Summary: A sermon describing the events for Israel in the 400 years between the Old Testament and New Testament and how this shaped their understanding of the meaning of the Kingdom of God.
THE DAWNING OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD Matt 3:1-12
Less than a month ago the new president if the United States, Barack Obama took office. What has been the verdict so far?
The general opinion is ‘so far so good’.
In such a short space of time he has planned the closure of the Guantanamo Bay, reversed the Bush administration’s carbon emissions decision and gathered around him a skilled team of financial experts to tack the economy. The only losers so far appear to be the people who make money out of Whitehouse jokes.
Barack Obama is the fulfillment of a dream of the African American people of the United States. It has been said that it was the dream of Martin Luther King jnr that gave rise to the hope of an Obama presidency, and he has been given an almost Messiah status among some of the people of America. That’s difficult to live up to since there is only one true Messiah whose standards no-one can reach.
I mention this by way of introduction in order that we might begin to imagine what it must be like for the black population of the USA to have hopes and dreams of this nature.
Have you ever had a dream that you hope one day may be fulfilled? And then one day you see that it might become a reality. It’s a day you look for, and the nearer you get to its arrival the greater your hopes become.
Then finally, on one incredible day, your hopes and dreams become a wonderful reality.
It’s the feeling someone gets when they have:
• Just married the girl of their dreams
• Or their team has just won the final in the Champion’s League
What kind of hopes and dreams did the people of Israel have whilst back in the land of Judah after the exile?
Might their dreams come true also?
They finally did come true, but not in the way that everyone of them recognized.
READING Matthew 3:1-12
John the Baptist was a significant figure – a prophet whose words were well respected enough for him to gain a significant following as he called the people to repent and be baptized because the kingdom of God was near and about to dawn for them.
But what did the phrase ‘the kingdom of God’ mean to the people? And why was it so significant?
It was a phrase that summarized the longing and the hope of the waiting people – their ultimate dream!
So far in our overview of the biblical story we have sat back and watched in Act 1 as the curtain was raised on the first day of creation.
We observed how God made everything and it was good.
Then in Act 2 we saw the drama of Satan disguised as a serpent seducing Eve and Adam into choosing the way of autonomy and idolatry instead of trust and devotion for their Lord and Creator.
They submitted themselves to a new authority – that of the tempter who deceived them. And so they brought about God’s curse upon the entire created Order.
But God had a plan. Was there a way to reverse the effects of the Fall? Could it be possible that the whole of creation could be redeemed and restored? Yes! God’s plan began with his election of one man – Abraham – who would become the father of a people with whom God would enter into a Covenant. They would be his people and he would be their God.
God gave them a land, and leaders, judges, prophets, priests and kings. God entered into a series of covenants with them. But the people consistently drifted away from God and worshiped idols.
Ten of the 12 tribes were scattered – dispersed through the raids of the Assyrians who took them into slavery.
And of the two that remained in Judah in the south – these were carried off to Babylonia into exile.
But hope was dawning.
A new Persian king named Cyrus allowed the people to return to Judah and to Jerusalem under his policy of repatriation.
Ezra rebuilt the temple and Nehemiah the walls.
We come to the close of the Old Testament with uncertainty as to the future.
And after the interval the curtain rises again and John the Baptist appears announcing ‘repent, for the Kingdom of God is near’.
What happened during the 400 years?
How did we get from Malachi to Matthew?
These years have been referred to as ‘The Silent Years’, but they were anything but silent.
What was Israel like after the return from exile?
This was no large and powerful, independent territory. For all but 80 out of the 400 years Israel was a minor territory under the jurisdiction of a succession of foreign empires.