Our View of the Kingdom Is Only As Big As Our View of Grace

Posted: February 14, 2013 in Mark, Sermon Manuscripts

[Author’s note: Any sermon manuscript found on this blog is written pre-preaching, which means that invariably the content is slightly different than what is actually heard in the sermon. If you’d like to listen to the audio of this sermon, please visit our website here.]

You know what I hate? I hate having an idea in my head of how something should be, only to find out that in reality I’ve got it totally all wrong. Happens to me a lot, this does. Has my whole life, really.

I remember the blizzard of ’96. I was thirteen at the time and saw this as my cash cow. By this point my brother and I already had a faithful clientele for our one and two-man snow removal business, but this was huge. Twenty-plus inches of snow? Are you kidding me??

So I began to do the math. I don’t recall now the figures I used, but it went something like this: Ok, I can knock out a sidewalk and driveway in like, half an hour. If I get $20 per job, two jobs per hour, eight hours a day, two days of work…that’s $640! If I was partnered up with my older brother, no biggie! Twice as quick, twice the jobs, divide by two- still gonna be over $600 in my pocket.

And that was for just two days. Imagine if we got booked up for four!! Me, a thirteen year old, with a thousand dollars. Do you have any idea how many toys that can buy??

And so I had dollar signs flashing in my eyes that January. At least until we began our first sidewalk. And then reality hit. Hard. See, the only shovels my brother and I could get our hands on were square point shovels with a 27-inch handle. Not ideal for snow removal. I mean- they weren’t even the little shovels with the huge scoops on them. They were these mining shovel jobs with at best a ten-inch lip on it.

And twenty-some inches of wet, melting snow- do you have any idea how heavy that stuff is? We had to cut squares, lift it up, fling it to the side, over, and over, and over, and over, taking hours just to clear one driveway!

And then there was the cold, cold wet feet, cold wet hands, windburn on the face, blisters on the hands, agony in the back, snow-blindness migraines- it was miserable! Needless to say, there was no $1000 payoff for me that year. I made about $200 before I called it quits- my brother lasted a bit longer. I think he made $300. Definitely not the payoff I had conceived in my mind.

I hate having misconceptions. Whether it’s raising kids, picking classes, pursuing education, changing jobs- planting churches, there’s always a degree of difference between reality and what I thought was going to happen.

Ever happen to you? I think we can say we’ve all been there in some form or another. I mean, we have people visit Life Journey Church all the time thinking that we’re an established, programatic church, only to find that we’re a young plant of 30-some families. Surprise!

But that’s not a huge deal, right? Ok, so the two-hour block that you had planned to have on Sunday morning wasn’t what you were expecting. Not the end of the world. Most of our misconceptions do not result in catastrophe.

Not so for many of the Jews in Jesus’ day, though. Their misconception of the Kingdom of God was of epic proportions, and I wonder if ours is as well. If you remember when we began this series in the book of Mark, we found Jesus going through a time of preparation here on earth before beginning His ministry in Galilee.

His first recorded words by Mark were “the time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand- now repent and believe the Gospel.” The “Kingdom of God” wasn’t a foreign concept to these Jews. Jesus wasn’t using words not in their vocabulary. The Jews had been anticipating this kingdom for over 700 years.

Here’s a quick history of how Israel became what it was by that point in history. Remember when God came to Abram in Genesis chapter twelve and said “I will make of you a great nation?” God did just that. As we go through Old Testament history, Abram was renamed Abraham and fathered Isaac, who fathered Jacob, from whom we have the twelve tribes of Israel.

Israel as a people were oppressed and enslaved by Egypt, so God raised up Moses and Aaron to lead the nation of Jews out of Egypt where they were soon thereafter ruled through Godly judges over these tribes.

Several hundred years later, Israel got a hankering for a king to rule them like they saw other nations doing, and so God save them a king, but they weren’t four kings into this process before the kingdom of Israel split into two factions known as the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah.

