Category Archives: One Story: The Unfolding Story of the Bible

Revelation 21-22: God’s people in God’s place… again

This week marks the end of high school for Tim and Michelle and Hannah. Apart from the small matter of some exams, they’re FREE. And there’s celebration and relief. And a sense of new possibilities and a new richness and fullness to life.

And today we come to the end of our SERIES. A series on the ONE STORY OF THE BIBLE. And maybe you’re feeling the same sense of relief that our Year 12’s are feeling. “Yes, it’s finally over!”

We’ve seen how it’s the story about how God made his world perfect. With him as king, and humanity made in his image to RULE under him. It was a perfect picture of his KINGDOM. Of God’s PEOPLE in God’s PLACE under God’s RULE.

We’ve seen how sin DESTROYED that picture. That sin is choosing to step OUT of God’s kingdom. Out from under his rule.

And how that sin had all sorts of consequences for God’s perfect world. How suffering and pain and frustration and death came in. Consequences we still live with every day.

But then we’ve seen how the one big story of the Bible is about God working in his world to RESTORE his kingdom. To BUILD his people. To bring them into his PLACE. And the long process, again and again, to bring them under his RULE.

And through it all, God promises that ONE DAY he’ll bring in his kingdom. Finally and completely. And that he’ll do it through his special king. A special FOREVER king, who’ll bring together God’s people and assemble them in God’s PLACE. And enable them, truly, to live under God’s RULE.

It’s a PROMISE. It’s off in the future. But it’s a SURE promise. It’ll be a day when WE can breathe a sigh of relief. When there’s celebration and joy far better than just FINISHING SCHOOL. And when there’s a new sense of expectation and purpose for new possibilities and richness and fullness of life. A life we can only LONG for at the moment.

And we’ve seen how Jesus came and BEGAN that process. God himself, sent from the Father. With the job of bringing in God’s kingdom. He PREACHES about it. He LIVES IT OUT. And he invites people to JOIN it. To turn from their rebellion, and then to live in submission to him as king.

And we saw last week how God raised him from the dead. Declaring him to be Lord and Christ. And how that act CHANGED EVERYTHING. How the Kingdom of God BEGAN. How the power and victory and joy. And the life and the light of the kingdom came RUSHING IN.

Jesus is the Kingdom of God

In a sense, God’s kingdom began IN JESUS HIMSELF. He IS the Kingdom of God. The kingdom PERSONIFIED. You see, he’s the TRUE Adam. The TRUE Israel. God’s person. The only one to truly and fully live under God’s rule.

And he’s God’s PLACE. The place where God and humanity meets. He replaces the temple, the presence of God in the midst of his people.

And he’s the first one to live fully under God’s rule. Never stepping outside it. And then, in his resurrection, he’s the first to live the forever, victorious life of God’s eternal kingdom.

And here’s where it gets a bit tricky to follow. Because God’s plan is for US to become part of God’s kingdom by becoming part of JESUS HIMSELF. Humanity comes into God’s kingdom by being JOINED TO JESUS, who IS the kingdom.

God’s plan to restore everything to their proper relationships – to restore his kingdom, in other words – BEGINS WITH JESUS. Then he’s the FUNNEL everyone else flows through into God’s kingdom. God JOINS PEOPLE TO JESUS BY FAITH. For any who trust Jesus’ work on their behalf.

And then God builds his kingdom IN THEM. His new people.

And it all comes because THEY’RE CONNECTED TO JESUS. In his letters, Paul describes the Christian being IN Christ. JOINED to him by faith. And then he talks about all the things that FLOW from that. Like in Eph 1.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing IN CHRIST. 4 For he CHOSE us IN HIM before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless

 

Or Verse 7

7 IN HIM we have redemption through his blood,

 

Or verse 11

11 IN HIM we were also chosen, having been predestined

 

And then in v13

13 And you also were INCLUDED IN CHRIST when you HEARD the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having BELIEVED, you were MARKED IN HIM with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,

We’re connected to Jesus by FAITH. Jesus is our REPRESENTATIVE king. And so, everything HE has is OURS, TOO. That’s what Paul’s getting at a bit further on in Eph 2 v4. Listen to it.

4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive WITH CHRIST even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God RAISED US UP WITH CHRIST and seated us WITH HIM in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that IN THE COMING AGES he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

CHRIST was made alive. CHRIST was seated in the heavenly realms. And God, because of his great love for us, does that FOR US TOO when we trust Jesus. We are there with Christ because we’re CONNECTED to him.

That’s our STATUS. Our IDENTITY.

And once that happens, our task is for Christ to be GROWING in us. For our NATURE to be growing more and more like that IDENTITY. For God’s DE-generated world – our sinful selves living in this fallen world – to become more and more like his RE-generated world. His kingdom in Jesus.

Our role now is about BRIDGING THE GAP. SINCE we’re seated with Christ in the heavenly places, let’s LIVE LIKE THAT. That’s the logic Paul uses in Colossians Ch 3. It’s ethics and behaviour that flow from Christ’s resurrection. Col 3 v1.

3:1 SINCE, then, you have been RAISED WITH CHRIST, set your HEARTS on things above, WHERE CHRIST IS SEATED at the right hand of God. 2 Set your MINDS on things above, not on earthly things. 3 FOR YOU DIED, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Christians are JOINED to Christ by faith. We’ve died to our OLD self. Our life is now hidden WITH Christ. We’ve been raised to new life WITH Christ. And that means we should fix our attention – fix our desires – on THAT reality. On God’s kingdom. We should LIVE WHO WE ARE. So that when Christ appears. When God brings in his kingdom FINALLY. When we receive everything CHRIST has now. When we receive GLORY. Then, we’ll MEASURE UP. We’ll FIT IN.

The delay before the end

But at the moment, we’re WAITING. Because there’s A DELAY BEFORE THE END. We’re LIVING IN THE GAP. Living between the promise and the reality. Between the beginning and the finish. Between who we are in IDENTITY, and who we are in NATURE.

Like so much of the Kingdom of God, it’s a matter of NOW, and NOT YET.

It’s BEGUN – Jesus is KING. We ARE seated with him. But there’s still MORE TO COME. The full RICHNESS of God’s promises. Of his kingdom.

At the moment, we see SOMETHING of Jesus as king. But in OTHER ways, we’re NOT seeing him as king. People all over the world, people in our streets. Even in our families. Aren’t RECOGNISING that kingship yet.

It’s like LABOUR. Now and not yet. The baby is fully grown. But giving birth is a PROCESS. A LONG process!

And, just like labour, there’s some PAIN INVOLVED. As we live in that IN-BETWEEN TIME. As we wait for Jesus to return and bring in his kingdom COMPLETELY.

Romans 8:22 talks about how we GROAN. How even though Jesus died to DESTROY sin, we still SIN. Even though Jesus was WOUNDED that we might be HEALED, we’re still SICK. We still suffer baldness and short-sightedness and arthritis, and acne and broken legs and cancer.

And even though Jesus was raised to destroy DEATH, we still DIE. And endure the pain of those we LOVE dying, TOO.

And plenty of YOU have had THAT sort of groaning to endure. And you know from experience the truth of these words from Romans 8 v22 (p800).

22 We know that THE WHOLE CREATION has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, GROAN INWARDLY as we wait EAGERLY for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Notice what’s DIFFERENT for the Christian? We might be GROANING like everyone else. But we can wait EAGERLY. We can look forward with expectant hope. Because God’s promised us NEW BODIES. Redeemed, bought-back, glorified bodies. Bodies that won’t grow old or wear out. And he’s given us his Spirit as the DEPOSIT. The TASTE. The ENTRÉE.

And not just FOR US. He’s promised a WHOLE NEW WORLD to go WITH it. A liberated world that MEASURES UP to the new redeemed bodies God’s PEOPLE have. A new PLACE for God’s kingdom. Rom 8.20, in the paragraph before the one we just read, puts it like this.

20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that THE CREATION ITSELF WILL BE LIBERATED FROM ITS BONDAGE TO DECAY AND BROUGHT INTO THE GLORIOUS FREEDOM OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD.

Our sin means the world isn’t the way it’s SUPPOSED to be. And one day God will set IT free as well.

But it begs the question. If there’s so much GROANING going on, why is God taking SO LONG with the labour pains? Why not finish the whole thing QUICKLY? Send Jesus TOMORROW?

That was the question people were asking when Peter wrote his second letter. In 2 Peter 3 he answers scoffers who reckon God’s not going to deliver on his promises. That he’s NOT sending Jesus to return. That he’s NOT going to end the suffering and bring in a new world. That his SLOWNESS means he won’t, or CAN’T keep his promises. But here’s what Peter says in response. 2 Peter 3 v8.

8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

God’s got plenty of time. He’s been around, literally, FOREVER. He’s had plenty of time to be patient. And the REASON he’s patient with bringing judgment is the same reason behind everything he’s done in the Bible. BECAUSE HE WANTS TO BRING IN HIS KINGDOM. He wants to restore everything to the way he created it.

And that means he wants to give as many people as possible. People from every nation under heaven. Time to respond to his gift of life. To turn from their rebellion, and to bow the knee before King Jesus.

That’s why the delay. That’s why there’s the NOW and the NOT YET between the victory Jesus won and the CULMINATION of that.

And when that culmination comes he’s going to have to bring SOME things to AN END. Peter talks about how it will work. 2 Peter 3.10 (p861).

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will DISAPPEAR WITH A ROAR; the elements will be DESTROYED BY FIRE, and the earth and everything in it WILL BE LAID BARE.

THIS earth, with its corruption and curse and death and frustration will be STRIPPED BACK. BURNED AWAY. Like the Rural Bushfire Brigade doing back burning. Burning away all the leaf litter, the rubbish, the dangerous fire fuel. And leaving it clean and fresh and safe. Ready for SOMETHING NEW.

An end and a beginning

Not only is God DESTROYING. He’s MAKING NEW. There’s an END. But there’s also a BEGINNING. Jump down to v12. Halfway through.

That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH, THE HOME OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.

A new heaven and a new earth. Everything restored by God. Not just the SPIRITUAL – heaven. The PHYSICAL TOO – a new EARTH. And it will be a PERFECT home for our new glorified physical bodies. THAT’S what we look forward to.

It’s exactly what God had been promising for his people through his prophets in the Old Testament. Like in Isa 65 (p532).

17 “Behold, I will create NEW HEAVENS AND A NEW EARTH…I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.

And what Isaiah goes on to describe is “HOME”. Long life, and peace, and contentment and rest. And God living with his people. Not distant anymore. Wonderful promises to give his people Israel HOPE. To give them the strength to get through the agony of the exile.

And for us, in Jesus, we see those plans much more FULLY. In a new heaven and a new earth BEYOND this world.

Like in the book of Revelation.

Revelation, like with so much OTHER Old Testament prophecy, BUILDS on that Isaiah picture of a new heaven and a new earth.

At the end of Ch 20 John sees a vision of God’s judgment throne. And all humanity standing before him at the end of time. But then in Ch 21, after JUDGMENT, John sees something ELSE. And for readers of Isaiah it sounds FAMILIAR.

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 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.”

Just like Isaiah, a new heaven and a new earth. Just like Isaiah, the city is Jerusalem. But this time it’s the NEW Jerusalem. Because it’s the people of King Jesus. And they’re beautifully dressed like a bride. Ch 19 v8 tells us that the fine white wedding dress stands for the righteous acts of the saints. A life of obedience to Jesus. And King Jesus, the bridegroom, reckons it looks BEAUTIFUL.

And the pain and death and frustration of the OLD world is GONE. Burned up. V4. God himself wiping away every TEAR. No more crying because the OLD things are gone.

And while much of the one story of the Bible has been about the DISTANCE between God and his people – NOT ANY MORE. In the new heavens and earth the distance IS GONE. God will be dwelling right in the middle of his people (v3)

And down in v22 John mentions that there’s no TEMPLE in the new Jerusalem. Because you don’t NEED it. Temples brought you close to God. A temporary measure. But God will be right WITH his people.

And then in Ch 22, we get ANOTHER detail that’s added. It’s not just brand new heavens and earth. It’s RESTORED. It’s BACK TO Eden. It’s BETTER than Eden. The kingdom of God in the Garden of Eden was PARADISE. But here we see BETTER than paradise. It’s MORE EDEN THAN EDEN.

“Eden” was looking at paradise in a mirror, or as a shadow. But THIS is the REALITY. The reality that Eden was JUST A COPY OF.

Genesis 2 tells us that Eden had a river flowing out of it that watered the garden. And that it was the source of four major rivers. But here in Revelation 22 we read

22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city.

A river of life flowing from God himself. Because he’s the SOURCE of life. And the next to the river, on both sides (v2)

stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Just like Eden. It had the tree of life. In Eden, Adam and Eve’s sin and banishment meant they couldn’t eat from it anymore. And so they DIED.

But now the tree gives life and healing FOREVER. To EVERY nation.

And the CURSE that came from Adam and Eve’s sin. Bitterness and frustration and arguments and pain in childbirth. Well, in the NEW heavens and earth (v3), there’s NO LONGER any curse. Just like Eden.

The goal of God, since the first days of creation, has been to RESTORE everything to perfection. And this is a vision of it COMPLETED. God’s kingdom finally RESTORED. But even BETTER THAN BEFORE.

And when it happens, it will be perfectly secure. Forever.

God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.

And, in a sense, that’s where the story will END. But in another sense, it’s where the story BEGINS. Because it’s THAT creation we were MADE FOR. The NEW creation. That’s our natural home, not HERE. And so, that’s when the story will REALLY begin.

Let me read from the Last Battle, the final book in the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. What’s happened is that Aslan the lion, who represents Christ, has brought the PRESENT world of Narnia to an end, and a NEW world has begun. And our heroes are discovering what this new world is about.

“Peter”, said Lucy, “where is this, do you suppose?”

 

“I don’t know”, said the High King. “It reminds me of somewhere but I can’t give it a name.”

 

“If you ask me,” said Edmund, “it’s like somewhere in the Narnian world.     In fact, they’re EXACTLY alike.”

 

“And yet they’re NOT alike,” said Lucy. “They’re different.”

 

“More like the REAL thing,” said Lord Digory softly. “When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But THAT was not the real Narnia. THAT had a beginning and an end. It was only a SHADOW or a COPY of the REAL Narnia which has always been here and always WILL be here:

 

“And of course, it IS different; as different as a REAL thing is from a shadow, or as waking life is from a dream.”

 

It is hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia. Perhaps you get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains.

 

And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a mirror. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking-glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different— the real ones were deeper and more wonderful.

 

The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was DEEPER country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it MEANT more.”

 

The Unicorn summed up what everyone was feeling. “I HAVE COME HOME AT LAST! THIS IS MY REAL COUNTRY! I BELONG HERE. THIS IS THE LAND I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR ALL MY LIFE, THOUGH I NEVER KNEW IT TILL NOW.

 

THE REASON WHY WE LOVED THE OLD NARNIA IS THAT IT SOMETIMES LOOKED A LITTLE LIKE THIS.

 

“And for us this is the end of all the stories. But for them it was only the beginning of the REAL story. All their life in this world, and all their adventures in Narnia, had only been the COVER AND THE TITLE PAGE: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the GREAT Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

And that’s the eternity. The reality. God’s got waiting FOR US. For those of us who are living for King Jesus.

We’re living through the title page and contents page as we wait for the real story to begin. As we wait to go HOME.

For some of us that truth RESONATES. That COMFORTS. Because we can’t WAIT to get home. Can’t wait for suffering and loneliness and frustration to end. Can’t wait to see loved ones again.

But for OTHERS of us, we need A WAKE UP CALL. We need to remember where’s REALLY home. And we need to FIX OUR EYES on that home. Because we’ve got too comfortable in THIS world. Too DISTRACTED. Too pre-occupied by things that WON’T last. And “the things above” impact us TOO LITTLE.

We need to feel the EXHORTATION of Paul from Colossians 3.

3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Set your hearts on things above. And get rid of the idols that distract you from your TRUE home.

And Peter would add HIS exhortation. Fix your eyes on HOME, and WORK HARD to be found WORTHY of it. 2 Peter 3:13

13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

Work hard to be righteous. Because your true home is the HOME of righteousness.

Fix your eyes on home. Long for it. Live for it.

Acts 2:14-41: Jesus is King

As a Christian, are you feeling UNDER ATTACK at the moment?

Atheists are more militant, aggressive, outspoken and insulting than ever before. The debate about homosexual marriage is heated and personal. And Christians are often ridiculed as ignorant, bigoted and outdated.

Q and A on the ABC this week featured Peter Jensen defending the biblical position on gay marriage. And he’s been ridiculed by the press, the gay lobby, everyday Aussies, and even so-called Christians.

The latest round of federal government grants for Christian school chaplains has been under threat by a high court challenge.

School Scripture in NSW has been challenged by the introduction of Ethics classes for non-Scripture kids.

