Sermon: . . .And The Kingdom Comes
Scripture: John 21: 4-6
Date: May 11, 2014
The world into which Jesus emerged when He was about thirty years old was a world that was weighty with hopelessness and despair. It was also, for the Jews, a world of great expectations, as they looked for the long promised Messiah to come and change everything. And so from the very beginning, Jesus made it clear that His mission, His vision was to bring hope and change, by establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. For the last couple of weeks we have been talking about how the resurrection of Jesus, the empty tomb, empowers us to change the world – not just OUR world – but THE world. We talked about changing the world one person at a time, but we also talked last week about how too many in the church view the world in too limited terms and so when we think about changing the world, we think too small. We think about changing our part of the world. The part that we are familiar with, the places where we are most comfortable. But when the resurrected Christ told the Disciples to go into all the world, He had more than Galilee, more than Jerusalem, even more than Israel in mind. He came to bring change and hope to every person who has ever lived and who ever will live. And He is going to do that by establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. And that’s where the Disciples come in. And that’s where we come in. And so, in addition to the scripture that we just read, let me share these words from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark and Luke. These are the first words that Jesus spoke when He began His own world changing ministry. And they tell us from the very beginning what His mission is. All of these are from The Message:
Matthew expresses it this way: He picked up where John (The Baptist) left off: “Change your life. God’s Kingdom is here.”
Mark says it like this: Jesus went to Galilee preaching the Message of God: “Times up! God’s Kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message”
And in Luke we find these words: “When He stood up to read, He was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written: “God’s Spirit is on me; He’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind. To set the burdened free, to announce this is God’s year to act!” He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant and sat down. Every eye in the place was upon him, intent. Then He started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.”
You see, what Jesus is saying is that He came to change the world by bringing the Kingdom of God on earth. And that the time for that to happen is now. But what we need to remember was that when Jesus talked about the Kingdom, He was speaking to a Jewish audience, and so to understand what he was saying about the change that He was bringing we need to understand that the Jewish concept of God’s Kingdom was of an earthly Kingdom that the Messiah would establish. We tend to view the Kingdom of God as something we experience after death, but many Jews did not even believe in life after death. For them the Kingdom needed to be now. Jesus described the Kingdom as an earthly Kingdom when He said in the Lord’s prayer that we should pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” There are many passages in the Old Testament that describe the Kingdom of God the Messiah brings and what it will be like. Near the end of his prophecy, Isaiah describes the Kingdom of God as a new heaven and a new earth and then he goes on to tell us that in the new earth: There will be no more sounds of weeping in the city; no more babies dying in the cradle; the elderly will enjoy full lives (anything less than a hundred years will seem like a cheat); everyone will have adequate housing; there will be plenty to eat; everyone will be satisfied in their job; and natural enemies like the wolf and the lamb will live together in peace. That’s the Kingdom that the Messiah would usher in. Not a Kingdom that we will be transported to after we endure life on this earth. Not just a heavenly Kingdom. But the coming of God’s Kingdom that will transform and change life on this earth now. And Jesus makes it clear from the very beginning that the Kingdom comes with his presence. The time is now. The Messiah comes, the world changes. And the Kingdom comes.
