June 28, 2009

Follow the Leader!

#3—The first message



          You’ve all heard the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” 

          Next weekend, my sister Ann and her husband Jared will give their first message as the new pastors at Evergreen Christian Center in Hillsboro, Oregon.  Can you guess what they are doing this week?  They are working hard to craft a first message that will clearly cast their vision.  “This is what we’re about.”  The first message is very important!

          What was Jesus’ first message?  That’s what we’re looking at today.


Offering and announcements:

Music Drama Day Camp (back of tear-off) – registration deadline is Monday!

40/40 challenge (item #1)—Father’s Day message available on the website for free and on CD ($3) at the Info Center.  Bookmark.

Leadership Summit (bottom of Upcoming Events).  Video.  Register by 10 PM on Tuesday for $75 host church rate.  Be sure to use the special envelope!  Additional envelopes are available at the Info Center, and people there can help them register.  You can also log onto the Life Center website and use the code.

          Thanks for your generosity in the Life Services offering two weeks ago.  You gave $18,607 to support and extend Life Services’ ministry in our county.  They were thrilled and brought by this thank you!



          The first message.  I told you that next Sunday is the first message for my sister and brother-in-law in their new church.  And I told you that we’re going to talk about Jesus’ first message.  That got me thinking: what was my first message here?  So I dug out my box of journals that goes back to before Laina and I were married, and I found this journal, dated March 15 to July 23, 1978. 

On April 27, while we were still in Eugene, I wrote down my first ideas for sermon series, and some possible names for our church.  I wrote down two possibilities:

  • Jesus Inc.  Jesus Incorporated—“in the body”.
  • New Life Center.

We decided to go with New Life Center, but because there was already a church with that name, we dropped the “new” and went with Life Center.

          I preached the first message on May 7, 1978.  Anyone remember what it was?  I’m hurt!  “Worship is a lifestyle.”  I talked about loving God with your whole life, as well as at church with your singing.  I said that loving God with all you’ve got is the most important thing, and everything else follows that, and we talked about different ways to worship, to love God.  So the first message was about loving God with your whole life.  Sound familiar?  We’ve got four guiding purposes here at Life Center: love, grow, win, send.  The first purpose, love, is loving God with all you’ve got, and it’s first because it’s the most important thing.  Loving God—it was the first message, and I’m still beating that drum 31 years later.  That was my first message…what was Jesus’ first message?  Here it is.

Mark 1:14-15 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

What was Jesus’ first message?  The Kingdom of God is near.  The time has come, or the time is fulfilled.  What time?  The Jewish prophets had foretold a day when God’s kingdom would come.  They predicted a king from the lineage of David who would bring God’s reign to all the earth.  They spoke about the coming day of the Lord when God would judge the world and make all things right.  Jesus announced that this Jewish vision of the future was coming to pass before their eyes.  The time has come!  The prophecies are being fulfilled.  The Kingdom of God is near!  Or it could read, “the Kingdom of God has come.”

          Jesus’ central message was about the Kingdom of God.  If you look on the back of your outline, I’ve listed all the verses that talk about the kingdom of God.  You can see that most of them are in the gospels, found in the red letters, the words of Jesus.  Jesus came preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God—this is His first message.  What is the kingdom of God and why is it good news?


1. What is the Kingdom of God?

          Let me begin by saying what it is not. 

First, Jesus isn’t speaking of heaven, as we think of it.  In Matthew’s gospel, the term is “the kingdom of heaven”, and this has led many people to associate the Kingdom of God with heaven.  But Matthew was a Jew writing for Jews who wouldn’t speak the name of God, so out of respect for his Jewish audience, he used “heaven” instead of “God”.  The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are the same thing.  Occasionally “the kingdom of God” refers to heaven, that is, to the kingdom in its future, final perfect state.  But much of the time, it’s referring to something here on earth.  As we’ll see, the Kingdom of God has come in Jesus and is coming in the future; it is both here on earth now and shall be there.