Is Christianity under threat? Are we a dying breed? An endangered species? Do we just need to fit in, fade away, update, modernise, negotiate, or compromise?

It must have been the sort of thing Jesus’ disciples were thinking after his death.

They’d scattered like seagulls when he’d been arrested. And Peter, the only one to hang around, was so scared he denied he even KNEW Jesus. THREE TIMES.

The rest of them had all watched from a distance as things went from bad to worse.

Everyone was out to get them. The Jewish leaders wanted them dead. Even the Jewish PEOPLE had turned on them. The Romans were vicious and deadly.

The disciples were too scared to make a peep, otherwise what was happening to JESUS might happen to THEM. Judged, sentenced, beaten, abandoned, whipped, stripped and crucified.

And then Jesus had DIED. The cruellest of deaths. And the hopes of the disciples died WITH him. Their hopes of VICTORY. Their hopes of GOD’S KINGDOM coming through Jesus.

And they’d spent Friday night and Saturday licking their wounds. Feeling sorry for themselves. Puzzled. Confused. Defeated. Wondering what to do next. Wondering what had happened to all God’s promises.

Feeling, very much, under attack. As if the whole world was against them.

Then Sunday morning things started to get WEIRD. Strange rumours circulated among the women and some of the disciples. Surely, they’re just tired, emotional, scared, under pressure.

That night (John 20) they all meet behind locked doors for fear of the Jews.

When all of a sudden (v19) Jesus comes and stands among them. They can’t believe their eyes. He tells them not to be scared. That he’s alive again. Just like he’d PROMISED. And that NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN!

And he was RIGHT!

Jump ahead a few pages. And Luke takes up the story in the book of Acts. Acts 1:3.

3 After his suffering, he SHOWED himself to these men and gave MANY CONVINCING PROOFS THAT HE WAS ALIVE.

Sure, it was hard to understand. And their world was turned on its head. AGAIN. But Jesus SHOWED himself to them. Put their fingers into the holes in his side and in his wrists. He ATE AND DRANK with them. It was really him. Not a vision. Not a ghost. Not grief-induced wishful thinking. Not group hysteria.

Rock solid certainty. Raised from death. Defeated it. Destroyed its power.

But not just PROOFS. He had stuff to TEACH them TOO.

He appeared to them over a period of forty days and SPOKE ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF GOD.

The same topic Jesus had preached BEFORE his death. THE KINGDOM OF GOD. God’s people in God’s place under God’s RULE. The theme of the WHOLE BIBLE – as we’ve been discovering over the last nine weeks.

But NOW it takes on a whole new clarity. A whole new COMPLEXITY. And Jesus has to explain it all. But this time including the crucial turning point. That God had raised him from the dead.

It meant everything had CHANGED. It meant everything God had promised in the Old Testament about his kingdom is BEGINNING! The starting gun has fired!

He’s gathering his people, and washing them clean, and pouring out his Holy Spirit. And he’s giving them a new heart to obey his laws. And raising a banner for the nations to gather around. Just like he’d PROMISED through prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel and Joel.

And it’s all beginning through Jesus’ resurrection. God’s ultimate BIG STATEMENT.

Artists are known for making BIG STATEMENTS. In Oxford we saw the bases of some huge rainforest trees. Perhaps 10 m around. They’d been brought all the way back from South America. A huge logistical task. And then an artist had sculpted them and displayed them. A statement about deforestation and global warming. Quite striking!

But there’s perhaps no bigger statement than that made by Christo Javacheff. He wraps up whole buildings. Or surrounds islands with pink wrapping. Or coverings mountain sides with yellow umbrellas. It takes years of planning and organisation. And WEEKS of work (show photos)

I’m not sure WHAT he’s saying, but he’s saying it IN BOLD LETTERS.

And that’s what GOD’s doing in raising Jesus. Making A BIG STATEMENT. Romans 1:4 says that Jesus was

DECLARED WITH POWER TO BE THE SON OF GOD by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

The resurrection is God’s BIG BILLBOARD advertising Jesus. His performance art. God’s the proud parent. The resurrection is him saying, “This is MY SON. This is Jesus – the SON OF GOD.”

And in Peter’s sermon we just read, he says God raised Jesus to life. And exalted him to his right hand. And (v36) he’s MADE him LORD and CHRIST. DECLARED him to be KING. God’s making all his enemies – nations and kings and sin and death – a footstool for his feet.

He’s bringing his kingdom in by bringing in his king.

It’s what he’s been promising to do through the whole Bible. Ever since Adam and Eve first stepped OUT from God’s kingdom. And now it’s beginning!

And the disciples finally begin to work it out. V4 of Acts 1 Jesus tells them to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. And the disciples see Old Testament promises fulfilled. V6.

“Lord, are you AT THIS TIME going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

In other words, is it all about to begin? The day of the LORD? The Kingdom of God? Is it NOW?

But God’s plans are bigger than what the disciples can imagine. And the TIMING’S going to be different, too. V7

7 Jesus said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

In other words, “My people are much bigger than just ISRAEL.” Jesus is saying. “I’ve got to BRING THE NATIONS IN. God’s promised THAT TOO. And it’s going to TAKE a while. And that’s going to be YOUR job. With the help of my Spirit.

And that’s what the disciples begin to do. The Holy Spirit falls on them. And they begin speaking in all sorts of different languages. So that every nationality of Jew in Jerusalem hears them proclaiming the wonders of God in their own tongue.

Because God’s gathering his people from all over the world. Building his kingdom.

And the Holy Spirit gives these timid, under-attack, locked-room-hiding, running-away disciples a new found confidence. They grow a spine. Because their king Jesus HAS WON. And that means EVERYTHING’S CHANGED.

Ch 2 v14. Peter, together with the other disciples, proclaim that the kingdom is arriving. V17 Just like God promised through Joel.

17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.

The last days are beginning. The kingdom is arriving. And amazing things will happen. Just like you’re seeing.

And while he goes on to speak many OTHER words that day. There’s a number of SINGLE words I want to FOCUS on. Single words that will strengthen and encourage and embolden YOU as you feel under attack from all sides.

FIVE words about Jesus. And ONE word about US. Here they are: ACCREDITED, PURPOSE, PROMISED, RAISED, EXALTED. And finally, ASSURED.

Accredited

First up. ACCREDITED. Look there in v22.

22 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.

Accredited. Authorised. Certified. And by GOD HIMSELF. That means you can RELY on him.

The grammar of the word suggests that it STANDS COMPLETED. The accreditation was stamped as valid. It happened at a particular point in time. But it DOESN’T EXPIRE. It’s just as relevant TODAY as it was when God first DID it.

Jesus doesn’t go out of date. Terminate. He’s STILL authorised. He’s not old-fashioned. An archaeological RELIC. He’s culturally relevant, powerful, and solidly historical.

And God accredited him by MIRACLES, WONDERS AND SIGNS. Jesus didn’t just SAY he could forgive sins. He healed the lame man to SHOW HE HAD THE AUTHORITY to forgive sins (Mark 2). He SHOWED the nature of the kingdom by restoring health and relationship. By bringing cleansing and life.

And the stories about Jesus – they’re no FABLES. FAIRY STORIES. Peter said, “He did them AMONG YOU, as YOU YOURSELVES KNOW.” They’re historical facts. As solid as ANY historical claim CAN be.

PURPOSE

Jesus was accredited. Peter goes on. V23. The SECOND word – PURPOSE.

23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

It had seemed unthinkable at the time. But now Peter realises it was ALL PART OF GOD’S PLAN.

The Jewish leaders thought they were scheming on their own. But God was using them for HIS purposes. Pilate and Herod thought they were making politically expedient decisions all on their own. But God knew beforehand what they would choose.

Satan was laughing  – he thought he’d WON. He was laughing right up until the stone was rolled away from the tomb and Jesus stormed out. Satan thought all HIS plans were coming to pass. But they were God’s plans ALL ALONG.

And that means the stuff YOU’RE going through is all part of God’s purpose TOO. No matter HOW dark it seems. God IS in control. And he WILL work all things for good. For those He’s called according to his PURPOSE. That’s the promise in Romans 8:28.

Promised

And with Jesus’ death, we know it’s part of God’s PURPOSE because he PROMISED it. That’s word THREE. God was keeping his PROMISE. He’d promised King David a descendent who would rule FOREVER. And whose KINGDOM would never end. We’ve seen how THAT’S been worked out through the Bible in the last few weeks.

And since God ALWAYS keeps his promises, he crowned JESUS. The greatest son of great King David. And gave him an ETERNAL kingdom.

And that’s one of the reasons to read the Old Testament. Because it shows that God KEEPS HIS PROMISES. That he’s reliable. And if he keeps his promises THEN. That means he’ll STILL keep his promises. And that you can depend on them NOW.

Raised

But for Jesus, God kept his promise to David by RAISING Jesus from the dead. Our FOURTH word. There in v32. Peter’s quoting from Ps 16, where David rejoices that God won’t abandon him to the grave.

And Peter’s point is that David DID die, so David’s words must have had ANOTHER meaning. A meaning for David’s DESCENDENT. The SECOND King David. And that HE was the one David was prophesying about. There in v31.

31 Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of THE RESURRECTION OF THE CHRIST, that HE was not abandoned to the grave, nor did HIS body see decay.

And just like David prophesied, that’s what happened. V32.

32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and WE ARE ALL WITNESSES OF THE FACT.

An observable, verifiable reality. Hard as it is to understand. A dead heart starting pumping again. Dead nerves started firing again. Dead lungs started inflating again. Dead limbs started moving. The clock was turned backward. And Peter and the others SAW IT ALL.

And it wasn’t just JESUS. They also OTHER STUFF. Backups. Supporting evidence. They saw the sun turning dark, They saw the temple curtain torn in two. They saw earthquakes and tombs broken open. They saw angels. They saw OTHER people raised from their graves.

All by God’s power. Because he wouldn’t let his Holy One see decay.

And that’s incredible news for our world TODAY. Everyone’s got so much to say when it comes to bashing Christians’ outdated views on society. But they become very silent in the face of DEATH. Because no political or lifestyle or ethical choice can do ANYTHING about the certainty and finality of DEATH. Except for Christianity. Because Jesus DEFEATED it, and promises that it’s got no hold on all those connected to him. And that’s GREAT NEWS. News we can be BOLD about.

Exalted

But that’s not all. Peter and the other disciples also saw what God did NEXT. He EXALTED him (v33). God took him up before their eyes, until a cloud hid him from their sight. That’s Acts 1:9.

And God restored him to his heavenly throne at his right hand. But MORE THAN just RESTORED. (Back to where he was BEFORE). GLORIFIED. Now with MORE glory because of his obedience to death. Phil 2:9 puts it like this

(he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!) 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

BEFORE, he was God the Son. But NOW, he’s God’s OBEDIENT, GIVING-UP-TO-DEATH Son. And that’s the Jesus we follow.

He’s there NOW. Seated on the throne. And he’s DESERVING of the honour and submission and recognition of every authority and institution and society and government and media outlet and ignorant comedian or outspoken journalist.

He RULES. That’s the FACT. It’s just not being RECOGNISED by everyone. Yet.

Assured

Which is what the disciples are setting about FIXING. Peter comes to his NEXT word. The MONEY word. What it means for his hearers. And for US. ASSURED. V36.

36 “Therefore let all Israel be ASSURED of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Let all Israel KNOW WITH CERTAINTY. Be CONFIDENT in it. Establish your LIFE on it. In the resurrection, God has MADE – set, established – Jesus as LORD and CHRIST.

It’s way more than just HEAD KNOWLEDGE. You can’t know it and your life not change. Knowing that Jesus is Lord and Christ because he’s beaten death changes EVERYTHING.

And that’s something Peter’s hearers realise TOO. V37.

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?”

Peter replies

“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.

When you know with certainty that God has raised Jesus from the dead. Declared him to be Lord and Christ. Then that means your life needs to CONFORM to that truth. Your knee needs to BOW before that Lord. Recognising your rebellion, your impending death and judgment. And repenting of it.

And Peter passes on God’s promise. The same promise he’s made all the way through the Bible. That repentance will lead to FORGIVENESS. And that they’ll now receive THE HOLY SPIRIT. God’s presence and power. The down payment for ALL in God’s kingdom.

And then be BAPTISED as a sign of the washing of God’s forgiveness. And the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

Peter goes on. He’s caught the vision of the enormity of God’s kingdom. V39.

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.”

And that now includes US. The call has come to US. How have you RESPONDED? Have you recognised Jesus as King? As Lord and Christ? Have you repented of your rebellion? Received God’s washing of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit? Have you been BAPTISED?

See me if you KNOW THE CERTAINTY of God’s declaration in Jesus’ resurrection. And if you want to DO something about that.

Because it DOES change everything. The victory of Jesus’ resurrection can’t leave you unaffected. Unmoved.

How has it changed YOU?

If it’s only Sunday mornings that are different. Then that’s a PITIFUL RESPONSE to Jesus’ resurrection. He’s not just Lord of Sunday mornings. He’s Lord of ALL. 247.

If your Christianity is “just a private thing.” Something you don’t talk about. Then that’s a pitiful response to Jesus’ resurrection. He’s Lord of ALL. Lord of your relationships, and your conversations. Of your actions and your holidays and your wallet.

If it’s only your FAMILY LIFE that’s different. But not your WORK life. Or your SOCIAL life. Or your PRIVATE life. Then that’s a pitiful response to Jesus’ resurrection.

If you know the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection, but you’re still FEARFUL. If you still WORRY. If you’re still scared to be disliked or rejected for Jesus’ sake. Then that’s a pitiful response to Jesus’ resurrection. He is Lord and Christ. He ALONE deserves your honour and loyalty and fear and love and submission.

Knowing the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection should change EVERYTHING. It should change your schedule. Your priorities. What you fit into your day. What you do FIRST. And what you move to LAST.

It changes your hopes for the future. It changes your dreams for your children. It changes what you spend your money on. It changes how you pray.

It changes who you let influence you. Whose words discourage you. And who you ignore.

It changes who you WORK for. And whose approval your LONG for.

And it changes who you bow before. And who you REFUSE to submit to. No matter HOW culturally inappropriate, or politically incorrect, or socially out-of-date you seem.

Is that how it’s working for YOU?

Are you CUT TO THE HEART? God has MADE Jesus both LORD and Christ. And it’s changed EVERYTHING. How’s it changing YOU?

Matthew 20:17-21:11: The Servant King (One Story 8)

Two people can look at THE SAME OBJECT, but see TWO DIFFERENT THINGS. It’s not that the OBJECT changes. It’s all about PERCEPTION. Whether you’ve got the eyes to see, or not.duck rabbit

What do you see when you look at THIS? A duck or a rabbit? It doesn’t CHANGE from one to the other. IT stays the same. What changes is the WAY WE LOOK AT IT.

What about THIS one? An old man with a bushy beard, oman fieldr a person sitting in a field?

Or THIS one? It’s probably the most well-known. Do you see an old lady with a thin mouth?old young woman Or a young girl with a tight black necklace?

One picture. Two different perceptions.

Wrong expectations

Which is just what we’ve got when it comes to the picture of Jesus. Here in Matthew Ch 20. Two conflicting, opposing pictures.

Some people look at him. But they’ve got WRONG EXPECTATIONS. They look at him through the lens of God’s Old Testament promises. Promises about a kingdom and about a king. And they expect ONE thing. A victorious king who’ll win military victories and rescue them from foreign oppressors.

But the reality is Jesus is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Upside down. And SO MUCH BETTER. Because his KINGDOM is completely different. And so MUCH BETTER.

Yes, he’s a victorious king who rescues. But it’s from a much greater enemy than people realise. And he’s going to DO it in a completely UNEXPECTED way.

All the way through Jesus’ ministry, he’s been teaching about the nature of the Kingdom of God. We saw that LAST WEEK. The Sermon on the Mount, all about God’s UPSIDE DOWN Kingdom. How the blessed weren’t the RICH, but the POOR. How the blessed weren’t the HAPPY, but the MOURNERS.

And rather than raising an ARMY, Jesus is healing lepers, and cuddling kids.

And, ch 11, even JOHN THE BAPTIST started to have doubts. Perhaps the guy who knew Jesus best. Who came to prepare the WAY for him.

He expected fire and wrath. Expected preaching about vengeance and judgment and warfare.

But, instead, Jesus came healing the sick and preaching GOOD news. And John just couldn’t SEE it. “Have I backed the wrong horse?” he thought.

And then we get to Ch 16. Jesus asks the disciples what people expect when they look at him. And when he asks the disciples what THEY think, Peter gets full marks, v16. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

And yet EVEN THEN, his expectations are wrong. V21. Jesus explains that being God’s Christ – his chosen king- means SUFFERING, DEATH AND RESURRECTION. But Peter wants something else. He wants a teacher to follow around the country, making life better. “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to YOU!”

