24 May 2020
The Kingdom of God
We’ve been looking at the old testament and understanding the old testament, because without it, we miss out on so much of the character of God which is revealed in it. Many people dismiss the Old Testament, but it helps us to understand our God and our faith so much better. An easy example of this is the concept of the Kingdom of God. We’ve looked at the exodus and all that, and now Israel have entered the promised land, and they conquer it with God on their side. The book of Joshua shows them winning time after time, but then the book of Judges paints a bleak picture. Israel turns away from God. Time after time. And God sends the judges, we all know the story, they do better for a while, then they do worse, over and over, until the time of Samuel. Samuel is the last judge of Israel, and in his time the people finally decide they want a king. And there’s a lot involved with that, God predicted it back in Deuteronomy 17, He made rules about what the king shouldn’t do, and pretty much all of them broke them, and it’s a rebellion against God, a demand for earthly leadership, but none of that is really important now, what’s important now, is we have a tangible kingdom.
Now if we look at the new testament, we see Jesus begin to preach about the kingdom of God, and its not immediately clear what he means. To people who know the Old Testament, and to Jewish people at the time, it should have been very clear. Some people today think that the kingdom of God is heaven, but that’s not really accurate. And some people back then thought Israel was the kingdom of God, but that’s also a bit off. Heaven is the kingdom of God, but the Kingdom of God is not heaven, its like a Venn diagram. Heaven is inside the Kingdom of God, just as Israel, ideally, should have been inside.
The Kingdom of God, very simply, is the reign of God, or God ruling over our lives. This is a bit of a difficult concept, because God is ruler of everything right. But the kingdom of God refers to everything that is in submission to God. So imagine if you went into ancient Israel right now, king David or whoever, would be King of Israel, but he wouldn’t be king over you, because even though you’re in the kingdom, small k, you’re not a member of the Kingdom, big K, and so you’re not in the Kingdom, big K. You’re not submitted to the rule of the king.
This whole thing goes right back to the beginning, to Genesis. When God creates the world, it is perfect, He rules over it, and humans live quite happily under His rule. And then the fall, sin enters, and humans rebel against this rule, we leave the kingdom of God. The world is fallen, in John 12:31, Jesus calls Satan the ruler of this world. And I think if we look around us, we can clearly see that this world is not submitted to God.
So humanity moves out of the kingdom of God. And for a long time, we don’t really hear about this kingdom again, and its not very well known. God makes covenants with Abraham and Moses, but God’s people, the people submitted to his kingship, are a few isolated families, not really much to write home about, they’re not what we would normally call a kingdom. And then the whole Egypt business, and the whole exodus business. God makes a covenant with the people at Sinai, and He demonstrates to them that He is their King, and they are his people. Then they conquer the promised land, and they go spectacularly off the rails. And now Israel wants a king. They already have a King, but they want an earthly king as well. And they get their king, and Israel becomes a ‘proper’ kingdom. And we all know how that went, but God makes a covenant with David. And he promises an eternal throne, that will come from David’s line. And we know they meant Jesus, but Israel didn’t know that. So we have the kingdom of Israel. Kingdom of God right? Not quite. See, Israel was intended to be an example to the nations of what the Kingdom of God looked like- a people submitted to God and protected by Him. And when they got it right, when they submitted to God, things went amazingly for them. They were unstoppable. But they could never keep it up.
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.””
Mark 1:14-15 ESV
The kingdom of God is where people are submitted to Him, and in relationship with Him. Except that because of sin and the brokenness of the world, we couldn’t, Israel couldn’t maintain it. But then Jesus came. And we were reunited with God. The relationship is restored and our citizenship is bought. And Jesus says the Kingdom of God is at hand. Its here, its at your hand. We’re invited in, and we don’t even need to go anywhere.
So this brings us back to the important question. What is the Kingdom of God. Its Peace, its Healing, Joy, it’s perfect relationship with God. How it works with a king is, yes you submit to Him, and you follow His rules, but He also protects you, He takes care of you, He manages the kingdom to ensure that everyone is safe and protected, and doing good. It’s not an earthly Kingdom, but it is a kingdom which can be found on Earth. Its reconciliation, its redemption, it’s harmony between God and His creation, each thing in its proper place. John Piper describes it as “his sovereign action in the world to redeem and deliver a people and then at a future time finish it and renew his people and the universe completely.”
So we look at the Old Testament, and we look at Genesis, and we see the Kingdom of God. And then we look at Samuel, and Kings and Chronicles, and the prophets, and we see a kingdom, but an imperfect one. And we see that God wants us in His kingdom. He keeps forgiving. He keeps giving Israel another shot. And they blow it every time, but then He gives them another chance. And this is the important thing, we can’t get there. And its our own fault, we were in, before we rebelled. And then we were outside. But now, its accessible. Jesus has thrown the doors wide open. He says I’ve organised passports for everyone, I’ve got homes prepared, everything is ready, everything is paid off, all you need to do, is accept this passport. But accepting the passport means accepting the two-way relationship with the King. Submit to Him, and He will protect you, He will allow you into His kingdom, which is the garden.
So what’s the takeaway? Sunday 24 May in the Methodist Church is known as Aldersgate Sunday. Because on this day, many years ago, John Wesley, fresh from a missions trip to America, was incredibly disheartened. He was doubting his faith, and at a really difficult time. But he went to a church service, in Aldersgate street, and while the pastor was reading about the change that God works in people’s hearts through faith, Wesley ‘felt his heart strangely warmed’ and, in his words, he felt sure of his salvation, he did believe in Christ. In that moment, John Wesley experienced a taste of the kingdom of God. The same way that every miracle that Jesus did was not for the sake of flash or renown, but to demonstrate the kingdom of God. Healing, Forgiveness, perfect relationship. The Israelites couldn’t do it. They couldn’t get it right, but our entrance is paid. We’re citizens, we’re subjects.
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”
John 17:14-16 ESV
We are not of this world. As believers, we are part of the Kingdom of God. The everlasting Kingdom that the Israelites waited hundreds of years for.