Posts Tagged ‘Kingdom of heaven’

Sermon for Pentecost 12

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Mathew 18:1-20

Augustana, 2011

Click here for mp3 Audio 51 Sermon for Pent 12. mp3

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  Let me give you a hint, it’s probably not who you think.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Isn’t that sweet?  Little children are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Except that that’s not the point Jesus was making.  We live in a world decidedly different from the world in which Jesus lived and taught.  Almost never in Greco-Roman culture, in the Old Testament, or in Judaism are children the role models for adults in the sense that they have qualities that adults should copy.  Today, it’s the exact opposite.  Children are often held up as examples of childlike faith, innocence, simplicity, and happiness probably even as a result of skewed understanding of Jesus’s teaching.  We are a culture conditioned by Dickens’ Tiny Tim and Oliver and that cute kid in the Home Alone movies.  But we’re not talking about the 10 year-old who bests the adults in an adult world.  We’re talking about toddlers up to about 2nd grade.  And truly Young children are not yet in possession of their ability to think rationally.  If you want to get a sense of their rationality try giving one a 5 dollar bill for 5 ones.  They’ll think you’re stealing from them.  They are physically weak and susceptible to illness.  Even in the OT, children are a blessing from God, but were not positive role models for adults in any aspect of life.

Children are often mentioned in the Bible but not as examples for grown-ups.  Paul starts chapter three in 1 Corinthians by saying, “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” Later on in chapter 13 he writes, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (v. 11).  The author to the book of Hebrews uses an extended argument to make the same point:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.  (Heb 5:11-14)

The Bible typically portrays children as essentially needy, physically weak, untaught, and unable to provide for themselves.

And so this is the cultural context we need to have running in our head when Jesus declares: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  Jesus is making a profound point here but it’s not the point we’ve come to think it is.

When Jesus shows the disciples a child and says, “Be like this,” Jesus is urging his disciples to abandon all worldly thoughts about greatness in the kingdom and with them all these delusions of self-sufficiency.  We already know that the blessed ones in the kingdom of heaven are those with no spiritual resources of their own, they are truly the poor in spirit (Mt 5:3).  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for to them belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  The greatest in the kingdom of heaven are like little toddlers—needy and dependent on God for everything.  Jesus is saying, the only folks who enter the kingdom of heaven are those who realize that they have nothing and that God gives everything.  To become like a little child is to recognize and confess our insignificance and absolute dependence on God.  To become like little children is to repent of our pride, acknowledge our total need for God’s grace and to look to Christ alone for rescue.  Be like a child; live as a child of God completely dependent on God alone.

We don’t like to hear this because we’re proud.  We don’t like feeling needy.  It contradicts everything we have come to think about religion and about ourselves.  Who do we lift up as examples?  We lift up strong people of faith, maybe our faithful grandparents or parents or a dear friend who seems so strong.  Even in our life with God we presuppose that the relationship is strong because we are faithful in private devotion and prayer.  “In contrast to all this desire for spiritual improvement and self-development, Jesus teaches that we being, continue, and end our spiritual journey with Him as beggars before God the Father, the heavenly King.  We do not, as we follow Jesus, become increasingly self-sufficient.  Rather, we learn, bit by bit, the art of begging from God the Father, until at our death we can do nothing but say finally, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me!’”[1]  Last month at the council meeting and then the voters’ meeting I read that quote and more from Dr. Kleinig’s book, Grace Upon Grace.  He uses the example of a beggar and I think it struck more than one person as odd that beggars would be our spiritual models.

But this is identical to Jesus is saying that whoever would be great in the kingdom of heaven must become like the little child, completely dependent on God.  Our life in Christ is not based on our performance but solely on our receiving from God.  This seems counterintuitive and hard but in some ways it makes it far easier to live as disciples of Jesus.  We don’t need to worry about what a 15 percent drop in the stock market is going to do to our 401k, or in my case 403b.  We don’t need to worry about the test results.  We are following Jesus.  A little less to retire on might help us to see our daily bread all the clearer.  If it is cancer, Jesus will bring you through it or bring you home.  You win either way.  And so, over the last several weeks, I’ve been trying to shift some understandings, or rather misunderstandings we have about God and life in God’s kingdom.  I may or may have been successful.  To be honest, it’s often hard to tell.  But, I will say this.  I am constantly tempted to run the way of spiritual ambition.  And Christians constantly measure themselves against what others have, or seem to have, even when it comes to our lives in the kingdom of heaven.  And can I just say it this way, “Our church leadership does not often measure greatness the way Jesus does.”?