And so this 21st chapter of John is all about the Kingdom. This is probably the most familiar of all the post resurrection accounts. It begins with a church and a world that is in turmoil. Jesus crucified. The fellowship shattered. Betrayers and doubters had divided the twelve, now eleven, and what was left of the church was on the run from both the Jewish and Roman leaders. Jesus had been their hope for change and they had seen glimpses of change as He changed the lives of individuals wherever He went. But now a terrible sense of hopelessness had overtaken these disciples. Most of us have those times in our lives. So don’t misunderstand what is happening here. This fishing trip is not a vacation. These disciples were on the verge of rejecting the previous three years, years of learning and following, and going back to their old way of life. Of ultimately rejecting everything that Jesus did to usher in God’s Kingdom on earth. Peter and John and the other fishermen/disciples were searching for hope and change in what they had known in the past. But what Jesus was trying to tell them was that true hope, true change, does not lie in the past or the future, but rather in His presence right now. His presence on the shore changes everything for the disciples. If we are looking for hope, if we are looking for true change, we have got to experience Christ’s presence now, today. Because It is the presence of Christ that brings true change. For too long, the church has tried to live in the power of the Historical Jesus. We have relegated Christ to the past tense. We point to the Cross and say look what He did for us 2000 years ago and expect that to be the fulfillment of the Great Commission. But most of the world is saying ok, that was a good thing then, but what about now. How can Jesus 2000 years removed. be present in our lives now. How can he be the change now. A recent poll revealed that 3 out of 4 young people (under the age of 30), when asked about their religious affiliation, say they are “unaffiliated”and when asked about their impression of the church, they say it is stuck in the past and has little to say to today. And they’re right. UNLESS the tomb is truly empty and Jesus is alive today. But that’s impossible, isn’t it? Or is it? I recently read a scientist’s explanation of how he came to understand Christ truly alive today. He wrote that according to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, the faster we travel in relation to the speed of light which is 186,000 miles per second, the more time is compressed. Now you don’t have to pay any extra for this science lesson. But, he says, if I were to be put in a rocket ship today that could travel 160,000 miles per second, still below the speed of light, and the plan was to be gone for ten years – when I landed back on earth, I would be 10 years older, but everyone else would be 20 years older. Because the faster we travel the more time is compressed. If I was traveling at 180,000 miles per second, when I landed you would be twenty years older but for me only one day would have passed. Now if I could travel at the speed of light, which we can not do because as we approach the speed of light our human bodies would expand until at the speed of light we would reach a state of infinity and we would essentially explode and be everywhere. (So from now on when someone says I’m fat, my response is going to be that I am not overweight, I’m just traveling faster then they are). But if we could travel the speed of light, all time would compress into the now. This very instant. This is how we can see stars die in the night sky tonight, even though they actually died thousands maybe even millions of years ago in distant galaxies. Because that image was traveling the speed of light. So what happened many years before depending on the distance from earth, as far as we’re concerned, is happening right now at light speed. Now stay with me here. So what has this go to do with Jesus, and the Kingdom of God, and changing the world, and his presence today? Well, according to the Gospels, one of Jesus’ favorite ways to describe himself is as light. John 8:12 “I am the light of the world.” John 9:5 “I am the light of the world.” John 12:46 “I have come into the world as light.” Luke 2:32 describes Jesus as “the light of Revelation to the Gentiles.” But here’s the point. Jesus did not come to bring light. He was light. God is light and in him there is no darkness. So when Jesus went to the Cross He essentially experienced time in two ways. First was as a human being in the linear fashion that we experience time. We call this real time. But as God, because He was light, He also experienced time at the speed of light. Scripture tells us that in God there is only one eternal moment, no past or present, only now. When the ancient Israelites wanted to know what God should be called, how did God respond. “I am that I am.” There is no was or will be in describing the nature of God. Only “I am.” When the Pharisees asked Jesus where He came from you might remember that he replied, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Not I was. Eternal life is now, this moment. Remember He said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end.” And the implication is that He is everything in between. There is no past or present to God. Only the eternal now. Because He is light. And so as His disciples we can experience Jesus alive, but not just figuratively. Not just living in us through his teachings and the memories of the days that He walked on this earth. But alive now, just as he was 2000 years ago and will be 2000 years from now. When Jesus emerged from the tomb he was alive in that garden and at that moment, but it is also clear that the resurrected Christ was not bound by time and place. The Gospel writers give the impression that Jesus was everywhere. He came through walls and locked doors. He appears and disappears without explanation to the Disciples on the road to Emmaus. And now He suddenly shows up on the shores of Galilee. The empty tomb is not just a testimony to a Christ who overcame death and lived again centuries ago. It is an affirmation of the Christ who is light and lives now in this eternal moment.
Resurrection faith is faith that proclaims Jesus alive this very moment. When Jesus spoke those words at the beginning of His ministry, He did not say that it was His teaching based on the words of Isaiah and the other prophets, that would bring the Kingdom of God to earth. They had had those teachings for thousands of years. Others had claimed them as the basis for their Messianic claim. What Jesus was saying was that where He is present the Kingdom comes. It was not the miracles that He performed, it was not His sacrifice on the Cross, it was not even the empty tomb, that established God’s Kingdom on earth, it was the presence of Christ, the Messiah, The Lord. “The time is now” He said. The Kingdom is here. Now. This moment whether the moment be in 1st Century Nazareth, or 21st Century Lexington. The Kingdom is here when Jesus is here And it is not for His Disciples to witness to some ancient truths, to follow the historical Jesus or even try to apply His teachings to present day realities in hopes that it will change how people think and act. Our task as Disciples is not to try and be like Jesus. Our task is to be Jesus and to witness to the living Christ in every life.
