Entering into the kingdom of God
by Jack Wald | December 7th, 2003

Revelation 21:1-5

I want you to close your eyes and imagine you are walking down a country lane. The road is not paved, it is a dirt road. There are no cars or trucks. It is a beautiful day with a blue sky and soft clouds drifting along. There is a grove of trees on the right side with a stream running along the edge of the woods. Sometimes you can see the stream and sometimes it is hidden from view, but you can always hear the water slipping and gurgling by. On the left side there is a large field with horses and cows grazing in the long grass. Birds fly here and there and if you look, you can see butterflies among the flowers. And now as you walk along, Jesus comes up and begins to walk alongside you. You greet each other and begin to talk and enjoy together the beauty of this day. He puts his hand on your shoulder as you walk and you are at peace.

Don’t you long to be there with Jesus? Present, no distance, talking with Jesus as one friend talks to another? The longing we have to be with Jesus in a scene like this was put in our hearts by God and it is what makes us long for the kingdom of God to come in all its fullness.

In case you weren’t here last week, or perhaps slept through the sermon, let me give a quick refresher about the kingdom of God. When Jesus announced his ministry, he said, The kingdom of God is near. Twelve of the parables of Jesus begin with The kingdom of God is like or in Matthew’s gospel The kingdom of heaven is like. The kingdom of God is how Jesus understood his ministry. The kingdom of God is the world for which we all long, a world described in Revelation 21
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

This future kingdom is also a partially present kingdom. In the bulletin there is again this week a diagram to help you understand what I am talking about. We went over this last week so if you were not here, you can read it yourself. The point is that with the ministry of Jesus, the kingdom of God came crashing into this present world and we live in the overlap of the old era and new era. As Jesus reported to John the Baptist who was in prison:
The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.

The kingdom of God is a future reality and a present partial experience. The kingdom of God is here but not yet here. The kingdom of God is already but not yet.

I don’t want to preach again last week’ sermon but if you would like a copy of last week’s explanation of the kingdom of God, indicate that on one of the pew cards and put it in the offering. Understanding this already but not yet experience of the kingdom of God is foundational as we move through these last three sermons on the kingdom of God.

This morning we will talk about entering into the kingdom of God. Our goal is laid out for us in the passage from Revelation.
Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

That is what we long for and that will be our experience in the kingdom of God. As Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden of Eden, so will we walk with God in his kingdom. Genesis says Adam and Eve, in the garden, were naked and unashamed. What that means is they hid nothing from each other and they hid nothing from God. Their relationship with God was completely open and vulnerable. Our relationship with God will be likewise completely open. There will be no distance between us and God.

But where are we now? We are clothed and ashamed. We are separated from God by our sin. Even when we have been brought into a relationship with God through faith in Christ, our experience of God is often distant.

We pray and sometimes feel that our prayers go no higher than the ceiling of the room in which we pray. We go through difficult experiences and long for the comfort of the presence of God and yet feel nothing. And that is the occasional experience of Christians who are in a relationship with God. For others, God is nothing more than an abstract concept. For many people, the church is more real than is God.

So I want to talk about how the kingdom of God is pressing into our lives, allowing us to enter into the kingdom of God. I want to talk about how God has worked to decrease the distance between us and himself.

All cultures of which I am aware have had some sense that God exists and in all these cultures God has been distant and the goal has been to find some way of pleasing God or drawing closer to him. World religions all agree on this problem and have sought some way to solve this problem of distance. Buddhism has the Eightfold Path, Hinduism has the generation of good karma and reincarnation, Islam has its Five Pillars and Judaism has the Law of Moses.

Men and women have worked to solve this problem of being distant from God in the creation and development of religious systems. But even in the case of Judaism when, as we believe, God himself gave to Moses the Law, what we learn is that when it is up to us to do what is required to draw near to God, we will fail. We will always fail. Our efforts will inevitably fail.

What we learn is that we are separated from God and on our own efforts, we will be unable to draw near to him.

