Wildwind Community Church
David K. Flowers
March 11, 2007
We begin a new series today that I have entitled Kingdom Stories. If you read the gospels, you will see that Jesus was constantly referring to the Kingdom of God, or – in Matthew – the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus spoke of this kingdom as an actual thing. You don’t need a preacher to tell you that. Read it for yourself and you will see that Jesus believed deeply in this Kingdom. He believed in its reality. He believed in its ability to change lives. He believed that it was where he was from. And he believed that there was a way that you and I could be part of it. In fact, that is the thrust of most of his teaching – telling us about the existence of the Kingdom, and explaining to us how we can be a part of it.
Since the Kingdom was the central thrust of the teaching of Jesus, both those who are following him and those who are merely curious about following him must understand what the Kingdom was to him. It doesn’t matter what I think the Kingdom is. It doesn’t really matter what you think the Kingdom is. The critical question is what did Jesus mean when he talked about the Kingdom? Jesus told stories to illustrate the Kingdom to us, using everyday things like camels, seeds, trees, money, employers and employees, gates, and more. He made it as simple as possible so that we could understand it. So today and in the next three weeks after this we’ll be looking at what we can learn about the Kingdom from these stories Jesus told. We’ll start with where the Kingdom comes from and how it grows.
Let’s look at our text for today. It is two very brief stories (comparisons, actually) located in Luke chapter 13.
Luke 13:18-21 (NIV)
18 Then Jesus asked, "What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to?
19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches."
20 Again he asked, "What shall I compare the kingdom of God to?
21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."
Really? That’s what it’s like, huh? Like a mustard seed, and like yeast? That’s fine, but does this really tell us anything? Folks, the brilliance of Christ’s teaching is that if you’re not looking closely, you will miss it. It seems not only simple, but simplistic at times. But I want to show you four amazing things about the Kingdom that we can understand from these two simple comparisons.
First is that God takes the initiative to build the Kingdom. Jesus said “a man took and planted a seed”; “a woman took yeast.” In these comparisons, God is represented as taking initiative. Let’s say that we had the luxury of forgetting everything we had ever learned about God right now, and my job was to reeducate you – to start from scratch. If I had that challenge, I would begin by reading to you these brief stories Jesus told and telling you, “God is the ruler over a kingdom. And God has taken the initiative to build his Kingdom into our lives and into our world.
This is absolutely central to our understanding of God and of the Kingdom. It begins with God and God’s activity. What are the first four words of Genesis chapter 1, verse 1? “In the beginning God…” God is the initiator. He is the first mover. He is the one who makes things happen.
Revelation 4:11 (KJV)
11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
2 Corinthians 4:6 (NIV)
6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
You cannot overstate the importance of this. Why? Because you live and I live in a world where we are first. What about me? What about my needs? What about my goals and plans for my life? What about what I want? What about me-time? This is my decision, my choice, as long as I’m not hurting anyone else, I get to decide. This is what I feel is best. Here’s what I think, what I believe, what I feel, what I want, what I need. When is the last time you picked up a magazine at the grocery store and read an article about how you do not have the right to decide what’s best for your life? When is the last time you read in a popular magazine or heard on television about God’s place as the creator, the first mover, the initiator of everything that is? You can go to Harvard or Yale and get a graduate education and not learn a single thing about God. God is not considered to be important, or worth knowing about, enough to bring him into any college discipline – math, science, psychology, economics, biology – you cannot find me one discipline (other than theology and small parts of philosophy) where God is brought into the discussion as a serious player. In every part of our society, God is marginalized. Our world is in utter turmoil at this instant. Which of our world leaders, including our Christian leader George W. Bush, is seriously suggesting that God created this earth and knows how to fix what is broken? When did you last read in the newspaper about how God is able, God is capable, God is the creator and sustainer of life and can surely deliver us from the mess we are in?
Psalms 2:10-12 (NIV)
10 Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
Where is our acknowledgement that this is the God who rules over all the people and nations of the earth? I’ll tell you where it is. It is lost in a universe that begins and ends with ME, where I am the only point of reference as to the rightness or wrongness of my decisions.
But we look in scripture, we look at these simple words of Christ’s, and a different picture emerges. “In the beginning God…” A man took and planted a seed. A woman took yeast. God is moving. God is active. God has initiated the building of his kingdom in our hearts and in our world. Scripture reorients us to this world. It pulls our head out of our own affairs, pulls us out of the center of our universe, and puts God on the throne where he belongs, because one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. So that is the first thing we see here. God has initiated the building of his kingdom in our hearts and in our world.
Second, we see that God acts with intention to build the Kingdom. The word “took” appears in both of these comparisons. A man took and planted a seed. A woman took yeast. The word translated “took” is the Greek lambano, which means to deliberately take, with purpose and forethought. That means that God make a decision to build his kingdom among us. It’s not something that just happened and then God figured he’d better catch up and explain it to us. The plan was God’s from the beginning. We see again and again that God makes plans. In the Old Testament we see God working with Israel to determine the future, to come up with a plan to live in relationship with his people. In the New Testament, Jesus says again and again, “This is why I have come,” in other words, “this is the reason.”
