Sermon 1693 Luke 17.20-21 March 11, 2020
Tattling. If you are a big brother or sister, you have been the object of it. “Mom! Billy is making faces at me!” I wonder if we grow out of it. A lot of drivers caught speeding probably protest to the police officer that others were driving much faster than they. Tattling rots faith. It focuses on others (and their imagined or real sins) while totally overlooking ourselves. At one of our pastors’ conferences we had a new twist to the service for a time of personal repentance and confession. Right after the service, as we were waiting to be ushered out, I joked that I only needed half the time for me, so I used the rest to confess Tom’s sins (he was sitting in the pew in front of me). I know it is a problem because one day people asked Jesus if many were going to be saved. “You make every effort to enter through the narrow door (Luke 13.24).” I don’t know what impact this sermon will have on our habit of tattling, but I hope it will make us take a look at ourselves first.
May the Kingdom of God Come to Us
Participants, not spectators.
Spiritual, not secular.
“Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is within you (20-21).’”
Famous words indeed. The Kingdom of God is within you. But what does it mean? We saw last week that the Kingdom of God is Jesus ruling, through his Word, in the heart of his faithful.
And, before we get very far along, let’s remind ourselves of who the Pharisees were. They were not priests who taught in the Temple or offered the sacrifices. So they didn’t have to be Levites. They were a group of people who studied God’s laws, both the Ten Commandments and all the laws God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai for the Children of Israel. You might think they would be Bible scholars, like a good Jewish rabbi today, and they were, to a point. But the Bible was too simple for them. They went beyond the Bible. They made up hundreds of rules to avoid coming near to breaking any of God’s commandments. You know that type of thinking. You tell your four year old son not to go near the stove, because you don’t want him touching that enchanting blue flame. They fixated on their laws, thinking that was the first line of defense against sin. And, because they focused on their laws so much, they elevated all the laws as a way to earn heaven. With that came an elitism and a hardness of heart that put others down. They received a deserved condemnation from Jesus, “You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to (Matthew 23.14).”
So, here we go.
May the Kingdom of God come to us. Jesus wants us to be participants, not spectators. That was the big problem with the Pharisees. They wanted to watch, not to get involved. Oh, I’m not saying they weren’t busy. They were busy as bees, but it was all on the outside. Do this. Do that. That was their religion. And they were supremely satisfied with that. Instead of repenting of their sins and being baptized by John, they merely went out to investigate, because, obviously, they did not have any sins to wash away. Instead of rejoicing at Jesus’ miracles of mercy performed on the Sabbath, they condemn him as a law breaker because he wasn’t following their man-made rules.
We can fall into the same trap. It used to be the stereotype of mom, like a hen with her ducklings, leading the children out of the house for Sunday worship while an unshaven Dad watches over his morning newspaper. I guess Norman Rockwell’s model figured they could carry the load for him. Worship isn’t something we watch. It’s something we participate in because it starts in here. My son-in-law hates to watch hockey although he gets up once a week to get to the rink for a 5:30 am pick up hockey game. He loves to play it. Believers love God, so worship is just the tip of the ice berg, the most visible part of our lives. Mercy and faithfulness mark our lives as we forgive others as God has, through Jesus Christ, forgiven us. Dependable to a fault. That’s a Christian credo. I will be there for you, no matter what. It’s what binds families together, even if they aren’t related by blood! We worry if So and So doesn’t answer the phone or call us daily as is their habit. Doing someone’s grocery shopping along with ours is no big deal, especially when they don’t have family in town. But it all starts here, in the heart. We believe that we are sinners. We believe that we need forgiveness. We believe that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. We believe that Jesus is our Savior. Yes, we love Jesus because he came into the world to save everyone, but we especially love him because he came into the world to save us.
