Saturday, 29 January 2022

4. Transcendence for our Era of Anxiety - John 11:40

 AUDIO


STUDIOCAM





Introduction

Did you ever wonder why people do drugs?

Or go searching for answers in the bottom of a bottle (or two … or a few?)

What is it with these addictions to alcohol or video games or pornography or … crack cocaine?

I mean … it isn’t healthy so you’ve got to ask why do people (why DO we) GO there?!

Yes, we have to admit, there is an extensive body of scholarly literature dealing with ‘the addictive personality’, but thirty odd years as a front-line sort of pastor leads me to think that all too often it starts (emphasis on ‘starts’) with people who just want to get out of their life for a bit.

Their life is anxiety-inducing and they don’t want to be there all the time.

Possibly their life is painfully, excruciatingly dull, boring, painful, difficult, or insignificant (delete as appropriate) and they long for some sort of experience that gets them out of there for a bit … that transcends it.

Or as my granny would say, that ‘takes you out of yourself for a bit’ … who KNOWS what did it for her, bless her - probably a cheeky glass of the cooking sherry while no-one was watching or something … but what I’m trying to establish is that we ALL have this tendency to need a bit of transcendence.

You see, the antidote to that sense your life is mind-crushingly mundane is not ultimately a hobby, or a hard night out, or a trip to the seaside.

The ultimate antidote to dull, grey and boring is not interest or diversion but GLORY!

And, oh my, the Christian Easter hope has got oodles of transcendence and Glory!

         •        Transcending the weedy Garden that was Eden

We’re going to come to the implications … but first we need to set the foundations of those in some theology.

Now look, the thing is, we are so used to things being the way we see them (earth-bound, frustrating, dull, painful) that this first bit is going to sound a bit weird.

But different from what we’re used to is what we’re looking for … taking us OUT of our little lives for a bit … isn’t it?

So just pull up your thinking chair and let’s grasp some foundational theology here for a minute.

(It shouldn’t hurt).

In John 11 in the account of the raising of Lazarus Jesus drops us a golden nugget.

What happens is that Jesus rocks up outside the tomb His friend Lazarus has been buried in for three days now and in the presence of the family He says: ‘Open the door’.

Now, of course, the deceased’s sister Martha objects from an earth-bound view of the situation that you can’t do that because Lazarus has already been dead three days and in THAT climate in particular there’ll be quite a pong.

Jesus’s viewpoint is not earth-bound and we read this:

“Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?””

John 11:40

Now, the raising of Lazarus which is about to follow on from that verse is a miracle done to illustrate Jesus’s teaching the He is (Himself) the Resurrection and the Life.

And of course He goes on to demonstrate that resurrection resides in Himself when He is raised not by someone else but as One Who has life in Himself.

There’s the thing.

His resurrection deals not just with our anxiety-inducing fear of death, but it also brings Heaven to earth.

As Tim Keller writes “It {the resurrection} reunites people with the Glory of God. This is one of the most important themes that run through the Scripture” (He says).

So, how do you figure that out, Tim?

Well, he figures it like this, firstly from the Old Testament:

            •          Old Testament origins

In the Garden of Eden people walked with God, enjoyed His presence and saw His Glory UNVEILED.

God’s Glory wasn’t veiled until sin came into the world and then the God of Glory had to withdraw and hide His face from the now sinful human race, and He had to do this because seeing His Glory face to face would destroy humanity along with their sin.

Humanity was banished from God’s presence in Eden (which … incidentally … was laid out very much like the floor plan of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and then later the Jerusalem Temple ).

A flanking sword (of justice) was set at the entrance to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24) as a stunning representation that sin left a debt to be paid and that the penalty for sin is death.

The way back into the presence of the God of Glory was blocked by the Justiciar’s sword.

No way back into experiencing God’s transcendent Glory remained, without going under the sword.

This idea pops up again when the Israelites have been redeemed from slavery in Egypt and made it across to Mount Sinai where God led them, so that they could meet with Him.

