A. has nearly finished uni. Only three subjects, and about two months, to go. Then graduation, and finding a full-time job. But she’s finished all her TEACHING subjects, which means she can be employed as a casual teacher.
Is she a teacher? Yes, and no. She’s AUTHORISED to teach. She’s TEACHING ALREADY. But the full qualifications. The full breadth of everything involved in teaching is still to come.
And A., and the school, and the students are all living the reality NOW in the expectation of what will happen THEN.
It’s good NOW. But it will be better THEN.
It’s NOW. And NOT YET. Yes, and no.
And that’s the nature of the Kingdom of God for the Jews as we come to the end of the Old Testament. The Kingdom of God – God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule. It’s NOW, and NOT YET.
The people had returned to the land, and the temple was rebuilt. And things went on pretty much as normal. But it never really measured up to the richness of all God’s promises. He’d promised SO MUCH MORE than what they were living.
To ABRAHAM, he promised a nation of descendants, and a land to live in, and that they’d be a blessing to the whole world.
To MOSES he promised to be Israel’s God and that they’d be his people.
To DAVID he promised that one of his sons would reign over an ETERNAL KINGDOM.
And to THE PROPHETS in EXILE, he promised a WHOLE RANGE of things. Return to the land, his Holy Spirit living with everyone, washing them clean of sin, giving them a heart to follow and obey him.
He promised to come and LIVE among his people. To put his DWELLING PLACE among them.
They were promises to RESTORE HIS KINGDOM. But it was NOW and NOT YET. And the people were waiting for the “NOT YET” bit. Waiting for the fullness of the promises for God’s kingdom to come.
The coming of the king
And they waited and waited. 400 years. Until, finally, a descendant of King David was born. The coming of the king. Matthew’s Gospel announces him.
Matt 1:1 A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ (or Messiah) THE SON OF DAVID, THE SON OF ABRAHAM:
Notice who he’s related to? A son of ABRAHAM. Who God promised would be a blessing to the nations. And a son of DAVID who God promised would rule an eternal kingdom.
And that’s just THE START. Because Matthew’s Gospel is a story about God’s KINGDOM. And the KING who RULES it. It’s a story about how the “NOW AND NOT YET” kingdom FINALLY ARRIVED. Because the KING arrived.
Let me SHOW you how the story unfolds.
Ch 1, Jesus is born, and in Ch 2 wise men from the east arrive. A new star’s appeared and they want to worship THE ONE BORN KING OF THE JEWS (2:2).
Herod, the king of the OLD kingdom, is threatened by the news. But Jesus survives. He escapes to Egypt, then returns, just like Israel did so long ago. Coming out of Egypt into the promised land.
Then in Ch 3, John the Baptist begins preaching (v2)
“Repent, for the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NEAR.”
God’s invading kingdom is about to arrive. It’s CLOSE. It’s pushing the borders.
The KINGDOM’S close, because the KING is close. V11. He’s coming after me, says John, and he’ll baptise you – wash you CLEAN – with the Holy Spirit. Just like God promised Ezekiel.
And, v13, the KING APPEARS. John baptises him. And God’s Spirit descends on him, and then immediately leads him out into the desert (4:1).
And it’s in the desert we see Jesus being tempted for FORTY DAYS, just like Israel was tempted in the desert for forty YEARS. But Jesus never gives in.
And when Satan tempts him (4:10) he offers him ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD. But Jesus quotes God’s LAW. “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”
Finally! A king who’ll walk in God’s laws like he SHOULD. A king who values the kingdom of GOD more than the kingdoms of the world. Finally, a king WORTH FOLLOWING!
And from 4:17, Jesus begins his public ministry. Building a people who’ll FOLLOW him.
17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
A new KING, but not a new MESSAGE. “Be part of God’s kingdom by repenting.” God’s promises about his kingdom had ALWAYS been based on his people OBEYING him. Returning to him in REPENTANCE and walking his way.
And Jesus says that’s STILL the way to get ready for God’s kingdom.
But notice what he SAYS about the kingdom? It’s NEAR. Same as John. It’s CLOSE. It’s BEGINNING, but not fully ARRIVING. It’s NOW AND NOT YET. There’s BITS of it here. But OTHER bits that AREN’T here yet. Like Israel had been experiencing for hundreds of years. But at least now it’s CLOSE.
