A preached this sermon at Franklin Community Church on Sunday, January 24, 2021. The topic is really about the kingdom of God and traces what that means from Genesis to Revelation. If you would rather watch the sermon, here is the link. The link is to the entire worship service on that Sunday. Feel free to worship, or to fast forward to the sermon.
AN ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY
Albert Einstein famously said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Based on that definition, is it safe to say our society has gone insane? What we have been doing is no longer working yet we keep doing it. Our society is broken. We are broken. I am broken. Sociologically speaking what we are experiencing is known as anomie; a state in society that, because of tremendous change or pressure, the norms of society are either not known or no longer powerful enough to “keep people in line.” It is a state of societal confusion and uneasiness. Eventually new norms will be established and upheld, but until then everyone does what is right in their own eyes.
Our society has been in flux for a generation or so. This uncertainty has put tremendous pressure on our long-established institutions—family, economic, educational, governmental, and religious. There seems to be no turning back. A significant reason for the anomie is because of the original sins of our country—racism, genocide, exceptionalism, and imperialism—are being exposed. And that’s a good thing! Added to this is a challenge to our power structure which, traditionally, is known as WASP—White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Usually the dominate group, in any culture, doesn’t give up power willingly. Conflict or, anomie, is the result.
This has been the story of cultures, societies, and civilizations through the ages. We, as human beings since the beginning of time, keep doing the same things over and over again and expect different results. Thus, right now, at the beginning of 2021, our society has lost its mind. Recently a meme has been shared through social media that shows the cast of Gilligan’s Island reading a letter. The meme suggests the letter was returned to the castaways through a bottle. According to the meme the letter says, “Stay where you are, the US has gone crazy.”
The good news of the gospel is that with the incarnation of Christ came a new way of living life. The gospel of Jesus screams, “It doesn’t have to be this way! There is a better way to live!” Jesus offers an alternative society; a society that begins the moment you place your faith in Him. This alternative society is called the Kingdom of God, and the kingdom of God is both now and not yet. After His baptism Jesus said, “The time has come…The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
The Kingdom of God
We get our first glimpse at what God’s kingdom looks like in the Garden of Eden. In the Garden we learn God created us to be citizens of His kingdom. Genesis records, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Ruler over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:27-28). At the very beginning we see the seeds of equality (even gender equality), economics, religion, marriage, family, governmental oversight, and creation care. At the very beginning we learn how we are to live. What happened? Through the insurrection of our first parents, Adam and Eve sinned against God and His kingdom and were banished from the Garden (Genesis 3).
God re-established His kingdom when He entered into a covenant with Abraham. God says to Abraham, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on the earth will be blessed through you”(Genesis 12:2-3). Abraham’s descendants did not walk in obedience, resulting in 400 years of slavery in Egypt. But God is faithful and keeps His covenants. Moses delivers the Israelites from their bondage. From Mount Sinai God tells Moses to say to the people, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6).
After recommitting Himself to the covenant, God gives His people the Ten Commandments and the entire Law. Some of these Laws are moral and eternal, meaning the principles behind these laws never change. Others are cultural and temporary meaning, though culturally dependent, still apply. Through these Laws we learn the ethics of the kingdom and discover our inability to live up to these ethics on our own, under our own power. However, the entirety of the Law is summed up with these words: “Hear, O Israel; the LORD our God the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Two words summarizes life in God’s kingdom and those words are MERCY and JUSTICE. In God’s kingdom there is a perfect balance between mercy and justice. They are not two-sides of the same coin in the sense you can only see one side at a time. Rather, they are both always together. They are both always on both sides of the same coin. Mercy cannot be separated from justice and justice cannot be separated from mercy. But because God is holy, His mercy is new every morning and His justice is always restorative.
Instead of living in, and building God’s kingdom, once again, His people rebelled. They decided they wanted their own king, like all the other nations, instead of following God’s ways and laws. In essence, they placed their politics ahead of their faith. God relented, and the Israelites went through a series of mainly evil kings. One notable exception was King David. God re-established His covenant with King David and promised that through Him the Messiah, the ultimate King, would come. Through the prophet Nathan, God said to King David, “‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever’” (2 Samuel 7:11-16).
In spite of all the prophets’ warnings, God’s people chose insurrection over the sovereign rule of God. The result was division between God’s covenant people. The ten Northern Kingdoms became Israel. The two Southern Kingdoms became Juda. Israel fell first, but by the end of the Old Testament Juda was no longer a nation as well.
Then God went silent for 400 years!
But God never forgot His promises. God never broke His covenant. God never gave up on His alternative society. The Bible plainly says, “If we are not faithful, he will still be faithful, because he must be true to who he is” (2 Timothy 2:13). That is a verse we all need to memorize.
God’s promise to Abraham and to Moses and to King David and to all His people was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus; “Immanuel…God with us” (Matthew 1:23). Mary understood the role her Son would play in bringing about the kingdom of God when she prayed, “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:51-53). Jesus understood His assignment when He quoted Isaiah, saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). All of Jesus’s teachings, all of His healings, and all of His miracles are snapshots of this alternative society. In God’s kingdom there will be no poverty, no oppression, no inequalities, no racism, no injustices, no homelessness, no mass incarceration, no death penalty, and no sicknesses—either mental or physical. God’s kingdom will be the Year of Jubilee for all eternity. Through His parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus instructs His followers that living out the kingdom of God in our present reality is what characterizes His true followers.
Then, after His resurrection and before His ascension, Acts records that Jesus spent His time with His disciples reviewing and re-emphasizing the importance of God’s kingdom (Acts 1:3). The Early Church understood this and implemented the principles of God’s kingdom so much that history records, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need”(Acts 4:32-35). It was this alternative society, growing in the midst of a wicked and corrupt society, that changed the world! It is also what brought severe persecution.