Jesus rebukes him. “That’s blindness! That’s talk from SATAN. Get BEHIND me.”

Into the NEXT chapter (17) Jesus tells them AGAIN that he’s going to be betrayed, killed, and then rise three days later. It’s WONDERFUL NEWS. He’ll DEFEAT death! But the disciples were filled with GRIEF. Wrong expectations.

And as we move through chapters 18 and 19 we see Jesus ADJUSTING those expectations. Teaching about how ANYONE in the kingdom has to TAKE UP A CROSS TOO, just like Jesus. Has to LOSE his life before he can SAVE it. And about how the GREATEST in the kingdom must be LIKE LITTLE CHILDREN.

(pause) Which brings us to TODAY’S passage. With the disciples still struggling to see who Jesus is. They see ONE thing, but they’re going to find out he’s SOMETHING ELSE.

So, verses 17-19 of Ch 20, for a THIRD time, Jesus outlines the road map ahead. Even MORE detail this time. They’re headed for Jerusalem, he’ll be BETRAYED, condemned to DEATH, mocked, flogged and CRUCIFIED. Then, on the third day, he’ll be raised to life.

THIS TIME, we’re not told how disciples respond. The last two times, they haven’t responded well. But here, Matthew moves straight on. And I reckon that’s because what comes next IS their response. The next story shows EXACTLY how the disciples understand things. That is – NOT AT ALL.

It’s a story about TWO BLIND MEN.

Two blind men

James and John’s mum has an idea. Or perhaps James and John put her up to it. But she comes to Jesus with a request.  V21.

“Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

The common Jewish view of God’s kingdom, as they read their Old Testament prophets, was that it would come through MILITARY CONQUEST.

Israel would once more be the centre of the world. And it would be glorious. Like in the days of King David. And he’d do it through his chosen king, the Messiah, or Christ.

And that’s what the mother of James and John seems to think TOO. She’s saying to Jesus, “I like the idea you’re going to be a KING. When the victory happens, since I asked FIRST, can my two boys get best spots in the new regime?”

And, not for the LAST time in these chapters, Jesus is going to give MUCH MORE than they realise. He answers them all. V22.

22 “You don’t know what you are asking.

They still haven’t got it. He’s spent so long talking about a kingdom of SERVICE and SACRIFICE and REJECTION. But they’re asking for HONOUR AND RECOGNITION AND POWER. To even ASK it/ means they haven’t GOT IT AT ALL. They’re seeing the wrong picture.

He goes on, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

He’s thinking of the cup of SUFFERING. Of God’s judgment. It’s a picture from the Old Testament. (A bit later on, in the Garden of Gethsemene, he can hardly bear what’s coming – the suffering of the cross. And he prays, asking that God might take that CUP FROM HIM.)

HE knows what’s in store. V22. But James and John have NO idea. “We can drink it too,” they answered.

Jesus replies that they WILL drink the cup. V23 After he returns to heaven, the disciples WILL suffer for Jesus’ name. Many of them were crucified.

And they’ll do it WILLINGLY. Because THEN they’ll understand the nature of Jesus, and the kingdom he brings in.

But at the moment, they can’t SEE it. v23

“You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

Everything will turn out according to God’s plans.

And the irony is, in God’s wisdom, when Jesus comes in his kingdom the people on his right and left WON’T have any power, or receive any glory.

When he’s raised on the cross. When he wins peace and forgiveness and restoration. When he brings his KINGDOM. Who are those on his left and right? Two CRIMINALS. Who die WITH him. That’s the nature of the kingdom Jesus is bringing!

I bet James and John didn’t see THAT side of Jesus’ kingdom.

And the REST of the disciples aren’t much better EITHER. Look at v24.

24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.

This is no righteous indignation. They’re not rebuking the brothers because they’ve got Jesus WRONG. It’s nothing more than petty envy! They wished they’d thought of it first! So much for humility and putting others FIRST!

So close to the end, and still Jesus’ closest followers have so little clue. So he calls them together. AGAIN. V25.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you.

It’s a DIFFERENT sort of KINGDOM. Because I’m a different sort of KING.

Instead, whoever wants to become GREAT among you must be your SERVANT, 27 and whoever wants to be FIRST must be your SLAVE- 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

A ransom. A price paid for the life of a slave. And here, Jesus will offer himself as the one to take the punishment that many deserve. The one to bear the wrath – to drink the cup – of a righteous God against unrighteous people.

And it’s a price that pays for our freedom. Satisfying God’s justice. Calming his anger. THAT’S how Jesus’ kingdom comes – how Jesus is CROWNED. THAT’S the sort of king he is – a SERVANT king!

(pause) And it sets the SUPREME EXAMPLE of what his kingdom is LIKE. The giving up of life. To be GREAT in the kingdom means being A SERVANT. LAST. LEAST.

Can you SEE Jesus like THAT? If you CAN, are you LIVING THAT WAY? Are you being a SERVANT? A SLAVE?

Jesus is actually saying it’s a GOOD thing to want to be GREAT. A GOOD thing to want to be FIRST. He says, “Whoever wants to be GREAT in the kingdom…”

Is that YOU? Do YOU want to be great? To be first?

Don’t forget it’s about being great in GOD’S kingdom. First in God’s kingdom.

And to be first and great in God’s eyes. Means being LAST and LEAST / NOW. It’s GOOD to want that.

How are YOU working out being last and least NOW? How are you serving God’s people HERE? How are you putting THEM first, and yourself LAST?

Are you, in the words of Philippians 2, in HUMILITY, CONSIDERING OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELVES?

What does an attitude of considering others better than you LOOK LIKE?

And is your ATTITUDE one of putting yourself last? Are you happy if NO ONE ELSE NOTICES what you do? Is it BETTER if no one notices?

How are you putting your GOALS and your AGENDA LAST and other’s first?

How are you putting your INTERESTS and your PREFERENCES last/ and other’s first?

And it’s not just something for the NORMAL everyday Christians to do either. It’s THE LEADERS who should be setting the example BEST.

It’s the leaders. The adults. The parents. The elders. The ministers. The mature Christians among the less mature. The older teenagers at Youth group among the younger ones. They need to be LEAST and LAST. TO SERVE.

If you want to be GREAT in God’s kingdom/ that means being the OPPOSITE / NOW. Being the least. The LAST. Because Jesus was THE KING. The GREATEST. And he came to SERVE.

That’s the clearest picture we can get of Jesus. Of who he is. Why he came. And what his kingdom is like.

But the two blind brothers can’t see it at all. And the rest of the disciples aren’t any better.

Two MORE blind men

Which takes us to two MORE blind men. From v29. Two men who can’t see PHYSICALLY, but who can see who Jesus is perhaps even BETTER than James and John.

Jesus and the disciples are heading up to Jerusalem. And they attract the attention of two blind beggars sitting by the road. They hear it’s Jesus, so they yell out (v30) “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

It’s the first time since the genealogy in Ch 1 that Jesus has been called the SON OF DAVID. And it’s come from two BLIND men. But they’ve seen Jesus CLEARLY. God had promised that his Messiah would be a king from David’s line. And he’d be the one to bring in the kingdom. And now Jesus was doing it, and the blind men are pleading for him to have MERCY.

Jesus asks them what they WANT him to do (v32). They answer (v33), “Lord, we WANT OUR SIGHT!”

They might be BLIND, but they’ve seen Jesus JUST RIGHT. V34.

34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

Two donkeys

And these two seeing men KEEP following Jesus. All the way to Jerusalem. Into Ch 21. Where we see a story of two DONKEYS. Well, if you count James and John as two donkeys, then it’s a story of two MORE donkeys.

They get close to Jerusalem. Jesus sends two disciples into Bethphage. He tells them to untie two donkeys they’ll find there. And bring them to him. A mother and her foal.

And then Matthew tells us Jesus did it to fulfil a prophecy from Zechariah. A promise from God that his king would come – would bring in his kingdom – not riding on a mighty warhorse, proudly declaring military conquest. But riding on A DONKEY. No saddle, no stirrups. Not high above everyone else. At eye level. Legs swaying awkwardly in time with the rolling of the donkey’s waddles.

Hardly fitting for A KING. Unless you’re a SERVANT king. Whose kingdom is one of service and suffering and humility.

And it’s just that message Jesus declares as he makes his way into Jerusalem.

The crowd have cut branches down, and spread their own cloaks down on the path for Jesus and the donkey to walk over.

Despite Jesus’ best intentions, despite the message he sends with the donkey, the crowd STILL expects an EARTHLY king. A military conqueror.

Hosanna, they shout – God SAVES! And he’ll do it through his promised Son of David. It’s A REBEL CRY against the Romans! Surely, with him coming to Jerusalem, the rebellion is about to start.

They’ve got the GOAL right. But they’ve just got the METHOD all wrong. They’re EXPECTATIONS are wrong. Because he’s a DIFFERENT SORT of king. The SERVANT king. Who came not to BE served. But to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

And if we jump past the next few chapters of Jesus teaching in Jerusalem we see that different kingship. That SERVANT kingship. Over to Ch 27. We see the king who lays down his life.

“Honouring” the king (27:27-31)

Look at how the soldiers HONOUR the king. V27 of Ch 27. Jesus has been sentenced to death. And the Roman soldiers take him down to the barracks for some fun.

They think it’s hilarious that this weak, abandoned, silent man is sentenced to death as THE KING OF THE JEWS. He’s the best this miserable nation can come up with.

The whole garrison gathers. They strip him, find a scarlet robe to drape across his bare shoulders. Then someone finds a thorn branch. They twist it into a rough crown, and jam it down on his bowed head. They find a broom handle to put in his hand as a royal sceptre.

Then the fun begins. They kneel before him. And ridicule him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” They spit on him, and take the staff off him and hit him on the head with it.

But he won’t play along. He’s no fun. He just TAKES it. Turns the other cheek.

He BEARS the shame and the insults precisely because he IS the king of the Jews. Just a different SORT of king. He’s the SERVANT king. The heavenly Son of Man who looks for acclaim from ANOTHER source.

When the soldiers get bored, and work out he won’t react. They dress him in his own clothes again. And lead him out to crucify him.

Your Kingdom Come (27:32-56)

He’s too weak to carry his cross, so they grab Simon from Cyrene to carry it FOR him. (v32)

And Matthew picks up details that remind us of the TYPE of kingdom Jesus is bringing in. Back in the Sermon on the Mount – Ch 5 – Jesus said that whoever obeyed his teaching would be GREAT IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. And then he taught (v38).

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. IF SOMEONE STRIKES YOU ON THE RIGHT CHEEK, TURN TO HIM THE OTHER ALSO. 40 AND IF SOMEONE WANTS TO SUE YOU AND TAKE YOUR TUNIC, LET HIM HAVE YOUR CLOAK AS WELL. 41 IF SOMEONE FORCES YOU TO GO ONE MILE, GO WITH HIM TWO MILES.

And here we have Jesus PRACTISING what he preaches. Turning the other cheek. Giving up his tunic and cloak. And then being forced to go two miles. Because that’s the way to live in the kingdom of the Servant King. That’s the way for his kingdom to come.

HE did it, and he calls US to do it TOO.

(pause) They come to Skull Hill. Golgotha (v33). He’s crucified there. Lifted up in front of them. But not in honour and exaltation. The passing crowds slow down just long enough to hurl INSULTS at him.

And the soldiers sit at his feet. Not in submission to his rule, but to gamble for his clothes.

And his offsiders, one on his right and one on his left, are not his loyal counsellors, his right hand men, rewarded for their faithful service. But two CRIMINALS, meeting the same shameful fate as him. And they’re ridiculing him TOO!

While his TRUE disciples are nowhere to be seen.

And over it all, the ironic sign above his head (v38). The crime he’s executed for. “This is Jesus: The KING of the Jews.”

Ironic, because it was meant by Pilate as AN INSULT. Not just to Jesus. But to the whole Jewish race. To keep them in their place.

Yet it speaks better than he knows. Because Jesus IS the king of the Jews. King of THE kingdom. And they WON’T stop him / simply because they’ve murdered him.

And his death is coming soon. V45. From midday to 3pm there’s darkness over the whole land. The sun fades because THE SON is fading.

He doesn’t last much longer. V50. One final cry. Then he GIVES UP HIS SPIRIT.

And as the Son of God dies, it seems like his whole Creation begins to mourn. Everything was made BY him, and everything holds together BECAUSE of him. Now, at his death, it’s like creation begins to fall apart.

The sky is dark. The earth shakes, and rocks split.

The curtain of the temple was torn from top to bottom. The barrier that separated God and man completely destroyed. Many holy people raised to life. Tombs shattered.

All of them A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME.

And while the earth shakes and rocks split, Jesus shake things up LITERALLY. But before long, he’ll shake the world METAPHORICALLY.

Because the message of Jesus’ defeat of sin and death will spread from one end of the world to the other.

And the result is he’s changed the world like NOTHING ELSE.

Christians who’ve taken up their cross. Who’ve followed. Who’ve put themselves LAST. Made themselves LEAST. Have gone out into God’s world and INFECTED it with the kingdom of God’s Son, King Jesus.

They’ve replaced ambition with SERVICE instead. Replaced Hate with love. Pride with humility, anger with patience. complaint with long-suffering. Bitterness with forgiveness. Despair with Joy. Death with Life.

Faithful followers who take his message of forgiveness and death-defying grace. And who LIVE OUT his servant-hearted selflessness. And who share that – LIVE that – among the people they meet.

And it’s WORKING.

It’s an unlikely strategy for world-domination. But that’s Jesus’ unexpected, unlikely, upside-down kingdom.

God’s kingdom IS conquering the kingdoms of the world. Just not in the way people EXPECT.

Two generations later, the Romans thought they could wipe out Christianity by feeding Christians to the lions. But THAT didn’t work.

In 1950 Christian missionaries were banished from China, and the communist party thought they’d stamp our Christianity. Even the MISSIONARIES wondered if it would. But God’s kingdom could NOT be broken. Half a million Chinese Christians in 1949 has now grown into between 40 million and 130 million depending on who’s counting.

Jesus is God’s powerful king who brings in his UNEXPECTED kingdom, and powerfully shakes up sin and death. Then AND now.

Is Jesus’ death shaking YOUR world?

Is it rocking YOUR pride and you pretensions and your self-sufficiency?

Is it rattling the cages of your ambition, and your comfort and your plans?

Is his servant death making a difference in your work, and your family? In your relationships and your priorities?

Is the death of Jesus making a difference in YOUR life – LIKE it has IN THE WORLD?

Bow before him. Honour him as the King of God’s kingdom. Worship and serve and FOLLOW him. That’s the way to respond to the Servant King.

The servant king who calls US to serve TOO. To be great in God’s kingdom. To be God’s people under God’s rule means being LEAST AND LAST.

Is it JESUS’ agenda you’re following, or YOURS?

Is it about YOUR plans? Your priorities? Your decisions? Or does it all depend on doing things JESUS’ way. Humbly serving OTHERS. Regularly, habitually, putting yourself LAST.

What a great place this church would be if we all lived like THAT in our dealings with each other, and with our community!

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, WHOEVER WANTS TO BECOME GREAT among you MUST BE YOUR SERVANT, 27 and whoever wants to be FIRST must be your SLAVE- 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 1-18: Your kingdom come

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.

Ezekiel 37:15-28: Exile

A car hooned down our street the other day. One of our neighbours was crossing the road and nearly got run over. He gestured for him to slow down. The driver’s reaction? He blasted his horn, and stuck up his finger.

Or the Park Ranger tells you that you can’t sit on the grass and you’ll have to move. Is your first reaction to apologise and get up? Or is it to stand your ground, defend your right to sit wherever you FEEL like?

How do YOU react to correction? Are you GOOD at taking criticism? Do you listen, examine yourself, and if necessary make a change? Or do you secretly BRISTLE inside? “How DARE they tell me what to do? What RIGHT do they have? How about they took a good look at THEMSELVES before they start pointing the finger at ME!”

You may not actually DO what that driver did. Or that person sitting on the grass. But I wonder whether you’ve FELT like doing it.

How do you react to correction?

And what about if the One providing the correction is GOD? That’s the situation for Israel as we pick up the story at week SIX of our cruise through the whole Bible.

We’re following the ONE STORY of the Bible. God builds a blessed kingdom of people from the descendants of Abraham. The nation of Israel.

Last week we saw how Solomon turned away from following God to follow idols. Horses and gold and women captured his heart instead.

The kingdom divided

And so God split his kingdom in two. The kingdom DIVIDED. A NORTHERN kingdom of Israel. 10 tribes. And a SOUTHERN kingdom of Judah. 2 tribes. The year was 930 BC.

And for the next 200 years, through the Biblical books of 1 and 2 Kings, kings come and go. But no one follows God like they should. North or South. Israel or Judah. It makes no difference. People would rather worship IDOLS than worship the One true God. They’d rather do things THEIR way than God’s way.