And it’s CLOSE because you can see it in the life and teaching of Jesus.
And Matthew paints us a picture of what the kingdom LOOKS LIKE as he summarises what Jesus is doing. 4:23.
23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, PREACHING THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM, and HEALING every disease and sickness among the people.
What’s the kingdom like? Look through the window of Jesus’ life and words, and you’ll SEE it. It’s GOOD NEWS. Good news that the king has come. A king with God’s power to heal disease and relieve suffering. To bring in the covenant blessings of God’s kingdom.
Living in the kingdom
And so we come to the sermon on the mount (in Ch 5). Jesus preaching the good news of the kingdom. What the kingdom is like. And how to LIVE in the kingdom.
Notice how it begins? 5:3
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
You want to be part of God’s kingdom? Begin by recognising your poverty. Your NEED. Mourn for your sin. Strive to be pure of heart, and you’ll see God. What Israel had never done ENOUGH of down through their history.
And the blessings CONTINUE. Hunger and thirst for righteousness, for God will FILL YOU WITH IT. That’s BLESSING. Until finally (v10). A string of blessings that FINISH with the kingdom.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
That’s what BLESSING is. To be persecuted because you’re righteous. Mightn’t SEEM like it. But if you’re RIGHTEOUS, then you’re in God’s KINGDOM. And that’s BLESSING. Whatever else life looks like.
The kingdom’s not about A PLACE says Jesus. It’s about being under God’s kingship WHEREVER you live. And WHATEVER your external circumstances look like. Persecuted, poor, warzone, famine? The blessing of God’s kingdom comes DESPITE those things. The blessing of knowing God and being known BY him. The blessings of purity and mercy and righteousness.
But that’s just Jesus’ introduction. How you GET IN. What about being GREAT in God’s kingdom? (5:19)
19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called LEAST in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever PRACTICES AND TEACHES THESE COMMANDS will be called GREAT IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
Walking God’s way, keeping his law, says Jesus. That’s the way to be GREAT in God’s kingdom, as well as the way IN. Just like it’s ALWAYS been.
And not just DOING, but encouraging OTHERS to do THE SAME. The kingdom’s not an individual thing. It’s about a whole FAMILY.
And not just teaching others to obey God. But praying that God would MAKE IT HAPPEN. Asking for GOD to bring his kingdom in. 6:10. Jesus taught his disciples to pray
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 (MAY) YOUR KINGDOM COME, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
What does it mean for God’s kingdom to COME? That his WILL IS BEING DONE more and more on earth, just like it’s being done in heaven.
It’s a prayer that God’s kingdom would be growing IN US. That WE’D increasingly be walking his way. But it’s MORE than that. It’s a prayer that people would be walking God’s way in OUR FAMILY, and our CHURCH, and our suburb, and city and country. And WORLD.
It’s a prayer you can’t pray unless you’re willing to jump in and HAVE A GO. DO YOUR BIT for making this world into a place where people are walking God’s way. It’s a prayer for DO-ERS, not SAY-ERS. For ACTION, not TALK. For Christian politicians and teachers and mums and social workers and doctors and missionaries and Scripture teachers.
Praying, and WORKING, to bring God’s kingdom in here on earth. Encouraging God’s will to be done.
It’s a BIG PRAYER, isn’t it?! But it’s what God wants for his kingdom! And it’s what Jesus taught us to PRAY for. To WORK for.
It’s a prayer that, increasingly, people would be putting God’s priorities FIRST. And that everything else would come SECOND. You see, when it comes to his kingdom, God is a jealous ruler, says Jesus. He doesn’t like to share. He WANTS IT ALL. Listen to what Jesus said (Ch 6 v33.)
33 But seek FIRST his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Put the kingdom NUMBER ONE. And all the OTHER things you’re TEMPTED to put number one will be thrown in as well, says Jesus. God’s a JEALOUS ruler, but he’s also a GENEROUS one.
Don’t worry about clothes, or food. About drink or shelter. Don’t worry about bills, or friends, or safety. Don’t worry about textbooks, or marks, or applications, or interviews. Don’t worry about examinations or outcomes. Don’t worry about making the right impression. Or who’s watching. Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these other things will be taken CARE of.