James hints at the kingdom of God when he writes, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). Peter echoes the words God gave Moses when he said, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
Finally, when it is all over, at the very end, when the alternative society we are only slightly experiencing now becomes a reality, John says, “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death’…Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 21:1-8 & 22:1-5). Our only response is to conclude as John concluded, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
An Alternative Society
From Genesis to Revelation God has made it clear He desires a people for His very own; a people who through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, are willing to live differently from the world around them. As followers of Jesus, we do not live in an alternative reality, but we are called to live our their faith in an alternative society, known as the kingdom of God. This kingdom was consummated with the birth of Jesus and it will be fulfilled when Jesus returns. In the meantime, in the here-and-now of the now and not-yet of the kingdom, what does this alternative society look like?
First, it is a society that is built on the foundation of mercy and justice. Mercy and justice are characterized by restoration and reconciliation because God is a God of restoration and reconciliation. Second, this alternative society is characterized by community instead of individualism. In God’s kingdom my rights are not as important as the rights of others, especially the rights of the marginalized and oppressed. In the words of Dr. King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Third, the society we are called to create and live in is characterized by generosity instead of greed. Gandhi said, “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone greed.” Poverty, in any community, is a failure of the church to live up to the principles of God’s kingdom. Fourth, this alternative society is characterized by peace instead of violence. Jesus said, “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). When He disarmed Peter on the night He was betrayed (Matthew 26:52) Jesus was teaching us that at His followers we should be willing to die for our faith but never willing to kill for our faith. Fifth, in God’s kingdom there is a government of utilitarianism instead of a government of power. Biblically, government is a means to an end and not an end in itself. In other words, God’s idea of government is that it benefits all people, not just the elite. A utilitarian government starts from the bottom and works its way up instead of starting at the top and trickling down to the bottom. Government should be about serving people not accumulating power. If history has taught us anything it has taught us that any time faith in Jesus tempts you to get comfortable with power, the result is a form of Christian Nationalism that destroys both your faith and your country. As citizens of an alternative society our faith determines our politics, not the other way around.
Maybe you are thinking this is to idealistic and not the real world. Well, the real world ain’t working real well. Plus, salvation is about both individuals and societies. So, how do we bring this alternative society into reality?
A few years ago, Luis Carrion, our missionary friend in Honduras, asked me to share a little about the kingdom of God with a men’s bible study he was leading at his home. When I finished sharing and told people a little about all the things our church does, Luis said something like this, “When you love someone the way God loves someone, when you house a homeless person or give medical care to people in medical brigades or pour a concrete floor in their one-room shack, you are giving a snapshot of what the kingdom of God looks like.” If you know Luis, and his love of taking pictures of everything, then you understand what he was saying. He was saying when you do these things you are bringing the future kingdom of God into present day reality. This may sound idealistic, but in reality, it is what we are to be doing. We, the church of Jesus, are to continue to do what Jesus did until He returns. We are to take pictures now while we wait for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom to come. We are kingdom photographers in an under-developed world.
How do we produce snapshots of the kingdom while we wait for the reality of the kingdom to be fulfilled? How do we live in a world that is completely broken?
First, recognize that the kingdom of God is here right now, and you are a citizen of that kingdom. God’s kingdom came when Jesus came. It is already here, and the moment you confess “Jesus is Lord,” you become a citizen of His kingdom with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of a citizen. Second, confess creating and living in this alternative society is God’s will. It has always been God’s will that He have a people that serves Him by serving others. A society, characterized by mercy, justice, community, peace and utilitarian government, has always been God’s plan. Third, live out your faith through the power of the Holy Spirit. In the Book of Acts, after Jesus reiterated all He had said about the kingdom of God, He told his followers to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised them, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Because of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling we have been empowered to live out kingdom principles regardless of our present reality. Fourth, we expand God’s kingdom by telling others how they can become a part of the kingdom. How do people become citizens of the kingdom of God? Jesus said, “The time has come…The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). Repentance and belief are two sides of the coin of faith. We repent that we have messed things up. We repent that we have tried to create our own empires instead of allowing Jesus to be King. We repent of our Christian Nationalism. We repent for placing political ideology ahead of our love for God and other people. Through faith we repent and place our trust and belief in Him; knowing He is full of mercy and grace and justice.
If we thought 2021 was going to be different, and better, then 2020, we were snapped back to reality by the events in Washington, DC. I never thought I would witness an insurrection in my own country. I lived through an attempted coup in Honduras, but I never thought there would be an attempted coup in my own country. And it was beyond my imagination that some would do this in the name of Jesus. One of the first images I saw on the news that today were people running into the Capitol carrying signs that said, “Jesus Saves” and “Jesus 2020.” From my perspective that was blasphemy. It was violation of the first and the third Commandments.
But what can I do about it? I wasn’t there, so it’s out of my control. All I can do is be faithful to God’s Word and to the people He has called me to lead and influence. It is time for true followers of Jesus to stand up and condemn the false gospel of Christian Nationalism. It is time we repent of our complicity in our present situation, whatever that complicity may be. It is time we all do some serious soul-searching. It is time we determined to live out our faith and show people there is a better way to live. There is an alternative society. It’s called the kingdom of God and it begins the moment you repent and believe.
May God gives us mercy and justice as we boldly proclaim the same message Jesus proclaimed. The same message that started in Genesis 1 and concludes in Revelation 22. “The time has come…The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). Today, right now, do you need to repent of your sins and believe Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords?