“The Kingdom of God” (Part 3)

Here is an article that reads like something out of an Indiana Jones movie!

It was Jan. 27, 1492, when workers at work in the basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, which was undergoing major renovations at the time, discovered, behind a brick, a lead casket, closed by three wax seals, and on which was written Ecce lignum crucis, “Behold the wood of the cross.” Inside the casket was the Titulus Crucis. The first to report the news of the discovery of the “arcula plumbea” that preserved the Titulus Crucis was a chronicler of the time, Leonardo di Sar zana (or Leonardo Sarzanese), who a few days later, on February 4, wrote a letter in Latin to a learned correspondent of his, Jacopo Gherardi known as “il Volaterrano” (the missive is preserved in the Vatican Library, in a codex, the Vatican Codex 3912, which collects a number of letters sent to Volaterrano): “there is no doubt, reverend father,” the letter reads, “that this piece of wood is a part of that most sacred wood on which our Savior was hung, fixed with nails, and are truly the titles of his gallows, of which the evangelists testify.”[1]

Wow! That is a fascinating thought, is it not, that we might possess the actual sign that hung over Jesus on the cross? But is this authentic? Do we have the actual inscription? While the titulus crucis certainly has its champions, the evidence would appear to point elsewhere: That it dates somewhere from the 10th to the 12th century. So, sadly, likely not! Such is the way of relics!

And yet, this much is true: There was a sign hung above the head of Jesus on the cross and it did proclaim Jesus as King. In fact, the fact of the inscription on the cross belongs to a group of facts that is actually mentioned in all four gospels: in Matthew 27:37, Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38, and in John 19:19.

It would be quite a find to find that sign, but would you like to know what would be even better? Even better than finding the sign that says “Jesus is King” would be you and me becoming the sign that says “Jesus is King.” And, in fact, we are called to do this very thing: To be living advertisements for King Jesus, to point the world to Him through our words and our actions.

Church, Jesus is King! No consideration of the Kingdom of God can proceed without a close consideration of Jesus as King!

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Matthew 27:11–14

Matthew 27

11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

There is an interesting article at News Nation Now entitled “‘Muzzle him like Hannibal Lecter’: ‘Banfield’ on Waukesha suspect.” It is about the unruly behavior a defendant named Darrell Brooks, Jr. who was representing himself in a Waukesha County courtroom on “77 charges, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and 61 counts of reckless endangerment, for allegedly driving his vehicle into a Nov. 21 parade.” Brooks’ dismissed his attorney and represented himself before Judge Jennifer Durow.

Representing oneself in court is unusual but allowed, based on the 6th Amendment. The real problem with Darrell Brooks’ approach here was not that he represented himself, but how he did it. The article talks about Brooks’ “constant outbursts” in court, his occasional refusal “to recognize his own name,” and his extremely “disruptive” behavior.

“It’s what you call remarkable judicial restraint,” NewsNation’s Ashleigh Banfield, who has covered hundreds of controversial, high-profile court cases, said while discussing the case with her Friday night panel. “It has also had a lot of court watchers steaming mad that she didn’t smack him down, put him in his place, and just muzzle him like Hannibal Lecter.”

“Banfield” story editor Paula Froelich said she “can’t believe this is happening in a taxpayer-funded court.”

“This man is literally acting like a 9-year-old. The judge can’t get a word out. … I don’t know that much about the law, and I just have to ask, How is this happening? Why is he considered competent? How is this allowed to go on?”[1]

In point of fact, some judges finally do have enough of unruly defendants and have them muzzled or their mouths duct taped.

That is an amazing thought, is it not: a defendant who will not stop talking and who is so disruptive that they have to be muzzled!

What is most interesting about the trial of Jesus is that people were disturbed by the exact opposite behavior. Jesus’ silence seemed to enrage or perplex the authorities before who He was standing. Pontius Pilate seemed to be particularly confused by it. And this raises an interesting question: Why was Jesus so silent throughout His trial? When He speaks, it is brief and oftentimes enigmatic. But, mainly, He is silent. Why?