Kingdom EXILED

And so God finally brings about the correction he’d WARNED them about. All the way back when the people were about to enter the Promised Land. Moses had preached to them.

And in Deut 28 he warned them about the CURSES God would bring for DISOBEDIENCE. Curses of drought and barrenness. Of frustration and defeat and poverty. Of plagues and sickness. Warnings to turn back. And to do things God’s way.

And finally, if they CONTINUE in disobedience, Moses warns them (v63)

63 Just as it pleased the LORD to make you PROSPER AND INCREASE IN NUMBER, so it will please him to RUIN AND DESTROY YOU. You will be UPROOTED FROM THE LAND you are entering to possess. 64 Then the LORD will SCATTER YOU AMONG ALL NATIONS, from ONE end of the earth to the OTHER.

The ULTIMATE CORRECTION. Exile!

It’s a DISSOLVING of God’s kingdom. Removal from the LAND. And scattering among the nations. No longer God’s PEOPLE. No longer in God’s LAND. Because they refuse to live under God’s RULE.

And the kingdom of God, that looked like it was getting CLOSER, suddenly seems so much further away.

And, in the fullness of time, God’s warnings came true. 722 BC, the NORTHERN kingdom was defeated by Assyria, and the people scattered all over the place. Plenty killed. Some carried off to Assyria, others re-settled. And then OTHER nations brought in to settle the land.

And the SOUTHERN kingdom didn’t escape EITHER. 586 BC Babylon broke through the walls of Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, killed thousands, then carried off all the survivors to Babylon.

And God’s plans for his KINGDOM looked in tatters. So much for God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. PEOPLE dead or scattered. No LAND. And not interested in being under God’s RULE.

Promises, promises

But if God had PREDICTED all these events. Then he must have PLANNED them. And if he’d PLANNED them, then he must have done it FOR A REASON.

And we begin to SEE those reasons as we read through the books of the major prophets in the Old Testament. Like Jeremiah, who prophesied in Judah before and after its exile. Or Ezekiel, who was carried off to Babylon with the rest of the exiles.

And what we find God giving them are PROMISES FOR HIS PEOPLE. Promises to sustain them through the refining fire. Promises to reassure them. Reassure them that God was behind it all, moving nations and kings for HIS PURPOSES.

But not only THAT. Promises that, ONE DAY, he’d bring GOOD out of it. And BRING THEM BACK. Restore them to the land. Get his great plan for his blessed kingdom back on track. RESTORE his kingdom.

Promises like in Ezekiel 37. The people are DISTRAUGHT. They’re like DEAD MEN WALKING. Without hope or energy. But look at the BROAD SCOPE of all God promised to do. V11. “The whole house of Israel say

Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will BRING YOU BACK TO THE LAND OF ISRAEL.

God’s going to RESTORE them. But that’s not all. V14.

14 I will put my SPIRIT in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land

Not just his Spirit for the select few. For the prophet or king. But for EVERYONE. Back in Ch 36 God explained what THAT would mean. V25

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.

God’s Spirit would CLEAN them. Wash their sins away. And then give them a new heart. A new desire and ability to keep his laws.

But wait, there’s more! Back over in Ch 37 v15 to 22. They won’t be TWO nations anymore. I’ll JOIN THEM BACK TOGETHER.

“I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. 22 I will make them ONE NATION IN THE LAND

But wait there’s MORE. Not only one NATION. There’d be ONE KING to RULE them. Not TWO kings – one for each kingdom. ONE king. And WHAT a king he’d be. V22.

There will be ONE KING over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. THEY WILL BE MY PEOPLE, AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD.

24 “‘My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will FOLLOW MY LAWS and be careful to keep my decrees. 25 They will LIVE IN THE LAND I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will ESTABLISH them and INCREASE THEIR NUMBERS, and I will put my SANCTUARY among them forever. 27 My DWELLING PLACE will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.'”

NIV

Here’s God committing himself to the promises he’d made to ABRAM. Promises to be his God. Promises to bless him with a nation of children. And a land for them to live in.

And it’s God committing himself to the promises he’d made to DAVID. That one of his offspring would rule on the throne. And it would be an ETERNAL REIGN.

And with the help of his Spirit and his king, his people would follow his laws. And he’d be their God and they’d be his people.

It’s nothing more than promises that God would RE-ESTABLISH HIS KINGDOM. His PEOPLE in his PLACE under his RULE.

And notice that he’s promising to put his DWELLING PLACE among them? And to be with them FOREVER. It’s the word for the Tabernacle. The tent the people would pitch in the middle of the camp as they wandered around in the wilderness. But now God’s promising to dwell with his people FOREVER.

In v26 he calls it his SANCTUARY. Or his HOLY PLACE. A holy place with God living right among his sinful unholy people! Forever! Just IMAGINE it! What a promise!

Attitude to Correction

But for the people and for Ezekiel, those days are off into the future. AT THE MOMENT, they’re stuck in Babylon. Far from their land. Far from the temple. And they’re MISERABLE.

What they need is some instruction to help them get through the practical realities of THAT situation. And Jeremiah’s got some home truths for them. Jeremiah 31 v18. God’s HEARD them. He hasn’t FORGOTTEN them. In fact, he’s been DISCIPLINING them. Correcting them. And they may even be ready to LISTEN. V18 of Ch 31. God says

18 “I HAVE SURELY HEARD EPHRAIM’S MOANING: (they say) ‘You disciplined me like an unruly calf, and I have been DISCIPLINED. RESTORE me, and I will RETURN, because you are the LORD my God. 19 After I strayed, I REPENTED; after I came to understand, I beat my breast. I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’

Israel’s being PUNISHED. Sent to her room. And she’s recognised her mistake. “Restore me, and I’ll return.” And God’s ready to LISTEN. V20.

20 Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” declares the LORD.

Just like a HUMAN parent who reassures his child of his love after disciplining. That’s what GOD does. He LOVES his people. And he wants the correction to actually MAKE A CHANGE for the BETTER in the lives of his people.

It’s exactly the POINT of disciplining.

But there’s got to be the RIGHT ATTITUDE to CORRECTION. And, just maybe, that’s what Israel’s GOT. Just MAYBE now she’ll learn to live God’s way.

That’s all very well. But the END of the correction’s still off in the distance.

So what about TODAY? TOMORROW? What does it mean PRACTICALLY for his people stuck in exile? Should they rebel and plot and scheme? Work to bring about God’s plans IN A HURRY? Should they COMPLAIN that God’s being too tough on them?

Jeremiah’s got some fascinating advice for them back in Ch 29. It was a letter he sent from Jerusalem to the leaders of the people in exile. V4, This is what the LORD Almighty says to those in exile.

5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

React to God’s correction WELL, he says. Take it on board. Learn from it. Endure it patiently. And God will bring things to pass IN HIS TIME.

In the meantime, SHOW your trust in God by GETTING ON WITH LIFE. Settle down. Marry. Build houses, Plant gardens. Increase in number.

Don’t live out of a suitcase. Don’t live with one eye on the calendar. Don’t grumble. ENJOY life where God’s put you. THAT’S the attitude to correction you should have.

And then in v10 God gives MORE wonderful promises.

10 This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 THEN you will CALL upon me and come and pray to me, and I will LISTEN to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

God’s plans are set. And they’re plans for their GOOD, not EVIL. That’s the thing about discipline. It doesn’t SEEM like it’s good. The CHILD always feels like they’ve been picked on and victimised. But the wise parent knows that discipline might be PAIN in the SHORT term. But it’s GAIN in the LONG term.

And that’s the way God’s planning it HERE.

Return from exile – Ezra, Nehemiah

And that’s the way it WORKS OUT.

Daniel 9. Daniel’s in exile in Babylon. And he reads about Jeremiah and the 70 years. And he starts PRAYING. And REPENTING.

And the books of EZRA AND NEHEMIAH tell the story of how the return HAPPENS. King Cyrus of Persia conquers Babylon, 538 BC. And he lets the people go back to build the temple under the leadership of Ezra. And later Nehemiah returns to build the city walls.

And by the end of Nehemiah, things are looking PROMISING. The TEMPLE is up and running, and the city walls are complete. God’s PEOPLE are back in God’s LAND.

But the question, as always, is ARE THEY UNDER GOD’S RULE? People like Daniel have PRAYED and REPENTED. People like NEHEMIAH tried to reform society. But are the REST of the people ready to obey him with all their heart and soul?

And the short answer, if we look at the end of Nehemiah, is NO. They’re NOT. Nehemiah comes back to visit a few years later. And it’s like that movie Groundhog Day. People making the same mistakes over and over again. Following other idols, marrying foreign women, being led astray. Just like Solomon!

It’s frustrating for Nehemiah. Imagine how frustrating it must be FOR GOD!

It’s like they’ve LEARNED NOTHING. After everything they’ve been through, the problem is they HAVEN’T turned back to God with all their hearts AT ALL. Their attitude to correction has been TO FORGET IT. IGNORE it.

And that’s where the story of the Old Testament finishes. UNFULFILLED EXPECTATION. Waiting for God’s kingdom. Waiting for the sequel. Waiting for the REST of God’s promises to happen.

He’s brought them back to the LAND. But what about the OTHERS. The promise of the gift of his Spirit? To wash them clean? The promise of a new heart?

The promise of being joined as ONE NATION? The promise of ONE KING from David’s line to RULE them? To shepherd them and help them to keep God’s law.

Or what about the promise for God to make his DWELLING PLACE among his people

And after four hundred years of WAITING. God comes GOOD on his promises. A son of a son of a son of David IS born. Matthew announces him

1:1 A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:

And after going through all the generations, he finishes with

16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born JESUS, WHO IS CALLED CHRIST.

And so a Son of David comes to Israel, just like God promised.

And 30 years later, that baby grows up. And when John the Baptist announces his arrival, he describes him like THIS. Mt 3:11

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will BAPTIZE YOU WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT and with fire.

The One who would bring the Holy Spirit to wash his people clean. So they COULD obey God with all their heart and soul. Just like God had PROMISED.

And when John the gospel writer describes Jesus’ coming, he puts it like THIS. John 1:14.

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.

God put on FLESH, in the person of Jesus. And came and TABERNACLED among us. Pitched his tent in the MIDST of us. Just like he’d PROMISED through Ezekiel.

And that Son of David would go on to END the cycle of sin and punishment. Of disobedience and CORRECTION. He’d bring an END to the EXILE.

Because he’d die in the place of sinners. Taking God’s wrath. Satisfying his righteous judgment. So that sinful children didn’t HAVE to bear it. And could stand forgiven. No longer to be exiled. Sent to the naughty corner. No more living in fear of condemnation. Rom 8:1 says

8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,  2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

If you’re a Christian, then that’s where you stand NOW. No more in fear of judgment. No more to be punished or exiled. All because of Jesus.

Which gets us back to the question I began with this morning. How do you react to correction? Especially GOD’S correction.

Do you buck against it? Bristle with self-righteous indignation? Grumble and complain that you don’t deserve it? Or that God’s being unfair to pick on YOU? And that’s there’s plenty of OTHER people who have WORSE faults. And their life seems to going along FINE!

Or maybe do you get DEJECTED. Get angry, or wallow in self-pity. And complain that God’s PUNISHING you because you’ve sinned. And that OTHER people must be better, because they’re lives are less difficult.

But the reality is if you belong to Jesus then the exile is over. The punishment’s been PAID. There’s no condemnation for you. Jesus has already been punished for your sin. God won’t punish you again for them.

But he IS the loving Heavenly Father who DISCIPLINES you. Who uses the difficulties of life to MOULD and CHANGE you. To make you more like Jesus. To grow patience and love and humility and trust in you.

So rather than COMPLAIN and GRUMBLE. Take the advice Jeremiah gave the exiled Jews. Get on with it and ENJOY the life God’s placed you in. Settle down. Plant gardens. Be CONTENT.

Work for the GOOD of your job, or your landlord, or your suburb, or school. Work for the GOOD of your children or your spouse.

Have a good hard look at yourself. And ask yourself what areas of your life God might want to be CORRECTING you in. And take the correction WELL. With a GOOD attitude. That’s what will be for YOUR benefit and God’s APPROVAL.

Those are the ACTIONS that show the ATTITUDE of TRUSTING that God’s got it in control. And he’s USING it for his purposes. Jer 29:11.

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

He is our loving HEAVENLY FATHER. And he SHOWS it by correcting us. Receive it WELL. And BENEFIT from it.

Let me finish with the exhortation from Heb 12:5

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”  7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our SPIRITS and live! 10 OUR fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us FOR OUR GOOD, THAT WE MAY SHARE IN HIS HOLINESS. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it PRODUCES A HARVEST OF RIGHTEOUSNESS AND PEACE for those who have been trained by it. 12 THEREFORE, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.

That’s the attitude to have to correction! May that be OURS!

1 Kings 11: The kingdom goes

The Titanic Experience. It’s a new tourist attraction in Belfast, where the Titanic was built. I always thought it was a funny thing to advertise – that you’d been responsible for building the most famous shipwreck in history.

But it’s apparently very popular. It’s WHY PEOPLE GO.

And that’s the funny thing about THE MOVIE, The Titanic. People WATCH it, even though they know how it’s going to turn out. There’s no SURPRISE ENDING, is there? I mean, we all know what happens! The SHIP SINKS!

The Titanic is a DISASTER STORY.

And what many people don’t realise is that’s exactly what the Old Testament is. A disaster story, just like Titanic.

So far in the story we’ve seen what THE ARCHITECT’S PLANS look like. God’s promised to BLESS ABRAM. To give him a name, to give him a LAND, and to give him a NATION of DESCENDENTS to FILL it. And then to USE those descendents to BLESS THE WHOLE WORLD. That’s the PLAN. He’s building the good ship, Israel.

And the CONSTRUCTION’S BEGUN. Abram’s family has grown into a NATION. God’s given them THE LAND. And, after a shaky start, he’s appointed a CAPTAIN for the ship.

King David had a heart to serve God. To live under his rule. He was determined to do things God’s way. And so God made him a promise (2 Samuel 7). That David’s family line would rule FOREVER.

And the good ship Israel was launched, with much fanfare. And for a number of years, things were sailing along SMOOTHLY.

David gets older. His son Solomon is chosen as king. And in 1 Kings 2, David calls him in for a final father-son chat. Hard to imagine more important advice. V2

2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, show yourself a man, 3 and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go, 4 and that the LORD may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they WALK FAITHFULLY before me WITH ALL THEIR HEART AND SOUL, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.’

He’s repeating the promise God made to HIM. That there’d be a Son of David on the throne forever. As well as THE CONDITION that goes with it. As long as Solomon keeps his eyes FIRMING on what God wants. As long as he walks FAITHFULLY before God. Keeping all the requirements written in the Law of Moses.

And not just doing the LETTER of the law. Doing it under compulsion. HEART AND SOUL says David. Doing it with an INTEGRITY OF CHARACTER. Someone who is God’s man ON THE INSIDE as well as the outside. Who LOVES to keep the law of Moses.

As good as it gets

And when Solomon becomes king, for a number of years, he follows David’s advice.

And if David’s reign brought special days for Israel. Then Solomon’s was THE GOLDEN AGE. As good as it gets. Skim through some of the highlights with me. 1 Kings Ch 4 v29.

20 The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. 21 And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life.

Or down to the end of v24

25 During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, each man under his own vine and fig tree.

Peace, security, prosperity. What more could you want? Each man with his own grape vine and fig tree!

And then, to top it off, Solomon BUILDS THE TEMPLE. There’s a great celebration. And, in ch 8, when Solomon dedicates it, he praises God as the One who kept his promise and brought it all to pass.

“Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who with his own hand has FULFILLED WHAT HE PROMISED with his own mouth to my father David

But Solomon recognises God’s not just keeping his promises to DAVID. But ALL his promises. Promises to bring in his KINGDOM. His blessing. Jump down to v56.

56 “Praise be to the LORD, who has given REST to his people Israel just as he promised. NOT ONE WORD HAS FAILED OF ALL THE GOOD PROMISES he gave through his servant Moses.

It really is the golden age of Israel. Of God’s kingdom. The PINNACLE.

But, like most things, when you reach the pinnacle, the only way you can go from here is DOWN. Like the guy who climbs Mount Everest. From here, it’s all downhill.

And the FALL when it COMES, comes QUICKLY. Remember, I SAID it was a disaster story. Just like the Titanic – everything going BEAUTIFULLY. The band playing, the people dancing and dining. Right up to the moment the iceberg loomed out of the fog. And the SHIPWRECK was INEVITABLE.

And the iceberg for Solomon was the condition God attached to his promise. That Solomon followed the Law of Moses HEART AND SOUL.