At Sinai the raw, unmediated presence of God was just too much for the people and they begged God would NOT speak to them “or we will die” … such was the weight of the distant appearance of God’s transcendent Glory to sinful flesh (Exodus 20:19).

But in that rear-ward shrinking mass of humanity there was one person who was willing to approach the lightning and smoke-shrouded mountain and the thick darkness where God was (Exodus 20:21).

Moses wanted MORE of God’s glorious presence not less of it, asking God in Exodus 33:18 quite directly:

“Now show me your Glory”.

But God replied (Exodus 33:20) 

““you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

The way back to the sort of experience humanity had in the Garden was NOT open … it was still blocked by the Cherubim and their flaming sword.

Moses still wants the presence of the God of Glory (literally Moses says, His ‘face’) to go with the Israelites on their journey forward from Mount Sinai so God gives them instructions on how to build His mobile ‘sanctuary’ and carry it off with them into the Wilderness … the tent where the people could draw near to meet with God but with adequate safeguards from the searing Glory of His presence in place to protect their sinful flesh.

The passage that deals with this most clearly is in Exodus 25:17-22

““Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. 18 And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. 19 Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. 20 The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover. 21 Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you. 22 There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.”

Now, that Tabernacle in the Wilderness and the Jerusalem Temple that followed after it shared many of their design features with the Garden of Eden itself.

If you look at the design of the Garden of Eden you’ve got a larger outer area that’s Called Eden.

Then in Eden, God plants a Garden.

And then in the centre of that Garden God plants … the Tree of Life.

And the Tabernacle/ Temple also has this outer court, an inner court (paralleling the garden God planted within Eden for His pre-Fall people to be with Him in) and then there’s the Holy of Holies where the atonement cover was to deal with the sin that caused death and give life (paralleling the Tree of Life in Eden).

Now, over the atonement place … the place that gave life in place of death … the Tabernacle and then the Temple had the Cherubim and the sword set over the top guarding as it were the entrance to Eden and its Tree of Life.

In fact, all around the place the Tabernacle/ Temple had carved around it (on walls, pillars, furniture and curtains) things like palm trees, pomegranates, animals and flowers that evoked the original Garden of God

There are places in the Bible that depict the Garden of Eden as being on a high mountain (the place where earth meets Heaven) and the Temple was famously to be located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

There are LOADS of these parallels!

When Adam and Eve were put into the Garden of Eden they were to ‘work’ and to ‘keep’ the Garden which are the same words used to describe what the priests were later set apart to do in the Tabernacle

There’s a lot more that could be said about this but if you feel like looking into it you can find some good stuff both in Tim Keller’s ‘Hope in a time of Fear’ and in the Bible Project’s short video ‘Royal Priests of Eden’. 

The conclusion that gets drawn these days about Tabernacle and Temple is, therefore, that these were the initial re-establishment of God’s place for dwelling on earth.

Deuteronomy 12:4 makes it clear that the people of Israel were not to worship anywhere and anyhow they saw fit (like the nations around them) but that the Tabernacle and the Temple were the places to go, with their established pattern of prescribed worship, because THAT’s where the throne room of the sanctuary of their God was located on earth … the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies.

That, they were taught, was the one place on earth where God’s Glory and His Name routinely dwelt.

It was where His shekinah cloud rested.

So (2 Chronicles 7:1-3) as Solomon’s Temple is being dedicated as the place where God’s presence would be particularly located and where He would ‘dwell’ …

“When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. 2 The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. 3 When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshipped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying,

 

‘He is good;

    his love endures for ever.’”

 

It was the ONE place that Heaven and earth touched.

But still, just as with Moses and the people at the foot of Mount Sinai, the Glory of God’s holiness remained hidden … it lay behind the veil in the sanctuary behind which no sinner could stray and still live.

As Tim Keller puts it in this book coming out close to Easter:

“The Tabernacle brought God nearer but still no-one could see His Glory and live.”

(Keller: Hope in Times of Fear p. 45)

Solomon built a permanent place for God’s Glory to be present, but he wasn’t the Son of David prophesied to undo the Fall and restore Eden.