But Jesus leads us in a different direction entirely.  He points us away from ourselves and back to God the giver of all things needful.  Jesus shows us that the true goal for the exercise of our devotion and piety is to be seen by God, open to his searching and yet gracious scrutiny, known and appreciated by Him.  Our life in Him does not depend on our devotion or spiritual performance but completely on Christ and His performance on the cross in our place.  We can face all our failures because out failures show us how completely dependent we are on Christ.  The burden of trying to be a super-Christian is lifted and we have relief from the intolerable pressure to show how much spiritual progress we have made.

Who’s the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  Thanks be to God it’s not who you thought.  Jesus has made it so.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

[1] Kleinig, Grace Upon Grace, 29.


Sermon for Pentecost 10

August 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Matthew 16:13-19

Click here for mp3 audio 49 Sermon for Pent 10.mp3

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel reading we just heard.

For the past six Sundays we have listened as Jesus has described what the kingdom of heaven, the active reigning of heaven on earth looks like in parables.  And we have watched as Jesus worked three important miracles.  He fed five thousand men plus women and children with five loaves and two small fish, walked on water and got Peter out on the water too, and healed the daughter of a Canaanite woman with a word.  All of that was lead up to this question:  “Who do people say that I am?”

It’s a great question.  There are multiple answers.  Some say John the Baptist raised from the dead.  But Jesus isn’t John the Baptist.  Others say Elijah.  Some say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.  That’s a really interesting conclusion because Jesus is very much like Jeremiah.  We could have a whole Bible class looking at the connections between Jesus and Jeremiah and the prophetic role of Jesus.  But, no, Jesus is not Jeremiah.  That night back on the lake when Jesus walked out to the boat on the water the disciples themselves said that Jesus was the Son of God and they worshipped him.  That’s a pretty good indication of who Jesus is.  Just recently the Canaanite woman called Jesus, “Lord,” and “Son of David.”  We could have another whole Bible class on who had the better answer, the Canaanite woman or the disciples?  But even after the night on the lake and meeting the Canaanite woman, Jesus still wants to know who the people and who the disciples say that he is.  Up to this point Jesus isn’t satisfied with any of the answers he’s heard so far.  It’s a great question and there are multiple answers.

Jesus is not a politician and he’s not talking a public interest poll.  He turns his question to the disciples.  Who do ya’ll say that I am.  That’s actually how the Greek reads, that’s a plural you.  “But ya’ll.  Who do ya’ll say that I am?  And Simon Peter replied…”  Now it’s not fair that you know this passage so well because if you didn’t know the passage and you had been reading along in Matthew’s Gospel and all you knew about Peter up to this point was what you had previously read, what would you be expecting?  Well, we would be expecting Peter to get the answer wrong.  Peter was the double doubter back on the lake that night and now he’s about to answer Jesus’ question.  “And Simon Peter replied… you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!”  Peter gets it right but he doesn’t get it right all on his own.   “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!”  Jesus says, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”  There are two things that are important about this little Bible verse and the second most important is this: that no one can truly say who Jesus really is apart from God the Father revealing this knowledge to them.  The most important thing is this:  Jesus is the Christ.  Jesus is God’s Christ.

I said that most of you are probably familiar enough with not only this passage but the rest of the Bible and basic theology to be saying right now in your head, this is the part where the preacher launches into the whole, Jesus is the Old Testament fulfillment of God’s promises part of the sermon.  All of God’s old covenant promises find their “Yes” in Jesus.  And you’d be right, except that this morning I want to do that a little differently.

On your way to church this morning what did you see?  Any car accidents?  Maybe not but you know people not only have them, sometimes they can be so dangerous that people die in them.  It’s very tragic.  I’m reminded of this more and more by these “In Memory of” stickers some people are putting on the back windows of their cars.  Injury or death in car accidents is just one example of the brokenness of our world.  You probably didn’t see any accidents on the way to church because there are far fewer cars on the road at 8:30 to 9:30 on Sunday mornings than there are at any other morning.  The lack of cars on the road on Sunday morning is evidence of the power of sin and rebellion against God and His Word in our world.   Maybe you stopped on the way in this morning to visit the grave of one of your loved ones either here or at another cemetery.  Or maybe you’re planning to do that after church.  Many people visit cemeteries on Sundays.  But we were not created for death.  There was no cemetery in the Garden of Eden.  Death is the ultimate example of everything that is wrong with our world of the brokenness of it.  Our world is so broken, so twisted some even call death good, they call it relief.  Death is not good, it is our enemy.  It is the punishment from God for sin.