          Second, the kingdom of God is not a place.  We think of a kingdom as a realm, a region, a location, such as the kingdom of Spain, or the kingdom of Belgium. 

ILL: Kevin Baugh has his own country—The Republic of Molossia—and if you don’t mind, he’d prefer you call him “His Excellency Kevin Baugh.” After all, he has an impressive khaki uniform with six big medals, a gold braid, epaulets at the shoulders, and a blue, white, and green sash. Oh—and a general’s cap with a gold starburst over the bill.

Never heard of The Republic of Molossia? That’s understandable, because it consists of Baugh’s three-bedroom house and 1.3 acre yard outside of Dayton, Nevada. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, “He has a space program (a model rocket), a currency (pegged to the value of chocolate-chip cookie dough), a railroad (model size), a national sport (broomball), and a navy (an inflatable boat).”

The newspaper goes on to say: “Baugh, a 45-year-old father of two, is a micronationalist, one of a wacky band of do-it-yourself nation builders who raise flags over their front yards and declare their property to be, as Baugh puts it ‘the kingdom of me.'”

Jesus didn’t come to stake out a territory and set up a kingdom in that sense.  So what is the kingdom of God?

          Simply put, it is the reign or rule of God.  You might think, “Wait a minute.  How can Jesus say that the kingdom of God is near or has come?  Hasn’t God always ruled?”  Yes; God is and always has been the Creator, Sustainer and King of the universe.  So in what sense did the kingdom come in Jesus?

ILL: Kevin Baugh’s Republic of Molassia is a fun joke, but it is really what all of us do—build a “kingdom of me.”  Sin is simply declaring myself to be king instead of God, and then living by my own laws instead of His.  It is telling God, in the words of a 5 year old, “You’re not the boss of me” and doing your own thing. 

We’ve all set ourselves up as mini-monarchs running our own lives independent of God.  And the result is that we’re oppressed by sin and Satan.  Jesus came to liberate us, and bring us into the gracious reign of God.

Colossians 1:13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.

ILL: Think of occupied Europe in World War 2.  Nazi Germany turned much of Europe into a police state ruled by brutal oppression.  Then on D-Day, the first Allied forces landed on Normandy and established a beachhead.  From D-Day on, liberation began to spread across Europe, as the Allies advanced and the forces of darkness were defeated.

          This passage is D-Day.  Jesus’ first message announces that the King has landed on occupied territory and planted a flag in the ground.  “The kingdom of God is near.  His reign is starting and spreading from here.  Repent!  Turn from your own self-rule to God’s rule.  Turn from Satan’s occupation to God’s reign!”

God’s kingdom has invaded our occupied and rebellious planet in Jesus.

          Paul Stevens defines the Kingdom of God like this: “The Kingdom is the rule of the sovereign God and the response of His subjects.  As God the King exercises His authority in the world and people respond to it, there the kingdom of God is experienced.”  I like that.  The Kingdom of God includes both God’s rule and our response.  The Kingdom of God is experienced wherever people respond to the King. 

          Dallas Willard, in his book, The Divine Conspiracy, explains the Kingdom of God similarly.

God’s own “kingdom,” or “rule,” is the range of his effective will, where what he wants done is done.

Said another way, God’s Kingdom is experienced where His will is done. 

          Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Matthew 6:9-10.

          May your kingdom come, your will be done.  This is a Hebrew parallelism; the same thing is said in two ways.  God’s kingdom comes where His will is done.  Notice that God’s will is done in heaven—that’s what makes it heaven.  God’s will is done perfectly—to a T.  But Jesus taught us to pray that his kingdom will come here on earth as it is in heaven, that His will be done here on earth as it is in heaven. 

          Has the will of God ever been done on earth as it is in heaven—perfectly?  Yes.  By one person: Jesus.  The Kingdom of God came with Jesus.  He did God’s will perfectly.  Look at Jesus and you can see how God intended life to be lived, and what God wants for us. 