His Temple was destroyed at the Fall of Jerusalem, and then the prophets of the Exile prophesied a new David to rebuild the Temple meeting place with God, with His Glory filling it (Ezekiel 48:3) … a place so large that all the nations of the earth would enter it.

But in Ezra 3, when the exiles returned and rebuilt the Temple, and then those who could remember the splendour of Solomon’s Temple saw the rebuild of Ezra’s day they WEPT … this newly rebuilt temple was NOT the one the Exilic prophets had prophesied (see Haggai 2:1-8).

That prophesied new temple awaited the age when the Messiah would come.

But that new location for God’s presence, the place where Heaven and Earth touch and meet, that place to experience true transcendence … was NOT where the Old Testament people had imagined it would be.

Jacob’s ladder was to be most amazingly located.

So those are the Old Testament foundations, let’s come to the New Testament Inauguration of all this.

            •          New Testament inauguration

As it picks up this thread of Old Testament prophecies the New Testament (in this case in John 1:14) makes the shock revelation that when Christ became flesh He TABERNACLED among us … and as had occurred with the dedication of the Tabernacle then several Temples “we beheld His Glory”.

The Glory there (an inalienable attribute of God Himself, by the way) belongs to Christ … it is HIS Glory.

The Glory of God was located, sitting in, hovering over, the flesh and blood Jesus, the Christ.

Hebrews 1:3 picks up this thread, telling us that 

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

You see, Jesus doesn’t just have or bring God’s Glory.

He IS God’s Glory … He reveals and shows up with (in His very essence) God’s Glory in Himself.

But there’s more.

In the second chapter of John’s amazing Gospel Jesus throws the unreconstructed capitalists out of the Temple and when questioned as to what right he had to do this he replies:

“Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’

 

20 They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.”

John 2:19-22

Now, it seems that not even Jesus’ disciples knew what He was talking about there, but it looks as if He was saying that when He’d been raised from the dead He would BE the new Temple, the ‘place’ where Heaven met earth and people could meet with God … to which the previous Tabernacle and Temples had been pointing all along.

He is the great High Priest Who went under the flaming sword of the Cherubim to pay the price of sin so that people could meet God.

He bridges the gap to God’s Glory, but He does that as the One Who IS God’s Glory in Himself … no one has said anything like THAT before.

So when we are united to Christ by faith we connect with the transcendent Glory of God … because it is in Christ.

Moses unrealised YEARNING to see the light of God’s Glory, to see God’s face (as Moses prays in Exodus 33:18), is now our post-resurrection privilege …

So as John 1:14 puts it:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Or as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 4:6

“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 God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

And it is because Christ is the final Temple, and because we are in Christ, that we too are the final Temple … the ‘Living Stones’ in it (1 Peter 2:4-10).

Tim Keller puts it neatly:

“All the lines and themes of the Temple converge on Jesus - he is the sacrifice, the priest, the altar, the light, the bread, the blood of purification, the Shekinah glory. For all the promises of God become yes in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20).”

This finally makes sense of one of the closing verses of the Bible in Revelation 21:22-23 where John writes of His vision of Glory:

“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it.”

Now look, there’s the theology and I KNOW that it is mind-blowing stuff, revealing the long-distance purpose of God to restore not just contact but relationship between earth-bound humanity and its glorious God, and to restore them to the condition that they were in at the first.

Let’s very much more quickly see what sort of things grow from this deep theological foundation about transcendent experience of the Glory of God for His New Covenant people … this is NOT an exhaustive analysis, not is this perfectly experienced yet - you can go on working the implications out for yourself in the inaugurated but not yet fully realised Kingdom of God.

            •          Glory for the Individual

There’s this stupendous truth, then: Jesus has brought Heaven and the individual together.

That’s the super-transcendent reality, because it takes us right out of this world in ways that sex, drink and drugs can never do for us.

We’re not talking about a temporary high that drops you back bruised and aching on the mat.

Moses first had an experience of the presence of God at a bush that was burned but not consumed.

How does that work?

It ‘worked’ because what Moses recognised as fire was the bright shining Glory of God.