Oh, how our world is corrupted.  Whole peoples are starving and their leaders won’t allow the food sent by the international community to be sent in.  Young people burn down buildings just to watch them burn.  Entire nations forbid the practice of Christianity publicly.  Peoples rise up against other peoples because of the color of skin or the religion they follow and hate them and try to kill as many of them as possible.  And politicians prey on that hatred and the fears it generates not to take care of the problems but to stay in office, to stay in power over others.  Even the earth itself generates hurricanes and heat waves, blizzards and super storms, earthquakes and tsunamis.  Even our relationships are polluted with selfishness. The marriage between Adam and Eve we have turned into an entire culture of hook up, shack up and break up, with whomsoever we please.  And we sometimes wonder why were so unhappy.  Would that God would come back and straighten all this mess out.  Would that God would rend the heavens and come down.  Would that God would make good on his promises to bless all the peoples of the earth through his chosen Israel.  Would that God would come and dwell with his people and be their God and that there would be no more crying and no more pain, and no more super storms and no more scorching heat and no more starving people and no more political instability because there would be no need for politicians.   And no more death.  No more death.  Would that God would come and rescue us from all these things that terrify us and imprison us and kill us and restore that which he originally intended for us.

And the Good News is, of course, that there is One who came.  Prophesied long ago, he was of the house and lineage of David, king of ancient Israel.  His birth and his infancy were protected by God.  His true identity is not in doubt.  There was a genuine prophet of God Most High who came before him to announce his arrival.  When he arrived, he was tempted in the wilderness by Satan for forty days and did not give in.  He came preaching that the rule of God in heaven was now restored on earth and he proved it by healing countless people of their illness, some of them even incurable, lepers and people born blind and others who had been sick for years and years.  And he cast out demons too.  He worked against the rule of Satan in this world and freed many people from demonic possession.  And when he taught, he spoke as though he were God himself.  He had power over nature.  He could still storms and walk on water.  And he raised the dead.  The crowds that had gathered at the little girl’s house had laughed at him when he said she was just sleeping.  But he had gone in and touched her hand and the girl arose.  Jesus has power over death itself.  The one whom God the Father sent, came to make everything that was wrong in this world right, heal the sick and even destroy the power of death.  Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one of God, sent to restore the kingdom of heaven on earth, sent to destroy even the power of death.

Jesus, God’s Christ has come to reign and to restore the kingdom of heaven on earth.  I said before that the people who have a hard time believing that Jesus could do these miracles don’t misunderstand the miracles.  They misunderstand Jesus, the Christ of God.  Jesus is not just God’s Son.  Jesus is not just a good man.  He is not just a descendent of the house of David of Israel.  He is not just a prophet or miracle worker.  Jesus is God’s Christ, his promised anointed one sent to restore his ruling on the earth.  He ruled during his earthly ministry in powerful ways.  He will come again to bring the Father’s plan to its consummation.  Jesus is God’s Christ.

The kingdom of God Jesus came to restore is not a typical earthly kingdom.  Matthew makes a point to tell us that Jesus was way up north in Caesarea Phillippi, some 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, in other words, they were about as far away from Jerusalem as they ever were.  Jesus kingdom is not centered in Jerusalem.  Jesus’ kingdom, at least for now, is an unusual kingdom marked chiefly by the forgiveness of sins.  That doesn’t look like much to some folks but it means that what is done here on earth is already done before the throne of God in heaven.  God’s Christ was enthroned at the cross in weakness and shame.  But it will not always be.  For he will come again with greatness and all the glory of heaven.

Jesus is God’s Christ.  This is Peter’s confession and I pray it is yours too.  Amen.

Please pray with me.  Grant us grace, heavenly Father, that we like Peter may confess Jesus to be your Christ and so remain steadfast on the unshakable rock of our salvation.  We pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.