The Kingdom of God
The following has been taken from an address given at the ‘Heart for Ipswich Sunday’ service on 11 September, at St Matthew’s church, Ipswich
By Revd Matthew Firth
What a wonderful opportunity we have this morning to be hearing about some of the truly amazing things that the Lord is doing across our town through the various projects...and this morning we’re barely even scratching the surface of what is going on. It’s just very inspiring, isn’t it, to see the kind of things that can happen when all sorts of different Christians from different churches with different gifts and experiences come together to pray and to work for the good of the town.
And in all of these projects that we’ve been looking at this morning, what the people involved are praying and working for is not just some kind of general vision to make things a bit better...a kind of fresh lick of paint on a crumbling society. No! What they are praying and working for is nothing less than radical, fundamental, deep and lasting transformation: they are praying and working for nothing less than the coming of the Kingdom and rule of God; the flooding of earth with the life and joy and peace and health of heaven.
And that’s what I want to speak about this morning: The Kingdom of God; the rule of God breaking into our reality. And I want to begin by taking a big picture view of what the Kingdom of God is all about. And to do that, I want to look at a verse in Revelation, I want to look at Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and I then want to look at the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast.
Firstly Revelation 11.15. It says this: ‘The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”’
In this apocalyptic writing, which peels back the veil to reveal ultimate and final realities, the point being made is that, in the end, this world, this real world, this very good but fallen world which you and I are living in, in the end, it will be totally restored and brought under the perfect rule of Jesus for all eternity. That is where history is heading. Yes, things are broken now, but God has said that, in the end, he will restore all things and bring it all under the perfect rule of Jesus Christ. That is the certain end point. That is where we’re heading. We’re not heading to a cloud in the sky where we’ll play a golden harp. No, we’re heading to a real remade world. And that is the Kingdom of God: a remade and perfected world ruled with love and peace for all eternity by Jesus Christ. That is the treasure which we can look forward to. That is the sure promise. It’s our hope and our joy.
The Kingdom today
But what about today? What about this good world that seems to be held back by darkness and evil from reaching its true potential? What about our town where, alongside the good, there are problems on our streets, broken families and lives ruled by chaos and addiction? Yes, the Bible gives us this wonderful vision of the future Kingdom of God, but what about today? What about the reality that we see around us?
Well what the New Testament says is this. It’s into the midst of this mixed up world that the Kingdom of God has broken in and continues to break in, in the person of Jesus Christ. The Kingdom that is promised for the end of history is breaking in right now in the midst of history, as history rushes to its fulfilment. St Mark put it like this in 1.14: ‘Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”’ In other words, with the arrival of Jesus, the Kingdom of God begins to break in, and people now have the opportunity to do a radical about-face so that they can start heading to the promised future Kingdom.
With the coming of Jesus and his Kingdom ministry, signs and foretastes of the future perfected Kingdom began to break out all over the place, with the chief sign and foretaste being the resurrection of Jesus after he’d conquered sin and death on the cross.
But what did Jesus’ Kingdom ministry look like? Well the New Testament presents two main features of Jesus’ Kingdom ministry: preaching the Word of God, and carrying out acts of healing. Preaching and healing. In Matthew 4.23 it says this: ‘Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.’ So, Jesus’ Kingdom ministry involved both telling people about God and showing people the reality and love of God by his healing acts. And it’s those two aspects of Kingdom work – the speaking and the healing – that Jesus sent the disciples out to do as well. In Luke 9.2 it says this: ‘...he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick...’ So Jesus commissioned his disciples to preach and to heal. That’s how he wanted Kingdom ministry to be done: proclaiming God with words, and proclaiming God through acts of healing. That is how the Kingdom of God began to break in: proclaiming the truth of God and showing the love of God.
A vision for tomorrow and reality today
So that’s the key to it. We have before us a wonderful vision and promise of the future perfected Kingdom of God when all is restored and Christ is on his throne. And that future Kingdom begins to become reality now as we follow Jesus in his ministry of speaking about God with words and speaking about God with our healing actions.