Moses again saw that fire and smoke descend at Mt. Sinai, and because He recognised it (unlike the mass of the people at the base of the mountain) he wanted to get right up close and look into it, only to be put off from that by God Who told him (Exodus 33:20“you cannot see my face”.

This wasn’t just curiosity in Moses.

The Hebrew idiom ‘to see someone’s face’ meant to have intimate fellowship with them.

You see, in Eden humanity had that intimate fellowship with God.

We were CREATED for that primary relationship.

It is in THAT relationship that humanity was designed to find its ultimate self-transcendence.

Tim Keller (p. 49) gives us something poignant on this yearning for transcendence thing, which really needs a bit of thinking about.

He writes:

“Because of sin, the one thing that we most need - the presence and Glory of God - becomes the one thing we most fear and avoid. That is, according to the Bible, the human condition.”

In the light of all we’ve said about the Old Testament anticipations of this, what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 & 4:6 is extraordinary:

“But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 

18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

 

“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 God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

 

Now, of course, we don’t yet have a PHYSICAL sight of Christ … in the already we have a faith-sight of Him not a realised physical sight of His Glory …

But in prayer, through the Holy Spirit Who the Risen Christ sent, as we ponder and meditate on God’s Word, it is possible to get such a faith-sight of Christ’s glory and beauty that our own hearts are transformed, reproducing a little of His goodness, love, wisdom, joy and peace in us. 

That is the PRACTISING Christian’s transcendent individual experience of reality.

            •          Glory in the Church

Whilst the Scriptures do speak of individual Christians as temples, filled with the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 6 is clear on this), it also sees the church TOGETHER as being the corporate Temple of God.

So 1 Peter 2: 5 says “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

The tenses there tend to indicate that this is a progressive thing … a process in the here and now … 

The upshot is that Scripture anticipates that the Glory of God coming to earth in the RESURRECTED Christ not only produces radically changed individuals, but radically changed togetherness … a new kind of human community as Eden gets restored post-Fall and post- Cain and Abel.

As Philippians 3 indicates in all that it says about our citizenship being in Heaven, the church is to be an outpost of the Kingdom of God, an earth-located but not an earthly minded colony of Heaven.

This experience in fellowship also transcends our earth-bound realities.

And then the Glory of God residing in the resurrected Christ also whispers promise of …

            •          Glory for the World

In the Old Testament prophets there is a pattern of thought that theologians describe as ‘New Exodus Typology’.

The basic idea is that God will come and show Himself glorious by turning back the effects of sin in Creation, making the desert bloom and the parched land become fruitful.

And in Psalm 72 this shows itself as the era the coming King Who will rule to the ends of the earth (v. 8) for as long as the sun and moon shine (v. 5).

He is the One Who will come to rescue them from oppression and violence and take pity on the weak and the needy (vv. 13-14)

And when that happens the Psalm says:

“Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel,

    who alone does marvellous deeds.

19 Praise be to his glorious name for ever;

    may the whole earth be filled with his glory.”

You see, the response of the world to seeing the glories of the Kingdom of God, in mercy and release for the needy and the oppressed, is that His Creatures join the chorus: to praise His Name and seek that the whole earth will be filled with His Glory.

His Glory … manifested in blessings for the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, and the poor, and by them being treated justly and fairly.

That’s not exactly what we see at the moment, is it, and we cry out at the sad effects in the world and on our lives when people are NOT taken up with God’s Glory but with ‘making a name for themselves’(Genesis 11:4) just like those people building a tower at Babel to see if they could create their own transcendence by joining together Heaven and Earth by themselves.

They were living for their own Glory not God’s, which even in our ‘technological’ and ‘scientific’ enlightened era only ever leads to conflict and exploitation.

Here’s the thing.

The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t only offer personal forgiveness for my sins and open Heaven for me when I die … although that on its own would be great!

It means more.

Christ has in fact been raised as well as laying down His life for sin, and He is the first-fruits of a renewed creation where righteousness dwells because its ruler is righteous in Himself to the roots of His being.

