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OCTOBER 18 2015

The Kingdom of God

Our scripture reading this morning is Matthew 4:17; 5:1-5, 10-11. 
The first words out of our Savior’s mouth, as far as public ministry is concerned were, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” These same words were also the first words out of the mouth of John the Baptist in 3:2. Not only were these the first words of our Lord but the kingdom of God is one of the most frequently occurring ideas in the NT. It appears 157 times. Both the primacy and the frequency of the teaching in the NT alludes to the great importance of the subject and it behooves us to ensure that we possess an understanding of the subject. Indeed, failure to understand it may lead to missing the kingdom altogether.

[Illus] Long ago, in a kingdom far, far away, a rich king hired a "fool" to entertain him and make him laugh when he was sad. He gave the fool a golden scepter and told him that when he met a greater fool than he, to pass the golden scepter to that person. 

Years passed and one day the king grew very ill. As he neared death, the king called for his "fool" wanting to be made to laugh one last time. "I'm going on a very long journey," said the king to the fool. "Have you made preparations and arranged for accommodations at your destination?" asked the fool. "No," answered the king. "I've been too busy and I didn't think I would be leaving so soon." The fool handed the king his golden scepter and said, "Sire, you are a greater fool than me since you have made no plans for your long journey."

Each person, including Christians, will go on a “long journey” one day. So many live life without thought of what the future holds. Knowing about the kingdom and what is expected of us to participate – not just expected, what is required of us – will help us to prepare for our journey. Do not be a fool. Be wise. Christians are called to wisdom. They are called to forsake foolishness and embrace wisdom. But not all followers of the Lord Jesus Christ are successful in answering this call. Understanding the kingdom will help us in answering this call.

[1] What is the kingdom?
   [A] The kingdom of God is definitive for who God is. The last and climactic vision of God and Christ is kingdom connected. “A regal God with the Lamb sits in splendor at the place where kings reside: a throne.”  READ Rev 22:1-3. 
   This is kingdom imagery. All the aspects of this life are meant to teach us something about God and about Christ. This is why the relationships of marriage and child rearing are used by the biblical authors to teach us something about our relationship to the Father and to the Lord Jesus. Even animals are used by the inspired writers to teach us truths about God and man. Even ants! Yes, we can learn from ants! The reality of earthly kings and kingdoms show us something about God. Father and Son are shown to mean “royal ruler” or “king.” Revelation 22 is a glimpse into the consummation of the ages. As one author aptly puts it: 

All reality through all time and eternity is presented as standing under the aegis of God’s “kingdom,” his royal precedence in and over all conceivable domains. 

The kingdom of God shows us who God is.

[B] The kingdom of God is definitive of who God’s people are. Again, the last inspired work of God, Revelation, describes disciples as a “kingdom.” READ Rev 1:4-6. He has made us a kingdom! It is past tense. We are already a kingdom if we are in the church. He intends to make us a kingdom! In another sense, of which we will speak shortly, he is making us (present tense) into a kingdom. In both senses, then, if we belong to Christ we constitute the kingdom. Here is a profound thought: We are what we are waiting for. We are what we are waiting for! Therefore, we will not experience the glory that awaits until we become, in actuality (not just in name or just in position), kingdom people. By “kingdom people” I mean those who are under the leading and Lordship of Jesus in a practical and real way. Are you? I am a kingdom person. I love God’s kingdom. I can say with David,     One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
    that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
        all the days of my life,
    to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
        and to inquire in his temple.
(Psalm 27:4 ESV)

And,     For a day in your courts is better
        than a thousand elsewhere.
    I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
        than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
(Psalm 84:10 ESV)  I have said before that I would rather clean toilets in the kingdom of God than be a wealthy Ruler anywhere else. (Of course, we may not even need toilets when we receive our celestial bodies; but, nevertheless, that is my sentiment.)

The kingdom of God is definitive of who God’s people are.

[C] The simplest way to define or describe the kingdom of God is that it is the place and time where God’s will is not only known, but practiced. This is why Jesus taught us to pray: “May thy kingdom come. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom of God is the place and time when God’s will is practiced. Not practiced in a burdensome way; rather, practiced in a joyful way. The will of God practiced joyfully: that is the kingdom of God.