The picture painted in Revelation of the kingdom of God is such an appealing one, it matches the longing we have in our hearts. But how will we get there? How can we get to where we long to be?

The good news that we celebrate in Advent, is that God provided the solution to the distance that exists between his creation and himself. God solved the problem of distance.

John began his gospel with this statement:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  2 He was with God in the beginning.

Jesus was present at the creation of the world. Before anything was created, Jesus was present. And then John continues

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

What a mystery! Never underestimate or take for granted what is most amazing. More amazing than the resurrection of Jesus is that he was born a man in the first place so he could die.

In the Christmas concert, we will read part of Augustine of Hippo’s sermon 187. Augustine was a Berber from what is today Algeria and is one of the church’s most influential thinkers. Listen to his description of the mystery of the incarnation, the birth of Christ. Listen to the amazing paradoxes he presents.

Maker of the sun,
He is made under the sun.
In the Father he remains,
From his mother he goes forth.
Creator of heaven and earth,
He was born on earth under heaven.
Unspeakably wise,
He is wisely speechless.
Filling the world,
He lies in a manger.
Ruler of the stars,
He nurses at his mother’s bosom.
He is both great in the nature of God,
And small in the form of a servant.

Talk about this with reverence and awe. Be astounded. Believe but do not hold this truth lightly. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

John talks about the birth of Jesus, God in the flesh, in a more poetic fashion. Luke states it more directly.

In Luke 2, the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds and said to them
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

God took the big step into our world and in that one big incomprehensible step, God became approachable in a way he had never been before. God had been distant. Israel had experienced God in the wilderness as a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day but now John was able to write about his experience of Jesus the Christ, God in the flesh, in this way:

I John 1
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.  3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard,

God took the big step into our world and reduced the distance. The fortunate few who met Jesus and talked with him, were able to experience what we long for ourselves.

But even with the birth of Jesus, God in the flesh, our problem remained. Because of our sin, we still faced eternal separation from God. If God kept being born and living among us, at least those of us living near him would experience his presence, but what happens after we die? Where will we go? We still face the problem of being separated from God.

And so God again worked on our behalf, bringing his kingdom into this present age. When Jesus died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead, all those in relationship with him experienced the same thing. The distance between God and his creation was again greatly reduced. The kingdom of God was brought near.

Nicky Gumble in the Alpha Course video we watched Wednesday night used this illustration. To be in a relationship with Christ is like putting your bulletin in the Bible. The Bible represents Jesus and you are the bulletin. You are in Jesus, in relationship with him. So when Jesus died on the cross, you died with him. When Jesus was buried in the tomb, you were buried with him. That is why the symbolism of baptism by immersion is so powerful. When you go under the water, you are buried with Christ. When Jesus rose from the dead, you rose with him and in baptism you come up out of the water, out of the tomb, raised from death to eternal life.

Each time someone accepts the free gift of salvation offered by God, the kingdom of God crashes into this present world and that person enters the kingdom.

This began at Pentecost. As Luke recorded it in the book of Acts, Peter finished his first sermon:
Acts 2
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”  41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

About three thousand entered into the kingdom of God that day and as Luke describes the days that followed,
the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The kingdom of God expanded and within two hundred years, churches were started all around the Mediterranean Sea, down into India, up into Europe. The church has continued to expand and today a third of the world’s population is Christian, expanding most rapidly in the parts of the world that were unknown at the time of Jesus.

God saw the distance between his creation and himself and was not pleased by it. So he set out to do something about it and that is what we celebrate in Advent and continue to celebrate in a few months in Lent.

How do you stand in relation to what God has done for you? Have you responded to the big step God made in sending Jesus to be born and live among us as a man? Have you responded to what Jesus did on our behalf, dying and being raised to eternal life so that we could die with him and with him be raised to eternal life?

If you have not opened your heart and accepted God’s free gift of salvation or if you have hardened your heart and become preoccupied by what the world has to offer, then let me continue by talking about the themes of four of the 12 parables of Jesus that begin with The kingdom of God or of heaven is like this. Two of these talk about what you deserve and two about what you do not deserve.