The full realisation of that is in the ‘not yet’, but the working towards all of that is very definitely in the ‘already’ of the life of the Kingdom of God.

The Glory of the resurrection also impacts our world.

But here in conclusion is the big take away thought.

This all arises because in His resurrection, it is JESUS Who is the stairway to Heaven.

In spite of the words of Led Zep’s 1971 rock anthem Stairway to Heaven, you can’t buy yourself a stairway to Heaven.

Jesus is the stairway that brings God and Mankind together, the One Who brings God’s Glory down to us by the power of His resurrection … and here’s how it works.

         •        Conclusion: Jesus is the stairway to Heaven

Do you remember in John 1:47-51 when Jesus saw Nathaniel coming and said: ‘Here is a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit’?

And Nathaniel said something like ‘You don’t know me! How do you know ME?’

And Jesus said he’d seen Nathaniel (supernaturally by the look of it) when before this episode Nathaniel had been away somewhere sitting under a fig tree.

Now, that was enough for Nathaniel to declare Jesus to be ‘the Son of God, the coming King of Israel’.

So the Lord asked Nathaniel if he now believed because Jesus had just told him about where he’d been previously sitting, and Jesus went on to say that there was much more to come … giving him the following example of some of that ‘much more’ to come.

Now here’s the important bit:

“‘Very truly I tell you (plural), 

you (plural again - this is NOT just about Nathaniel) will see “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on” the Son of Man.’”

(John 1:51)

Significantly, Jesus is describing a great manifestation of His transcendent Glory as the One Who enables earth to meet Heaven … but it’s a reference back to a very unworthy person being shown it.

Now Jacob was a liar and a cheat … he lied to his aged blind father and deceived him to cheat his brother Esau out of Esau’s inheritance and blessing, and he did it as his father lay on his death bed.

Not a nice man.

And when that all unravelled on him, Jacob fled into the desert without a home or a friend in the world and lay down in the desert to sleep with no shelter and only a rock for his pillow.

As he lay there, he had a dream - God gave him a vision - of a giant staircase reaching from the earth up to Heaven, with angels (who in the Bible brought the message and the presence of God’s throne-room to earth) ascending and descending on that stairway.

Jacob hadn’t repented (yet) of his wrongdoing, but here was a connection for him between Heaven and earth, a passage offered from the mundane to transcendent reality.

And here’s Jesus referring to that offer of transcendence to, let’s say, an unworthy person if ever there was one … and saying ‘Nathaniel, that ladder raising unworthy people from the crushing mundane-ness of their lives in sin, that ladder from here to eternal transcendence, it is ME’.

He is not saying He can show Nathaniel the way to that staircase.

He is saying ‘Nathaniel, the staircase IS me.’

If that can happen for Jacob, then for us too … all us who are our own ‘Jacob’ in our own particular way …  there is abundant and infinite hope.

Even we can know Heaven on earth, the glory and power of God being ‘earthed’ in OUR lives.

And that is Christianity’s supreme transcendent reality.

Saturday, 22 January 2022

3. A new era for our Era of Anxiety - Mark 1 vv 14-15

 Audio

Studiocam





        Introduction - resurrection is the dawning of Eden restored

So far in our pre-Easter series ‘Hope for an Age of Anxiety’ we have looked at the new birth into a living hope that Christ’s resurrection brings, and we have seen that this hope is not some sort of wishful thinking or con-trick but is rooted in the historical reality of the physical resurrection of Christ from the dead.

And if we’re going to highlight the historical realities quite so strongly, we ought to expect to get the response fairly soon which says to us something like ’so what?’

That question is SUCH an important one.

It is really NOT very helpful if people are prepared to accept the historical, long gone and far-off realties of Christ’s physical resurrection but fail to see the lasting significance of that event here and now.

You see the Christian faith is a ‘rooted-in-history’ sort of faith, but one that lives and grows in our present reality.

Mark’s Gospel presents the significance of Christ’s life, death and resurrection to us in the development of God’s dealings with humanity through the message Christ preached and the deeds He performed … right from the start of His earthly ministry.

