DUNCAN/“What is the Kingdom of God Like”
Wednesday, November 9, 2016 6:00 PM
This week we will look at Luke 13:18-21. In this passage Jesus tells two parables describing the kingdom of God. ‘Kingdom of God’ refers to the reign of God in this world and especially in the hearts of men and women and boys and girls. Jesus talks about it all the time. His gospel is bringing in the kingdom, and the kingdom creates the people of the kingdom, the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Luke connects these two parables to the previous passage with a “therefore” in verse 18. The immediate context is Jesus’s amazing miracle for this woman who has been under satanic oppression for 18 years. The response of the religious leaders is utter contempt for him and for her. It seems that Jesus is saying to the disciples, “Don't be discouraged by their response to me. The immediate assessment of your contemporaries is not an adequate indicator of the effectiveness of God's kingdom.”
Jesus is telling these stories to encourage His disciples because He is perfectly aware of what the response to their ministries will be. They are being called to preach Christ and His gospel in a world that will overwhelmingly reject those realities. If they view the kingdom by the measure of their contemporaries’ acceptance or rejection of Christ, they will be discouraged, because, though they will see amazing things, there will be an overwhelming rejection of their message and ministry by their contemporaries.
Think about it. When Jesus first spoke these words there were no people in this world who called themselves Christian. Today there are about two billion people on this planet that call themselves Christians. So Jesus is proven in His story that the kingdom of God is going forth and, though it is small as a mustard seed now, it will grow to be a great tree in which the birds of the air will nest. But the disciples would not live to see that big picture. And the fact of the matter is that none of us will, so how we respond to the indifference to or rejection of the kingdom is very important to Jesus.
There's a very important message to us in our own day that we need to take in: do not despise the day of small things. Do not judge God's kingdom by its immediate reception and effect either in our own hearts or the hearts of those that we long to see changed by the kingdom.
Just over two centuries ago Friedrich Schleiermacher looked out at his culture and saw the intellectual elite rejecting Christianity because they found it unbelievable. He attempted to adapt the gospel message in order to make it more attractive and palatable to his contemporaries. His goal was not to destroy Christianity and empty the churches, but that is the effect of his work. He was the father of what we call today theological liberalism, and wherever that belief reigns the churches have died.
Evangelical Christians since that time have by and large rejected that particular approach, but we have tended to fall prey to a different kind of accommodation. We have been tempted to look around at the culture and then at the church and say, “We're going to have to change the way we do church if we're going to be palatable and attractive to the culture.”
When I was in seminary, some very intelligent people had looked across the landscape of the churches in America and said, “People think of the mainline Protestant churches as boring and irrelevant.” They thought that, if we're going to reach this culture, we've got to make the church exciting and relevant. One of the consequences of that strategy was that Bible preaching disappeared in many churches. Now survey after has said that evangelical Christians don't know their Bibles. For decades churches have been managed by those who say, “Don't preach the Bible. That's boring and irrelevant. Give them something that they want.”
I, like many, went through periods of my life when I found church deadly boring. One day I woke up, and suddenly the faithful Bible ministry of my pastor and my elders didn't seem boring and irrelevant anymore. It was precisely what my soul needed, and I'm so thankful that my pastor and elders didn't stop giving the means of grace as Jesus appointed so that, when I woke up, there was something still there for me to hear. Sometimes the things that we do may feel weak and ineffective. It may seem that the immediate results that the kingdom is having are insignificant, but Jesus says that God's kingdom is great and its growth will be steady and continuous even if it is not perceptible in the reactions of our immediate contemporaries to the message.
We hear drastic reports in America today about how many children of believing homes go off to college and never come back to a steady life of participation in the local congregation. Very often the reaction is, “We've got to do something completely different than we've ever done before.” We forget that parents living the gospel before their children, teaching the gospel to their children, praying for their children, and bringing them to be with the people of God every Lord's Day has nurtured Christianity for two millennia. It looks weak and insignificant, but God has appointed His means of grace to work in the kingdom He's built.
Or we look at the church and say, “The church is struggling with all the same kinds of social challenges as the culture, and the message seems so weak and contemptible.” But, when the Word is preached and the sacraments are administered and prayer is offered as the people of God gather, God blesses His means of grace. The kingdom goes forth and creates the church, God's means of grace work in the world. Jesus is encouraging us to believe that God is building His church. Nowhere in the New Testament will you get this message: “The building of God's kingdom is up to you.” We get to participate in it, but God builds His kingdom, and what He builds cannot fail. It is our job to believe that and to respond accordingly with the hope that His message will prevail in this world.
Maybe you've been praying for God's kingdom to manifest itself in the heart of a friend or a family member. Do not despise the day of small things, because there are things that look insignificant to our eyes, but the Lord is doing something deeper and bigger than we could ever imagine. Jesus wants His disciples to be encouraged by that even when the religious leaders of His day are rejecting Him. The kingdom will not be judged by them, but when God unveils that kingdom and shows all of us what He's been doing, our breath will be taken away.
Do not think that you have to position and maneuver yourself for God to work even in this hard-hearted world, because the kingdom will be built. The only question is, will we have the pleasure of participating in that? If we trust Him to build His kingdom and if we use His means, we will have the joy of participating in it, but we’ll get none of the credit for ourselves because He's building His kingdom.