          Here is the rub.  Jesus comes and commands you to enter a different kingdom than the one you’re in now.  Now, you’re in the kingdom of me—doing your own thing—and the kingdom of darkness—dominated by sin and Satan.  Leave that and enter the Kingdom of God.  So the question is: why join God’s Kingdom?  How do I know that it will be any better than what I’m in? 

ILL: It’s like living in occupied France in 1944 asking, “Will the Allies be any better than the Nazis?” 

Yes.  God’s will for you is way better than anything you can cook up for yourself.  And it’s infinitely better than what the devil would like to do to you!  God wants the very best for you.  Heaven is where His will is done perfectly.  God’s wants the same things for you here on earth as in heaven!  This is the good news!  Jesus came to bring God’s Kingdom, God’s will to earth, so that what will happen in heaven gets started here on earth.

  • Jesus healed the sick because there is no sickness in heaven.
  • Jesus raised the dead because there is no death in heaven.
  • Jesus fed the multitudes because there is no poverty, no hunger in heaven.
  • Jesus forgave sin and reconciled people to God because there is perfect relationship with God in heaven.
  • Jesus worked for justice because there is no injustice in heaven.

Jesus brought heaven to earth.  This is the good news!  God loves you and wants the best for you, and He sent Jesus so that what God wants could start now.  May your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

          Now most of you are thinking, “That’s great, but it’s not happening.  God’s will is not being done on earth.  How can you say that the Kingdom has come in Christ?”

          Remember earlier I said that the Kingdom has come and is coming, that it is here in part and will come in full.  Theologians call this “inaugurated eschatology”, which is a fancy way of saying that the all the promises of heaven have begun to be experienced now.  “Begun” is the operative word.  God’s will has begun to be experienced, but not fully.  God’s Kingdom, God’s reign has begun, but is not complete.  It is now/not yet: now begun, not yet complete.  Jesus spoke of the Kingdom in both the present and future tense.  Present:

Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Matthew 6:10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 11:12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.

Matthew 12:28 But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Luke 10:9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’

Luke 17:20-21 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, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”

These are just a few of the verses in which Jesus speaks of the Kingdom as something that has begun: it has come, it is here.  Then there are other verses that speak of it as yet to come.

Matthew 8:11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 25:34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

Luke 22:16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

The rest of the New Testament writers speak of the Kingdom in this same way: now and not yet, here and still to come.

Colossians 1:13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.

2 Timothy 4:18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.

We live with a vision of our destiny, and we’re experiencing a foretaste of what is to come. 

ILL: How many of you have done samples at Costco?  It’s one of my favorite lunch stops!  A sample isn’t the full enchilada—it’s just a taste.  They hope it will make you buy the full deal.

When Jesus healed people, it was a sample of heaven!  He was giving us a taste of what God wants for us.  This is the good news: the Kingdom has come.  Christ calls us into a relationship with Him in which God’s will begins to be done in our lives and our world. 

          So what is our response to this?  Jesus told us in His first message.


2. How do we live in the Kingdom?

Repent and believe the good news!

          This is the response Jesus called for.  Repent, which means to turn from the kingdom of me to the kingdom of God.  Repent means to change.  You can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are.  Please don’t think that you can believe in Jesus and keep living in the kingdom of darkness, keep doing your own thing. 

Matthew 7:21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

You can’t just call him “Lord”; you need do what He wants.  You must change; you must move from the kingdom of me, where you do what you want, to the Kingdom of God, where you do what God wants.  Let me say it another way: when the Allies come to liberate you, you can’t keep serving the Nazis! 

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Paul lists all this junk and says, “You can’t keep doing that and inherit the Kingdom.”  But I love verse 11.  “And that is what some of you were.”  Past tense.  You’re not that any more.  You’ve been transformed: washed, sanctified, justified by Jesus.  Who does the washing?  Jesus.  Please understand, to repent doesn’t mean that I clean myself up to make myself presentable to Jesus.  To repent means that I turn to Jesus so that He can wash me and change me.  To repent means I realize that I’m a lousy king, and He’s a strong king, and I say, “Ok, You be king!”  Repent!  Turn from the kingdom of me to the kingdom of God.  Turn to Jesus, and enter His gracious rule in your life!