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“The Kingdom of God” (Part 2)

The story of the world is the story of a King and His Kingdom. That this fact has been neglected by many evangelicals is a deep tragedy, for without a proper doctrine of the Kingdom of God we read scripture poorly, we pray poorly, we worship poorly, and we understand the gospel poorly. That Jesus is King and that He has come to proclaim the Kingdom is at the heart of the gospel itself.

We have defined the Kingdom of God in this way:

The Kingdom of God is the reign and rule of God that has broken into the fallen world definitively in Jesus, is now proclaimed by and demonstrated in the lives of God’s people, and will come in fullness and completion with the victorious coming again of Jesus.

Now we need to see how the Kingdom of God fits into the story of the world.

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Matthew 27:1–10

Matthew 27

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor. Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”

In the National Museum of Ireland there is a cross that is most interesting. On this cross we see a carving of Christ crucified along with some other carved symbols. But below the feet of Jesus there is a most fascinating and strange sight: There is a drawing of a rooster above a pot! What on earth does that mean?

In fact, the strange image of the rooster above the pot is alluding to a legend about Judas. Here is one description of it:

The story goes that Judas got home after betraying Jesus and asked his wife for a rope so that he may hang himself, as he knew that Jesus was to return from the dead on the third day.

His wife, dismissing this, drew his attention to the cock that she was cooking in a pot. She told Judas that Jesus had as much chance of returning from the dead as the cock had of coming back to life from the pot that she was cooking him in.

No sooner had she spoken the words than the cock flew out of the pot and crowed, sending Judas into despair.[1]

In these legends, the cock represents either Jesus or the resurrection of Jesus. In one rendering of it, this is the cock that crowed Peter’s denials, and he will also fly over Judas Iscariot’s body as it hangs from the rope!

All of these legends seem to be trying to say the same thing, albeit in a fanciful way: Judas could not escape his dastardly crime of betrayal just as he could not escape the resurrection of the Jesus He betrayed!

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“The Kingdom of God” (Part 1)

There is a phrase in the Bible that is pervasive yet is strangely ignored in modern evangelical life. At least it is not given the attention it deserves. It is certainly not given the attention it is given in scripture. For instance, the late theologian James Leo Garrett Jr. writes of this phrase that it is used

153 times in the King James New Testament. Basileia in the divine sense is used 52 times in the Gospel of Matthew, 43 times in Luke, and 16 times in Mark, but only five times in John. It appears eight times in the Acts, 13 times in the Pauline epistles, four times in the general epistles, and five times in Revelation.

In fact, Garrett writes, the importance of this neglected phrase in

both testaments can hardly be overstated. It is a “theme” that is “central not only to the faith of Israel but also to the Gospel.” It is “the bond that binds” the two testaments “together.”[1]

What is this neglected phrase, this phrase that is so pervasive throughout scripture and so neglected in the church today? It is this: “the Kingdom of God.” In Matthew’s gospel it will be rendered “the Kingdom of Heaven,” but this is just another way of saying “the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew was being sensitive to his Jewish audience by respectfully using “Heaven” instead of “God.”)

The neglect of this doctrine is deeply unfortunate, is injurious to churches, robs our witness and preaching of its full power, and gives us a stunted vision of who Jesus is and what He has done and is doing in the world.

Our challenge is this: to return to a full, robust, healthy, biblically-informed, church-shaping, witness-empowering, God-honoring, Jesus-glorifying, life-transforming, sanctification-enhancing, worship-encouraging understanding of the Kingdom of God. Our purpose this morning is to introduce the idea and say a word about its importance. Then, over the next many weeks, we will unpack the inescapable conclusions this important doctrine presents to us.

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Matthew 26:69–75

Matthew 26

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” 71 And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Mark 16:7 has an interesting little element in it that has caused no little comment over the years. The chapter begins with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome going to the tomb of Jesus on Sunday morning. The stone has been rolled away. They go in and they see “a young man” sitting in there “on the right side, dressed in a white robe.” He pronounces Jesus’ resurrection in verse 6 and then, in verse 7, says the interesting thing. The English Standard Version renders it like this:

But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

Have you ever noticed that: “…tell his disciples and Peter”? Commenting on this, Russell Saltzman notes that some render the phrase in question as “tell his disciples, even Peter…” But “even Peter” is probably not right. Even so, writes Saltzman, there may be reason to see something in “the young man’s inflection when saying and Peter to the women, as if expressing some small but not unnatural hesitation over words he is commanded to speak.” Saltzman writes further:

Knowing just a little about Peter as reported from the gospels, even Peter is the more sensible approach. Can you hear the young man? “Go and give this message to his disciples . . . [long pause, heavy sigh, a reluctantly mumbled] . . . even Peter.”

Other translations put this as (long pause, resigned heavy sigh) including Peter. A contemporary paraphrase renders it as and don’t forget to tell Peter, which leads me to wonder if the young man may have worried they might not. That line—I can hear it spoken in the voice of the anhedonic stuffed donkey, Eeyore.[1]

That is indeed interesting, no? “But go, tell his disciples and Peter…” Why is he, Peter, the lead disciple, singled out when it comes to the good news of the resurrection? Perhaps because, outside of Judas Iscariot, Peter had the most colossal collapse of all the disciples. He denied Jesus three times. So maybe the “young man” is nodding toward Peter’s denials with his strange “and Peter”…but, then again, maybe he was grinning when he said “and Peter” and was thereby nodding toward God’s grace! Who knows?

Yes, there is shame in Peter’s behavior…and there is beauty in God’s grace to Peter. But let us consider first Peter’s ignominious denials.

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Philippians 4:10–23

Philippians 4:10–23

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. 21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

One of the more fascinating articles I think I have ever read was written by Daniel Cordaro for Greater Good Magazine: Science-Based Insights for a Meaningful Life. It is entitled “What If You Pursued Contentment Rather Than Happiness?” In it, Cordaro discusses how, while at Yale University, he led a research team seeking to understand the human mind throughout time and culture.

In their research, one of the last groups they studied was a “remote group of former nomads high in the Himalayas of Eastern Bhutan.” This group was “one of three uncontacted villages on planet earth.” They traveled deep into the Himalayas and came to the village of around 200 families. There, they opened up their laptop and exposed the villagers “dozens of facial and vocal expressions.” These folks had “no electricity, no internet, no cell phones, no printed media—nothing.”

Cordaro and his team were impressed by how accurately these villagers identify the various emotions expressed in image and sound. He writes:

But there was one emotion that didn’t behave like all the others. It was different.

The emotion was contentment, and while we were working on translating our study, our guide, Dr. Dorji Wangchuk, stopped for a moment when we reached this word. “In our culture, this emotion is very special. It is the highest achievement of human well-being, and it is what the greatest enlightened masters have been writing about for thousands for years.” Now that was a conversation starter, and I asked him for the translation. “It’s hard to translate it exactly, but the closest word is chokkshay, which is a very deep and spiritual word that means ‘the knowledge of enough.’ It basically means that right here, right now, everything is perfect as it is, regardless of what you are experiencing outside.”

This was the moment when lightning struck for me, and I immediately felt chills down my entire body. No matter where I went on planet earth, all of the cultures I interacted with revered contentment as one of the highest states to cultivate in life. Yet in the West, we were obsessing about happiness—and feeling more anxious, depressed, and stressed. I decided to dig in and see what kind of ancient secrets could be revealed through a scientific investigation of the most underappreciated emotion in history: contentment.

In fact, Cordaro and his team finally concluded that human beings around the globe adopt one of two basic strategies for living life: “More Strategy” or “Enough Strategy.”

In “More Strategy,” people want more and more and more. The problem with “More Strategy,” he writes “is that it’s simply not sustainable.” In “Enough Strategy,” people are content. One more statement from Cordaro:

While poring through thousands of years of ancient wisdom traditions, my team and I were shocked to find that the ancients almost never used the word happiness when they were talking about what it means to be well. More than 90 percent of the time, they used the word contentment, and described it as a state of “unconditional wholeness,” regardless of what is happening externally.[1]

This is absolutely fascinating.

It seems to me that contentment is most challenged by two realities: lack and gain. When we have little. When we have much.

Interestingly, in the prison cell from which he wrote the letter to the Philippians, Paul experienced both of these realities. He experienced the lack that prison presents its occupants. And he experienced the gain of a very kind gift sent by the Philippians through their courier, Epaphroditus.

In our text, Paul concludes his letter by reflecting in the crucible of the collision between lack and gain. And what he says is profoundly helpful to us in the living of these days.

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Philippians 4:4–9

Philippians 4:4–9

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

A 2009 Christianity Today editorial quotes the famed theologian Karl Barth as saying:

It is astonishing how many references there are in the Old and New Testaments to delight, joy, bliss, exultation, merry-making, and rejoicing, and how emphatically these are demanded from the Book of Psalms to the Epistle to the Philippians.

The editorial continues:

Indeed, from “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth!” (Ps. 100:1) to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4)—and dozens of places before and after and in between—we are urged to lead joy-filled lives.

When believers do a little self-reflection, not many of us point to joylessness as the thing that needs attention. Mostly we flagellate ourselves for our undisciplined discipleship. We issue calls to repent of our consumerism, sign ecumenical concords to heal our divisions, and issue manifestos to care for the poor and the planet. No one has yet issued a joint ecumenical statement on the need for Christians to be more joyful.

Yet it’s right there in the Bible, over and over: “I say it again: Rejoice!”[1]

I think that is a fascinating thought! Think about it: If joy is a command throughout scripture, when is the last time you prayed and repented of your lack of joy? If it is a command, which it is, should we not grieve over the violation of it as much as over the violation of any other command?

Indeed, it is a command, as we find in Philippians 4. In fact, in verses 4–9, Paul lays out a number of elements that should constitute the believer’s disposition.

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Philippians 4:1–3

Philippians 4:1–3

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

In an astonishing article entitled, “One Japanese Soldier Continued to Fight for 30 Years After WWII,” James Barber of military.com tells the story of Hiroo Onoda.

When Japanese soldier Hiroo Onoda was deployed to Lubang in the Philippines in 1944, he was instructed to hold the remote island until the Japanese Army returned. Onoda took the orders very seriously and fought a guerrilla war on the island for more than 10,000 days until he finally surrendered in 1974.

This is an absolutely true story. It’s not like his country forgot him. Search parties could not convince Onoda that Japan had lost the war. They carried photos from Onoda’s family members, but he thought they were fakes because, since his hometown had been bombed and rebuilt, the buildings in the images didn’t match his memories.

For most of his lonely war, Onoda served alongside fellow Japanese soldier Kinshichi Kozuka, but Kozuka fell in 1972 when he was shot by the local Filipino police. When Onoda returned to Japan, he wrote a bestselling memoir, married and lived quietly until he died at age 91 in 2014.[1]

Again, this is astonishing! In the article, Barber asks, “How does a soldier know when the war is over?” It is a good question.

In many ways, a lot of us are like Hiroo Onoda. We are born into a world of conflict and we are conditioned by our fallen nature and the world to maintain combat readiness and, indeed, combative engagement. But when we come to Jesus, He tells us that all of that is over. Jesus brings us peace. Jesus tells His disciples that the war is over between them. But sometimes it takes some time for followers of Jesus to learn that they really can lay their arms down and embrace the peace that Christ has won. Sometimes we have to learn over time a new posture, a new mindset.

This fact is demonstrated in our text. Here, Paul is going to encourage two women in the church to stand together in unity and peace. What is more, he is going to encourage the church to help them lay down their arms.

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Philippians 3:17–21

Philippians 3

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

In 1686, Isaac Newton presented his three laws of motion. They are:

  1. An object at rest remains at rest, and an object in motion remains in motion at constant speed and in a straight line unless acted on by an unbalanced force.
  2. The acceleration of an object depends on the mass of the object and the amount of force applied.
  3. Whenever one object exerts a force on another object, the second object exerts an equal and opposite on the first.[1]

Newton’s third law—more popularly expressed as “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”—is not only a scientific law, it is also a social and religious law.

It is true: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Movement in one direction will result in equal movement in the opposite direction unless something disrupts the movement.

Human beings tend to live in the extremes, and perhaps nowhere more clearly than in how they relate to God.

Now, God is the great center and grounding of all life. He is reality itself and the foundation of life itself. But human beings, fallen as we are, wildly and widely miss the grounding of God by our frantic and mad efforts to grasp Him. So we continuously swing past the grounding foundation of God while moving toward this or that extreme.

We see this in the scriptures. Paul had to deal with it all the time. And we see it now in his next words to the Philippians.

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