English service - May 16, 2021
Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison
Saying Yes to the Kingdom of God
It’s a joy to have a chance to be with you again, everyone joining us online and here at Open Door. We are continuing in the message series, “Living in the Kingdom of God.” I’m getting a lot of help again today in giving God’s word from Dallas Willard and John Ortberg, who have spoken and written a good deal about the kingdom of God. One way to get an overview of our learning is to look at four key “elections” in the Bible, or times when a leader for God’s people was chosen. First, when God brought His people out of Egypt and began forming them into a nation to live in “the Promised Land,” He intended to be their king. But they insisted on having a human king like the other nations around them, and that’s what happened. Some were better kings than others, but none of them was able to bring the reign of shalom, the peace that God had in His best plans for His people.
Prophets began saying that a special type of king, God’s Messiah, would come and lead His people in ways that no human could. Jesus was born as that Christ (v. 8a “He appeared as a man”). He brought God’s teachings, a model of how to live as a human being fully alive, and the Lord’s call for people to live with Him as our king. But powerful people did not want to claim Jesus as king. They made their choice of whom to serve by saying, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). That was the second “election.” They had Christ killed on a cross (v. 8b says, “He came down to the lowest level. He obeyed God completely, even though it led to his death.”)
Yet what looked like the end of the story was actually a new beginning. God raised Jesus from the dead, as He had promised He would. In this way, God was casting His vote in a whole different kind of election. In it, there was only one candidate on the ballot—Jesus. Only one vote was cast, and only one was counted—God’s. “God lifted him up to the highest place. He gave him the name that is above every name” (v. 9). That means He made Christ the king over all. In Ephesians 1:19b-22, Paul writes about. . .
the mighty strength God showed when he raised Christ from the dead. He seated him at his right hand in his heavenly kingdom. There Christ sits far above all who rule and have authority. He also sits far above all powers and kings. He is above every title that can be given in this world and in the world to come. God placed all things under Christ's rule. He appointed him to be ruler over everything for the church.
That’s the third election. But there is a fourth. You and I and all people get a chance to choose who will lead our lives. “The good news of the kingdom of God” is that in Christ, life under the leadership of God Himself has become available in a new way to any person who will receive it. That means we have a choice. Oh, don’t get me wrong. We aren’t the only ones. God has a choice, too, and His counts more than anyone’s. Paul says (vv. 10-11):
When the name of Jesus is spoken, everyone's knee will bow to worship him. Every knee in heaven and on earth and under the earth will bow to worship him. Everyone's mouth will say that Jesus Christ is Lord. And God the Father will receive the glory.
The offer is not “take Christ as your king if you happen to feel like it” or “here is one good approach to life among many.” God claims our lives as His own. He has every right to be king over them. But it makes a world of difference whether we willingly and lovingly accept Him in that way, or are forced into recognizing Him as Lord when He comes someday to judge each person’s life.
Yes, the kingdom of God is that important of a matter to God, He says. The main purpose and mission of Jesus’ coming into this world was to bring in the kingdom of God. It was the key focus of His teaching. The central strategy Christ took for His work was to go around telling people everywhere about that kingdom and equip His disciples to do the same. The purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection was to open the way into life in the kingdom of God by defeating sin and death. His plan for the future of the world is to help us make it more and more into a place with His kingdom values and goals, then take His people at the end of time to live in His kingdom in heaven forever.
Well, if it’s that important of a matter, we had better make sure that we understand clearly what “the good news of the kingdom of God” really is. Again, the Bible’s gospel is that through Jesus Christ the kingdom of God has become uniquely available for human beings. It’s not that in Him the kingdom of God came into existence. No, it has always been here. God has been king over His world ever since He created it. But through Jesus Christ He made it available to all human beings in vital ways He had not before.
Yet many people, even Christians, may not understand the gospel that way very easily because there is a lot of confused teaching and talk about it. For one thing, as we’ve seen before, the good news of Christ often gets shrunk down into something much smaller and weaker than the version of it the Bible presents. We can call it the good news of the minimum entrance requirements for getting into heaven when you die.
In that version of the gospel, Christ came to earth to die on cross and pay for our sins—that’s all. So there’s no real problem if you skip from His birth to the cross. If you say the right words, God must let you into heaven. “Jesus Christ, by faith alone, I receive you as my Savior and Lord” or some other form of “the sinner’s prayer” are the right words that the Lord wants to hear. My main job as Christian is to get my afterlife destination set, to complete the task of getting a place prepared, to get that ticket so that when I die someday it will be punched and I can enter heaven.
Probably the biggest problem with that “piece of the gospel” is that it doesn’t have a place in it for discipleship. Why should I need to think about growing in faith and love and understanding if I already have a place in heaven reserved for me? I heard at church that obeying the command “only believe” is enough to get my sins forgiven according to the Bible’s teaching. So why bother with more than that? Is it like extra credit in a class? This is a pass-fail course, and I’ve passed, right?
It can be easy for Christians to think like this. The problem with the “minimal entrance requirements” version of the gospel is that Christ as we see Him in the Bible never taught it. He did not teach His followers to go into all the world and make just “converts” but “disciples” and added, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19). As Toshiko-san reminded us two weeks ago, He told His disciples to “seek first” (make their top priority) not only the kingdom of God but also “his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33b). In other words, He expects us to go through the process of becoming right-thinking and right-acting people who by His grace are in a right relationship with Him--righteous. That means becoming more and more like Him.