The Sermon on the Mount is painting a big picture of what God’s kingdom looks like. And it’s doing it PRACTICALLY. In real, everyday terms.
And as Jesus draws to a close, he wants to emphasise that the kingdom needs to SOAK THROUGH EVERYTHING. Soak right into your character – your motivations and attitudes. It’s never enough to just bear a superficial allegiance. To talk the talk, but not walk the walk. Ch 7 v21. It’s not enough to just SAY you’re obeying. You’ve actually got to DO it.
21 “Not everyone who SAYS to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who DOES the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Impressions and reputation aren’t enough. Words aren’t enough. There’s got to be INTEGRITY and SINCERITY. CONSISTENT ACTION. It’s a kingdom that’s more concerned with INSIDES than OUTSIDES.
A kingdom where Jesus rules in your MOTIVATIONS AND ATTITUDES AND THOUGHTS, as well as your appearances and impressions and words.
And that should make it much more INVASIVE AND WIDESPREAD than any other kingdom.
How THOROUGHLY INVASIVE is the Kingdom of God in YOUR life? Is it like water off a duck’s back, making the barest of differences? Or has it soaked right in to your core, staining EVERYTHING?
Tim Boyce was telling me about a wedding he went to of a work colleague. Some of his other colleagues went and were making fun of the evangelistically Christian service. Tim said THEY HADN’T REALISED THAT THE GUY GETTING MARRIED WAS A CHRISTIAN.
Now, I’m not saying anything particularly about THAT guy. But let me ask YOU. Do people know YOU’RE a Christian? Would they be SURPRISED if they found out?
If they were asked, How do you KNOW he’s a Christian? What would they say? What EVIDENCE could they present?
Has the kingdom of God influenced who you are? Has it SOAKED YOU THROUGH? How you treat people? How you work? What you say? What you WILL do, and what you WON’T?
Has it stained the things you ENJOY? The things that EXCITE you? Has it affected your leisure time? And your conversations?
Has it stained into how you spend your money? How you do business? What you read?
What is it COSTING you to live in the Kingdom of God? What do you have LESS of because of the kingdom? What’s it costing you in terms of time, money, energy, emotion, tears, holidays, influence, approval and advancement?
That’s the challenge Jesus leaves as he finishes his sermon. “Don’t just SAY it, DO it!” The crowds are amazed (v29) because he taught as one WHO HAD AUTHORITY.
The WORDS finish but Jesus still teaches what the kingdom is like. This time by his ACTIONS. Chapters 8 and 9 show Jesus cleansing lepers, healing the sick, casting out demons, calming storms, even raising the dead.
And when we get to the end of Ch 9, we find this summary statement from Matthew.
35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM and healing every disease and sickness.
Does it sound familiar? It’s almost the same as 4:23 that STARTED this section about the kingdom.
23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
These two verses are BOOKENDS. 4:23, 9:35. With everything in between focussing on Jesus teaching and healing. Focussing on Jesus SHOWING what the Kingdom of God LOOKED LIKE.
But let me focus on one OTHER verse before we move on from this section. 8:11. The Roman centurion shows greater faith in Jesus than the JEWS have. Jesus is astonished, and he says.
“I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that MANY WILL COME FROM THE EAST AND THE WEST, and will TAKE THEIR PLACES AT THE FEAST WITH ABRAHAM, ISAAC AND JACOB IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
Up until now, the Old Testament had described God’s kingdom as being focussed on ISRAEL. With the other nations, generally, being OUTSIDE it. But now Jesus announces that the BORDERS ARE OPEN. And that there’s an open invitation to the party. And that people from ALL OVER THE WORLD will take their places. And that it only depends on FAITH, and not on BIRTHRIGHT. Who you TRUST rather than who you’re RELATED to.
Which in SOME ways SOUNDS new. Until you remember what God promised Abram. That through his offspring the whole world would be BLESSED. And that’s what Jesus is. God making good on his promise. He’s the means by which the world is BLESSED. The one who reserves places at the eternal banquet for ALL SORTS of people. The incredible party that’s the final goal of God’s kingdom.
And that means YOU and ME. And all it takes is FAITH in Jesus. Trusting the AUTHENTICITY OF HIS INVITATION. And that it will really WORK when you present it to the door security.
