Welcome to Christ Lutheran Church today---it’s great to have you with us. And welcome if you’re listening on the radio!
What comes to mind when I say the word “Kingdom”?
Maybe a castle or the magic kingdom?
Today I want to help us consider Jesus’ definition of kingdom. We continue in our sermon series---“In the Footsteps of the Master”, following Jesus through the Gospel of Mark. This whole concept of kingdom is central to Jesus’ message---to everything about him.
Right near the beginning of Mark we hear Jesus say---
Mark 1:14-15 “The time has come…The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
More than 100 times in the 4 gospels we hear Jesus refer to the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven---which is not so much a place as it is a way to describe God’s rule over all creation, most especially through the coming of Jesus. God’s kingdom comes in stages. There’s Jesus’ birth. Then his teaching and healing. His death and resurrection. Then the time that we live in now led by the holy Spirit. And then the future time when God will bring his kingdom to completion.
Since the kingdom includes God’s reign over everything that is---and since that covers a lot of territory---Jesus often referred to the kingdom of God in word pictures that focus on certain aspects of the kingdom one at a time so we can grasp it better.
Jesus compared the kingdom to a treasure hidden in a field that is worth giving up all to possess (Matthew 13:44). He called the kingdom a pearl of great worth (Matthew 13:45). He compared the kingdom to a net that is let down into a lake to gather all together for God (Matthew 13:47).
Jesus described the kingdom as a wedding banquet to which God has invited all people to come (Matthew 22:2). Jesus said that the kingdom is within you ((Luke 17:21)---that the kingdom belongs to children (Luke 18:16)---that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).
The fact that Jesus used so many varied descriptions must mean that no one comparison can capture the full meaning of God’s kingdom.
So it’s helpful to look closely at Jesus’ word pictures of the kingdom. Last week Pastor John focused on Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed. In this last section of Mark 4, there are 3 other descriptions of the kingdom that we’re going to look at---3 more ways that Jesus gives us a glimpse of certain aspects of the kingdom of God. Jesus said to them---
Mark 4:21-23 “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
It obviously makes no sense to light the camp lantern and then put a 5 gallon bucket over it. Jesus’ followers are given the light of God’s kingdom to light up the darkness around us. Jesus wants his good news to be out in the open for all to see. The light of the kingdom of God was not and is not intended only for a select few.
Peter put it this way---
2 Peter 3:9 “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.”
So as Jesus’ followers, part of our work for the kingdom of God is to let his light shine through us to the people around us. Which is why what Jesus says next is important.
Mark 4:24-25 “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”
At first it may not be clear what Jesus is getting at. But he has just talked about the light he has given and not to hide it. So he seems to be encouraging his followers to value and put to use what he has given them. “Use it or lose it” you could say. When we don’t take God’s truth to heart, our grip on it begins to slip and we can lose hold of it all together. But when we treasure Jesus’ good news of the kingdom, and put it to use in our lives, it grows in us. We grow as God’s truth becomes more and more a part of us so that his light can shine brightly through us to our community.
Which leads us to the 2nd teaching of Jesus on what the kingdom of God is like. Jesus said---
Mark 4:26-29 “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
The kingdom grows in ways that aren’t clear to us. It doesn’t depend on us. Whether we’re awake or not, the kingdom is coming.
Martin Luther explains the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy kingdom come” like this---
“To be sure, the kingdom of God comes of itself, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may also come to us.” Luther’s Small Catechism
The kingdom doesn’t depend on us---the kingdom is God’s creation. But he has created us to work with him. And so however slow the progress of the Kingdom may seem to us, the outcome is in the Lord’s hands. We pray, “Thy kingdom come,” that we may be part of it.
And just like a seed germinates and springs to new life---much like Jesus’ own resurrection---the kingdom is about new life coming into the darkest, deadest places around us and in us.
Many people looked at Jesus ministry and it wasn’t what they expected. There was none of the immediate freedom from the Romans they wanted. And then Jesus is put to death like a common criminal and then they are sure he’s not the one to bring in God’s kingdom.
But all the while God is at work with the seed he has planted. It looked like the kingdom was over until that first Easter morning. Then raised Christ to new life and started a whole new triumphant phase of his kingdom.
But Jesus has more to say about what God’s kingdom is like. Jesus asked---
Mark 4:30-32 “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”
When we were in Israel years ago, a little boy was selling packets of mustard seeds like in Jesus’ parable. They really are tiny seeds like Jesus said.