Obedience Checklist

The Law of Moses which includes ONE LITTLE PASSAGE in PARTICULAR. Back in Deuteronomy 17 v16 (p138). Probably didn’t seem that significant back when Moses gave it. The people were out in the desert, surviving on manna, trudging through the sand, putting one foot in front of the other. Choosing a king was probably the LAST thing on their mind.

But all the way back then, Moses gave a job description for their future king. An obedience checklist. “When you finally make it into the Promised Land,” said Moses, “And you ask for a king to rule over you like the OTHER nations. Make sure you pick the RIGHT MAN. Someone with INTEGRITY. Someone who’s right ON THE INSIDE. Even more important than on the OUTSIDE.”

And the way to know THAT is to make sure there’s three things he NEVER DOES. Because they’re a DEAD GIVEAWAY there’s something rotten on the INSIDE.

First, v16, make sure he doesn’t collect great numbers of horses for himself. Especially, that he doesn’t head back to Egypt for them.

Because the NUMBER of horses you have says something about WHERE YOUR HEART IS.

Second, says Moses, v17, He mustn’t take MANY WIVES, or his HEART will be led astray. That’s even MORE obvious than horses. Someone who’s a LADIES MAN has a HEART problem.

Don’t go for a king LIKE THAT, says Moses.

Third, v17. He mustn’t accumulate LARGE AMOUNTS OF SILVER AND GOLD. It’s one thing to be well-off. It’s ANOTHER thing to just ACCUMULATE. When you don’t even NEED it. That just says something about YOUR HEART.

So how’s Solomon gone against THAT checklist? Are things really as golden as they seem? Well, the smart readers of Kings will have picked up a number of warning signs as they read through the description of Solomon’s golden age. As they read through 1 Kings 4-10.

One of which is that it was LITERALLY a golden age.

It’s interesting, you can actually trace Solomon’s gold stock pile building up right through chapter 9 and 10. Chapter 9 verse 14. Hiram King of Tyre sends King Solomon 120 talents of gold. Which is 4 tons. Verse 28, there’s another 14 tons. Chapter 10, when the Queen of Sheba visits, verse 10, she adds another 4 tons to the pile.

In fact, by the time you get to verse 14 in chapter 10, you can see it says “The weight of the gold that Solomon received YEARLY… was 666 talents. Which according to my helpful little footnote is 23 metric tons. Which at this week’s gold price…is worth just over $1.1 BILLION. YEARLY.

And you’ll see in verses 16 to 22, it’s gold, gold, gold everywhere. Two hundred large shields of hammered Gold; as well as 300 smaller ones. And so everywhere he goes, Solomon is surrounded in the glory of glimmering soldiers with their polished gold shields.

Verse 18. A throne of gold.

Verse 21. All his goblets were gold. And all the household articles in the palace of the Forest of Lebanon were pure gold. Everywhere you looked, everything you touched… gold.

In fact, verse 21… nothing was made of silver. Because silver was considered of little value in Solomon’s days.

Sounds impressive. Until you remember that God had said this… Deuteronomy 17 verse 17: When you get a King, “He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.”

But that’s not ALL. 1 Kings Ch 10 v26. You’d probably just read right over it. Except if you’d noticed Moses’ obedience checklist for a king. V26.

26 Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and TWELVE THOUSAND HORSES

But notice where they’re FROM. v28

28 Solomon’s horses WERE IMPORTED FROM EGYPT and from Kue

Exactly what God said a king WASN’T to do. “Don’t accumulate horses from Egypt”. Because that’s where Israel’s been RESCUED from. From SLAVERY. And now Solomon’s gone back there DOING DEALS.

Suddenly Solomon’s golden age is looking a little RUSTY AROUND THE EDGES. Perhaps a bit like Solomon HIMSELF. Fine and impressive on the OUTSIDE, but not quite so impressive on the inside. Where it COUNTS.

And when we get to TODAY’S passage. Ch 11. We see warning sign number 3. Do you remember what Moses said? A king’s not to accumulate 1. much GOLD, or 2. HORSES. And three, Deut 17 v17, he must not take … MANY WIVES, or HIS HEART WILL BE LED ASTRAY.

So what do we read at the start of 1 Kings 11?

11:1 King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter-Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites.

And, just in case we didn’t realise that was a bad idea. It goes into a bit MORE detail.

2 They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, BECAUSE THEY WILL SURELY TURN YOUR HEARTS AFTER THEIR GODS.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love.

And just like the gold and the horses, Solomon doesn’t do things by halves.

3 He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines,

And they do exactly what God, through Moses, said they would.

And his wives led him astray. 4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.

It’s hardly surprising really, when we notice the hints. The ship has drifted off course. There’s icebergs ahead. There’s a collision, and the ship’s headed for DISASTER.

The kingdom goes

And God’s judgment falls. Just like he PROMISED. The kingdom COMES. And the kingdom GOES. V9. God becomes ANGRY. Solomon hadn’t kept the Lord’s command. So he promises AGAIN. V11.

I will most certainly TEAR THE KINGDOM AWAY FROM YOU and give it to one of your subordinates. 12 Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13 Yet I will not tear the WHOLE kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

The kingdom will be shipwrecked. But not COMPLETELY. For the sake of David, God will show faithfulness to his promise. It will be SPLIT IN TWO.

And that’s the way things turn out. Almost instantly, there’s opposition everywhere. Things start to head downhill.

At the end of Ch 11 Solomon DIES. And his son Rehoboam is set to become king. Of a kingdom we KNOW is going to be split in two.

The search for a servant king (1 Ki 12:7)

And that’s how it turns out. The 10 northern tribes come to Rehoboam with a demand. Their spokesman Jeroboam says (v4)

4 “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”

Solomon’s building program was impressive. Unequalled. But along the way there are hints that it CAME AT A COST. FORCED LABOUR. Conscription. Not just from foreign prisoners and slaves, but from ISRAELITES. And it seemed like the NORTHERN TRIBES bore the GREATEST burden.

And the people WANT THINGS TO CHANGE. “Give us a lighter yoke, and we’ll FOLLOW you,” they say. What they want is a SERVANT king.

Rehoboam goes away to think about it. He asks the OLD advisors. They sniff the political wind, and they say, Ch 12 v7,

“If today you will be a SERVANT to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be YOUR servants.”

Serve THEM, and they’ll serve YOU. Lighten their load, dial back the building program a bit. And things will settle back down. Give them the servant king they’re after, and you might just make it out of this with your throne intact.

But instead, Rehoboam listens to his young mates. The young hot heads with something to PROVE. They tell him to DIAL THINGS UP. Prove he’s a bigger man than his father. V14.

“My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it EVEN HEAVIER. My father scourged you with WHIPS; I will scourge you with SCORPIONS.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken.

Just like God had said. And the people reject him as king. And ten northern tribes go out on their own. And they became known as ISRAEL. The NORTHERN kingdom. And all Rehoboam was left with was JUDAH. The SOUTHERN kingdom. The year is 930 BC.

But neither kingdom learned anything from the mess. As we read through the next few books, whichever king was on the throne of whichever kingdom, the story was the same. Idolatry, wickedness, and SELF-service rather than SERVANTHOOD.

And so chapter 15 and 16; you get two lines of Kings. First of Judah. Then of Israel. And so on through both books of Kings. Judah and Israel. All a mess. All the same. Selfish, self-serving kings. Who refused to follow God heart and soul.

All because King Solomon served himself. And King Rehoboam wouldn’t listen. And there was no way he was going to serve his people. And lighten their yoke.

And that’s the way God’s people would remain for the rest of the Old Testament. Two kingdoms, north and south. Israel and Judah. Shipwrecked. Split down the middle, just like the Titanic. SEARCHING for a servant king. But not FINDING one.

The servant king – found

It’s just what I said at the start. That the Old Testament is really a DISASTER STORY.

But thankfully for us the story doesn’t END there. Because 1000 years after Rehoboam. ANOTHER king would arrive. And his first recorded public words signal his declaration. Mk 1:15.

15 “The time has come,” he said. “THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS NEAR. Repent and believe the good news!”

The kingdom is close because the KING HAS ARRIVED.

And his kingship really IS about serving. Mk 10:45

45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to SERVE, and to GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR MANY.”

A king who lay down his life as the ransom payment for the sin of his people. That’s the sort of king you’d follow ANYWHERE. The sort of king God WANTED for his kingdom ALL ALONG.

That’s the sort of King Solomon SHOULD have been. Who’s heart wasn’t set on God. Instead it was set on gold and horses and women. In the end, it was a heart that wanted to BE served, rather than to SERVE.

It was the sort of king REHOBOAM should have been. His old wise men told him to BE A SERVANT. To LIGHTEN the yoke on the people. But instead he MADE IT HEAVIER. He wanted to prove himself GREATER than his Dad, but ended up proving himself LESS.

It might have taken a thousand years. And a dozen failure-kings. And a shipwreck of a nation. But eventually God sends a king who QUALIFIES. The old counsellors said, “If you’re the sort of king who serves his people… then they’ll happily serve you.” And at last… King Jesus qualifies.

The people of Israel said, lighten our yoke. And, eventually, God DELIVERS. Listen to the words of Jesus. Matthew 11:29-30. He says this:

Jesus says, 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.”

What sort of leader does God want for his people? A SERVANT leader. That’s the lesson the Old Testament teaches us. God wants A LEADER LIKE JESUS for his people. And Jesus says to follow HIM is no burden at all.

His kingdom arrives. And he says you get ready for that by REPENTING. Confessing your failures and your rebellions. And making a fresh start. And Jesus promises that for those people who DO that, there’s REST FOR THEIR SOULS.

Has that been YOUR experience? REST for your souls?

No more striving and earning and wondering and stressing. Just REST! No more performance anxiety. No more fear of death or judgment. Just REST!

And the yoke he gives you. The yoke of serving him in his kingdom. The yoke of BEING like him.

Not because it’s SIMPLE. It will take your WHOLE LIFE. And you’ll NEVER reach the end of what it involves.

But because there’s JOY in serving the king who served you FIRST. Who served you more than you can possibly ever repay.

That’s why it’s light and easy.

It’s a yoke of LISTENING to him. Learning from him. Resting in him. He’s gentle and humble. And that’s how he would have US live too, in his kingdom.

Solomon had all sorts of impressive advantages. On the outside he was solid gold. But on the inside there was no integrity. No substance. No heart after God. His heart lusted after gold and horses and women. For us, it might be all sort of different temptations. Money and career and stability and significance and comfort. We want to be FIRST rather than LAST.

But they’re just as deadly if they turn our hearts away from God.

In the end, following after a king like THAT will never give you freedom. It LOOKS that way. But it only ends in SLAVERY. Instead, take to heart Jesus’ words.

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.”

That’s the king worth following. The kingdom worth being part of.

2 Samuel 7: The Kingdom Comes (One Story 4)

What’s the best holiday you ever had? What was the best MOMENT you can remember on that holiday? What’s the first image that comes into your mind?

Perhaps it was doing NOTHING. Perhaps it was full of ADVENTURE.

Perhaps it was sitting in the shade under a palm tree watching the sunset, or swimming the crystal clear waters of a deserted beach, or standing on the top of a mountain soaking in a gorgeous view, or catching a huge fish.

Perhaps it was being overcome by the beauty and history of a famous castle or cathedral or art gallery or museum.

Perhaps it was the excitement of a concert or sporting event. Or the tastes and smells and sights of a top class restaurant. Or a cultural experience vastly different from your own.

Perhaps you were ON YOUR OWN. Or maybe it was improved by experiencing it with your husband or wife, or your family. Perhaps it was IN A BIG GROUP.

Whatever it was, AT THAT MOMENT you felt more alive than ever before. More HUMAN. And your experience of life was richer and more profound than ever before. Colours deeper, smells stronger, tastes better, memories more unforgettable. It was PARADISE.

For many of us that experience is one we HOLD ON TO. And we long to experience it AGAIN. We want to BRING IT BACK with us. And live it ALL THE TIME.

My Dad lives at Terrigal. And it’s a popular holiday destination. And when we’re there, it’s amazing how many people spend time browsing in the real estate windows. Day-dreaming about leaving their REAL life, and living NEAR THE BEACH.

I wonder if you’ve caught yourself having the SAME daydreams. “If only… Life would really be fantastic if we moved here. All our problems would be OVER. Perhaps we could actually DO IT – do the sea change, or the tree change!” It’s the dream of PARADISE REVISITED.

But the reality is that special moments like those holiday memories are just PASSING. FLEETING. Here for a day, and then gone. Leaving you HUNGRY for MORE. That’s LIFE! More GRIND than GLORY. More EXERTION than ESCAPE. More VOCATION than VACATION.

And that pattern we experience on A SMALL SCALE is the same pattern we see in the story of God’s world. It’s the one story of the Bible. The story about that one perfect moment. Paradise! Created by God according to his perfect design. Then LOSING it. And life after being about frustration and effort.

And then, it’s a story about God’s plan and promise to RETURN to that. Paradise RESTORED. Even BETTER than before. Never to be lost again!

Abram to David

A quick re-cap. The story began with God making his world PERFECT. Paradise. Perfect relationships all around. God’s kingdom, with God’s PEOPLE in God’s PLACE, under God’s RULE. Under God’s BLESSING.

Part 2. But paradise was ONLY FLEETING. Through Satan and temptation and rebellion, it became PARADISE LOST. Frustration and death replaced blessing and life. And the earth was CURSED. Living APART from God’s blessing.

Part 3. (We saw this last week). But God was committed to CONTINUE HIS PLAN. So he called Abram. And promised to BLESS him. To make him the Father of a NATION, in a LAND, with his offspring to be the means by which God would BLESS THE WHOLE WORLD.

It was a commitment to make him the pioneer for a whole new kingdom of God. Once again, God’s people, living in God’s place under God’s rule.

And that’s where we left it last week. With the PROMISE of paradise. Of blessing and kingdom. But it was only A PROMISE. Like that distant holiday. It’s on the calendar. The accommodation and flights are booked. But there’s a long way to go before you GET THERE.

Today we jump forward a long way. And see the kingdom of God STARTING TO TAKE SHAPE.

Long story, short. Abraham eventually has a child Isaac. And over time that ONE grows into MANY. The whole clan is living in the land of Canaan. The land God promised them. But they’re NOMADS. Wandering around in tents. And the land’s not THEIRS. They’re surrounded by other tribes and clans and nations.

And God’s curse on the ground has meant there’s A DROUGHT. And a FAMINE. So the family moves to Egypt where there’s FOOD. And God BLESSES them there and they grow into a NATION.

Now they have THE NATION part of the promise, but not THE LAND.

Eventually God delivers on THAT TOO. He rescues them miraculously out of Egypt. Leads them through the wilderness into the Promised Land.

Now they have the NATION and the LAND. But before long, they’re not living under God’s RULE. They’re doing things THEIR way. The refrain of the era of the Judges is that Israel had no king and everyone did as he saw fit. NOT living under God’s kingship.

And so there’s not peace and blessing like God promised. The nations within and around them keep irritating like a blister. Never giving them rest.

And that continues through the reign of judges like Samson and then the first king, King Saul.

The Kingdom of God under David

Until we get to King David. Which is where we pick up the story TODAY.

In 1 Sam 16 God chooses David to replace Saul. He’s not the best looking or the strongest or tallest. God tells the prophet Samuel, “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at THE HEART.” (1 Sam 16:7).

David may not be PERFECT, but we’re told he has A HEART AFTER GOD. Above all else, he wants to serve and follow GOD. In other words, he wants to be living in God’s kingdom. As his person in his place under his rule.

And that makes him the right choice to leads God’s people. As God works out his commitment to make Abraham’s family a blessing.

And, in the course of time, he succeeds Saul. 2 Sam 5:12 tells us that God ESTABLISHED David as king over Israel and exalted his kingdom.

The kingdom of God starts to take shape. In real and concrete ways.

He conquers Jerusalem, fortifies it, and builds a palace there. He defeats the nations around him.V10 of 2 Sam 5 says that David became more and more powerful BECAUSE THE LORD GOD ALMIGHTY WAS WITH HIM.

And then, in Ch 6, he brings the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. The symbolic throne of God arrives in the capital city of Israel. With all the fanfare and celebration of a royal visit. God is king, ruling in the midst of his people.

Thousands of people rejoice with David, and sacrifice fellowship offerings to God. David opens the royal pantry, and everyone gets a take-home bonus hamper to celebrate.

God is making good on his promises to Abraham. Blessing him with descendants and a land. It’s God’s kingdom REALISED. The IDEAL kingdom. Israel are prosperous, numerous and obedient to God. God’s people, in God’s place under God’s RULE. It’s, at least on the WAY to, PARADISE REVISITED.

A house for David (2 Sam 7)

And it’s at THIS point that we get to Ch 7. David’s sitting on his palace veranda, looking out over his kingdom. Paradise!

Solid prosperous city? Check!

Safety from enemies? Check!

Numerous and contented people? Check!

Fancy palace? Check!

Wives and children galore? Check!