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 

“The time has come,” he said. 

“The kingdom of God has come near. 

Repent and believe the good news!””

Mark 1:14-15

What’s happened with the resurrection of Christ is that we’ve been offered life in a brand new era … one that currently overlaps with the current anxiety-ridden age, but that brings hope from the future to help us live in the broken here and now … tackling the very roots of our era of anxiety.

 

You see, the thing is, the earthly ministry of Christ sits at a point on a time-line … the development of the Kingship of God amongst His human creation.

We’ve gained a great deal of help from Tim Keller’s great little book ‘Hope in Time of Fear’ which is due out in paperback just before Easter.

Tim Keller has terminal pancreatic cancer so issues of human life, mortality and destiny have been pretty focused as he’s been writing this little book.

And in its third chapter he points out the significance of the resurrection in these words:

“The resurrection was indeed a miraculous display of God’s power, but we should not see it as a suspension of the natural order of the world. Rather it was the beginning of the restoration of the natural order of the world, the world as God intended it to be.”

What he’s getting at is that since humanity rebelled against God’s authority … His Lordship … human experience has been characterised by sin and evil and disorder, disease, suffering and death.

Of COURSE we don’t like that and so we don’t like to hear it … which explains why some days we just reach out and switch off the news!

But when Jesus rose from the dead He inaugurated the first stage in the coming of God’s Kingdom power into the world to both heal and restore his broken creation.

Mark’s first eight chapters show Jesus demonstrating foretastes of the returning authority and power of the King … in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So Jesus, by His Word of Command by which He makes material things happen 

i)               casts out demons in the spiritual realm that are afflicting souls and lives, 

ii)              heals the sick in body, 

iii)             calms the sea-storms in Creation and 

iv)             speaks words that have the authority of the King in them.

You can read all about that in Mark 1:17 right through to Mark 8:27-30 

… that last one there is the famous passage where Peter (in response to Christ’s questioning) reveals that Jesus is the Christ, the prophesied Messiah Who was to come and Who would bring restoration to all things.

So, Tim Keller writes: “The resurrection means not merely that Christians have a hope for the future but that they have a hope that comes from the future. The Bible’s startling message is that when Jesus rose, He brought the future Kingdom of God into the present.”

Jesus’s resurrection is not a stand-alone astonishing miracle, like the raising of Lazarus in John 12 or the returning to life of the son of the widow of Nain in Luke 7:14.

No - this ‘self-raising’ resurrection marks the initiation of God’s future Kingdom in the here and now.

It is the Kingdom in which all things will be returned to a state (as at first in Eden) where everything is made subservient and gladly submissive to the Lordship and to the Glory of God … and by THAT means will be renewed and fully healed.

So, when Jesus rose from the dead what He did was that He brought the future new Creation into the present world so that it overlaps with the present evil age.

Ephesians 1:19 ff. describes the process:

“That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

So, the result of that is that we currently as Christians are living in two eras as the result of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

This present age of darkness and sin affects our experience still, but the age to come full of light, goodness and God’s Glory exist together in OUR human experience and history.

The Kingdom has been inaugurated now, and we know that era’s influence and experience here and now, but it comes in FULL at the end of human history.

Here’s what Jesus is saying in our Bible text today … 

Mark 1:15 “The kingdom of God has come near.”

                 1. The coming (now at hand) Kingdom

This Kingdom is the Coming but now-at-hand Kingdom.

Of course, this came as one great big shock to the first followers, whose forefathers’d been told that it was ‘coming’ for a VERY long time!

                      The Kingdom’s coming (wait for it!) in prophecy

The LORD is characterised in Old Testament Scripture as Israel’s King.

In fact, it was when they demanded human kings like all the other nations rather than resting content with YHWH as their King that they ran into awful trouble.

But throughout all of the experience of the consequences of their rebellious choice of human kings, their God Who was the One Who reigns over all things (as Psalm 93:1, 103:19 and so on put it) kept sending them prophets who spoke of the Coming King Who would set up a future Kingdom and exercise authority to redeem them and heal them and restore all things.