There were many who looked at this humble Jesus walking around Galilee with his very ordinary group of 12 and knew this couldn’t be the kingdom of God. So Jesus used the mustard seed to show that despite the seemingly small beginnings of the kingdom of God, that God’s plan would lead to a kingdom that would offer shade to the whole world!
And for Jesus’ listeners who knew their Hebrew scriptures, it was an echo of our first reading this morning from Ezekiel 17 where the Lord describes his coming kingdom as a cedar sprig that he will plant and that will grow into a huge place where all may find shade.
Everything that we read in Mark 4 is still in the early stages of Jesus’ ministry. And his disciples, other listeners, you and me are trying to understand who Jesus is and what his kingdom is all about. So he tells these parables to give glimpses of God’s kingdom, because we can’t fathom the kingdom in its entirety.
But the disciples and you and me still don’t get it. They looked around at the suffering caused by Roman domination and asked, “Why doesn’t God do something?” We look around us at the state of our world and other people and ourselves, and we ask, “Why doesn’t God do something?”
And Jesus says, “Why don’t you do something? God has given you this light for the world and you’ve stuck it under your bed!”
The work God has invited us to do is to be done openly, lovingly, for the benefit of those around us. And lots of what God is doing is out in the open too.
How can we look around us at the incredible world God has created and think he isn’t doing anything?
How can we read his Word, his blueprint for humanity, his guiding hand for every day and think he’s not doing anything?
How can we think of Jesus’ kingdom teaching, his healing, his death to destroy the power of our sin and his rising to new life, and think God’s not doing anything?
But of course as humans in the midst of many struggles---you know what struggles you face each day---in the midst of all that, we still ask, “Why doesn’t God do something?” And Jesus tells us that just like a seed grows hidden in the ground, God is at work in ways that we can’t begin to fathom.
I think for us modern people, that this may be as hard to accept as anything. We are arrogant enough to believe that if something doesn’t make sense to us it can’t be true.
We are vain enough to believe that if we had God’s job, that things would run much smoother.
We are short-sighted enough to believe that our narrow, time-bound view of life is whole and complete, and that God’s universal, eternal perspective just doesn’t cut it.
And so Jesus reminds us about the many seeds that are growing right now---seeds of God’s kingdom that we know nothing about---that are about to sprout. Seeds of renewed families, communities, nations. Seeds of hope that will transform lives in ways we can’t begin to imagine. I won’t even try to give you examples, because what God has in store for us goes beyond words.
And we need to remember that to God, time is very different. God’s kingdom is growing in ways we can see right now. (Ask God to help you put aside your worry and to focus on the most important things of life and you will begin to see where the kingdom is sprouting.)
But for the final completion of his kingdom, we need to wait. And we’re SO good at that, aren’t we? The final triumph of God’s kingdom may be yet today or millennia away, but it is another one of those things that is totally in God’s hands.
And so Jesus tells us about the mustard seed so that we can visualize the truth that God’s kingdom begins so small. But it doesn’t stay that way. God’s kingdom is growing and will grow and it will provide shade---and in a desert country like Israel, shade means life---God’s kingdom is now and will for all eternity provide life and love and joy.
The kingdom of God is not just a place we go when we die, it is a kingdom that Jesus ushered in and that has been growing ever since, sometimes hidden, sometimes small, but always moving towards God’s glorious completion of it all.
Ravi Zacharias wrote a book several years ago titled “The Grand Weaver”. The book helps us to consider the truth that God is weaving a beautiful tapestry in our lives---even in our most difficult times. He writes---
“Thankfully, our disappointments matter to God, and God has a way of taking even some of the bitterest moments we go through and making them into something of great significance in our lives. It’s hard to understand at the time. Not one of us says, “I can hardly wait to see where this thread is going to fit.” Rather, we say, “This is not the pattern I want.”
From this side of eternity, you and I only see the back of the tapestry. It looks chaotic with threads going everywhere with no obvious purpose. Those are the places where God has had to repair the damage we have done to his masterpiece---to heal and re-weave the life he has created us for. But one day we will see the tapestry of our lives from God’s side and no longer will we see the chaos, only the beauty!
“Yet one day the Shepherd of our souls will put it all together—and give us an eternity to revel in the marvel of what God has done. Our Father holds the threads of the design, and I’m so immensely grateful that God is the Grand Weaver.”