We call that spiritual formation. That’s how the kingdom of God comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). Here’s another way to say it: The primary way that the kingdom of God comes into this world is through the transformation of human beings. When we welcome Christ into our hearts by faith, He begins to change us from the inside out. We begin to see as He sees, love the things that He loves, and work for the things He is working to achieve. We may look the same as we did before, but an inner re-forming process has begun. We are learning to give Him control over our decisions and plans—all our words, thoughts, and actions. It’s what Sasaki-san described for us last week as our being “new creations” (II Corinthians 5:17).
Our spiritual formation is happening, for better or worse. It always does. As human beings go through life, we make habits in the ways we think, choose, and behave. Whatever those styles of living are, they impact powerfully the people we become, not only mentally, emotionally, socially, and physically but also spiritually. There is no possibility of not being formed spiritually, any more than there is of not growing physically. The real question is whether that growth is healthy or not, adequate to meet our needs, helpful to others, and pleasing to God—or not.
When the directions, pace, and extent of our growth are not perfect (they never are), we need not only formation but transformation. What parts of human beings need transformation? In other words, what gets changed when God’s kingdom comes? Well, everything. That includes the will, the mind (thoughts and feelings), and the body. The whole person that you are is important to God, and He sent Jesus to save you in every aspect of your life.
We are thinking about transformation, but please don’t misunderstand. In saying yes to the kingdom of God and learning to live in it, we do not somehow become strange, new people different than the ones we were originally born as. We discover and more fully become our true selves, the ones God created us to be.
Having a kingdom and living in one, as the Bible uses those phrases, are completely normal parts of life. We all do these things as parts of being human. What are a two-year-old’s favorite words? Probably “no” and “mine,” right? That’s kingdom language. Freedom and control and ownership are key parts of kingdom life. Remember, as we have seen before, a kingdom is “the range of one’s effective will” (as Dallas Willard described it). In other words, my kingdom is where what I choose is what happens, where what I say goes. It is a system of personal power.
So having a kingdom is a good thing. Humans are made to have a kingdom. Being kings and queens is a result of being made in the image of God (“in our likeness” in Genesis 1:26). A clear example of this comes when God tells the first humans, “Fill the earth and bring it under your control. Rule over the fish in the waters and the birds of the air. Rule over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28b). That does not mean that we are to use the natural world in any way we want, even destroying parts of it if we can get a lot of money by doing so. The Lord gives people the responsibility of being wise, unselfish caretakers of nature, as a part of our having control over the earth (“dominion” in the King James Version).
When we say yes to the kingdom of God, we begin living in it. Living in the kingdom of God is living in the presence of God. It is living in the reality of God’s reign. Some people call that the “with-God” life. When we start to use our lives every day as chances to practice living before God, to Him, with Him, the kingdom is coming. Every time people with resources don’t hoard them and decide to be generous, the kingdom of God is coming. Every time there is a relationship in danger of being broken, but someone speaks words of reconciliation, we are living in the kingdom of God. Every time somebody faces the deep racial divisions that damage our lives so badly today, and instead of speaking words of hate chooses words of truth and love, the kingdom of God is in us. When someone has an addiction and they want to be right with God so badly that they stop hiding it and tell the truth to Him and someone else and begin becoming free, they are saying yes to the kingdom of God. When a workaholic parent makes a decision to make family members a priority and takes the steps necessary to have a healthier work-life balance, “up there is coming down here.”
It happens all the time, and you and I get to be a part of it! What would it look like for up there to come down here more and more and more in Fukuzumi, Sapporo, Hokkaido, across Japan, and beyond? Imagine that. Dream about that. Envision that. That’s what it looks like for the gospel of the kingdom of God to come to the place we live.
Let’s pray that it will, more each day from now on and always.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done in our minds and bodies, in our families, places of work, schools, church, neighborhoods, and everywhere. In all these places as it is in heaven. This is our prayer. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Ortberg, J. (2014, August 12). Making up there come down here: Life in the kingdom. Richmont Graduate University. Retrieved May 8, 2021 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SoCo46QLzjE
Ortberg, J. (2014). The kingdom of God. Bible Series at Pepperdine University.
Retrieved May 8, 2021 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOJ 8Jrrc8vs
Ortberg, J. (2016, October 30). How not to be anxious during an election. House of cards. Menlo Park Presbyterian Church.
Willard, D. (1998). The divine conspiracy: Rediscovering our hidden life in God. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.
Willard, D. (1988). The spirit of the disciplines: Understanding how God changes lives. New York: HarperCollins.
1 Are you cheerful because you belong to Christ? Does his love comfort you? Is the Holy Spirit your companion? Has Christ been gentle and loving toward you?
2 Then make my joy complete by agreeing with each other. Have the same love. Be one in spirit and purpose.
3 Don't do anything only to get ahead. Don't do it because you are proud. Instead, be free of pride. Think of others as better than yourselves.
4 None of you should look out just for your own good. You should also look out for the good of others.
5 You should think in the same way Christ Jesus does.
6 In his very nature he was God. But he did not think that being equal with God was something he should hold on to.
7 Instead, he made himself nothing. He took on the very nature of a servant. He was made in human form.
8 He appeared as a man. He came down to the lowest level. He obeyed God completely, even though it led to his death.
9 So God lifted him up to the highest place. He gave him the name that is above every name.
10 When the name of Jesus is spoken, everyone's knee will bow to worship him. Every knee in heaven and on earth and under the earth will bow to worship him.
11 Everyone's mouth will say that Jesus Christ is Lord. And God the Father will receive the glory.