Eventually both of these kingdoms were destroyed and God’s people were scattered, yet still there was hope of a new kingdom, a kingdom prophesied by Isaiah as one led by “An offspring of Jesse…and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”

Jeremiah speaks of the Kingdom in God’s promise to “gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation, and I will make them dwell in safety.” Micah spoke of this Kingdom and its peace, of a day and age where war would cease and the Messiah would rule. Daniel spoke of the Kingdom as “a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.”

Hints of this Kingdom are strewn throughout the writings of the Prophets, and with them clues about the Messiah, this political figurehead who would free God’s people from the tyranny around them and lead them in this never-ending reign as God’s people.

That was the concept, at least. That’s what these Pharisees were anticipating. If the Messiah came in their lifetime, he would usher in the Kingdom of God, defeat the Roman occupying forces, and set Israel up as the world leaders. I think we’re able now to understand how inflammatory Jesus’ remarks would have been in his culture.

And so as we continue now with this third installment of our “Grace Works” series, we’re going to see Jesus reveal Jewish misconceptions of the Kingdom of God, but hopefully we’re going to see also how many of us are still living with misconceived notions of what it means to be a part of this Kingdom.

Because here’s the problem with misconceptions- as long as we live in them, we’re blinded to the truth of reality. And if we’re not careful, we’ll simply be more people who are seeing, yet not seeing. Remember the message from last week? We really need to get this. We need to grasp this Kingdom of God. We need to grasp what it means to be in this Kingdom. We need to see how Grace Works.

With that in mind let’s jump into Mark 4:26. Jesus is continuing to teach those around him about the kingdom. He says, “The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Ok, we see immediately that Jesus is doing a few things here. He’s talking about the Kingdom of God, He’s using terminology familiar to the crowd around him, and He’s using a figure of speech known as a simile.

And what He’s doing is taking this nebulaic concept of the Kingdom of God and beginning to describe and define it for what it really is- not what the crowd currently believed it to be.

The story he uses is simple, right? Once upon a time, a farmer planted seeds in the ground. And then he went about his business. Meanwhile, in that mysterious process even now not really understood by botanists, the seed does what seeds do. It sends a root down, sends a sprout up, and voila- wheat. First the blade, then the ear, then the whole grain.

Again- this is a simple story. Jesus isn’t describing the process of photosynthesis or plant mitosis. He’s telling them something that they all know to be true. Put seeds in the ground, seeds grow. Duh.

But here’s the thing. Jesus isn’t telling a story for the sake of telling a story. He never did. He’s telling a story, or a parable, to illustrate a deeper reality, in this case the Kingdom of God.

So why does Jesus have to use parables to describe the Kingdom of God? Well, we know from previous messages that He did this to enlighten some and confuse others, but let’s go a bit further in our thinking. There are two more immediate reasons here why Jesus is speaking like He is.

Number one is because of the widespread confusion over what this Kingdom was. Remember, the common conception of the Jews was of a visible kingdom with a visible ruler who would restore and empower the Kingdom of Israel as the world leader. If this were the truth, Jesus would have no need to correct it!

There’s a huge problem with this idea though, and this problem is precisely why Jesus used similes to describe the Kingdom of God- it’s invisible. The Jews were looking for a king, they were looking for a reestablishment of the mighty Kingdom of Israel…and yet what did Jesus, this son of a carpenter who was placed in a feeding trough, say? The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand. It’s here. It’s now. And what did the Jews see? Nothing.

Rather than spend the next year or so describing the Kingdom of God and then presenting a definition of it, let me give you now a working definition of the Kingdom of God. Know as I do this that it’s extremely simplified and might not answer every question about the Kingdom, but as a frame of reference it’s greatly beneficial.

The Kingdom of God can be defined as “the very real, yet invisible rule of God over His people, that began with the arrival of Christ and will be fully realized and made visible with the return of Christ.”

Think of the Kingdom of God as a train that is blazing past you on your platform. The train has arrived, for sure. And yet as you watch it pass it is still arriving, it’s here. Now. But even as you see that, you can also see the end way down the tracks- it’s a ways to go before it gets here. It’s not fully here yet.