So we don’t look at the goings on of God’s people on earth like I and my family watch the Rose Bowl Parade on New Year’s Day, from the comfort of our home, with a cup of coffee in one hand and a muffin in the other. So comfy! So convenient! So, well, so mind numbing. What a great way to ease into watching four football games that day! No! We are part of the goings on of God’s people on earth. We helped build the float. We drove the float. We pushed the float to a side street on Colorado Boulevard and tightened the linkage so it could be steered and we got it back into the parade. And then, we had a big party at the after-parade exhibit, laughing about all the stuff we went through to get honorable mention in best themed float. And we felt good about it. And we felt connected. And we signed up for next year, only this time get a little newer truck to build the float around!
When the Kingdom of God comes to us we become participants. So we pray, every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” that the Kingdom of God comes to us, also.
May the Kingdom of God come to us. It is a spiritual kingdom, not a secular, kingdom.
The Pharisees were so literal, if they would have had X-ray machines, after they heard Jesus say, “The kingdom of God is within you,” they would have gone to the doctor to see if they could get inoculated or if, already infected, they could have it surgically removed! But the kingdom of God isn’t secular. It is not of this world. Isn’t that what Jesus told the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, at his trial? “My kingdom is not of this world (John 18.36).” It isn’t a political movement, though politicians on both sides of the aisle are eager to wrap themselves around it. It isn’t a nation. You cannot find the Kingdom of God on a map of the world. It isn’t dependent on a set of genes, as though you could inherit it or pass it down from one person to another. It is not a commodity that has to be peddled and marketed to find a place among all the other brands crowding the shelves.
The Kingdom of God is within you. It is a spiritual kingdom.
How big is the tax rate to support the Kingdom of God? Zero. Jesus needs no policemen. He needs no judges. He needs no court rooms or prisons. He doesn’t need some flashy ad campaign to get the message across to people. He doesn’t need some rewards program to keep his citizens motivated.
By the power of his word, Jesus, our king, rules our hearts and minds. The motivation, the reason we lead Christians lives comes from within, from in here. We want to be good husbands, wives, parents, sons and daughters. We want to be good employers and employees, friends, neighbors and citizens. We want to do our best because Jesus gave us his best when he died on the cross for us all. Because he died for us, we want to live for him. There can be no greater motivation than that.
Every kingdom has a rule of law that keeps it together. So it is with the Kingdom of God. It is the rule of love. “If you love me you will keep my commandments. Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus says.
Every kingdom has a flow of goods that the citizens benefit from. So it is with the Kingdom of God. But these are spiritual goods. Love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We share one faith, one hope, one baptism, one Lord and Savior of us all. What is the price tag on these? On what aisle are they stocked? We will look in vain. The Kingdom of God is not secular, not of this world. The Kingdom of God is spiritual.
When God in his grace allows these spiritual blessings to reveal themselves in our world, what a joy that is! How it refreshes our spirit! At least part of our world isn’t going to you know where in a handbasket. It builds us up. It encourages us. Even in the darkest of days, we have shoulders to lean on, ears to bend, tears shed in sympathy for us. It was one of the things that kept the Apostle Paul going. Though heaven would be wonderful, it was better that he stay in the world and be a blessing to the Christians the Holy Spirit had brought to faith. Is that why so many believers hang on until after a grandchild’s birthday, or enter heaven right after the holidays? One more celebration of Christmas with the family. Just want to see pictures of Susie’s confirmation. We may not be many. We may not be much to look at. We may not be very influential. But we’ve got your back.
May the Kingdom of God Come to Us
Participants, not spectators.
Spiritual, not secular.
If we want to spend our lives watching others for their flaws so that we feel better about ourselves, I guess we could play that game. Lots of people do it. The Pharisees were the pros at it. I suppose people think God will take them into heaven because there are others worse than they are. Those are the ones who will go to hell. But God doesn’t play that game. Jump in. Participate. Embrace the spiritual Kingdom of God. May it come to us and may we always stay in that wonderful kingdom, ruled by Jesus through his word.