It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo.
The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were,
and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end.
Because how could the end be happy.
How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened.
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.
Even darkness must pass. A new day will come.
And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.
Those were the stories that stayed with you.
That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why.
But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now.
Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t.
Because they were holding on to something.
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15
There was a moment when God created everything and called it good. He created man and woman in his own image, giving them the responsibility to rule over creation under his own rule.
And for a time man and woman lived under the full reign of God. They knew God and talked with him. Nothing was hidden. Nothing was broken.
But then a tempter came with the promise that they too could rule. They could be like God if they wanted. So, the man and woman rebelled and rejected God’s authority. They became suspicious of God and each other.
As a result, they hid. Their world started to break. God came to them and asked what had happened. They blamed each other, not accepting the full weight of their rebellion.
In turn, God sent them into exile, out of the garden he had walked with them in so many times. Away from fellowship, now the man and woman would wander seeking to rule and be ruled.
But God had a plan to not only redeem the humans he created but also to establish his reign in their hearts once again. He never stopped being King but humanity did not honor him as such. So, how could he do fulfill this plan without destroying them, without simply making them surrender to his loving reign?
He watched as humanity misused its authority and how life in exile made them worship idols and pursue all sorts of corruption. Yet, he saw one who was humble and decided that through him he would establish a great nation which would be a blessing to all nations.
Through this man Abraham and his wife God gave them a son and from this son eventually the new nation of Israel would come. Israel would be God’s kingdom on earth. She would demonstrate to the world, to those living in exile and rebellion, God’s character, power, and purposes.
Israel would be his people and he would be there God. They would have no need for earthly kings. But, alas, as in the time of the garden, once again humanity rejected God as king.
Israel begged for an earthly king just like all the other kingdoms. So, God in his patience and wisdom, allowed them to pursue this folly. He knew an earthly king would demand more than deliver. He told his people as much.
And so throughout their history, Israel’s kings either led them toward faith and knowledge of God or away into idolatry. But, there was one king that stood above them all. His reign was like no other. He would become the greatest king Israel had ever known. And through him a final king would come.
David wasn’t a perfect king but he was a man who pursued God. And God promised that the throne of David would be established forever through a future king of kings.
So for centuries Israel lived under the rule of earthly kings and sought forgiveness from God through sacrifices, worship of God through offerings and remembering the acts of God through festivals. Times were good. Times were bad. They were faithful to God. Other times their kings thought themselves gods.
As time passed, prophets reminded Israel of their purpose to be a blessing to the nations and that a future king would come to establish the kingdom of God forever on the earth. His rule would never end. The might and glory of God would flow through Israel into every nation.
But when that would come nobody knew. In the meantime, Israel, God’s people, the kingdom of God on earth, lived under the rule of other nations – Babylon and eventually Rome.
And the people cried out for deliverance. But, once again, God had a plan. He would demonstrate his glory and establish his reign through Israel even if that meant sending them into exile so he could do so. Through their exiles, God would demonstrate his power to the most powerful nations on earth at the time.
Eventually God looked down and saw that the time had come. The time for the Messiah, the king sent from God, had arrived. Perhaps he looked at his son and said, “Go and do what I tell you. Announce my kingdom has come. Show them how to live, really live, with me as their king. Now is the time for my kingdom to spread through Israel to the nations as it always was planned.”
And so Jesus entered the world. He was the promised king of kings. The final king of the Jews. But before he could go public with the good news, he had to be tested. What kind of king would he be?
After having passed the test, he began going town to town announcing the kingdom had come. He was the long awaited King. But he was not what they expected. He was not what most of them wanted.
Jesus came announcing the kingdom of God had arrived. This kingdom which Israel had sought and anticipated for centuries was now here. But, in what way? What would it look like? Were these just empty promises?
Some believed and listened to what Jesus had to say about the kingdom. It was the topic of his ministry. He announced it, demonstrated its power, and said that it had come near in him.
But, what he said and did was not what the leaders of Israel expected the Messiah to do. They thought the arrival of the kingdom and the King would mean Israel’s vindication and liberation. They thought Israel would finally be established as the great kingdom on earth forever.
To bring this about, some advocated separation and lived out in the wilderness so they could pray and seek God without interference. Others sought armed rebellion against the Roman oppressors. Still others thought compromise with the Romans was the best way forward. Finally the Pharisees thought strict devotion to the Law was the way that God would have them live.
Life in exile can be confusing. And figuring out how to live with God as your king while you are ruled by other kingdoms can be confusing too.
So when Jesus came announcing the kingdom had come in him, many people expected him to take their side. Yet he did not advocate separation, or war, or compromise or legalism. Instead, he taught another way. He demonstrated another way.
In him God was establishing his rule in human hearts once again. He was showing people the character, the power, the purposes of God that Israel was always meant to show. He taught them how the law and prophets pointed to himself.
In Jesus we see what it means to live with God as your king. It’s an upside down, counter intuitive way of living. The humble, merciful, pure in heart, persecuted are blessed. You love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. You don’t worry but trust the God who takes care of flowers and birds. You speak truth. You recognize sin in your heart not just your actions. You refrain from judgment because you too have a judge.
You can not buy your way in but must seek God above all things. You can not religion your way in but must be made new. You can not think you way in but must repent and seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness.
This is some of what it means to live with God as your king. It also means abandoning your life and agenda for the life and agenda of God. It may mean your very life to gain eternal life.
And to some, the announcement and demonstration of the kingdom of God in Jesus was good news, really good news. But, to others it was a threat.
So, once again, the people rejected the King sent by God and had him killed. Once again God would show his power to the most powerful nation on earth at the time.
God establishing his kingdom on earth meant more than ethical teachings. It meant more than miracles and concern for the poor. It meant setting the humans free from their enemy, paying their debt, restoring their honor, and coming close to them once again through his Spirit.
So, God raised Jesus from the dead, gave hope to his despairing disciples, and firmly established that Jesus was now the world’s true Lord. God’s kingdom had come. Now it was time to take it to the nations!
God was ruling in Jesus. He was now ruling in Jesus’ church, the ekklesia, the gathering of the kingdom on earth for the purposes of the King. A new colony had been born on the earth, designed to spread naturally as a seed in dough or as a tiny mustard seed that eventually becomes the largest plant in the garden.
And the kingdom continues to spread until all nations hear the good news. Then, Jesus will return to establish the kingdom in full forever. Once again, God’s glory and reign will be reestablished over his creation.
The corruption, pain, evil, suffering, death, disease, poverty, crime, injustice, conditional love, broken relationships, oppression, addiction, depression that we know in this world will be done away with forever. God has begun to make all things new in Christ. The new creation has begun and will one day finally be completed in the new heavens and new earth.
Jesus taught that we will be with him. But, our final place is not heaven. No, its a new heaven and a new earth.
For God never stopped loving the creation he made, even though it continually rejected his loving rule. And he found a way to draw people back to himself without forcing himself upon them or taking away their choice.
The kings and kingdoms of this earth are but a shadow of the kingdom we were meant to live in and the King we were meant to know.
All earthly kingdoms come and go. But the kingdom of God will endure forever.
One day the king will return and pass judgment. That’s good news in itself because the king is good. But even better is the kingdom that will come once and for all.
Between now and then, those who seek God’s kingdom and pray for it are to announce it and invite everyone in. For the long awaited kingdom of God has come. May his will be done on earth as in heaven.
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!” Revelation 21: 1 – 5