[2] There are four phases of God’s kingdom on earth.
   [A] Prior to the coming of Christ the OT reveals that God’s kingdom had always been and always would be sovereign over all.  Thus, David writes,     The LORD has established his throne in the heavens,
        and his kingdom rules over all.
(Psalm 103:19 ESV)  According to David, under inspiration, God is already on His throne and His kingdom, His authority, rules over everything. Nothing happens outside of His permissive will (even though he allows rebellious man, for a time, to resist His perfect will). Ultimately, everything is working out according to His plan. And so Daniel could write:     all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
        and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
        and among the inhabitants of the earth;
    and none can stay his hand
        or say to him, “What have you done?”
(Daniel 4:35 ESV) This first phase of the kingdom has existed since the beginning of the world and continued until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. When Jesus came the nature of the kingdom changed. There was, and is, a new phase. So different that it is even described as the “establishment” of the kingdom. So different that it is almost as if the kingdom did not exist prior to Jesus’ coming.
   [B] The OT prophesied that the kingdom would come when the Messiah, the Christ, would come the first time. This is found several places in the OT but perhaps most succinctly in Daniel 2:44.     And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed…
“The days of those kings” refers to the kings following Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. It would be during the last kingdom, the Roman kingdom, that God would set up Christ’s kingdom.

So we saw, in the first passage that we read this morning that Jesus, and John before him, said that the kingdom of God was at hand. It was at hand when Jesus came the first time. Indeed, Christ after his resurrection and ascension into glory is now seated at the right hand of God and is ruling from the heavens. His kingdom has been established. But it is in a mysterious form since the days of His departure until now. 

•    It is mysterious because it is not seen with the eyes. 
•    It is hidden. 
•    It is mysterious because it is called mysterious by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 13 and Mark 4.

It is only experienced by those who have renounced sin and come to Christ for salvation. It is only experienced by those who do the will of God presently and who joyfully associate with others who do. It is only experienced by those in the church for the church and the kingdom in this age are nearly identical. There are some minor differences but, essentially, the church is the kingdom in this age.

[C] Thirdly, there will be the establishment of God’s kingdom when Christ comes the second time. Christ is coming again and he will establish his kingdom not in mystery but visibly and in glory. It will cover the whole earth! There will be no part of the world where his kingdom will be not, as there is today. We see this throughout the Lord’s teaching in the parables as well as through Peter and Paul in their letters. 

Jesus taught in the parable of the Minas:     As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.
(Luke 19:11-12 ESV) In this parable the nobleman, who represents Jesus, does not receive the kingdom until his return. In the parable of the ten Virgins and the parable of the Talents Jesus says that the One going away would be gone a long time. Indeed, Jesus has been gone only a few short years shy of two thousand years. That is a long time! When he returns he establishes his kingdom in glory. The greater manifestation of the kingdom is future.

[D] Lastly, there will be the New Heavens and the New Earth which, we saw in Rev 20, is the final manifestation of the kingdom of God.

We are in phase 2 of the kingdom. We have two yet to go and God is preparing us for those next two