Romans 5:6 (NIV)
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
In the coming of Christ to earth, timing was essential, and that requires forethought. I can’t say it any better than this:
Ephesians 1:9-10 (NLT)
9 God’s secret plan has now been revealed to us; it is a plan centered on Christ, designed long ago according to his good pleasure.
10 And this is his plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.
Again, not just here’s what God will do, but God will do this at just the right time. So first we see that God takes initiative to build the kingdom in and among us. Second we see that God does this intentionally, with forethought, according to a plan he is working in our lives and in the world.
Third, and we’ll spend some time here. The Kingdom functions interactively. Sound confusing? It just means that the Kingdom is not separate from the things around it – it’s part of you, part of me, part of governments, part of institutions – it’s not separate from these things, and yet it is distinct from them. A tree. A batch of bread dough. Normal, ordinary things, yet infused with Kingdom life and therefore not normal at all but quite extraordinary. So the Kingdom is its own thing. It has its own place, and the effects it produces can only come from the Kingdom and not from anything the Kingdom is part of. Does that make sense? We can’t miss this, because it’s key to really understanding everything Jesus said about the Kingdom. Jesus told another parable that perfectly describes this.
Matthew 13:24-30 (NIV)
24 Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.
25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.
26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 "The owner’s servants came to him and said, ’Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 "’An enemy did this,’ he replied. "The servants asked him, ’Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 "’No,’ he answered, ’because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.
30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’"
Do you see this? The Kingdom functions interactively. In other words, the Kingdom of God is part of another kingdom, and that Kingdom has very different values from the Kingdom of God. Here’s what Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day
Luke 16:15 (NLT)
15 Then he said to them, "You like to look good in public, but God knows your evil hearts. What this world honors is an abomination in the sight of God.
The world translated “world” there is the Greek “kosmos.”
No doubt you’re familiar with the word.
Jesus lays this out for us very clearly. There are two Kingdoms. The Kingdom of the Cosmos, and the Kingdom of God. (I preached a whole series on this last year called The Clash of the Two Kingdoms, because the book of Revelation describes how this clash will end.) Those two kingdoms are clashing even now. They are at odds with each other. As Jesus said, “what this world (kosmos) honors is an abomination in the sight of God.” Look how Peterson translates that passage in The Message:
Luke 16:15 (MSG)
15 So Jesus spoke to them: "You are masters at making yourselves look good in front of others, but God knows what’s behind the appearance. What society sees and calls monumental, God sees through and calls monstrous.
Get it? The value system of this world, the values of cosmos, are in conflict with the values of the Kingdom of God. And yet, as Jesus explained in the parable of the weeds, the two kingdoms are growing up in the same place, right next to each other. In all corners of the earth you can see it. Murders happen (cosmos), immediately followed by gestures of love and compassion from friends and family and sometimes complete strangers – that’s Kingdom of God. You have the horrors of a tsunami or a hurricane Katrina (cosmos – part of this world’s system), followed by amazing acts of warmth and good will from people worldwide (Kingdom of God). You have the flogging and crucifixion of an innocent man (cosmos), while that man blesses and forgives his killers (kingdom of God). God allows these two kingdoms to coexist for now, but they do not coexist peacefully. What one calls monumental, the other calls monstrous. That’s a pretty big chasm, even as they grow up next to each other.
John Hess Yoder writes in Leadership magazine:
While serving as a missionary in Laos, I discovered an illustration of the kingdom of God. Before the colonialists imposed national boundaries, the kings of Laos and Vietnam reached an agreement on taxation in the border areas. Those who ate short-grain rice, built their houses on stilts, and decorated them with Indian-style serpents were considered Laotians. On the other hand, those who ate long-grain rice, built their houses on the ground, and decorated them with Chinese-style dragons were considered Vietnamese. The exact location of a person’s home was not what determined his or her nationality. Instead, each person belonged to the kingdom whose cultural values he or she exhibited. So it is with us: we live in the world, but as part of God’s kingdom, we are to live according to his kingdom’s standards and values.
Vietnamese and Laotians living together, but still from different “kingdoms.” It is not location, but rather loyalty, that determines which kingdom we belong to.
All is not as it appears. Seeing the Kingdom of God doesn’t come naturally. When we gossip and steal and lie and are unfaithful to each other, those things come from cosmos, whether we know it, acknowledge it, or care about it or not. When we love, when we are compassionate, when we return persecution with forgiveness, those things come from God, whether we know it or not, whether we are Christ-followers or not. The primary job of a pastor is to help people learn to identify the Kingdom taking root and springing to life in their own souls. Pastors are facilitators and witnesses to Kingdom-building! It’s our job to say, “Look, I think God might be at work at this place in your life,” and “That sounds to me like God.” It is also our job sometimes to point out where the weeds are springing up.