Suitable house for God? A temple to worship him in???? …

He looks down to the tabernacle. It’s where the Ark of the Covenant is stored. The priests and the sacrifices and the altars and the candles are there. It’s where the people go to meet their God.

But it’s only A TENT. And it’s looking a little tattered and worse for wear. It’s been with the people all the way through the desert, and through the judges, and the reign of Saul.

Hardly FITTING, thinks David, for the powerful and faithful God whose given David such a solid kingdom.

So David decides he wants to build God a temple. V2. He calls in Nathan the prophet, and says.

Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

It sounds like a good plan to Nathan, so he tells David to do whatever he thinks is best. But later that night God has A DIFFERENT idea. He appears to Nathan in a dream, and he says (v5)

5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 I HAVE NOT DWELT IN A HOUSE FROM THE DAY I BROUGHT THE ISRAELITES UP OUT OF EGYPT TO THIS DAY. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. 7 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” ‘

In other words, “What do I need a house for? Never needed one BEFORE. It’s not as if I actually LIVE there, anyway!!”

And even though he’s given David so much already. God’s got even MORE in store.

It’s like those ads on the TV shopping channel. “But wait there’s more! Not only can you get the four stainless steel saucepans. But if you buy NOW, we’ll throw in four extra sharp kitchen knives. And that’s NOT ALL!”

Look at v8. God’s listing all he’s thrown into the deal ALREADY for David.

I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you.

He’s established his kingdom. But wait, there’s more! And notice the SPECIFICS.

Now I will make your NAME great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth. 10 And I will provide a PLACE for my PEOPLE Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning

A name, a place, a people. Planted – safe and secure. Sound familiar? It’s God’s promises to Abraham. Promises to restore PARADISE. To bring in his kingdom.

But here’s the BEST bit. God’s got a sense of humour. The end of v11.

“‘The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish A HOUSE FOR YOU:

God’s making a PUN. A HEAVENLY Dad-joke. You see, HOUSE has at least two meanings. It can mean BUILDING – like David was thinking. A temple or a palace. But it can also mean DYNASTY or FAMILY. Like the royal house of Windsor. And that’s what God’s talking about. David’s not going to build a house for HIM. He’s going to build a house for DAVID. A family line. A DYNASTY. Just like he’d promised Abraham. Look at v12.

12 When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up YOUR OFFSPRING to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.'”

He’s talking about Solomon. And Solomon WOULD end up building a temple for God. But what REALLY matters is that God’s going to establish David’s family line. Descendants who would sit on the throne of David FOREVER.

They’re big promises! And a big VISION. Of God’s kingdom, ruled over by his appointed king. Obedient to God’s rule. Established and secure FOREVER.

And in the fullness of time, we see what eternity really LOOKS LIKE. Which David’s greatest son comes to rule. King Jesus. The perfect king who brings in the PERFECT kingdom. That really WILL last forever.

David’s response (18-29)

And David is just BLOWN AWAY. When Nathan passes on the message, v18, David goes in and SITS before the LORD. It’s the response we’ve seen from lots of the gold medal winners at the Olympics in the past couple of weeks.

They cross the line and they fall to the ground. Sometimes it’s with EXHAUSTION. But often it’s just as the ENORMITY of what’s happened hits them.

And I think that’s David’s reaction. He can’t believe how HUGE God’s goodness is. V18.

“Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? 19 And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign LORD, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign LORD?

You’ve done so much already, and now you’re promising for the future! Completely undeserved GRACE!

How often do you feel like THAT at what God’s done for you? Or are you more likely to GRUMBLE?

But not David. He goes on to praise God for the greatness of his character and his work in the world. V22.

22 “How GREAT you are, O Sovereign LORD! There is NO ONE like you, and there is NO God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. 23 And who is like your people Israel-the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt?  24 You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, O LORD, have become their God.

All things God’s ALREADY DONE. Things that show he’s WORTHY of David’s praise.

And then, from v25, David turns his attention to the promises for the FUTURE.

25 “And now, LORD God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, 26 so that your name will be great forever.

V28.

28 O Sovereign LORD, you are God! Your words are TRUSTWORTHY, and you have PROMISED THESE GOOD THINGS TO YOUR SERVANT. 29 Now be pleased to BLESS the house of your servant, that it may continue FOREVER in your sight;

David’s caught a glimpse of the ONE STORY the Bible is telling. About God’s promise to BLESS his people. To bring them into his kingdom. To restore them to paradise.

And David’s caught enough of the FAITH and CONFIDENCE in God to ASK FOR THAT PLAN TO BE BROUGHT TO PASS.

And the rest of the Bible tells the story about how that HAPPENS.

Our response

We’ll see more of that NEXT week. But I don’t think it’s giving too much of the story away to say that there’s still a lot more to go before God REALLY brings his kingdom in so that it lasts FOREVER.

And we’ll see next week that David’s son, Solomon, for all his abilities was a rather SHAKY FOUNDATION to base your confidence in God’s kingdom on.

Because God was promising that the son of David who would, ULTIMATELY, bring in God’s kingdom FOREVER wouldn’t arrive for hundreds of years. Until Jesus arrived. The PERFECT king and Son. Who would NEVER need God’s fatherly hand of discipline like Solomon.

And who would conquer enemies of sin and death PERMANENTLY. COMPLETELY.

And while David’s attitude is a great model. One to imitate. For those of us who follow after Jesus. Who belong in the kingdom HE brings. We should be EVEN MORE blown away by God’s goodness to us. By the grace of the blessings we’ve received.

We may not have a palace and a throne like David. But our blessings are INFINITELY BETTER. Listen to how Paul is blown away by the goodness of God’s blessings to him in Christ. Eph 1 v3.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has BLESSED US IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS WITH EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN CHRIST.

Better than palaces or crowns. And he goes on to LIST all the things that come to us because of Christ.

V4. Chosen to be holy and blameless

V5 Predestined to be adopted as sons through Jesus

V7 Redemption through Jesus’ blood and forgiven sins

V8 Grace LAVISHED on us.

And finally we get the blessing of knowing God’s purposes for his world. His plan. The ONE STORY he’s working on as recorded in the Bible. There in v10. Can you SEE it?

(the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure which he purposed in Christ) 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment-TO BRING ALL THINGS IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH TOGETHER UNDER ONE HEAD, even Christ.

He PROMISED it to Abram. He HINTED at it in the King David’s kingdom. And he’s WORKING IT OUT NOW.

All things being brought together under the kingship of Jesus. All things being brought into the kingdom of God. That’s the plan – that EVERYTHING be God’s PEOPLE in God’s PLACE under God’s RULE. PARADISE RESTORED. Never to be lost.

We only see GLIMPSES of it at the moment. But God’s WORKING IT OUT.

And living in God’s kingdom NOW means WORKING ON THAT PLAN TOGETHER WITH GOD.

It means following his king, his Son Jesus. Listening, loving and obeying him. And BY that listening, loving and obeying helping to bring ALL THINGS under that kingship. Helping EVERYONE recognise Jesus as king.

And what that means PRACTICALLY is that we’re part of his HOUSE. Not the physical building – the temple – that David wanted to build for God.

But the SPIRITUAL building – the generation, the dynasty, the family line of all those descended from David. Sons of the greatest Son of David, Jesus.

Peter picks up the language of THE HOUSE. And uses it to describe Christians. Those following King Jesus. 1 Peter 2:5.

1 Peter 2:5-6

5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

So what are the spiritual sacrifices we offer if we belong to God’s spiritual house? Down in v9. (And here’s the response and application for all we’ve said today.)

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, THAT YOU MAY DECLARE THE PRAISES OF HIM WHO CALLED YOU OUT OF DARKNESS INTO HIS WONDERFUL LIGHT. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to ABSTAIN FROM SINFUL DESIRES, WHICH WAR AGAINST YOUR SOUL. 12 LIVE SUCH GOOD LIVES among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

That’s, practically, what it means to live in God’s kingdom today. To be part of the spiritual house God’s built around King David’s greatest descendent King Jesus.

Is that a vision YOU’VE seen? Is that a vision YOU’RE LIVING OUT?

Genesis 11:27-12:9: The Promise

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to a politician PROMISING something, I’m a little reluctant to TRUST them. Bob Hawke promised that no Australian child would be living in poverty. Promising more than he could really deliver, I suppose. John Howard managed to explain HIS broken promises by saying that they weren’t CORE promises, so it didn’t matter. Malcolm Turnbull promised a plebiscite on same-sex marriage. But then didn’t have the numbers in parliament to make that happen.

It’s hard, isn’t it, to make promises about the future? Because we’re only human. And we can’t control what’s going to happen tomorrow. We might have every intention to DO something. Or BE somewhere. But then, something happens we’ve got no control over. And we can’t fulfill our obligations. Which I HATE doing. And so, if we’re honest with people, we don’t PROMISE. We say “I’ll do my best”. Or “I’ll TRY”. Which, I sometimes think, just isn’t good enough.

In Vanuatu they don’t have a problem. They just promise to do what they think the person WANTS. Even if they have no intention of doing it. If they think the other person WANTS them to turn up for a meeting at 9 am, they’ll promise to be there. Even if they’ve already said they’ll be somewhere else. Because it’s more polite to AGREE with the person, and then not keep their promise. Than to suggest a different option that they could actually KEEP. It’s about not wanting the other person to lose face.

Making and keeping promises. With people, promises are hard to trust. Even when we MEAN what we promise. It’s all because we’re HUMAN. Fallible. Unable to control events. Or see into the future.

But what about when it comes to God? How well can you trust GOD’S promises? Do you BELIEVE what he says, and do things HIS way? Or do you choose to ignore him? And do what YOU think’s right?

They were the questions facing Abram here in today’s Bible reading. Genesis 12. One of the most important passages in the whole Bible. About promises and blessing.

Because God makes a number of important promises to Abram – promises we see working out in the rest of the Bible. Over the course of thousands of years.

In ONE way, these few verses are the road map the rest of the Bible follows. God makes Abram into a great nation – Israel. And that story takes up two thirds of the Bible. And then we see in the remaining one-third/ how the blessing of Israel goes to the REST of the world. That’s us.

Bless this mess

Have a look there in v1. God’s big promises. The Bible summarized in a couple of sentences.

12:1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

2 “I will make you into A GREAT NATION and I will BLESS you; I will make YOUR NAME GREAT, and you will BE a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and ALL PEOPLES ON EARTH will be blessed through you.”

God has a plan for Abram. To BLESS him.  To make him into a great nation. Give him lots of descendants.  And to make HIS NAME great.  And 3. a bit further down in v7. He promises to give him the LAND OF CANAAN.

But they’re not just promises for ABRAM. God’s plans are much bigger than just for one man and one nation. He’s got plans for the WHOLE WORLD. Through Abram, God’s going to bless ALL PEOPLES ON EARTH. Incredible promises.

And notice that they’re all about what GOD’S going to do. Not what ABRAM will do.

Sticking with the plan

And it’s about God STICKING WITH THE PLAN. Because blessing’s not something NEW. Way back in Ch 1, God BLESSES the animals. And then he BLESSES Adam and Eve, and tells them to be fruitful and multiply. To fill the earth and subdue it.

And then into Ch 2, he BLESSES the SEVENTH DAY, and makes it holy.

And then in Ch 9, he blesses NOAH, and gives him the same command – “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it.”

What does blessing MEAN? In blessing, God’s DECLARING HIS GOOD INTENTIONS for these things. For people and creatures and days. That they might EXIST ACCORDING TO HIS DESIGN. And achieve the things he intended for them.

It’s a goal they FREQUENTLY FALL SHORT OF. First Adam and Eve, then Cain. Then later the wicked people of Noah’s time. And then, in Ch 11, the people of Babel. Again and again, they fail to LIVE UP TO the blessing God designed for them.

And the result is the OPPOSITE of God’s blessing – his CURSE. His declaration of JUDGMENT. A curse on the SNAKE, and then on the ground, in Ch 3. A curse on Cain in Ch 4, then on Ham, the father of Canaan, in Ch 9.

But sin like that won’t change God’s plan. He’s STILL committed to BLESS. He’s sticking with the plan. And so he calls Abram.

But the blessing here’s a bit different from what’s gone before. Because here it’s the PROMISE of blessing. There’s going to be some sort of GAP between the EXPECTATION and the REALITY.

There’s some sort of DELAYED GRATITIFICATION. God’s declares his INTENTION to bless, but he DELIVERED with it yet. A difference between the APPEARANCE and the REALITY. God made his commitment to Abram, but we can’t see the OUTWORKING of that yet.

And the rest of the Bible is the story of how that GAP IS BRIDGED. How the blessing becomes REALISED.

And even TODAY there’s still a gap. Because we’ve experienced PART of God’s blessing. But we’re still trusting him for THE REST. Jesus HAS come. And brought blessing to the nations. He HAS defeated Satan. But there are still battles going on. The earth is still suffering the scars of sin and Satan.

And so we wait for God’s FINAL and COMPLETE blessing. A culmination we’ll only receive INTO ETERNITY.

And so the Christian life today is like Abram’s life. It’s ALSO about TRUSTING what we can’t see. Believing for what we haven’t received – YET. That’s FAITH. It’s LIVING IN THE GAP. The gap between the PROMISE and the DELIVERY of the promise.

Answering the Call

So what does it mean for Abram to RECEIVE this promise of blessing? To trust for what he can’t see? What does it mean for him to answer the call? Because faith is more than just HEAD KNOWLEDGE. You SHOW it. By DOING something.

It seems like Abram was quite COMFORTABLE when God first appears to him. Quite settled in another country. But God’s got something else in mind. “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household, and go to the country I’ll show you.” (v1)

If one of US has to move THESE days. It’s not such a scary thing. The Deals have just moved down to Sydney from Wingham. Not quite the same distance as from Ur to Canaan. But nowhere near as big a deal.

They might be leaving people they know, but it’s much easier to keep in touch.

And because of technology, they can know far more about where they’re going. They can do LOTS of research. Find a job, find a house, enrol in a school. Choose doctors and mechanics and coffee shops. All without leaving their home.

But this is a country Abram’s never SEEN, or been to. He doesn’t really know how to GET there. Or what sort of journey he might have. – there are no maps or guidebooks. He doesn’t know what he’ll find when he ARRIVES.

But God’s TOLD him to go. So Abram BELIEVES God. But that’s not ALL. He GOES. He trusts that where God LEADS, he’ll follow.

It must have been tempting to stay where he was. After all, things were a lot more settled. And there’s a hint that that’s what he did. That God actually called him in Ur. And that he got stuck on the way in Haran (Ch 11 v31). Perhaps having second thoughts.

After all, those promises seem hard to believe, don’t they? Abram – a great nation?! His name might MEAN exalted father, but there wasn’t much chance he’d be a DAD – after all he was in his seventies, Sarai in her sixties. Apart from which she was BARREN. Couldn’t HAVE children.

But, nevertheless, v4 tells us that Abram DID AS THE LORD TOLD HIM. God said Go. And Abram said YES.

And in v6 they eventually make it to Canaan. Where God tells him that he’ll GIVE THE LAND TO ABRAM’S KIDS. Which ALSO doesn’t seem very likely since the land’s already filled with Canaanites.

But Abram believes God anyway. And builds an altar there to worship him.

And the next 13 chapters show how God will begin to work out that blessing for Abram. It takes 25 years before he has his FIRST son – not much of a TRIBE.

And by the end of his life, all he owns of the Promised Land is a burial plot for his wife. Not much of a COUNTRY.

And, as you read through the story, at times you wonder what sort of FAITH Abram is really showing in God. Because he messes things up. He laughs at God’s word. And he impatiently tries to give God A HELPING HAND when things seem to be taking too long.

But, in the end, that’s really the point. Because it’s not about the AMOUNT of FAITH Abram had. That’s not what will make the promises come true. But, rather, his faith in the FAITHFULNESS of the ONE WHO GIVES THE PROMISES.

Like two people catching a plane. One does it all the time. The other one is scared of flying. A nervous wreck the whole flight.

But they both make it to their destination. Because it’s not about how CONFIDENT you are. But it’s about the reliability – the TRUSTWORTHINESS – of the pilot and the plane.

What matters isn’t the amount of faith. But the FAITHFULNESS of the ONE WHO GIVES THE PROMISES

That’s what Paul has to say about Abram in Romans 4. Listen to what Paul says. Start at v18

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope BELIEVED and so became the father of many nations,

Then a bit further down to v20.

20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being FULLY PERSUADED THAT GOD HAD POWER TO DO WHAT HE HAD PROMISED. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”

It’s all about the trustworthiness of the God who makes the promises. God has the POWER to do it. And he’s TRUSTWORTHY – if he SAYS he’ll do it, then that’s what he’ll DO.

And because Abram took God at his word, he FOLLOWED.

