A Multinational Kingdom: Rev 5:9-10
October 29, 2006
The other day, I learned the definition of a good sermon: It should have a good beginning. It should have a good ending. And they should be as close together as possible.
After one exceptionally long and boring sermon, a man shook the pastor’s hand at the back door and said, "Pastor, that sermon reminded me of the peace and love of God!" The pastor was ecstatic. "No one has ever said anything like that about one of my sermons before! Tell me, how did it remind you of the peace and love of God?" "Well", said the man, "it reminded me of the peace of God because it passed all human understanding and it reminded me of the love of God because it endured forever!"
Another preacher was shaking hands with the members of his congregation after a service when one man approached him and said, "That was a wonderful sermon today, pastor!" Filled with christian modesty, the preacher replied, "Oh, it wasn’t me, it was God." To which the reply came, "It wasn’t that good."
One Sunday after the preacher had preached a vigorous sermon, he was met by a little old lady at the door who said, "You know Pastor, every sermon you preach is better than your next one."
Billy Graham tells of a time, during the early years of his preaching ministry, when he was due to lead a crusade meeting in a town in South Carolina, and he needed to mail a letter. He asked a little boy in the main street how he could get to the post office. After the boy had given him directions, Billy said, "If you come to the central Baptist church tonight, I’ll tell you how to get to heaven." The boy replied, "No thanks, you don’t even know how to get to the post office!"
Last Sunday, my best friend Brian Whittle helped us reflect together on some myths and realities of heaven, and I greatly appreciated both the break it gave me and the good things he had to say, some of which I passed along this past Wednesday when I preached next door at Canterbury Court. And it is a great bridge into what we plan to talk about over the next little while – the Kingdom of God. Jesus taught a lot about the Kingdom of God, in the OT we see many descriptions of what God desires in His Kingdom, and yet I think most of us are a little fuzzy about what the Kingdom of God actually is, and what that means for how we live our lives today. So we are going to spend some time seeking that out together. This morning, I want begin to talk about the Kingdom of God, and tie that in to something we did two weeks ago.
A few weeks ago, we stood together in our sanctuary and committed ourselves to a 3 year partnership with the Bolivian Baptist Union. We have been looking at this for a little more than a year, and as a congregation we decided that we wanted to make this commitment and begin this relationship. There are a whole host of reasons we think this will be great for us, which I will get into in a moment, but first let me answer this question: what does us partnering with the Bolivian Baptist Union, to cooperate in ministries to children in Bolivia, have to do with the Kingdom of God? To answer that question, let’s look at Rev 5:9-10.
As you are looking that up, we need some context. The book of Revelation is a record of a vision John had, and is full of mysterious images which are often difficult for us to understand. But the point of the book was clear – it was written to encourage Christians who were facing persecution and all kinds of difficult things, with one profound fact: God triumphs. God is faithful, and no matter how it looks in our lives in whatever difficulties we face, God is with us and God is sovereign and God triumphs. I want to pause there, and remind you of that fact this morning: God is faithful, and no matter how it looks in your life, God is with you and God is sovereign and God triumphs.
In this particular passage, John has a vision of a mighty scroll which is sealed, and at first there is no one worthy to open it or look inside it, and John starts to weep. Then Jesus appears in the form of a lamb which looked like it had been slain, and Jesus opens the scroll. The passage continues:
“9And they (those surrounding the throne) sang a new song with these words:
‘You are worthy to take the scroll
and break its seals and open it.
For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 And you have caused them to become
a Kingdom of priests for our God.
And they will reign[d] on the earth.’”
Ok, so what does that tell us about the Kingdom of God? It tells us this: The Kingdom of God is a multinational Kingdom. (repeat).
What to notice:
After the focus on Jesus, the lamb, which is the main point of the passage, notice the following:
1. “your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” This is a multinational people, from everywhere. It is not a group of white men in blue suits, it is a group which represents people from every tribe and language and people and nation and they are together, equal in status and position and favor before God. They are united and unified, but not uniform. It is an incredible reality of beauty and diversity and equality.
It is my great hope and prayer that our partnership with the church in Bolivia takes us much closer to recognizing and understanding this truth. We are equal before God, we are not superior because we live in a land of wealth and privilege, we are not better because we have more, we are equal partners, joint heirs together with Jesus. I believe that as we form deep relationships of love with people in Bolivia, as a whole church, that this picture from Revelation will become a little more real to us. The key parts to this are relationship and partnership.
2. “And you have caused them to become a Kingdom”. In Jesus, that diverse group of people “becomes a Kingdom”. What is a “Kingdom”? In its simplest, it is a group of people united by a King. The Spiritual Kingdom of God does exactly that – all who swear allegiance to Jesus Christ are members together of the Kingdom of God, and are equal members. That is another thing I believe we will learn in our relationship with Bolivia.
