Daniel 2:36-40, 44-45; Matthew 13:24-33, 44-51
— Exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven
I need to be real with you, sisters and brothers. Yes, that may sound strange. I would like to think I am authentic and honest with you every Sunday and all the days in between, but I need to confess something – this may be just about the hardest sermon that I have ever preached. I basically rewrote it last night because this is so incredibly important and hard to express adequately – and what makes it worse, I don’t think people care that much about it.
Today, we are considering the Kingdom, the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the same thing. You might also hear of it as the Kingdom of Christ. Generally, we think about it as the Kingdom of God, and it is pretty much more important than anything else.
You might think that is a bold claim. That’s fair. I haven’t even had any coffee today, so it’s not the caffeine talking. Let’s see… can you imagine how often Jesus mentions the church throughout the four Gospels? Go ahead and mentally scroll. I’m talking THE Church. This is what consumes so much of our time and energy and is the vehicle of our service in Jesus our Lord – the core of our religious life. We pour ourselves into the church which has been the primary way of relating to God for nearly the last 2000 years. It may surprise you to learn that Jesus in the entire four Gospels only mentions the word for church twice, and one of those times did not have anything to do with what we think of as church. If you are wondering what he actually did preach and teach and parable and present, it was the Kingdom. Contrast the word church which was used twice with the word kingdom which is used 117 times, and while not all of those uses are specifically the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom is most certainly what Jesus came proclaiming. Both Jesus and his cousin, John the Baptizer, came with the promise that the Kingdom of God was at hand. This is how they introduce Jesus’ ministry. It is how Jesus describes his ministry; and it is how he also ends his earthly ministry with a sign over his head on the cross that read “Jesus of Nazareth; King of the Jews.” Kingdom language does not end with his death or resurrection. In the beginning of Luke’s book of Acts, the disciples ask Jesus literally seconds before he ascends into heaven, “Is it now that you will restore the Kingdom to Israel?” Their kingdom was first and foremost on their minds. Even with all of their time with Jesus, they still did not understand what it was they were talking about, but they knew how important Kingdom was, and it is what Jesus came to bring. The Kingdom is the Whole Enchilada. It is the world and everything being in God’s hands with Jesus being the hands. It is a whole new Kingdom breaking into the world to throw earthly powers on their heads. It is how we understand the all-powerful love of God working itself out in our lives through the person of Jesus our Christ.
This is also what Daniel was trying to express to Nebuchadnezzar whose dream was the coming of this new Kingdom, God’s Kingdom, that would undo the earthly kingdoms and establish a new authority. The world has had its ways. The powers of this world have had their time. With the coming of Christ, there is a new power, a new authority, a new KING. That’s right, Nebuchadnezzar, God is telling you that something bigger is coming that the world has never seen. This was Daniel’s message and warning and promise.
But this Kingdom is not only a challenge to earthly rulers, to the kings and principalities for them to check themselves against the standard of Christ. It is also a challenge to the powers of darkness, Satan, and the forces of evil. God’s Kingdom is what was remaking the world and still is. Everything we do, everything we are, and everything we have is about the Kingdom, but people are largely clueless what it means. It has always been that way.
Just yesterday, my wife and I were talking to a neighbor whom we had never met. She shared her vision for a better world – a world in which poor people could not live anywhere near us, a world in which the government would stop feeding the homeless (which I guess is a waste of money), a world in which only acceptable people would be able to live in our town. Listening to her speak made me feel sick. She does not know the Kingdom of God.
My vision for God’s Kingdom in Christ means going out of our way to provide for those in need, to equip people to survive and thrive, to be willing to love and be loved by others who are really different. We need to embrace those who need to be embraced and together work for a better world for literally everyone. The only chance this world has is if we understand God’s Kingdom better and work for it harder and harder each and every day.
I get it. Ultimately, Kingdom is lost on us because we genuinely don’t understand what a kingdom is. It is all George Washington’s fault. Ever since the founding of our nation and that Revolutionary War with Washington at the lead, we have not had a king. We have no idea what it is like to live with a king or in a kingdom. We don’t know what it is like to live under someone’s authority so completely and profoundly. A king has total sway over the people in his rule. Not only do we not understand the idea, we actually don’t like it, either. What is the VA seal and our motto? Sic Semper Tyrannis – we do not suffer kings or absolute rulers lightly. We are almost telling Jesus to beware. “You can come and be our Savior, Jesus, but don’t try to lord over us too much or emphasize that you are our true KING.” We owe Jesus our lives, our wills, our things, our relationships, our everything. It is all for Christ to be used as Christ would have us do.
Every Sunday when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray the hardest lines to ever pray: Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done … on earth as in heaven. Your Kingdom, Your Will – not mine, not ours. We are praying that God fill this land and our lives with GOD’S Kingdom and GOD’S Kingship in Christ. This is a really hard thing to pray and to mean it. I would argue the hardest thing we could pray with our whole hearts.
Even if we understand that Kingdom really means Kingdom, we still don’t truly get it. When Jesus talks about the Kingdom, he uses all kinds of images and metaphors and allusions.
What do sowing seeds, yeast, a merchant searching for pearls, a king settling debts, a king giving a wedding banquet, a mustard seed, a hidden treasure, a fishing net, a landowner hiring day laborers, and 10 bridesmaids all have in common? Kingdom. The Kingdom is very valuable, the most valuable thing in this world. It is worth waiting for and working for and being vigilant for and giving all we have to possess, to be a part of. It is something we can share, something that we are meant to share together.
When was the last time that you used the word “Lord” for Jesus or for God? Think about what that word even means. It is probably the most regular descriptor for our God, and it cries out King. It is time that we put the Kingdom of God front and center. It is time to claim our part in God’s Kingdom and to show the world that we are the people of Jesus our King.
That means we follow what he says, we live in his ways, we dwell in his truth, and we adopt his commandments as gospel.
The Kingdom is here. Anywhere Jesus is, there is Kingdom.
Anywhere we love others as Jesus loves us, there is Kingdom. Anywhere we give ourselves to worship the Triune God, there is Kingdom. Anywhere we give God’s grace and mercy, there is Kingdom. Anywhere we seek God’s justice, there is Kingdom. It is already here and everywhere. Jesus is already Lord. This world is already in our Savior’s hands. But when we open our eyes to this beautiful truth, we can see it more clearly. When we proclaim this beautiful truth, we are promoting God’s Kingdom. When we live this beautiful truth, we are being the body of Christ. When work for this truth, the world had better be nervous because it does not measure up to Jesus yet.
To God be the glory. Amen.