And, v22, God took that trust into consideration. And credited his account with righteousness. Counted him as acceptable. Some of the most WONDERFUL Words in the whole Bible.

It wasn’t that his faith was PERFECT, and EARNED the bonus. But that God CREDITED it to him as righteousness. The right standing was A GIFT. But the faith was ACCEPTING the gift.

And God calls US to do the same. To ANSWER THE CALL just like Abram. To show OUR faith in the faithfulness of God. To accept his word. Because Paul goes on to say there’s a lesson in the life of Abram for US. V23.

23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but ALSO FOR US, to whom God will credit righteousness-for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

God offers US the same gift of righteousness – of forgiveness and friendship with him. If we trust him at his word, and accept the gift of life that comes through his son.

Because Jesus IS the fulfillment of God’s promise right back with Abram. Because Jesus is one of Abram’s offspring. And by his death and resurrection, he brings Abram’s BLESSING TO ALL THE NATIONS. The blessing of forgiveness and a restored relationship with God.

And, just like Abram, to TRUST God at his word will mean we’re to FOLLOW. To live in the gap. Not follow to a foreign land. But to follow Abram’s descendant, Jesus. Wherever he might call us to go. And it MIGHT be to somewhere as foreign as Canaan. It might be overseas. Or just next door. To prisons or schools. It might be to a change of career. Or into full-time ministry. Or re-training.

He might be calling you to build some bridges with your neighbours. Show hospitality. Or invite a work colleague to read the Bible. Or be involved in some evangelism, talking to strangers about what they believe.

Trusting God will mean we BELIEVE God’s promises. We trust his trustworthiness. And we FOLLOW. We do what HE wants, not what suits US.

And here’s something else. When Abram believed God and followed, he didn’t know how the story would turn out.

We sometimes look back and think it must have been EASY for Abram. After all, look at all the wonderful things God did for him.

But when God called him, it was just him and Sarai. Perhaps his nephew Lot and father Terah. But that was all. No children, no real possessions. No stability. No future.

But God promised descendants as many as the stars in the sky. And a land for them all to live in. And that they would be the means by which ALL NATIONS would be blessed.

The decision Abram made THEN/ had HUGE implications for his family who followed after. God promised to give the land to his offspring – but Abram needed to TRUST God for it.

You may not have thought about this. But the decisions you make TODAY will echo down across the years to YOUR children. Even if you haven’t GOT kids yet. The path you choose to walk down TODAY will bear itself out in the lives of your offspring.

There are the obvious decisions like what SCHOOL to send your children to. Where to live. Whether to put money aside for their future.

But then there are MUCH MORE IMPORTANT decisions. Decisions of OBEDIENCE that can have an impact for DECADES to COME.

What patterns are you setting in place for what the Christian life LOOKS LIKE? How important is Bible-reading?  Prayer?  Meeting with God’s people?  Giving?  Serving others, rather than BEING served? Contentment?

The decisions you make about PRIORITIES can have an impact for your family. How does WORK fit in? How important is SUCCESS? Education? Approval and recognition? How much are you worried about future security?

What sort of MARRIAGE are you building? What do your children learn about love from the way you TALK to your husband or wife? How you treat them? Value them? Respect their opinion? What will your kids carry with them into THEIR marriages from what they’ve observed about YOURS?

All of these decisions are FAITH decisions that will impact what the future looks like for your children and grandchildren. Abram maybe didn’t realize it. But his faithfulness had HUGE consequences for not just HIS OFFSPRING, but for the WHOLE WORLD. What legacy are you building for the generations that come after you?

I met one of my old teachers at a funeral a number of years ago. Mr Griffiths. Hadn’t seen him for 30 years. He was the father of one of my school mates. And I asked him about Michael. How he was doing? A successful engineer, he said proudly. Then I asked him whether Michael was still following Jesus. And he sadly said No. That he’d given it up. There was a look of sad resignation on his face.  Which legacy would you rather pass on to the generations after you? Success in business, or a life of trusting God’s promises.

God is calling you to pick up your cross and FOLLOW JESUS. He’s promised to BLESS you as you DO it. I’m not sure where he’s leading you. It might be to Canaan. Or it might be to Campbelltown. But either way, I know he’s got a plan. And I know he can be trusted. Will you stay where you are? Or will you trust him and GO?

 

 

Genesis 3: The Snake

Adam and Eve and the snake. It’s a favourite CHILDREN’S story. Sunday School, comics, even THE SIMPSONS feature it.

It’s there at the start of Desperate Housewives – not quite sure why!

We think it’s cute, with pictures of Adam and Eve with the strategically placed leaves or long flowing hair in front of them. And the snake is wrapped around an apple tree, tempting Eve with a gorgeous juicy apple. (blank)

Most Australians would know the story. At least the START of it. Perhaps it’s because it’s got something to do with NAKEDNESS AND FOOD. Two things they seem particularly interested in!

But the reality is in modern society it’s been ROBBED OF ITS MEANING. It’s meant to be a story about SIN and DEATH. Why the world is the way it is. Why a GOOD GOD allows EVIL and SUFFERING in his world. But it’s become a pleasant morality tale about temptation and EATING.

We push the story off into the backwaters of irrelevancy and children’s fable. Instead of recognizing it for what it is – one of the most significant events in human history.

The Second Most Significant Event in History

What do you reckon are the Most Significant events in human history? The incidents that have influenced more people in history than any other.

Perhaps you’d include the invention of THE PRINTING PRESS, which made books and education widely available to all. Including easy access to the Bible for people worldwide.

Or perhaps THE DISCOVERY OF PENICILLIN, which has saved countless millions of lives in only 100 years.

Or the invention of THE SILICON CHIP, which in 60 years has revolutionized technology in every area of life.

That’s three off the top of my head.

But let me suggest that the story of Adam and Eve and the snake. The story of the first sin. TOPS THEM ALL. It’s NUMBER TWO on MY Top 10. The SECOND MOST SIGNIFICANT EVENT in human history.

The life of every person since has been dramatically affected. For the worse. Their environment, their relationships, their choices, their futures.

These verses in Gen 3 might be a simple story. But they’re much more significant than a Simpson’s Episode, or a nice fable that makes us smirk.

Let me prove it to you.

The first thing to notice is that it’s the second part of A CONTINUING STORY. It’s part of ONE STORY of the whole Bible. It started with a perfect creation. Now, we see how that creation was messed up. And we’ll see how God works to RESTORE that in the weeks to come as we take a quick tour through the Bible.

Part ONE finished with the picture of Adam and Eve both naked, and they felt no shame. It’s a picture of innocence and purity. Of complete openness and honesty. Without guilt or shame. Mankind in harmony with God, with creation, and with each other.

But it’s not going to last. It’s the BEFORE picture. Because Ch 3 opens with the introduction of A NEW PLAYER in the drama. The serpent. Made by God, but crafty. In Revelation, we’re told it’s SATAN HIMSELF.

Temptation

And he begins his temptation simply by asking a question. Nothing too obvious. A subtle undermining of God’s word. V1.

“Did God REALLY say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

It’s the first step. Throwing a seed of doubt into Eve’s mind. Causing her to doubt God’s word

And it’s really no different from the way he works TODAY. Just a simple mocking question. It might come from your workmate or neighbour or husband, but it’s Satan who’s blinded their eyes.

“You don’t believe the Bible, do you?”

“You really think praying DOES something?”

“Are you saying that all the other religions are wrong?”

“Why bother giving up Sundays to be in church?”

They’re only harmless questions, aren’t they? That’s what Satan WANTS us to believe.

How do we DEAL with temptations to doubt like THAT?

By BEING CHURCH together. By continuing to REMIND each other of the truth. We keep reading God’s promises. We keep sharing answered prayer. We keep meeting together. We keep LIVING God’s truth.

Because if we DON’T, we might end up responding to the doubts the way the WOMAN DOES. For some reason, her answer doesn’t get it quite right. Maybe she didn’t listen when Adam EXPLAINED it. Or maybe Adam didn’t pass it on correctly. But she adds ANOTHER condition to the command. Making it STRICTER than it actually was. V3.

God DID say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, AND YOU MUST NOT TOUCH IT, or you will die.'”

God HADN’T actually said anything about TOUCHING the fruit – just EATING it.

But whatever the reason, the snake comes straight back with the NEXT part of his strategy. This time not a question, but A STATEMENT. Firstly, A DIRECT CONTRADICTION of God’s command. V4

4 “You will NOT surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.

And then he follows that up with a statement that casts doubt on GOD’S MOTIVES. V5

5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

In other words, God’s the Cosmic Killjoy. He just wants to stop you having fun. From living life the way YOU want. Fulfilling your potential.

It’s the sort of things we say to ourselves when we’re tempted. “God doesn’t know best. I’m sure I’ll be happier… if I lose my temper, or get even, or cheat on my tax return, or my spouse, or chase after success. Or move churches. Or keep my money for myself.”

“God’s rules are to stop me being happy. He’s just MEAN.”

We’re doing nothing more than doubting God’s WORD, and doubting his MOTIVES.

And as the woman churns these same arguments over in her head. And as she looks at the fruit. At how ENTICING it is. She gives in. And eats it. And then she gives some to Adam, who eats it too.

And so they doubt God’s ORDER. They turn his world upside-down.

His design was for animals to be ruled by mankind, who in turn would be ruled by God. But in listening to the animal, she’s turning things on their head.

Now, ANIMALS set the agenda, mankind follows along, and attempts to remove God from his throne.

And God’s design was for man to be the LEADER, and the wife to be the HELPER. But Adam and Eve turn that on his head. It’s Eve who’s LEADING, and Adam who’s FOLLOWING.

Adam SHOULD have said NO. He SHOULD have told EVE not to eat the fruit. But what does he do instead? Gives in meekly, and takes a big bite.

But he doesn’t just GIVE IN. He doesn’t step in and speak up when the snake’s weaving his magic. Notice there at the end of v6. “She also gave some to her husband, WHO WAS WITH HER, and he ate it.”

Adam was STANDING RIGHT THERE as the snake was having the conversation with Eve. And SAYS NOTHIN. He just GOES WITH THE FLOW.

How many husbands and fathers TODAY don’t say anything? Just sit in the background, unnoticed? How many husbands and fathers just sit back and refuse to rock the boat. Refuse to take the spiritual lead in their family? Who don’t pull out the Bible? Who don’t suggest the family pray about something? Who won’t challenge poor choices or sinful behaviour?

It’s not God’s design. And whenever you refuse to be the leader God WANTS you to be, you’re doing nothing less than showing you’re Adam’s descendant.

The humans are revolting

Adam and Eve eat the fruit. The humans are revolting. Rebelling against God’s good rule.

Which is the essence of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It’s refusing to allow God to set the agenda of what’s right and wrong. It’s insisting on making your OWN choices about right and wrong. It’s the essence of SIN. The root cause.

And it’s the same choice EVERY HUMAN SINCE has made. The choice to be their own boss. To make their own morality. Their own good and evil.

It’s summarized well in the second box of the Two Ways to Live outline. Perhaps you know it..

2. We all reject the ruler – God – by trying to run our life our own way without him. But we fail to rule ourselves or society or the world.

Romans chapter 3, verses 10-12 “There is no-one righteous, not even one; there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God. All have turned away”.

We try to be independent. But we only mess things up more. And our world suffers the effects. Whether it be environmental disasters, species extinction, third world poverty, the greenhouse effect, depletion of fossil fuels, world wars – things on a WORLD-WIDE scale.

Or just the everyday divorces, fights, broken families, robberies, rapes, murders and race riots.

Our world bears the scars of our rebellious independence against God.

And for Eve and Adam, the results are felt too. IMMEDIATELY. It’s there in v7. The AFTER photo, to go with the BEFORE photo at the end of Ch 2. V7.

7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

The fruit DOES open their eyes – just like the snake said it would. And they see the SHAMEFUL ENORMITY of what they’ve done.

It’s the FIRST part of paradise that’s ruined. Their relationship with EACH OTHER. Shame and guilt and fear and secrets replace openness and purity and innocence.

And immediately the SECOND part’s ruined too. Because God comes walking through the Garden, enjoying his creation and his creatures.

But the same shame and guilt they felt with each other, Eve and Adam now feel towards God. And they HIDE from him because they’re scared.

At which point it becomes obvious what they’ve done. And God begins to question them.

Passing the Buck

And so the FIRST sin is quickly followed by the SECOND. Passing the buck. Refusing to accept responsibility for their actions.

Like a hot potato, they shift the blame from one to another. Look at V12. God addresses the man – the one he’s put in charge. But he answers

The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

First up, he tries to blame God. You PUT her here! It’s YOUR FAULT. Then he tries to blame the woman. She GAVE it to me.

At which point the WOMAN tries to pass the blame on. “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

And aren’t we STILL good at doing that? Refusing to accept responsibility for our behaviour?

“It’s okay to lose my temper, he made me do it!”

“It’s okay to cheat on my marriage, my needs weren’t being met!”

“It’s ok to speed, I won’t hurt anyone”

“Watching this stuff is ok, nobody’s getting hurt”

Judgment

But a “smoke and mirrors” job won’t work on God. He can see straight through the excuses. Theirs AND ours. And he issues his decree. Judgment for all. Curses for the creation. And punishment for his people.

The snake is cursed. Forever at war with the woman and her offspring. And at the end of v15, the declaration that the offspring of the woman will crush the serpent’s head.

For Eve, there’ll be FRUSTRATION. The incredible joy of children will now be tempered and soured by terrible pain in childbirth.

And the intimacy and love of marriage will now be spoiled by the frustration of conflict. Strong feelings of desire for her husband. But at the same time, he’ll often fail to LIVE UP to those feelings. He’ll abuse his position. And take advantage of it.

There’s a SECOND idea behind that phrase “Your desire will be for your husband” It’s to do with desiring his POSITION. As HEAD of the relationship.

The woman will fail to be content with where God’s placed her in submission. And will kick against the constraints, and try to exert HER AUTHORITY.

A picture of many marriages today.

That’s woman.

Man’s judgment is FRUSTRATION OF HIS OWN. Work, which has such potential to be rewarding and fruitful and satisfying. Will now be back-breaking, and painful. Nothing will come easily.

A picture of the relationship many men have with work today. It promises to give them identity and purpose. To give them the tools to really enjoy life.

And yet, so often, it CONSUMES men. Instead of working to LIVE. They LIVE to WORK. They don’t start out that way. At the start, it’s simply a means to an end. A means to earn the dollars to be comfortable.

But it’s a trap. Because it ends up ruling men. Controlling them. Higher and higher salary means more and more responsibility and expectation. Greater and greater demands. And they never have the time, or the desire, to spend the money they’ve earned.

And for many, they end up with no one to share it with either.

Greg Norman’s story is much too familiar. He’s Australia’s best-known golfer. On many levels a success story. An astute businessman. A multi millionaire. A brilliant golfer. A successful golf course designer. He’s popular, handsome, intelligent, well-spoken, generous.

But not long ago, he divorced his wife of over 25 years. And taken up with someone new. And the property settlement’s turned ugly. And now the SECOND marriage has gone sour.

Is he REALLY that much of a success? I wonder if that’s what he was aiming for at the beginning of his career. To have accumulated that much, but lost his family in the process.

Will he look back on his life, and regret any of his decisions?

It’s a story that’s been retold thousands of times around the world. And down through the ages. The frustration of work – that promises so much, then delivers nothing much at all.

How is that working out in YOUR life?

And the final part of God’s judgment. The final nail in man’s coffin is there from v23. Adam and Eve banished from the Garden. From the perfect relationship WITH CREATION.

And banned from eating from the tree of LIFE. And so condemned to the slow decay of death. The slow but relentless winding down, and wearing out. Culminating in the ultimate full-stop. The end to relationships. The start of loneliness for those left behind.

It’s the end of the story most Aussies don’t want to know about. They prefer their cute cartoon pictures of fruit and nakedness and naughtiness.

When the reality is this event is the second most significant event in human history. It’s destroyed our relationship with each other, with creation, and with God himself.

The No. 1 Event  Rom 5:12-21

I don’t know whether you’ve wondered, as I’ve said SECOND most significant event, what the MOST significant event is.

Romans 5 compares the top 2. Follow along with me. Over on p798. V12 starts with the claims of the number two.

sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned-

When Adam and Eve sinned, DEATH came into the world. Not just PHYSICAL death, but SPIRITUAL DEATH – separation from God, a broken relationship. A refusal to allow God to rule over you.

And Adam and Eve passed down that basic orientation to EVERY ONE OF THEIR OFFSPRING. It’s the DOCTRINE OF ORIGINAL SIN. If Adam and Eve were spiritually dead, then they could only produce CHILDREN who were spiritually dead.

We are all born with an in-built inclination to do our own thing. Born with the mark of Adam’s sin, like a large black birthmark, staining our soul.

And so we ALL sin. Every human born of a human mother and a human father is born SPIRITUALLY DEAD. Without exception.

