Posts Tagged 'Kingdom of God'

Just Say Yes, Part 7

Many people in the New Testament said “yes” to Jesus, and none of them regretted it. Saying “yes” to Him is essentially what faith is all about. These people said “yes” to Jesus and they got what the needed because saying “yes” to Jesus is not only an expression of faith, but it is also obedience to God’s Word. When we say “yes” to the Lord, we are creating the conditions necessary to receive the promises of God and answers to our prayers.

We’ve looked at six people who said “yes” to Jesus:

• A couple of blind men gave the “yes” of faith to Christ’s offer of mercy and healing, Matthew 9:28;
• Some disciples said to “yes” to Christ’s question of teaching, Matthew 13:51;
• The Syrophoenician woman replied, “yes” to being a dog – a lost soul in need of healing and salvation, Matthew 15:27;
• Martha, Lazarus’ sister, said “yes” to Jesus being the Resurrection, John 11:27;
• In all, three times Peter said “yes” to the Lord when asked, “Do you love me?”, John 21:15, 16;
• While on the island of Patmos, John said “yes” to Jesus’ statement that He is coming soon, Revelation 22:20.

Fine examples all of people who said the right thing to Jesus. But I’ve saved the best “yes” till the end. It wasn’t just followers of Jesus who said “yes” to Him, He said “yes” to Somebody, too.

Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. (Matthew 11:26 | NIV84)

That’s Jesus saying “yes” to the Heavenly Father. It’s actually a very rare glimpse into one of Jesus’ prayers. Tasker wrote,

Here recorded is one of the most precious pieces of spiritual autobiography to be found in the synoptic Gospels. It shows that the dominant characteristic of His Incarnate life was obedience to His Father’s will.

A discouraged prophet

It all started with a question:

Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2 | NIV84)

A very discouraged John the Baptist was losing faith. He sent some of his friends to Jesus to ask that very question. He had been stuck in prison for a while and he heard some puzzling things about the Man he introduced to the world as The Messiah. If Jesus was the Messiah, why was he still in prison? Why was Jesus showing no signs of Messianic activity, like judgment of the wicked that Jesus Himself had promised to do? He had some serious doubts and Jesus.

It’s hard to believe that a man like John the Baptist could ever have doubts. He was tough. He lived an austere life. He was devoted to his singular mission: to pave the way for the Messiah. If a stand up guy like John the Baptist could have his doubts, don’t be too hard on yourself or fellow believers if doubt floats into your heads. Even the most courageous and faithful of God’s servants experience doubt from time to time. But we can take a lesson from John: He essentially confessed his doubts to Jesus; he didn’t keep them bottled up inside. Doubt is the very beginning of faith, if you play your cards right.

If John the Baptist had his doubts about Jesus, Jesus had no doubts about John!

I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist… (Matthew 11:11a | NIV84)

But our Lord said more than that. He reassured John that He was the Messiah, not by giving him the “proof” he was asking for, but evidence. Faith is NOT about proof; it’s about evidence. God is His own proof and faith is accepting that fact. Here’s the evidence Jesus gave John:

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 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. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matthew 11:4 – 6 | NIV84)

It may not look like it to you, but Jesus is paraphrasing Isaiah 35:5 and 61:1 as evidence that He was the promised Messiah. The evidence was that He was fulfilling the ancient prophecies about what the Messiah would be doing when He arrived on the scene. The Messianic Age had arrived because Jesus was doing exactly what the promised Messiah would be doing!

After giving John comfort; reassuring His cousin that He was truly the Messiah, Jesus paid him the highest compliment in front of everybody: Nobody was greater than John the Baptist. But then, Jesus says this:

yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11:11b | NIV84)

That’s a highly contested verse. Chrysostom and Luther believed that “the least” refers to Jesus Himself. Jesus was “least” in the sense that He was younger than his cousin, that John came first, that it was John who baptized Him, and that for a while, John was more famous thanHe. That could be what Jesus meant. Or it could be that Jesus was referring to the “least” Christian. The “least” Christian is greater in privilege than John because John was still part of the Old Testament dispensation.

What Jesus said next is startling:

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. (Matthew 11:12 | NIV84)

That’s a powerful verse, and it would have been something John the Baptist needed to hear. The kingdom of Heaven is coming; nothing can stop the Kingdom from advancing – from taking over this world of ours, and only those who are determined and devoted and committed can “lay hold of it,” or enter it, or be a part of it. Sitting in prison, feeling sorry for himself, John the Baptist was not the “forceful” man he should have been; the “forceful” man he always had been. This is Jesus trying to buck up his cousin. John the Baptist was better than this and he knew it.

The essence of verses 12 and 13 is found over Luke’s Gospel, but in the opposite order:

The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. (Luke 16:16 | NIV84)

It takes an effort to keep the faith. You can’t be lazy in walking the road of faith which leads into the Kingdom of Heaven. There’s no room for people sitting around watching the grass growing.

Jesus’ estimation of the world around Him

To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: “ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’” (Matthew 11:16, 17 | NIV84)

A lot of people found fault with John the Baptist; they thought he was a little weird. But these same people thought Jesus was off His rocker, too, even though His way of life was drastically different from that of John.

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” ’ (Matthew 11:18, 19 | NIV84)

There was literally no way anybody could please these immature child-like adults. The people of Jesus’ day were like kids playing around at life; they were not serious people. They didn’t take John the Baptist seriously and they didn’t take Jesus seriously, either.

Not only the Jews, but the rest of the world was lost.

Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. (Matthew 11:20 | NIV84)

A person pays a high price when they witness the evidence that Jesus is Lord but then refuses to do the right thing. Their’s was a singular privilege; Jesus was living among them. His headquarters was there. He was preaching and teaching in those cities. He was performing miracles there. Yet they rejected Him. Verse 24 is one of the harshest statements ever made by Jesus Christ:

But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you. (Matthew 11:24 | NIV84)

This whole paragraph stands forever as a warning to all who have witnessed and experienced the presence of God and seen His power manifested but who refuse to repent. People like that, and make no mistake there are many of them, will be doubly condemned for their rejection of the light they have received.

Jesus is talking about godless cities, but John the Baptist was still on our Lord’s mind even as He rebuked and denounced the people who saw the evidence with their own eyes but still rejected Him. Jesus didn’t want His cousin; His friend; His co-worker to end up like the cities He rebuked. John the Baptist’s doubts couldn’t become more; they couldn’t take over the Baptist’s heart and soul.

Jesus and the weary

And that gets us almost to Jesus’ “yes.” Here’s what He said to God the Father just before He said “yes”:

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Matthew 11:25 | NIV84)

Even though Jesus was rejected by these proud cities, He was accepted by what we might call, “the common folk.” This is the first time in public that Jesus referred to God as His “Father,” but He also refers to Him as “Lord of heaven and earth.” That takes us right back to the beginning, to the book of Genesis, where we see that God is the Lord of heaven and earth; He created all that exists and He is the Father of Jesus Christ! And Jesus Christ is the revealer of God the Creator. And the only people who saw what Jesus was revealing – what John the Baptist began to reveal – were “little children,” that is, just simple, regular folks. They got it! John the Baptist got it!

And that was God’s plan all along, and that’s what Jesus said “yes” to:

Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. (Matthew 11:26 | NIV84)

This was something Paul understood well. He was a highly educated rabbi and theologian, but he completely missed the Messiah. He never noticed Jesus until the risen Lord confronted him.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:18 – 25 | NIV)

Jesus said “yes” to all that. But John the Baptist was still on His mind. This was what John, sitting in prison, needed to know; what he needed to remember. Even in prison, John was the privileged one, not his jailers. John the Baptist was tired. He was weary. He needed strength outside of himself. Everything Jesus said and did here were with His cousin in mind. Even this passage:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28 – 30 | NIV84)

John the Baptist needed to hear those words. And maybe you do, too. Maybe you feel overcome by the world. Maybe you feel squeezed and pressured into a corner by circumstances of life. You know Jesus. You love Jesus. But, like John, maybe a doubt or two have rushed into your head. God’s got everything under control. Jesus has more than enough strength to keep you strong. All you have to do is go to Him, says “yes,” and accept the rest He offers.

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Some wistful thoughts about the future

Kingofkings

One of the great benefits of being a Christian is having a deep sense of abiding hope; with economic turmoil all around us, immorality becoming the norm in American society, and the rise in secular humanism, it would be very easy  to get discouraged and long for “the good old days.”  Yet for the Christian, “the good old days” can never compare to the “better new days” coming.  Our hope for the future is never tied to the current occupant of the White House or science or education or any of the things unbelievers put their hope and trust in.  In fact, on the subject of hope, the Apostle Paul made these comments about those fearful of death versus the hope we as Christians have—

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.  (1 Thessalonians 4:13—18, tNIV)

As verse 18 says, that is certainly an encouraging passage of Scripture.  We know that Paul is referring here to the wonderful doctrine known as the “rapture,” the great “catching away” of believers prior to the Tribulation and the revelation of the Antichrist.  My personal hope for the future is really grounded, not necessarily in the rapture, although I expect that if I live long enough I will experience it!; but rather in the revelation of my Lord Jesus Christ.

A revelation of Jesus Christ

At the rapture of the Church, Christ will be revealed in all His glory to all who believe.  But there will be a greater revelation of Jesus Christ further in the future—

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him;” and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen.  (Revelation 1:7, tNIV)

The Bible teaches that some day, maybe sooner than we think, Jesus Christ will “catch away” His people—saints long dead and those alive.  But it also teaches that some day Jesus Christ will return literally, visibly, and physically to the earth, descending from the clouds for all the world to see—

“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the peoples of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory”  (Matthew 24:30, tNIV)

Jesus Christ ascended to heaven and will receive for Himself a kingdom, only to return after receiving that kingdom—

A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.  (Luke 19:12, tNIV)

This will happen in heaven when Jesus receives the saints from all the ages; we make up His spiritual kingdom.  However, Daniel 7:13—14 describes how Jesus will receive His earthly kingdom—

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”  (tNIV)

The Bible is replete with references to the beginning of the reign of Jesus Christ on the earth.  Here is just a handful—

  • Zechariah 14:1—3;
  • Matthew 25:31—46;
  • Joel 3:9—17;
  • Revelation 16:13—16; 19:11—21.

Those accompanying Christ when He returns

When Christ returns to the earth, a large contingent of beings will be coming with Him.  What an amazing sight that will be!

  • Angels will be coming with Him.

According to Mathew 13:41—42, the accompanying angels will have a very specific, if unpleasant, task to perform—

The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  (tNIV)

Furthermore, the angels will be present when living unbelievers are judged when the Lord returns according to Matthew 25:31—41; Revelation 19:17—19; 2 Thessalonians 1:7—10).

  • Redeemed saints will be coming with Him

There are numerous verses and passages in Scripture that testify to the fact that when Christ returns, angels will be with Him as well as saints.  Consider—

To those who are victorious and do my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— they ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ —just as I have received authority from my Father.  (Revelation 2:26, 27, tNIV)

[I]f we endure, we will also reign with him.  (2 Timothy 2:12a, tNIV)

Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world?  (1 Corinthians 6:2a, tNIV)

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.  (Revelation 20:4, tNIV)

The future kingdom

In the spiritual sense, the Kingdom of Heaven/Kingdom of God is here now.  Jesus Himself testified to this fact when He began His earthly ministry—

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  (Matthew 4:17, tNIV)

But as you look around, who can see God’s kingdom on earth?  It cannot be seen right now because it is being built in the realm of the Spirit.  However, when Jesus Christ returns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, He will build a literal, visible, and physical kingdom on earth.  He gave some hints about this kingdom yet to come—

For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  (Luke 22:16—18, tNIV)

All the Apostles believed in a future kingdom, especially Paul who said this—

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”  (Acts 14:22, tNIV)

All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.  (2 Thessalonians 1:5, tNIV)

In the future literal, visible, and literal kingdom, Jesus Christ will be the great sovereign of the entire world.  He will be King over every nation and every people.

Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’  (Daniel 7:27, tNIV)

This passage, along with Luke 22:30 specifically promises a position of authority to the apostles.  It is certainly fitting that the apostles, who were Jewish, should inherit special positions governing Israel in the future kingdom.

However, promises of positions in the Lord’s kingdom were not only given to the apostles.  Consider what was promised to the faithful Gentiles of the church at Laodicea—

To those who are victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.  (Revelation 3:21, tNIV)

And let’s not forget that that the parables of the bags of gold and the ten minas teach us that certain positions and rewards in the kingdom will be determined by the quality of faithful service rendered now (see Matthew 25:14—30; Luke 19:11—26).

A long awaited deliverance

As I read what I have just written, I am struck by a couple thoughts.  First, this is exciting stuff!  I feel sorry for liberal Christians who don’t have the hope I have because they view the Bible as a book full of symbolism and stories not intended to be taken literally.  That’s sad; my view of the Bible is that it is meant to be taken literally whenever and wherever possible.   Rather than be encouraged and ignited by reading the Bible the way it was meant to be read–literally–some people would rather cling to their liberalism and be miserable.  The other thing that strikes me about this wonderful hope we have is what Paul wrote in Romans 8:19–23.   This is such a powerful passage!  All of creation, Paul wrote, is longing to be set right.  This “restoration of all things” is linked to the Second Coming of Christ.  If all creation longs to be made right, how much more do Christians long to meet their Savior and stand shoulder to shoulder with Him?

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  (Romans 8:23, tNIV)

Imagine…the day we see our Lord face-to-face; we won’t need eye glasses to see Him!  We won’t need to be pushed into His presence in our wheelchairs.  Our arthritic aches and pains will a dim memory of the past!  How great will that be!

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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