into the Glory of His kingdom. This is a small glimpse into the glory that awaits all who are in Christ Jesus.