ILL: Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy, tells this story.

As a child I lived in an area of southern Missouri where electricity was available only in the form of lightning. We had more of that than we could use. But in my senior year of high school the REA (Rural Electrification Administration) extended its lines into the area where we lived, and electrical power became available to households and farms. When those lines came by our farm, a very different way of living presented itself. Our relationships to fundamental aspects of life—daylight and dark, hot and cold, clean and dirty, work and leisure, preparing food and preserving it—could then be vastly changed for the better. But we still had to believe in the electricity and its arrangements, understand them, and take the practical steps involved in relying on it.

(Think about) those farmers who, in effect, heard the message: “Repent, for electricity is at hand.” Repent, or turn from their kerosene lamps and lanterns, their iceboxes and cellars, their scrubboards and rug beaters, their woman-powered sewing machines and their radios with dry-cell batteries. The power that could make their lives far better was right there near them where, by making relatively simple arrangements, they could utilize it. Strangely, a few did not accept it. They did not “enter the kingdom of electricity.” Some just didn’t want to change. Others could not afford it, or so they thought.

Here’s the good news: the Kingdom of God has come.  The power to change, to live a new life, to experience what God wants—that power is right at your door!  Repent—turn from your own power to God’s power; turn to Jesus.

          Repent and believe the good news.  The good news is that the Kingdom has come, and you can enter it.  The Kingdom has been given and you can receive it.

Luke 12:32 Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

Luke 18:16-17 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

The Kingdom is a gift we receive.  We don’t earn it, achieve it, deserve it, or make it come to pass.  We simply receive it, humbly and gratefully.  “Lord, reign in me.”  Knowing it is a gift keeps us from becoming proud.  But it doesn’t mean we’re passive; we must receive it.  The farmers could reject electricity; you can reject God’s gift of His gracious reign in your life.

ILL: If you’re reading along with us in our Bible reading plan, you’ve been reading Kings and Chronicles lately, which tells the story of the kings of Israel and Judah.  Most of the kings were losers, but every now and then, a godly king would take the throne.  He’d inherit a nation in moral and spiritual chaos, and by a God-centered and benevolent rule, would lead the nation in moral and spiritual renewal.  Under a good king, the nation thrived.

Do you want to thrive?  We’ve got a good king; enter the Kingdom of God.  Come under our good king who wants the very best for you.  Submit to God’s rule in your life.  Begin to pray every day, “Lord reign in me.  Let your kingdom come, let your will be done in my life, right now, as it will be one day in heaven.”  Live in the kingdom!

          One last thought:

3. How are we agents of the Kingdom?

We not only live in God’s Kingdom, under God’s gracious rule, but we are agents of the kingdom. 

Colossians 4:11 Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me.

We are workers for the Kingdom of God; we work to extend God’s rule in our world.  We do this in three practical ways.

          First, we extend God’s rule in the world by living under His rule ourselves.  When you live in the Kingdom, under God’s gracious rule, your life becomes contagious.  

Matthew 13:33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

The Kingdom is like yeast.  It spreads quickly.  When you live under God’s gracious rule, you become contagious, like yeast.  I pray for you, that you will be Kingdom people—yeasty—and your influence will spread!

          Second, we extend God’s rule in the world by inviting others to enter and receive God’s rule.  We invite people into the Kingdom.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

God has given us the ministry and message of reconciliation.  We are agents of God’s Kingdom, spreading the good news that God has come in Christ to forgive us and make us His friends, and bring us into His kingdom.  Who do you know who is still living in the kingdom of me, and it isn’t working for them?  Invite them to the Kingdom of God! 

          Third, we extend God’s rule in the world by actively working for what God wants.  We pray for God’s kingdom to come, God’s will to be done; then we put legs and hands to our prayers.  When we find things that we know are not what God wants, we work to change them.  When we find injustice, we work for justice, because that’s what God wants.  We feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to those who have none, visit the sick and imprisoned—because that’s what God wants.  We extend God’s rule in the world by actively working for what we know He wants.