3. “a Kingdom of priests” – notice this line, because it defines our role. We are, together, priests. We work together to bring people to God – that is the role of a priest, to bring people to God. We believe that all of us are priests, that we don’t require anyone else to intervene between us and God but that rather all of us can bring our own worship and needs directly to God, we call that “the priesthood of all believers”, and we see that in this passage of Scripture. However, I think we have been one-sided in this in our culture, and have sometimes extended that to mean that we don’t need anyone else, “just me and God is all that matters”.
I suspect this is one more area that we will learn a lot about in our partnership with Christians in Bolivia – our responsibility for one another. You see, I believe that the priesthood of all believers means more than that we can just bring our own, individual offerings of worship and request – I believe it also requires us each to bring one another’s. Being a “Kingdom of Priests” means that each of us are empowered and expected to minister to one another at whatever points of need there are, and that as we take this responsibility seriously we will discover a more Biblical reality of community.
On Friday, Pastor Sue shared something quite profound from a book she has been reading for a seminary course. It is about a missionary to the Masai in Africa, and this passage is from a time when a particular tribe were making the decision to believe, which would mean also receiving baptism:
I stood in front of the assembled community and began: “This old man sitting here has missed too many of our instruction meetings. He was always out herding cattle. He will not be baptized with the rest. These two on this side will be baptized, because they always attended, and understood very well what we talked about. So did this young mother. She will be baptized. But that man there has obviously not understood the gospel message. And that lady there has scarcely believed the gospel message. They cannot be baptized. And this warrior has not shown enough effort…”
The old man (who spoke for the tribe) stopped me politely but firmly, “Padri, why are you trying to break us up and separate us? During this whole year that you have been teaching us, we have talked about these things when you were not here, at night around the fire. Yes, there have been lazy ones in this community. But they have been helped by those with much energy. There are stupid ones in the community, but they have been helped by those who are intelligent. Yes, there are ones with little faith in this village, but they have been helped by those with much faith. Would you turn out and drive off the lazy ones and the ones with little faith and the stupid ones? From the first day I have spoken for these people. And I speak for them now. Now, on this day one year later, I can declare for them and for all this community, that we have reached the step in our lives where we can say, ‘We believe.’”
(Christianity Rediscovered, Vincent J. Donovan, 2nd printing March, 2004, p. 70)
4. The last thing to notice in this passage is this: “a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign[d] on the earth.” This is really important in the larger picture of what the “Kingdom of God” is – it is not the same thing as “heaven”, which we think of only as “life after death”. Here it says, “they will reign[d] on the earth.” Notice I left the little “[d]” in there? I usually take them out, but the NLT has a footnote which says this: “Some manuscripts read they are reigning.” Without diving deep into the details, it is simply pointing out that there are some ancient manuscripts with a different verb tense which makes the verse mean that this Kingdom of priests “ARE reigning”, in the “now”, and not only in the future.
I like the point that makes. Whichever the tense, though, it is clear that this reigning is “on earth”. It is not just for the future heaven, but is now and on earth.
Historically, “white” Christians have held much of the power in the Kingdom of God on earth, but that is changing in our day and I think it is in accordance with Scripture, which shows that the Kingdom of God is a multinational Kingdom. I, personally, am very much looking forward to the opportunity to learn from Christians in a completely different culture, and I hope that as I learn to look through their eyes, perhaps I will see things about the gospel in a way that I have never seen before, and perhaps that will help me become more like Jesus.
Back To STEP:
Two weeks ago, when we formally signed our STEP partnership agreement, we all spoke these words together:
“We accept the invitation to become a STEP Church.
Through this STEP partnership we seek to address our heartfelt longing to be missional, bridging the local and global, by building significant relationships with God’s church around the world.
We are committed to being a STEP church. We seek to build deep relationships and grow as global disciples through focusing our prayers, support and involvement with our partner church family in Bolivia.”
I suspect some of you were not present, and some are maybe a little unclear about what this partnership means, so I want to remind you. It is a three year partnership between us, LHBC, and the Bolivian Baptist Union. More specifically, the Bolivian Baptist Union has several ministries to the children of Bolivia, and we have agreed to target our relationship on those children’s ministries. The heart of the partnership is relationship, as we said in those promises. There is a financial component, there is a short-term mission trip component, and we will talk about more of those details at our dessert night this coming Saturday, but both the financial and short-term components exist to facilitate the building of relationship with Christians in Bolivia. My great hope and prayer is that through this relationship, we will develop a better understanding of the multinational Kingdom of God, we will grow to see our faith through more than just the lens of our own culture, and as a result we will live our lives in deeper obedience to our Lord Jesus.