This is part 7 of our 8 part series on the church. What is it that we are called to do and be?
Our covenant says that we will be “zealous in all our efforts to advance the Kingdom of our Saviour.”
So a question immediately comes to mind: What is the Kingdom?
The Kingdom of God is something which is shockingly absent from a lot of what we say and do as Christians. Only in recent decades has there been a real renewed interest in understanding the Kingdom of God- what it is, how it functions and what place it should hold in our overall theology.
You got a sample of it last week. Last week we talked about the gospel; and in particular the victory of God over sin and death through the risen Jesus, who entered death on our behalf, and rose that death may be defeated.
Jesus, while he was here on earth proclaimed the the “Gospel of the Kingdom”- the great victory of God in Jesus Christ, the King, who was reclaiming his place as rightful King over all things. The Gospel of the Kingdom is just that- sin and death invaded God’s creation and set up shop. So the King invaded to reclaim his place as Lord, and he does so by defeating sin, death, and evil in all its forms.
Jesus talked about the kingdom A LOT. In fact, one scholar refers to the Kingdom as Jesus’ “favourite term” (Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel, 93). Or as N.T. Wright puts it, “Jesus’ characteristic message was the announcement of the Kingdom” (Jesus and the Victory of God, 227) Just flip through the pages of the 4 books we call gospels and you’ll see a ton of references to Kingdom. Here’s some stats in Matthew: 50 occurrences, Luke: 39, Mark: 14, John: 9. That’s 112 total references to the Kingdom. So we should probably stop and take notice of something that vital to Jesus’ work and message.
Part of the problem is that the teaching on the Kingdom is somewhat tricky. It comes largely through parables.
The Kingdom is like…
- a mustard seed
- a man scattering seeds
- a fishing net
- a hidden treasure
- a merchant in search of pearls
- a master hiring workers for a vineyard
- a king settling accounts
- a king preparing a wedding banquet
- Ten virgins with lamps
- a master entrusting money to his servants
Defining the kingdom can at times feel something like nailing jell-o to the wall. We don’t have a set of factual statements about the Kingdom, just metaphoric language for the most part, so it remains somewhat elusive, but we’ll give it a try here this morning.
The Kingdom is not geographical or political in nature. Basilea first and foremost means the reign or right to rule, or authority (For more on this see N.T. Wright’s New Testament and the People of God or Jesus and the Victory of God both of which I’m slowly plodding my way through). The Kingdom rightly understood is the sovereign reign of God. It is part of who God is. That is something that will help make everything else clear. How can a mustard seed be like a political or geographic Kingdom? But if we understand Kingdom to mean the reign of God, we can see how it starts in a small way but grows and flourishes and produces fruit.
The parable of the weeds gives us some keen insight into this mysterious Kingdom. Matthew presents a lot of these Kingdom parables and he does it in clusters. Here in chapter 13, we get a cluster. Our parable for this morning is one of 6 parables which have similar themes. The reason I wanted to use this one is that it illustrates the two most common themes of the Kingdom parables. The breaking in of the Kingdom in this age and the theme of the separation as the Kingdom arrives in fullness.
The Kingdom breaks into the present, but somehow it is still something off in the distance. The Kingdom is both present and future. It is already, but not yet. But how on earth can that be? One of the reasons Jesus was rejected by so many was the fact that he announced the arrival of the Kingdom, but sin and evil were hanging around (See Jesus and the Victory of God chapt. 6). If the Kingdom has come, surely the enemies of God will be destroyed, and his people will enjoy blissful existence.
But Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God grows up with weeds (sin, evil, death). The two share geographic space. The Kingdom and evil coexist. There is overlap. The kingdom of this age has not yet been eradicated. But one day, the weeds and the grain will be separated.
But we know the Kingdom is here. Jesus reveals something about the Kingdom no one really understood.
Rom. 14:17: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” Paul in this instance is pointing to the inability of men to please God through Torah obedience, and that through the coming of the Holy Spirit, we are able to live as people of the Kingdom.
Col. 1:13: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”
Lk 17:21: “nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Jesus says that his presence on earth is indicative that God’s Kingdom has arrived, and we do not need to be looking elsewhere.
But it is also something we will only truly see in the future.
Mt. 13:43: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
25:43: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”
2 Pet 1:11: “and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
All of these point to the day in which the King returns, and his enemies are dealt with, and we experience eternal life with Him.
In the present, the Kingdom is not coming with force. It comes with influence, it draws people in. It works like yeast, not a conquering army. The Kingdom of God penetrates into history, and begins to work. It will never be fully realized until God makes it happen. But for now, we have the Kingdom being revealed. The grain is growing. We have a taste of the Kingdom. Not the full banquet. (G.E. Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, 41) Jesus brings the real Kingdom, but we have not experienced yet all that the Kingdom is. Although we belong to the Kingdom, we are to remain in the world. We are to “rub shoulders” with those who are not of the Kingdom.
But when the fullness comes, it comes with separation. The righteous and the unrighteous are separated.
Sheep and goats.
God judges, and reveals who is on which side of the divide. In the present, he appeals to all to be on the side of the Kingdom.
One day, who falls on which side of the fence will be revealed. We’ll see who is grain and who is weed. But it is God who does it. We are not judges and now is not the time of judgment. That’s not our job. Our job is to draw folks into the Kingdom. To take in us the gospel of the Kingdom and get the word out. To offer grace and proclaim peace in Jesus’ name; to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand. (For more on separation and the present character of the Kingdom, see G.E. Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, 54-58)
So why does God do it this way. Why not just separate things now? Why allow the weeds to come up and threaten the grain?
Well, the owner of the field in this parable says don’t pull up the weeds because you may inadvertently pull up grain too. Ever have a weed problem in you lawn? When you pull them up, you usually end up with little holes in your lawn. The grass comes up with the weeds. The weeds have this way of interweaving themselves with the good stuff. Sinfulness gets wrapped around us sometimes, and to remove it comes with a cost. Sin has all sorts of collateral damage.
But the other reason is something we don’t see in the parable. Parables have limits. They are earthly pictures of spiritual truth, sometimes they can’t present everything fully. There’s one thing we don’t see in the parable, one question- what if the weeds don’t have to be weeds? What if the weeds can actually become grain? What if evil can be transformed?
We know that the gospel causes a transformation. The old life is put to death with Christ, and we are raised as something new. God doesn’t remove the weeds yet, because he wants to see them become grain. God doesn’t separate his people from the sinful world, because he expects us to help others come to know the power of the Kingdom. As Peter tells us “he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9. God has not brought in the separation and cast aside all those who do not belong to him yet, because he wants all to come to him. His mission of the Kingdom is ongoing. (thanks to Zack Hunt of The American Jesus for this post which illuminated this aspect of the parable)
So that’s where we come in.
We are agents of this Kingdom initiative which God has brought in Jesus Christ. We are to be part of the proclamation- a light to the world.
We have been made new, and as such, should be somehow different than the world around us.
1 Peter 2:11: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
Peter is echoing Jesus words from the Sermon on the mount (Matt 5:14-16): “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
We as citizens of Heaven should be noticeably different.
When we proclaim the Kingdom without the fruit, it’s dangerous. But on the flipside we can’t just live good lives without proclamation; we need to tell gospel of the Kingdom. But as citizens and ambassadors or message will be hurt dramatically if we aren’t living out the gospel.
We, as citizens and ambassadors of the Kingdom are a community of those loyal to the King, and hopefully willing and able to do his work. We are to be about the master’s business- advancing the Kingdom, which is what Centre Street Baptist has agreed to make a priority.