That’s A PRETTY SIGNIFICANT EVENT.

And so, when something happens that makes us groan. That makes us realise that people are fallen and sinful. And that the world is fallen and corrupt. Someone rips you off. Or abuses you. Or abandons you. When sickness strikes, or unemployment,

When your marriage strikes trouble. And you realise it’s not the way you’d imagined it.

Perhaps even when you respond to a situation, in anger or impatience or embarrassment, in a way that shames and embarrasses you.

By all means, despair and weep and pray. But DON’T BE SURPRISED. It’s the way the world is at the moment. It’s what it means to be living in a fallen world

People WILL let you down. You WILL let OTHERS down. There will be times when life just KICKS YOU in the GUTS.

That’s the world we live in. Every human being born spiritually dead. Alienated from God.

Well – that’s not ENTIRELY true. Because there is ONE human, born of a human mother. But with GOD HIMSELF as his father. And HE was born spiritually alive. And he never sinned. Jesus Christ.

The only human being who ever fully measured up to being made in God’s IMAGE. Perfectly reflecting God’s character and behaviour. Colossians 1:15 says he is the “IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD, the firstborn over all creation”

And the NUMBER ONE MOST SIGNIFICANT EVENT IN HUMAN HISTORY is his life and death and resurrection. Because it’s the way we can move from DEATH to LIFE. From GUILT to INNOCENCE. From CONDEMNATION to FORGIVENESS. From ENEMIES to FRIENDS.

NOTHING COULD BE MORE SIGNIFICANT THAN THAT. Look at how Romans 5 proves the point. V15.

For if the many DIED by the trespass of the ONE man (that’s ADAM), how much more did God’s GRACE and the gift that came by the grace of the ONE MAN, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!

Adam brought DEATH to everyone. But Jesus brought GRACE and a GIFT. What’s the gift? V16.

The judgment followed one sin and brought CONDEMNATION, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought JUSTIFICATION.

Justification. That’s about being put right with God. Having our guilt wiped away. The GUILT that comes from being HUMAN can be cancelled out by the work of Jesus.

But that’s not all. Look at V17.

17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, DEATH reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness REIGN IN LIFE THROUGH THE ONE MAN, JESUS CHRIST.

Not just a restored relationship. But VICTORIOUS life INTO ETERNITY – that’s what comes to those who are right with God.

And it all comes about because of the NUMBER ONE MOST SIGNIFICANT EVENT IN HUMAN HISTORY. The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God’s only son. The only PERFECT human. Who pays our debt, who restores our life. Who overturns the decay and destruction that first sin began.

Or, at least, he CAN for those who accept his work FOR THEM.

But that’s not all! One day, he’ll RESTORE our world. And bring in his new heavens and new earth. Of which the Garden of Eden will be nothing but a dull shadow. A pale and weak imitation.

Revelation 21 gives us a picture of it. Of our eternal home. And the point I want you to notice is how all the effects of the fall – the breakdown in relationships – are REVERSED. Man and God, man and man. Perfectly united. What Adam MESSES UP, Jesus FIXES. Rev 21 v1.

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 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.”

5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

We ARE living in a fallen world. But Jesus, the TRUE image of God, is working on a NEW world. That’s the big idea of the Bible. And it’s a big idea WORTH BUILDING YOUR LIFE ON!

Genesis 1-2: The King

Seeing the big picture helps us make sense of the small details in front of us.

Can you tell what THIS is a picture of?

It’s a lot easier when you can see the big picture. When you can see how the SMALL part fits into the whole. (See the end of the post for the answer)

And it’s the same with OUR LIVES. We make sense of the confusing SMALLNESS of our lives when we work out HOW WE FIT IN. By putting ourselves IN CONTEXT.

How we fit into families, or into work. How we fit into society, or into church. How we fit into THE WORLD.

And since it’s GOD’S world, we makes sense of our lives by listening to what HE says. What HIS plans are for us. And we find THAT in the Bible.

But the Bible isn’t a textbook with a chapter on a range of different topics. One on God, one on Jesus, one on behaviour etc. And it’s not a guidebook with one section on being a child. Another on being a teen. Then on marrying, and so on.

And it’s not a collection of short stories either. With no connection to each other.

The Bible is “the unfolding process of God’s dealings with mankind”. It has a plot. It’s ONE STORY, with a beginning, a middle and an end.

And that’s how we can make sense of each PART of the Bible. By making sure we put it in context. Making sure we work out where each part fits into the BIG story.

The technical name for that is BIBLICAL THEOLOGY. And that’s what this series is about. It sounds difficult. But it’s really what we do naturally when we read ANY sort of literature. We make sense of a particular PART of the story by connecting it with the WHOLE.

We even do it watching TV. Perhaps you catch “Home and Away”, or “The Bold and the Beautiful” every so often. And to make sense of ONE episode, you have to work out how it fits into THE REST. Well, at least as much sense as you can make of ANY episode of “The Bold and the Beautiful”.

And that’s what Biblical Theology does. It looks at a single story. And then works out how that part fits into the WHOLE story.

And our job over the next ten weeks is to take a flying pass over the whole Bible. To get an overview of the whole story.

And that will gives us the tools to deal with EACH SEPARATE PART of the Bible. It will give us CONTEXT, and help us to fit it into the BIG STORY.

And that’s how we go about making sense of OUR LIVES. It’s as we work out what God’s story is that we find OUR place in the story. And we work out where we fit into God’s WORLD and God’s PLANS. And so we’ll get a greater perspective of who we are, and what we’re here for.

That’s the PLAN, anyway!

A story about GOD

So let’s begin. It almost seems too obvious to say. But the Bible is a story ABOUT GOD. He’s the main character. Every episode revolves around HIM.

But he’s MORE than that. He’s also the author, director, producer, set designer, and casting agent. He’s behind it, he’s IN it at every step. And he’s the GOAL and FINISH line of the whole story TOO.

A story that begins with God

And so, not surprisingly, the Bible is a story that BEGINS with God. Gen 1:1 “In the beginning, God…” Before anything else was, GOD was. He’s ETERNAL. The ONLY eternal being. Everything else has its beginning, finds its purpose, in GOD.

Transcendent

He’s ABOVE it and BEFORE it. He’s completely SEPARATE and “OTHER”. He’s TRANSCENDENT.

And, straight away, as author and set designer, he shows his AUTHORITY by SPEAKING CREATION INTO BEING.

BEFORE he speaks, the earth is FORMLESS AND EMPTY – that’s how it’s described in v2. And then he SPEAKS and things happen. Things come into existence. His words have POWER.

And as we read through Genesis 1 we see MORE about what God’s like. There’s an INTELLIGENCE about his creative power. It’s not just RAW POWER. (Like a landslide, or a tsunami). There’s order and design to the creation. Order and design that reflects GOD HIMSELF.

The FIRST three days are about bringing FORM to the formless, shapeless earth. Day 1 light and dark are formed. Day 2 Sky and water are formed. Day 3 the ground and its vegetation are formed.

Halfway through creation and the basic FORM is there. The OUTLINE.

I was flicking through the TV channels and TVS had a show on how an artist painted a painting. And she began by using a pencil to form up all the shapes. Getting the angles and the dimensions and the proportions right. The basic OUTLINE was there.

And then, once that was done, she began to fill in the shapes with DETAIL. That’s when she took up her paintbrush.

And that’s what God does in the SECOND three days of his creation. Takes up his paintbrush.

The earth began formless and empty (v2). The FIRST three days, God’s done something about forming up the FORMLESS. Now, in the SECOND three days, he’s going to do something about FILLING UP THE EMPTY.

Day 4. Light and dark, made on day 1, are given SHAPE on DAY 4. The sun, moon and stars are formed.

Day 5. The SEA and the SKY, made on day 2, get filled up with all kinds of life. Swimming and flying all over the place.

And then day 6, the land and vegetation, made on day 3, are filled up. All kinds of crawling and climbing things. Domestic and wild. Large and small.

And God looks over the whole thing, and (v25) he judges it GOOD. God is ruling over a good earth.

But God’s not finished. He’s got one final detail to the masterpiece in mind. The cherry on the top. Humankind. V26.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man(kind) in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created man(kind) in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

In those few short verses, the whole of human history is set in context. What our NATURE is. What our PURPOSE is. How we’re to relate to God. And how we’re to relate to his creation.

Right there in the very first chapter of the Bible we’re told that God made us UNIQUE out of all his creation. The only creatures to be IN HIS IMAGE. Dolphins aren’t made in God’s image, nor are horses or dogs or pandas. Old growth rainforests aren’t, and neither are whales.

To be made in God’s image means we’re like God in PURPOSE, as well as like him in NATURE.

We’re like God in PURPOSE. He rules over his creation. But he sets humanity up as second in command. As DEPUTIES. And our job is to look after and care for, and nurture his world, on God’s behalf. To CIVILISE it. To CREATE it, and SCULPT it, and ADAPT it.

But there’s also an aspect of being God’s image-bearers to do with our NATURE. God’s NATURE is relational. He IS relationship. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Eternally existing. Complete and satisfied and loving in himself. Each person complete, and yet complemented and fulfilled by the others. He is THREE and he is ONE. He is three IN one.

He says there in v26, “Let US make man in OUR image.”

And he’s made us in a SIMILAR way. In the IMAGE of that nature. Made for relationships. NOT meant to go through life SOLO. Made to be joined together. Made male and female. Each one COMPLETE. But also, made to be complemented and completed by the OTHER. By two becoming ONE.

Over in Ch 2 that joining between Adam and Eve is described. 2:23

23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become ONE FLESH.

Husband and wife – two individuals. And yet joined as ONE FLESH.

We are RELATIONAL BEINGS. And we ARE that way because that’s the nature of GOD HIMSELF. And he made us IN HIS IMAGE.

And that will have something to say to us about all sorts of things. About loneliness and friendship and marriage and singleness. And about what CHURCH should be like. It’s not good to be alone. We were MADE to be in relationships with people. Because that’s God’s NATURE TOO.

And with that final piece of the puzzle, God FINISHES his creation. And he declares it VERY good. COMPLETE. Perfectly BALANCED, and IN TUNE.

God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule.

And whatever twists and turns the story of the Bible takes from here, that’s the yardstick – the blueprint. It’s what sets THE CONTEXT for everything else.

In a sense it’s what the whole Bible is about. About God’s plans to RESTORE his creation to that FIRST IDYLLIC PARADISE. And at each point in the story we can compare where we’re at  with that blueprint.

God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule.

It’s really the THEME of the WHOLE BIBLE. The Kingdom of God. The sphere in which God RULES. God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.

It’s a chorus we’ll come back to again and again in the coming weeks. So whenever I say “Kingdom of God” I want you to think “God’s PEOPLE, in God’s PLACE, under God’s RULE.”

(What is the Kingdom of God? “God’s PEOPLE, in God’s PLACE, under God’s RULE.”)

And so God FINISHES his creation. And on the seventh day he RESTS. He BLESSES it. And makes it HOLY.

By resting from creating, he’s saying there’s nothing else to add. It’s PERFECT. He just puts down the paintbrushes, and sits back to ENJOY it.

And that has something to say to US about our attitude to the world. Despite it being fallen. It’s a good place to be. It’s a place to be ENJOYED. It’s Christian to commit yourself to working for the good of the environment, or your community. Or to enjoy nature, or the ocean. Or to STUDY it, or PHOTOGRAPH it, or PAINT it.

God sat back to ENJOY what he’d made, and WE CAN TOO.

That’s Ch 1.

Immanent as well as Transcendent

And then as we move into chapter 2, we get a DIFFERENT perspective on the Kingdom of God. The camera changes position. Instead of giving the wide angle, from the top down, big picture, it zooms in to the personal. The human. The eye level.

Like the difference between a computer game that looks down from above, and the game that’s from the view of the soldier, looking through his eyes as he runs through the battle field.

That’s what we’ve got in Ch 2. God’s creation viewed from the HUMAN level. It even uses a different NAME for God. In chapter ONE, it’s just ELOHIM – GOD. A TITLE.

But in Ch 2, he’s YAHWEH Elohim. God’s PERSONAL NAME. He’s not just the transcendent God, who’s ABOVE his world. He’s the IMMANENT God, who INVOLVES himself in what he’s made.

Instead of God simply SPEAKING creation into being, in Ch 2 we’ve got him FORMING man from the dust of the ground (v7). We’ve got him BREATHING into his nostrils. He’s PLANTING a garden.

And down in v19, he’s forming the beasts of the field OUT OF THE GROUND. And then he’s BRINGING them to Adam to name. And in v21 he puts Adam to sleep, takes one of his ribs and makes a woman from the rib.

It’s still God CREATING. He’s still just as much in charge. We’ve just got him doing it in A MUCH MORE INTIMATE AND PERSONAL WAY.

And at the end of Ch 2, the picture of GOD’S KINGDOM has been filled out a little more. God’s given the first rule to keep – v17. “Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” It’s open season on everything else. Just not this one.

That shows God’s RULE. He’s in charge. He’s setting the boundaries for what it means for his people to rule creation. GOD is the one who declares things good. Not them.

More on that NEXT week

And Ch 2 shows something about God’s PLACE. It was perfect. Beautiful to the senses.. He made it INNOCENT. With NO knowledge of good and evil. Everything was GOOD. God had MADE it that way, and DECLARED it good.

And we see something more of God’s PEOPLE. Made innocent, TOO. Naked but without shame. Because there was nothing for them to be ashamed OF.

And made male and female. COMPLEMENTING each other. COMPLETING each other.

And giving the task of NAMING the animals – exercising RULE over them.

What have we learned?

And so, as we come to the end of these two chapters, what have we learned?

We’ve learned something about who GOD is. He’s transcendent. He’s ETERNAL. Compared to his creation, he’s completely “OTHER.” Everything comes FROM him, and gets its life and identity and meaning from him.

He REVEALS himself, but we should never expect to understand him completely. Or understand how or why he DOES things.

And yet at the same time, Gen 2 paints the picture of God getting PERSONAL. Immanent. Close. Intimately involved with his creatures. It’s almost impossible to connect the two chapters as describing the same God.

And yet, isn’t that what God has done so much more clearly and intimately in his Son, The Lord Jesus?

That really is the incredibly DISTINCTIVE news of Christianity. That the infinite, eternal God of the Universe would take on frail human flesh. Flesh that bleeds, sneezes, aches and weeps. It’s BLASPHEMY to Muslims and Jews. Logical IMPOSSIBILITY to human rationalists.

But that’s what God’s done in Jesus.

John’s Gospel begins.

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. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

Transcendent. Eternal. But then, down in v14, it 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… 18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

We can KNOW God, because he’s SHOWN us himself. He did it with Adam and Eve in Ch 2.But he does it SO MUCH MORE CLEARLY in Jesus. And we’ll see more of THAT in the weeks to come.

And these chapters don’t just say something about GOD. But something about who WE are.

God got INVOLVED with his creation, so we should TOO. We should INVOLVE ourselves with people. Get our hands dirty. We should be Incarnational like Jesus. Immanent.

Historically, much of the social welfare around the world began with Christians. Feeding refugees in Africa. Caring for lepers in Calcutta. Educating street kids and orphans in Victorian London. Running orphanages in Romania. Housing and retraining prostitutes in Bangkok.

Christians getting INVOLVED. Because GOD did.

How are YOU doing that?

Secondly, these chapters say something about our IDENTITY, as well as about what we DO.

We are made in God’s IMAGE. And so the Christian view is that ALL people are valuable because of that. There is human DIGNITY for those made in God’s image. Which is EVERYONE. There are no second-class humans.

And that says something unique about how we think about the HANDICAPPED, about the OLD. About the UNBORN. About people from other cultures and countries. And how we TREAT them.

This truth about humanity will inform what we think about EUTHANASIA, about ABORTION, about DEMENTIA, about RACISM.

Humanistic evolutionists say the weak are BARELY human. Being human is about contributing and communicating. Fitness to survive is what it’s all about. If you can’t contribute or communicate, then why NOT euthanize? Why NOT abort? Why not starve the handicapped to death? Put your resources where they can do the most GOOD?

But God says human beings are VALUABLE. We are MADE in God’s IMAGE. We have PURPOSE and SIGNIFICANCE. And DIGNITY.

And FINALLY, these chapters teach us something about how we RESPOND to God. He MADE us, so he DESERVES our honour and glory and respect and loyalty and service and obedience and worship.

He deserves OUR LIVES.

Rev 4 gives us a picture of the throne room of heaven. Around the throne are four creatures who represent the whole of creation. V7.

7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

But not just CREATION, humanity worships AS WELL.

9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: 11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

That’s what these chapters are teaching us, above all else. To take off our crowns. To lay them at the foot of God’s throne. In repentance and submission and adoration.

And to confess that HE is the One who deserves the acclaim and the authority. We are simply CREATURES.

But he CREATED EVERYTHING.