What you and I deserve is God’s judgement and Jesus promised that it will come.

In Matthew 13:24, Jesus told the parable of the weeds.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.  25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.  26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 ”‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 ”‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.  30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

In this parable, Jesus was probably referring to a poisonous weed called darnel. When it was growing, it was indistinguishable from wheat. Only when the tufts of wheat appeared on top of the stalks could the difference be observed. For this reason it was against the law to sow darnel in a field. Only enemies did so.

But the point is there will come a day when those in the world and those in the church will be judged and only those in a relationship with Christ will be saved from eternal destruction.

Again in Matthew 13:47
“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.  48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away.  49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous  50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Two boats would pull a net across the lake and all creatures of the lake would be caught up in the net. Then the fishermen would take the inedible and unclean creatures and throw them back.

Again, the point is that there will be a judgement. I prefer that people come to God because of the attractiveness of a relationship with God. I prefer that people open themselves to God because of a longing for an intimate relationship with him. But if it takes a bit of fear to come to Christ, that is not all bad.

For some people, this world is not at all pleasant. For others, this world can be very comfortable. But it matters not whether or not you have a comfortable or uncomfortable life here on earth. Because your life, whatever it is, will one day be ripped from you. You will not be consulted about this. You will have no part in the decision making process. The day is coming and quickly approaching when your life will be taken from you. And then what will you do?

If what we believe is true, you will come to a day of judgement and as you stand in the presence of God awaiting your judgement, I guarantee you that you will regret having paid so much attention to things that did not matter as much as you thought they did. And I guarantee that you will wish you had paid more attention to things that do matter and carry on into eternity.

You deserve judgement and I deserve judgement. But let me end this sermon with some good news. We deserve judgement but we are offered grace.

We don’t have time to go into each of the parables. But the lesson of God’s grace pours sweetly out of each of them. There is the parable of the owner of the vineyard who went into the town to hire laborers. He went in at the crack of dawn and hired men, promising to pay them a day’s wage. He went in again in the middle of the morning and hired more, promising to pay them fairly. He went in again at noon and then in the middle of the afternoon, hired more workers and promised to pay them fairly. At the end of the day, with the sun already beginning to set, he went in one more time and found workers who had done nothing all day. He hired them and once again, agreed to pay them a fair wage.

At the end of the day, he gave each person a day’s wage which upset those who had worked a full day. The workers who had worked all day did not think those who had worked just one hour deserved to be paid the same as they had. The point is that God gives each of us what we do not deserve. He extends his grace to all of us.

You do not deserve to be loved by God and brought into his kingdom and neither do I. But the good news of the gospel is that God loves you and loves me and is bringing us into his kingdom. He is working to reduce the distance that separates us from himself.

There are some who have been in the kingdom of God for as long as they can remember. Some came to a relationship with Christ in their teenage years, others as young adults. Some discovered the truth of God in middle age and some in old age like our Noreen who gave her life to Christ at the age of 84.

It is never too late to escape the judgement you deserve and to receive the gift of salvation you do not deserve. The kingdom of God awaits you.

The last parable is in Matthew 22 and talks about a king who was having a wedding banquet for his son. Those who had been invited refused to come and so he sent his servants out into the streets to find anyone they could find to come to the banquet. That is where I was found and that is where you were found. God searched me out and invited me and invited me again until one day I accepted his invitation.

This morning we celebrate the gift of life God has offered us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is the meal that Jesus promised he would share with us in his kingdom and when we eat the bread and drink the juice, we remember what he has done for us and look forward to the wedding banquet we will share together on the day Jesus comes for his church.

When you come forward for communion this morning, if you have never before given your life to Christ, come to me and we will pray together. When you come forward for communion, make this meal a time when you recommit yourself to seeking God and being his grateful servant. Celebrate the good news that the kingdom of God has come and you have been brought near.