And it’s this Kingdom ministry that the projects we’ve looked at are engaged in. They’re combining healing acts with speaking about God. Take the Town Pastors as an example: we keep on hearing how the healing act of trying to look after people on our streets at night is leading to all sorts of conversations about the God who inspires people to become town pastors. Or take the Talitha Koum project as another example. When it’s up and running, it will be engaged in the healing act of helping women who have been trapped by chaotic lifestyles to find the freedom of a new way of life. And in the process there will be many conversations about the God who brings life and joy out of chaos, and we trust that many of the women will find Jesus Christ, or rather be found by him. So just two examples of Kingdom ministry where healing acts and words about God cause the Kingdom to break in, and point forwards to the future glorious Kingdom.
But it’s not just about being part of some of the wonderful projects that we’ve been thinking about. At the heart of all of this is the understanding that each one of us are to be disciples of Jesus by living out the Kingdom day by day, whatever we’re doing. Each one of us, whatever we’re doing, is to seek to continually plant seeds of the Kingdom which can allow the Kingdom to break in and to transform things.
Which brings me onto two Kingdom parables from Luke 13. In v.18, Jesus is thinking aloud and says, ‘Hmmm, what is the Kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? Well it’s like a little mustard seed that a man plants in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.’
In Jewish tradition, the mustard seed was thought of as a proverb of smallness, but it was quite common for mustard trees to grow from five to ten feet tall. So we have this image of something tiny producing something large. And what about the image of the tree with birds perched in its branches? Well, that relates to Daniel chapter 4, where King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream about his own kingdom, which he sees as a tree providing shelter for animals and perches for birds. So what Jesus is saying is this: the Kingdom of God is planted in smallness, but grows to be a large and mighty Kingdom – the promised future Kingdom!
So we should be greatly encouraged by this mustard seed parable, because what it says to us is that, day by day, week by week, as we get on with living the Kingdom and planting Kingdom seeds, God promises to make it grow into his future perfected Kingdom that will fill the earth. As we plant seeds of the Kingdom by maybe inviting someone to Alpha, or by being a town pastor, or by seeking to work with Christian standards in our jobs, or by bringing up our children to know Jesus, or by all sorts of other means, in all of our planting, God promises to take it and make it grow into his future perfected Kingdom where Jesus reigns supreme.
So that’s the mustard seed, but what about the yeast? Wanting to find yet another way to illustrate and explain the Kingdom, Jesus thinks aloud again in v.20: ‘What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? I know, it’s like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.’ The Greek of this text is interesting, because the word used for ‘mixed’ is egkrypto, which is related to the word encrypt, which means to hide. And the ‘large amount of flour’ of the NIV translation is indicated by the Greek to be about 22 litres. So what we have is actually an image of a woman burying a small amount of yeast in the middle a huge quantity of flour, without mixing, and the entire thing being transformed into wonderful dough. So this is super yeast that leads to utter transformation!
And that, says Jesus, is what the Kingdom of God is like. As we follow him and tell people about God and show people the love of God with our acts of healing, it might all seem quite small and hidden, like the yeast. But remember, the yeast in the parable is super yeast which transforms a huge quantity of flour into dough. And with the Holy Spirit’s power behind us, our Kingdom acts of speaking about God and showing people the love of God are like the super yeast: they will transform the kingdom of this world into the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, who will reign for ever and ever.
Praying and working
So this morning, as we think about Heart for Ipswich and all the wonderful Kingdom projects, and as we consider our own individual lives as disciples of Jesus, and as we consider our life as a church community, let’s commit to praying and working for the Kingdom of God. Let’s commit to planting Kingdom seeds day by day. Let’s commit to being Kingdom yeast in church, at home, in the workplace and in all that we do. Why? Because God has promised to take the Kingdom work that we do as followers of Jesus, and to make it grow and grow, until that day when the trumpet sounds and we can raise our voices in unison and say: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.’
A prayer: Our Heavenly Father, we thank you that one day your Kingdom will be perfected and will flood the earth, with Christ reigning on your throne. So today, pour out your Spirit upon us, that we might be Kingdom people, living the Kingdom life, planting the small seeds of the Kingdom that will grow into your mighty Kingdom. In Jesus’ name and for his glory. Amen.
Revd Matthew Firth is Curate at St Matthew’s church in Ipswich