It’s the same with the Kingdom of God. It has come. It is now. It’s still yet future. And as Jesus begins to unpack this over the course of his ministry, he now compares it to this seed that’s planted.

Do you remember the message last week- where we found that nothing is hidden except to be revealed? Jesus is now building a picture of that for us. The Jews were looking for an explosive change, a complete change in the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, wherein everything changed with Israel, with the world. To them, the Kingdom of God was going to be like a barren garden which explodes with new life.

But Jesus tells us otherwise. He says the Kingdom of God has origins we can’t even see. And he’s right. After all, the Kingdom of God was planned from eternity past in what has been termed the “Covenant of Redemption”. Within this covenant, the Father promises to redeem fallen people by sending the Son, the Son promises to bear the sins of His people, and the Spirit promises to seal all believers unto salvation.

And so this invisible rule of God has origins beyond us. But like a seed that is sprouting, a blade begins to pierce the earth. Something is visible now. There’s something there, something coming up. As I said before, the prophets of old began to give hints of this coming Kingdom.

And as God moved throughout human history, more and more began to be revealed. The spout formed into an ear, and within it wheat. Slowly but surely more of this Kingdom is being revealed.

And here’s where Jesus’ message was so radical. The Jews believed that they, by virtue of their birth, would be the inhabitants of this new Kingdom. They believed that through their adherence to the Law they were in right standing with God. But what did Jesus say? Unless you’re born again, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, He said until you’re born again, you can’t even see it, much less enter in.

The Jews sought a physical kingdom, but Jesus was offering an invisible kingdom that would one day, when the fullness has come, when the Kingdom becomes all that it was planned to be, would then be all there was. It would be the only Kingdom.

So the disciples of Jesus’ day, and even us today who follow Christ, we’re part of this kingdom, but it’s still invisible to us. We can see hints of it. We experience it when we come together in worship as a body of believers. We see the transformational work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, leading us to produce fruits of righteousness, but it’s still invisible.

And that’s a problem for us, isn’t it?

Because what are we going to do today? We’re going to listen to me speak, then we’ll sing. We’ll collect our kids, break our setup down, maybe go eat lunch somewhere. Then we’ll go home and veg out because it’s been a long week and dang it, I’m tired. We’ll eat supper, watch some TV. Go to bed.

Tomorrow we’ll wake up and go to work, drudge through the day. Here comes quitting time. We go home, eat supper, watch TV. Maybe work out. Tired, we’ll play with the kids. Maybe read a book. And then we go to sleep.

And we’ll do it again on Tuesday. On Wednesday. Pay the bills. Find something to entertain us. Eat food. Go to sleep. Over, and over, and over- and the entire time we’re spiritually starved because while we’re inhabitants of the Kingdom of God, all most of us can do is trudge along in the 21st century trying to find some sort of meaning to life- where does it end??!? Is that really all we’re here for?

This is one of the reasons I love my community group. Wednesday night comes around, and people tired. More often than not we’re battling grumpiness. By the time Wednesday night rolls around we already feel like we’ve had a long week.

And so Wednesday comes and one you come over to my house. And another. And a few more. And we’ll eat some food, and we’ll laugh. And then there’s over a dozen of us hanging out, catching up on the week.

We’ll pray for each other, laugh with each other, cry with each other. We bear each other’s burdens and confess our sin to each other. We’ll open the Word together. Together, we are drawn into the timeless and life-changing truths of the word of God.

And as I sit there among my friends I find myself thinking, “This is it. This is what it’s about. This is the Kingdom of God being revealed. God’s people doing God’s will on earth. Together.”

Then everyone goes home, the kids get fussy because they’re tired, and what do I do- soak in more of God’s Word while maintaining that wonderful sense of God’s presence that was just there in my living room? Well, no. I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, plop in the floor, finish American Idol and fall asleep to Top Chef!

Do you see the disconnect there? I do! But isn’t that what we tend to do? We live in the reality of the Kingdom on Sundays and in our community groups, but by and large in the scheme of things we’re more consumed with the here and now- or even worse, we despair over our place in the Kingdom, if we even have one.

Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God, though beginning in secret and slowly coming to its completion, is here. And I want to experience more of it than what I am. I hope you do as well.

And so here are two things I want us to leave here with. Two things we can focus on that I think we be greatly beneficial as we leave here and return to the “real world”. Two “kingdom statements” that we can never exhaust.

The first is this, and this is the one I really want us to leave here with. It’s our Journey Marker.  Our view of the Kingdom is only as big as our view of grace. Our view of the Kingdom is only as big as our view of grace. What I mean by that is this: if you want a bigger view of the Kingdom, if you want to be more focused on the rule of God over His people in this odd cultural context we’re in, you’re going to need a bigger view of grace, the gospel, and your salvation.

Paul tells us in Romans that the key to life transformation is the renewing of our minds. Having the way we think changed, in turn changes the way we live. And to be what God has called us to be, we have got to always be returning to the gracious gospel of Jesus Christ. When we realize, truly realize, that in Jesus Christ we are beloved children of God, when we realize that because Jesus died in my place I now stand before the Father spotless and without sin, when we realize that God loves me in spite of my shortcomings, when we realize that all God wants for us is our best, then we begin to see the Kingdom of God among us. As the people of God come together, Christ is in our midst. We are the body, and the extent to which we view grace makes all the difference in how our realities are shaped.

Want to see more God? Go to the Gospel. Want a passion for the lost? Go to the Gospel. Want to transform the world? Go to the Gospel. Want more victory over the sin in your life? Go to the Gospel. Seeing what Jesus did for us changes everything, because the only response that makes sense is total surrender.

Our love for God and His fame then becomes our motivation for missions. Our love for others becomes our motivation for holiness. Everything in our lives becomes grace-driven, not fear-driven. In the Gospel, God is found to be the kind and unconditionally loving Father that He is- not the grudge-holding, perpetually disappointed, always-mad Father that we often think He is. Seeing the Grace in the gospel changes everything.

So the first Kingdom statement was this: Our view of the Kingdom is only as big as our view of grace. But what do we do when our view of the Kingdom is big, yet the current world in which we live is crashing all around us? What do we do when we’re Gospel-focused and cancer strikes those closest to us? How do we embrace this Kingdom we’re in when miscarriage strikes? When maniacs shoot up our schools? When earthquakes destroy homes? Where’s the Kingdom in that?

And these are fair questions, right? No doubt the Christians in Rome reading this Gospel of Mark may have been wondering that same thing. “Jesus said the Kingdom has come…and yet we’re being hunted down like dogs. We’re being fed to dogs. Is this the Kingdom of God?”

No. That’s what Jesus has come to right, and when He returns He will reconcile all things to Himself. He’s going to fix this mess.

The second Kingdom statement is simply this: While aspects of the Kingdom are here, right now, it will not be here fully until King Jesus returns. The fullness of the Kingdom is coming with Jesus. He’s going to fix it. Until then, there will be heartache. There will be suffering. There will be evil. But do not despair- the Kingdom of God is at hand. God is at work.

As our band comes forward, the question for us becomes this: Is the reality of the Kingdom of God transforming my life? Really changing the way I see everything? If your answer to that is “yes,” then wonderful. That’s great!

But if it’s not…is it because your view of grace is too small? That your realization of the completed work of Christ is lacking? For you, the key to a changed perspective of the Kingdom begins at the Gospel. I’m not saying that if your view of the Kingdom isn’t big then you must not be saved. I’m simply affirming that life transformation comes through our grasp of the Gospel.

What does that look like, exactly? Well, for me it means more time contemplating the truths of God’s grace. It’s more time reading God’s Story and wrapping my mind around it. For me it’s listening to preaching, or music that extols the work of Christ. It’s more time talking to God in prayer in response to what I read or hear. There’s no set way to go deeper into the Gospel…but it starts with this simple prayer right here: “Father, help me, through whatever means to lead me to, to gain a deeper understanding of grace, of the Gospel, and of your kingdom.” Will you come to God today with that mindset?

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