Session 3: The Story of God’s Kingdom
From the beginning to end the Bible is the story of God reestablishing his rule through his word and through his King (the Word). We have a gospel identity.
I want to explore the Trinitarian rule through the story. As we see through the story, God rules the world through his Word; just think about how it is that we know God. We know about other stuff by investigating it. But God doesn’t work like that. You can’t put God under a microscope. He’s not a thing that you can investigate. Christians are not people who have searched and found faith, they are people who have been found and given faith.
Revelation—it is not that we have apprehended, ascended to heaven to understand God, it’s that he has made himself known. Revelation is personally. You can learn facts about someone via Wikipedia, but if you really want to know someone they have to reveal something of themselves to you. So revelation is deeply personal. If God were solitary, then he could not be known. In Islam, you cannot know God, you can only know the Quran—there’s only his law. But our God, the true God, is deeply personal and can be known.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…” The revelation of the Father is the Son. Barth says, “God reveals, he reveals himself through himself, he reveals himself.” If he were anything other than trinitarian, we could never be sure of anything about him. The revelation of the Son is the revelation of God to us and the revelation of the Spirit is the opening of our eyes so that we may receive that word. That’s what gives us confidence in the story, in the revelation in that word.
God rules through his Word. He’s governing, separating, creating… he does that through his word. And then we see that again with humanity. To rule under God’s word.
The reject of God’s rule begins with the rejection of God’s word. [Today] human rule is based not on God’s good word, but on the serpent’s lie. On the big stage, human rule tends to tyrannical rule, but it happens on the family level, too. In Genesis 3, the language is that the woman will have desire for her husband, and her husband will rule over her. The language is that same kind of tyrannical rule.
God begins to reestablish his rule over humanity through his promise to Abraham. The promise is God reestablishing his rule. He rules through his Word and his promise is a Word about the future. That promise changes everything. Abraham receives the promise… and it governs the rest of his life. Events happen in accord with this promise. When God liberates Israel from Egypt, he gives them a law to govern their life. It’s given not to people who need to be redeemed, it’s given to people who have already been redeemed. The Law was meant to be a blessing… that’s why the Psalmist could say, “Oh Lord, your law is a delight!” And the law is so different from that of the surrounding nations—and the 10 commandments are a kind of bill of rights. Israel is to be governed by a law that will create a kingdom of peace if it is followed.
Of course, when the people enter the land and the book of Judges tells us that “everyone does as they see fit for there was no king in Israel.” In a sense it’s not true, because God is their king; but it’s true because they are not living as though they have a king. So it’s no surprise that 1 Samuel opens with the people’s call to give them a king. And it’s interesting that in the beginning of Samuel’s life, he’s described as a Judge, but as the monarchy comes into being he’s called a prophet. The prophet’s role was to point the people, especially the kings, back to God’s word. And in 1-2 Kings, we see these stories of the kings being confronted by the prophets—the king going head-to-head against God’s word. And there is only ever one winner.
What’s interesting is that God takes this request that God declares to be an evil thing [the request for a king] and writes it right into his story. Kings in Israel were anointed, not crowned… giving us a picture of Christ who is to rule over God’s people forever.
But in these stories in 1-2 King, when the king and the prophet go head-to-head, we see the warning of the curse and the exile, which is what happens. But then we see the promise of a new kingdom, with a new King David to come and reestablish God’s rule. And Jesus announces as good news that the kingdom is at hand; the kingdom is coming because the king has come. But there’s this promise—when God’s king comes, he would be opposed and rejected. Jesus looks like the real deal, but he’s being opposed… And we see this secret that the kingdom comes through the word [the parable of the sower]. So God sends his king, but sends him in secret. The kingdom will come in glory, but for now it comes in secret.
In Malachi 2, the people ask, “Where is this king of justice?” And Malachi’s answer is, “He is coming… but when he comes, who will be able to stand?” And the answer is no one. The king is coming in judgment. Only in the ministry of Jesus, judgment doesn’t come—or does it? It comes at the cross. In the first coming of Christ, judgment falls on Christ, placing upon him what we deserve so that we may live in blessing and peace when the kingdom comes [in fullness]. And for everyone else, it will be judgment. But a choice has to be made.