All of this is what I mean when I say the Kingdom of God functions interactively. It interacts with each of us, with the environment we live in, even with the opposite Kingdom. God initiates the growth of the Kingdom with intention, and allows it to function interactively, so we must, by faith, learn to identify it. And also to identify its absence.
Fourth, and this is the grand point of both of these comparisons Jesus gave us, is that the Kingdom brings increase until it is everywhere. What happens when the seed is planted intentionally and purposefully? That little seed grows and grows and grows until it is huge! What happens when the yeast is added to the dough? It works all the way through it – it pervades every single bit of it. It actually changes that dough chemically, doesn’t it? Yeast has effects in bread that bread could never produce on its own. Many would say that bread isn’t really bread without yeast. Others would say bread can still be bread, but that the yeast takes it to another level, improves on it 100%. And I leave it to you whether a human being is a human being without the Kingdom springing to life inside, but I will at least tell you that the Kingdom improves on human life 100%. The growth of the Kingdom of God within us makes our lives into something they could simply never be otherwise. Not ever, by any effort we could ever make.
And it’s important to note what the comparisons show us. The increase brought by the kingdom is both internal and external. The purpose of the kingdom is to change the whole of an individual and the whole society. Because God is allowing both the Cosmos Kingdom and the God Kingdom to grow up together, what is our best strategy for combating the other Kingdom, whose values we view as monstrous? Is it warfare? Tanks and guns and bombs? You would have a pretty good argument if you said those things are part of the Cosmos Kingdom in the first place. We cannot bring about God’s Kingdom with Cosmos methods. Our best strategy for combating the other kingdom is to eclipse it. To allow the God Kingdom to so permeate our lives that it leaks out into the lives of others who in turn do the same, so that God’s kingdom spreads from one individual to another to another and affects the whole society. My friends, this is the core of the philosophy behind non-violent resistance. We cannot spread peace and love with violence and hatred. It’s the core of the idea behind Jesus’ words that we should love our enemies and pray for our persecutors and turn the other cheek. All of this comes from the understanding that the best strategy for combating the other kingdom is to eclipse it.
Now you might argue that killing is a form of eclipsing! The problem is that when we kill, we eclipse a human body and human life, but we do not eclipse the cosmos in him. In fact, death is just another form of darkness – the ultimate form. So how do you eclipse the cosmos in a person? You forgive them. You love them when they don’t deserve it. You refuse to strike them when they have struck you first. That alone has potential to eclipse cosmos. The cosmos is darkness, and you don’t get rid of darkness by out-darking it. The only way to get rid of darkness is to shine light on it.
Now I’m not making an anti-war speech here. There are all kinds of arguments for why we have to have wars, and even why Christians can and should fight in wars. I don’t want to be insensitive to the consciences of other people, and want to honor what the Holy Spirit is doing in you on your journey, as the Kingdom springs to life in you. Honestly, I’m not even positive of my own political position on this, all I’m suggesting is that the plan from the beginning has always been for the kingdom to increase until it is pervasive – until it is everywhere. Until the “dough” of the Kingdom transforms our lives, transforms our neighborhoods, transforms our country, and transforms our world.
I want to leave you with two quotes this morning. The first takes us back to God’s initiative, to the beginning, where we always have to start.
The kingdom of God does not exist because of your effort or mine. It exists because God reigns. Our part is to enter this kingdom and bring our life under his sovereign will.
--- T. Z. Koo
The second is from Catherine Booth, wife of Salvation Army founder William Booth:
There comes a crisis, a moment when every human soul which enters the kingdom of God has to make its choice of that kingdom in preference to everything else that it holds and owns.
---Catherine Booth. "William and Catherine Booth," Christian History, no. 26.
Non-believer here today, that choice awaits you. Will you enter the Kingdom of God? Will you shuffle off the values of the Cosmos Kingdom that Jesus said are in conflict with the Kingdom of God?
Christian here today, will you take another step into the Kingdom? Will you ask yourself if there is anything keeping you from fully living in that kingdom and fully serving the King and will you confess it to God as we pray?
Father, the one who planted the seed of the your Kingdom in our world and in human hearts, will you advance your kingdom today? I ask that you would hear the prayers of those here today who need to acknowledge your sovereignty, bow to you in their hearts, and appeal to you to forgive their sins and give them new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Hear those who might be saying, “God, save me. Jesus, forgive me. Holy Spirit, guide me.” Assure them that through this sincere prayer, they receive your complete forgiveness of their sin. God I know they also receive the seed of your kingdom, planted in their hearts. May it grow and grow and grow in their hearts, and spill into the hearts of those around them.
I ask that you would hear the prayers of Christians here today who may have one foot in one Kingdom and one foot in the other. Father, would you call them to come closer to you?