[3] God’s dealing with His believers has everything to do with preparation for the kingdom. Understanding the kingdom helps us understand God’s dealings with us. All of God’s dealings with us can be described in two words: discipline and reward.
   [A] Discipline. We must differentiate between divine discipline and eternal perdition. Many people who read the Bible mix these two up. In Hebrews 12:5-6 we read this:     And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
    “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
        nor be weary when reproved by him.
    For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
        and chastises every son whom he receives.”
First, we must observe that the motive of God’s discipline is the love of God. It is because God loves us that he disciplines us.
Also, if someone is not a son (or daughter) of God, God will not discipline them. You can never find in the Bible that God disciplines an unbeliever. God does not discipline all the people of the earth. It is the same with us. We do not discipline our neighbor’s children. If the neighbor’s children do not dress well or talk back in a disrespectful way, we do not discipline them. Only in the case of our own children do we discipline them. Therefore, the practice of discipline is confined only to the elect and the motive is love.
   Verse 10 says, in speaking about our earthly fathers disciplining us, says:     For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.
   This tells us the purpose of the discipline. It is not because he likes to discipline us. It is not because he likes to see us suffer. It is that we may partake of his holiness. His purpose is to have His life manifested in us and thus make us fit for the kingdom. The kingdom is a place where God’s life is magnified and displayed. Why? Because His is the only life worthy of being displayed. Oh! We are vessels of God’s goodness and glory! But before we can be filled we must be cleaned and made ready. God does this through discipline.
   There is a difference between punishment and discipline. The actual actions of punishment and discipline may be the same, but the goals are different. The goal of punishment is simply to exercise justice. Wrong deeds were done and a price must be paid for those wrong deeds. In our society that punishment is either incarceration or, for murder and treason, death. In ancient societies and still, in Middle Eastern countries and Singapore, corporal punishment is given, such as whipping or caning. In all those cases, whether incarceration, corporal justice, or death, the price is paid by the guilty party. 
   Discipline has the goal of changing the behavior and even the beliefs of the person. When God chastises his children it is for the purpose of discipline, not punishment. His goal is to get us to stop acting foolishly.
   The Bible shows us that eternal life is just that: it is eternal, not temporary. We have eternal life now and, if you do have it now, you cannot lose it. Otherwise, it would not be eternal life, it would be temporary life. At the same time, the Bible also shows us that there can be quite serious consequences among the believers for disobedience. He causes us to encounter many things in our families, in our bodies, in our career, and in our environment so that we will either turn back to Him or turn into Him more fully.
   Read I Cor. 11:29-32. Are you experiencing some of God’s discipline? It is so that you will not be condemned along with the world. In other words, discipline proves that we are saved. Discipline preserves our salvation and perfects our salvation. Never despise it. Embrace it. Discipline is the means by which God separates His own from the worldly people.
   [B] Reward. God uses discipline to prepare us for the kingdom. That is the negative side. God also uses reward to motivate us so that we will actively seek Him and His kingdom.
   What then is the reward, and what is the gift? We were saved because of the gift. God gave the gift to us freely by His grace; therefore, we were saved. The reward pertains to the relationship between us and the Holy Spirit after we were saved. When we were saved, we were related to Christ. This relationship allows us to obtain the gift that we are absolutely unworthy of receiving. Similarly, after we have been saved, we have a relationship with the Holy Spirit. This relationship allows us to obtain the reward that we could not otherwise obtain by ourselves. If one believes in the Lord Jesus as Savior, accepting the Lord Jesus as life, that person is saved before God. After he is saved, God immediately puts this one on a pathway, so that he will run in the race and will obtain the reward placed before him. A Christian is saved because of the Lord Jesus. After he is saved, he has to manifest the victory of Christ by the Holy Spirit day by day. If one will do this, then at the end of the race, he will obtain the heavenly glory and the heavenly reward from God.
Hence, salvation is the first step of this path, and the reward is the last step. Only the saved ones are qualified to gain the reward. The unsaved ones are not qualified for this. God has given us two things rather than one thing. God places the gift before the worldly people and places the reward before the Christians. When one believes in Christ, he receives the gift. When one follows Christ, he receives the reward. Gift is obtained through faith, and it is for the worldly people. Reward is obtained by being faithful and having good deeds, and it is for the Christians.
We know that eternal life is a gift. This is one of the clearest messages of the NT. A gift is something that one receives from another person and it is completely unrelated to what the receiver of the gift has done. When we come to the Lord with empty hands, knowing that nothing we have done can make us acceptable to God, and we cry out to Him, we receive the marvelous gift of eternal life.
A reward, on the other hand, is something that one receives for what they have done. First Corinthians 3:14 says, "If anyone's work which he has built upon the foundation remains, he will receive a reward." Here it says that if his work remains, he will be rewarded. It does not say that if his faith remains he will be rewarded. The matter of reward depends on one's work. The Bible distinguishes clearly between salvation and reward. It never mixes up salvation and reward, and it never mixes up faith and work. Without faith, man cannot be saved. Without good works, man cannot be rewarded. One's works must withstand before the judgment seat and survive under the scrutiny of the burning eyes before there is the possibility of receiving a reward.
These two things, the gift and the reward, must be kept separate. Failure to distinguish them results in great and dangerous error. If one thinks that the reward is eternal life or a right relationship with God then they may seek to “be a good person” to gain heaven. This kind of thinking is a terrible, terrible error. It is so terrible that it actually excludes one from eternal life! Paul makes this clear in Galatians 3:10-11.     For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 