It’s funny. Some people want to be kingdom centered and some people want to be cross centered, as if they’re separate. But they’re not.
The kingdom grows as people hear and accept the word of God. We command people to submit to the word of God. As we proclaim the gospel (a word), and people submit to that word, they are invited into the kingdom and the kingdom grows. The growth of the kingdom is linked to the spread of the word. And in Rev. 21-22, we get a picture of the life of peace and blessing that will come in the kingdom.
That’s the story—the Word must be central to our lives and to our ministries. Jesus says, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49).
Eph. 4:11-32 shows us the way we are to live—and truth is central to that (v. 21). A new mind (v. 23). It is being reminded of truth that we grow into the truth. And it reaches its climax in v. 25: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” Paul isn’t talking about telling fibs, but putting away the promises of sin. We live in a culture where we are bombarded by adverts, some of which are fine, but a whole bunch tell us that if you buy this product, you will have this identity. We will be fulfilled happy people if we buy this thing. Car adverts rarely talk about the specs of the car—they offer you freedom… by buying a car. And it’s a lie. The lie is that you can find fulfillment and satisfaction by buying products. And this is the kind of lie that Paul is talking about. This passage is a call to be speaking truth to one another.
But the truth we need to be speaking to one another is the truth of God’s grace, and as I said this morning, one of the ways we do this is not saying “you should” but “you need not” because God is bigger and better than anything that sin offers. In Ephesians 5, it goes on to say, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” And how would you summarize that. I wonder if we’re focused too much on the call to live a life of love, but not on our identity as beloved children. We read this and hear, “I need to go out and be a loving person;” but the verse says, “You are a beloved child, go and imitate your Father.” So we need to be careful about the way we teach the truth, teaching in such a way that what they do comes out of who they are.
Another way of looking at it, Phil 1:18-26:
Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
What is the goal of Paul’s ministry? It’s that Christians experience joy in the faith. Pastor, is that the goal of your ministry?
And by joy, Paul does not mean a superficial kind of happiness. Paul writes this from prison. And he’s facing martyrdom. And he says that “this will turn out for my deliverance.” He doesn’t mean that he’s going to get out of prison. What he does mean that (as we see in v. 20), that he will be not be ashamed and that “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”
The goal of his ministry is joy. Phil 3:7-9:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…
Paul says that the joy he has makes everything else look like rubbish. The most seductive temptations the world has to offer look like garbage in comparison to the joy of knowing Christ.
Four liberating truths. Our sin comes from not believing that God is Great, Glorious, Gracious, or Good. When we don’t believe the truth about God, we think that the promises of sin are preferable.
1. God is great—so we do not have to be in control. We often want to be in control, so we might dominate or manipulate people or overwork. But the good news is that God is in control, even if things don’t work out the way we want to. But God uses all situations for our good.
2. God is glorious—so we do not have to fear others. We often fear other people—the fear of man. But the solution is the fear of God.
3. God is good—so we do not have to look elsewhere. We often think sin is good, but it’s pleasure doesn’t bring lasting joy. Only God offers the lasting pleasure that satisfies.
4. God is gracious—so we do not have to prove ourselves. On the outside we might look good, but when things go well, we are proud, when things are bad, we despair. We love to gossip about others to make ourselves feel better about ourselves. But the good news is that Jesus has done it all and there is nothing left to prove.
These tools are not to be used to beat other people, but to help tell speak the truth in love. Don’t tell people they aren’t believing, tell them the truth they need to believe. So if you’re with someone who you suspect believes that God isn’t great, don’t tell them “the problem is…” Instead, tell them about how great God really is!
But speaking these truths is not something we can do and people will say, “Yeah, I get it.” It’s something we need to do day after day after day. We are all works in progress, helping one another day-by-day. Hebrews tells us to “encourage one another daily as long as it is called today.” I really want to encourage you to take the word “daily” seriously. It’s not encourage one another weekly, but daily. That’s the way it is in the Christian community. We’re helping one another limp along sometimes. Don’t go around figuring that you’re going to sort them right away. You might just be getting them through the day. Let’s be patient and gracious to one another.