And that’s the way it worked in the generations after Jesus. The boundaries of God’s kingdom being pushed back. From Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth. And then eventually, even all the way TO AUSTRALIA.
So now we have relatives all over the world. All across the ages. United in Jesus. Taking their place in the Kingdom of God. Brothers and sisters because of our HEAVENLY FATHER. Brought together by King Jesus.
And there’s a joy and a unity and a sense of RIGHTNESS when we meet. Even for the first time.
There’s a NOW aspect to it. But there’s also a NOT YET part. Because that experience NOW is just a FORETASTE of the ETERNAL banquet of the kingdom. When God LIVES with us without distance or detachment. When there’s no more fighting or misunderstanding or frustration. No more sickness or demon-possession or chaos or paralysis or pain or tears.
That’s the kingdom Jesus is teaching about and living out. And that he invites us to be PART of.
The kingdom is like…
And as we move through the next chapters of Matthew we see more of the same. Until we get to chapter 13 which is a series of parables about what the kingdom is like.
The parable of the sower is all about how the message about the kingdom is received in different ways by people. v19.
19 When anyone HEARS THE MESSAGE ABOUT THE KINGDOM and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path.
That’s what Jesus is doing – sowing the message about the kingdom. And different people are reacting differently.
And then he goes on to sow some MORE seeds. More messages about the kingdom. Like from v24. The KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS LIKE…
“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.
The servants come and want to know whether to pull the weeds up NOW. The farmer says NO, because they risk pulling up the WHEAT at the same time.
Better to wait until the harvest. When the wheat will be obvious. And the WEEDS will be obvious. When there’ll be no mistaking which is which.
Down in v37 he explains it. Those who belong to God’s kingdom are the good seeds. And the REST are the weeds.
And, at the moment, the two are closely tangled together. The kingdom of THIS world, and the kingdom of God. That’s our situation NOW. The kingdom is NOW AND NOT YET. The kingdom is growing, but it’s not COMPLETE. Jesus is KING, but not everyone RECOGNISES him.
ONE DAY though, JUDGMENT DAY, it will be OBVIOUS. And the WEEDS will be separated and burned. That’s a picture of hell. But (v43)
43 the righteous will shine like the sun in the KINGDOM OF THEIR FATHER
Then it will be OBVIOUS who belongs in the kingdom. Because the KINGDOM will be obvious. EVERYONE will recognise God’s rule. God’s goal through the whole Bible will be COMPLETE. That his blessed kingdom will rule everything.
But until that time, until HARVEST, we WAIT. Wait for the WHEAT to grow more what-like. And the weeds to grow more WEED-LIKE.
And it may not always be OBVIOUS, but it is at WORK. That’s the point of the parable about the kingdom from v31.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”
The gospel message might seem powerless and insignificant compared to the messages of global financial crisis and the environment. And the church might seem so tiny and irrelevant. And Christians so flawed and pre-occupied and self-obsessed.
But things aren’t always what they seem. The gospel, the good news of the kingdom, IS powerful. Jesus IS building his church. And his church IS the light shining in a dark world. And he’s building his kingdom IN US. And he’s USING us to build his kingdom. Which, one day, will grow bigger than the hugest fig tree.
And that means, v44, it’s worth giving EVERYTHING for. Nothing is more valuable.
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and SOLD ALL HE HAD and bought that field.
The kingdom’s WORTH everything you have. Are you GIVING everything you have for it?
Let me finish with ONE FINAL ENCOURAGEMENT. The kingdom is NOW, but there’s still more to come. We see more of it, in Jesus, than any OT saint ever did. But we still have to walk by faith as we WAIT FOR THE REST.
So don’t give up. It’ll be WORTH it. Even if it’s a struggle at the moment.
Heb 11 talks about the faith of OT believers. How they acted in the PRESENT because they trusted God’s promises for the FUTURE. And the chapter finishes (11:39)
39 These were all commended for their faith, YET NONE OF THEM RECEIVED WHAT HAD BEEN PROMISED. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
And he’s the MONEY verse. The practical advice.
12:1 THEREFORE, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Even Jesus had to long for something he hadn’t received yet. As we long for God’s kingdom to be revealed in us and for us. Let’s work hard at walking God’s way, patiently enduring, fixing our eyes on Jesus. Let’s NOT grow weary, and NOT lose heart.