The Apostle Paul says that the goal of Disciples is for there to be less of us and more and more of Jesus – until Jesus is all there is. Until we don’t minister in Jesus name, but rather Jesus ministers in our name. We can talk and strategize and pray and design ministries to change the world, but change will not happen until we allow Jesus to come into our every day existence. We change a hurting life by bringing Jesus to them. When the lame, or the lepers, or the blind came to Jesus, to be healed, He didn’t witness to God’s mighty actions in the past, or talk about how a loving, all powerful God could heal them, and expect that to change their world. No he reached out and touched them. His ministry was all about His presence in the midst of the needy and suffering. As His disciples, it is not our testimony alone that will change the world – change will happen when the living Christ reaches through us and touches the blind and the lame and the least and the lost. When Christ lives in us and in the world through us. When there becomes less and less of us and more and more of Jesus, until Jesus is all there is. And the world is changed as there is less and less of the world, and more and more of the Kingdom. Resurrection faith proclaims a Lord who is alive today, not just one who has come and will come again. And so, every time we share Christ alive, we change the world. And we do that best in practical ways. Every time we bring an item of food to church and place it in the blue barrels for God’s pantry, we’re being Jesus and we are changing the world. Just think how much change in hungry lives Jesus could bring about if each one of us committed to bring just one food item a week for God’s Pantry. And the Kingdom comes. And every time we go and serve breakfast to homeless people at Nathaniel Mission, we’re being Jesus to them. We’re changing the world. And the Kingdom comes. And when we go on a mission trip like these who are getting ready to go to Guatemala, we change the world. We are being Jesus to those we serve. And the Kingdom comes. And every time we spend an hour tutoring a child, we are changing the world. We are being Jesus to them. And the Kingdom comes. And every time we reach out to a stranger or someone that is new to our country, in whatever way we can do that, we are changing the world. We are being Jesus. And the Kingdom comes. And there are so many other ways that we can be Jesus and change the world. It’s hard to know how many lives have been changed by that little boy Jarrett and his joy cart. Don’t you think he was being Jesus when he pushed that cart full of love and joy into the room of a critically ill boy or girl. Let the children come to me, Jesus says. Not only did their world change, but so did the world of their parents, and brothers and sisters, and doctors and nurses. And even though we have lost Jarrett, Jesus lives on in that simple act of love that has now spread beyond Lexington to places all over the country. And the Kingdom comes. What are you doing to be Jesus this very moment? This eternal moment in which Jesus lives forever? Because what Christ does through you brings God’s kingdom through His presence, His living presence.
Remember some time ago, I told about Bob, who at the strong encouragement of his pastor began to go to the local nursing home when a group from the church went to lead worship on Sunday afternoon. And remember as he was standing in the back of the room on one Sunday, a man in a wheel chair came and took hold of his hand during worship. And from that time on, every time he went to the home, that same man would come and hold on to his hand as they worshipped. The man never said anything, just held onto Bob’s hand. Then one Sunday, the church came and led worship and the man in the wheel chair wasn’t there. When the service was over, Bob went to the nurse’s station to inquire about the man. “He has taken a turn for the worse,” she said. “His room is at the end of the hall if you want to see him.” So Bob went to his room and was surprised to see he was not alone. A woman who he later learned was the man’s daughter was there. And when Bob introduced himself the woman said a most peculiar thing. She said, “Bob, you must be the one he’s been waiting for. He said that he could not go on until he held the hand of Jesus one more time.” And then he had told how every Sunday, Jesus came to that place and held his hand all through worship. So Bob took his hand and said a prayer and just before he finished, the man squeezed his hand. The next Sunday, when the church came, Bob asked about the man and learned that he had died the week before, not long after Bob’s visit, and the last words he muttered were about Jesus coming to hold his hand.
But the story did not stop there. Bob continued to come to the nursing home on Sunday afternoons. And when he came in, the residents would start to whisper, “There’s Jesus. Jesus is here.” And it was not unusual when a resident had a particular problem or ailment that was weighing them down, that sometime during worship they would make their way back to where Bob was standing, and slip their ancient hand into the hand of Jesus. And the world is changed. And the Kingdom comes.