To believe that you will be accepted by God based upon your own efforts, your own conformity to God’s law, places you under a curse. That is how bad the error is. Why? Because if you believe that then you are required, according to Paul, to abide by ALL – every single one! – things written in the book of the law. You cannot do it! NO ONE will be justified (that means “considered right in the eyes of God”) by “being good.” The way we are made right in the eyes of God is by faith, that is, by trusting in what Christ has done for us. Not only do we have our sins forgiven when we do, but God applies the righteousness of Christ to us!
There was a five-year old boy who loved his father in the days of knights and kings. His father was the king of a great kingdom. His father’s birthday was coming up so he asked his older brother to take him to the field so that he could pick flowers for his father’s birthday. So his older brother did. The little boy found a few weeds and pathetic looking flowers and gathered them up and was walking back to the castle. The king was watching them walk back from on high. A banquet was being prepared for the king with dignitaries from neighboring states. The king sent a servant to call the older boy to his chamber. When the older brother arrived the king thanked him for taking his brother to the field. Then he instructed him to suggest to the boy that they go to the secret garden where beautiful flowers were grown and nurtured. The older brother took the little boy there and, never having visited the garden before, the little boy’s eyes became wide as he exclaimed, “They are so beautiful!” He picked the choicest flowers and brought them up to the king. The king smiled and thanked him greatly. They hugged. He sat the beautiful, healthy flowers in the center of the banquet table and announced to all the guests, “Look at these beautiful flowers my son has given me!’ Everyone marveled.
Our good deeds are like the weeds that the little boy was thinking of bringing to his father. Christ’s good deeds are the healthy, beautiful flowers that were nurtured by the king himself. God provides the righteousness that we need through His Son, Jesus. Christ’s righteousness is applied to us and we offer it back to God and we are accepted in joy.
But there is another error. That is in thinking because we are accepted that there is no expectation by the Lord that we labor in His vineyard. It is an error to think that because we are eternally secure that there is not a danger for those who do not serve God in love. There is a danger for the child of God!
Turning back to our passage this morning in Matthew 5, in verse 3 Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. In verse 5 he says, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” The kingdom of heaven, a synonymous expression for the kingdom of God, has to do with inheriting the earth. It is not a kingdom that remains only in the heavens. It is coming down to the earth and will fill the earth. It is a place where there will be comfort and satisfaction. It is a place where those participating will see God and receive mercy from Him.
In verse 10 the Lord repeats that, for those who are persecuted, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven. But notice what he says in verse 12. If there is persecution because you follow Christ, you can rejoice for your reward (that is being kept in heaven) is great. There are likenesses, parallels, between the kingdom of heaven, inheriting the earth, and reward. The reward that the Lord will give for faithfulness in service IS the earth. It is the kingdom of God in its next manifestation.
The NT writers, several times, speak about receiving a crown for faithfulness. What is a crown? It is not merely a hat beaten with gold and studded with diamonds. That kind of crown can be gained with a little money. What is a crown? A crown represents position in the kingdom. It also represents glory in the kingdom. If a crown is only a physical thing, it does not mean much. If one has money, he can make a golden one. If he does not have money, he can make a brass one or an iron one. Even if one is very poor, he can still make a crown out of cloth. In the future, it will not be a matter of one crown being bigger than the other in size, or one crown having more diamonds than the other. A crown stands for something. When one loses the crown, he loses the thing that the crown represents. We have to see that the crown is the symbol of the kingdom.
[Conclusion] These then, are the two things the Lord wisely uses to change us and make us fit for the kingdom as well as to motivate us to prepare ourselves for the kingdom: discipline and reward.
How many of you liked to be disciplined when you were a child? None of us! Neither do I like to be disciplined as an adult. It’s even worse. When we were children we were either spanked or sent to our room. In either case the discipline didn’t last long. It was soon over. And, if we apologized to our parents, our fellowship with them was restored. The Lord’s discipline can be quick and over soon at times. But, more often than not, it goes on much longer. David suffered for about seven years on account of his sin. 
We can avoid a great deal of the Lord’s discipline simply by seeking His will, knowing His will, and then living in it. In other words, take sin seriously in our own lives and mortify it – deal with it and put it to death. 
When we are disciplined by the Lord, do not be discouraged because it is a sign of his love towards you. Strengthen your weak hands, lift up your head, and move on. Glory is coming!
There are rewards coming! Delay your gratifications now and work in His vineyard. 
[Illus] Years ago, psychologist Walter Mischel conducted an experiment on a group of four-year olds. Each child was offered a marshmallow, and was told that they could have it now, or if they could wait several minutes, they could have two. Some children grabbed the marshmallow on the spot but many of them were able to hold off. The interesting part of the study was that Mischel followed up on the children as adults and he discovered that those who didn’t eat their marshmallows that day were generally more self-motivated, successful in school and considered emotionally intelligent. On the other hand those who simply couldn’t wait generally had low self-esteem and had suffered in school, branded by both their teachers and parents as being stubborn, envious and easily frustrated. 
The foolish person tries to get all his satisfactions in the present. The wise person plans and waits, knowing that all good things are worth waiting for. Labor for the rewards that the Lord promises. They will be so much better than your easy chair and your entertainment. Don’t miss out on what you might have!
The kingdom of God is waiting! What we have now is only a foretaste. “Lord may thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Prepare us and help us to prepare ourselves for your kingdom. Amen.”