You see, those Old Testament prophets spoke of this future Divine Kingdom that would be established at the end of history.

So (for example) Isaiah predicts in Isaiah 11 that a descendant of David would come, Who would be uniquely filled with the Spirit of God (Isaiah 11:1-3).

He would (unlike their previous experience of the Kings they had insisted on having) bring justice for the poor and oppressed (vv. 4-5), but more than that He would unite the nations and races amongst damagingly divided humanity (Isaiah 11:10-11).

But Isaiah didn’t stop there.

Under this coming King’s rule the Creation itself would be healed and restored to its condition at the Creation … as it was in Eden … the wolf living with the lamb, the leopard lying down with the goat and so on … and a little child leading them.

“They will neither harm nor destroy

    on all my holy mountain,

for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord

    as the waters cover the sea.”

Isaiah 11:9

The sin-wrought damage done by sin to Creation will be over and done with … disease and death banished … and as Isaiah goes on to put it in Isaiah 25:8 “he will swallow up death forever.

The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears

    from all faces;

he will remove his people’s disgrace

    from all the earth.

The Lord has spoken.”

As Keller comments:

“This is Eden restored”

So, the Kingdom of God amounts to God transforming the whole of the Creation back to its pre-Fall, pre-sin, pre-rebellion state through supernatural intervention to deal with the cause of all the damage … human rebellion against God.

We call it ‘sin’.

And it is therefore very relevant that towards the close of the Old Testament prophetic period Daniel 12:1-2 prophecies that the Kingdom of God would bring with it a bodily resurrection to eternal life:

“There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”

As Jesus stands up in Galilee in Mark 1:14-15, proclaiming the coming of this Kingdom in the words of our text, He does reveal that it wasn’t going to be coming in exactly the way they were all expecting.

What He tells them is going to be a little bit of a shock to them.

                      The Kingdom’s coming (prepare for it) in Jesus’ preaching

The key thing to notice is that Jesus says that in the commencement of His public ministry, this Kingdom of God (long expected) is at a point where it has actually ‘come near’.

This is a difficult one to get on top of … but it is a real anxiety buster for our Age of Anxiety so we’ll spend the rest of our time on working this out.

The Greek word is ἐγγίζω

1) to bring near, to join one thing to another 2) to draw or come near to, to approach.

The word we use most to describe what has happened with the life death and resurrection of Jesus, and importantly with the coming of the Holy Spirit Who He then sent to us, is that the prophesied Kingdom of God has been INAUGURATED.

                 2. The ‘inaugurated’ Kingdom

                      God’s Kingdom is ‘already’

Jesus claimed to be the Messiah - God’s anointed, coming King - foretold by the prophets (Luke 4:14-20).

He taught that with Him God’s Kingdom had arrived (Luke 17:20-21)

He claimed that He brought the new covenant in the Spirit (see John 6:45 and compare that with Jeremiah 31:34 and Isaiah 54:13)

He said that to believe in Him delivers from death (John 11:25-26) and that the new ‘Exodus’ by which God delivers the whole creation from slavery to death and decay comes through Him (Luke 9:31).

There’s more but basically Jesus was explicit that every feature I can think of in God’s coming Kingdom was begun in His first coming.

                      God’s Kingdom is not fully ‘yet’

But, then again, Jesus seems just as clear that the Kingdom of God is also not yet FULLY come in all its fulness with His life, preaching, miracle-working, death and resurrection ministry.

So, He taught His disciples to continue asking for what they needed and for His Kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10).

So, it clearly wasn’t fully there yet!

He specified (Matthew 25:34) that “the Kingdom prepared for you since the Creation of the world”would not arrive fully until Judgement Day.

And it is, of course, because the Kingdom of God is still a future Kingdom that it can be compared to a seed that grows out of sight … but finally will attain to being the greatest of trees (Matthew 13:31-33).

So, the big surprise was that the Kingdom Christ was bringing is a very different one to the one they expected to receive immediately … inaugurated as the parables and miracles of the Kingdom illustrate, but not yet fully realised.

And that already but not yet’ affects the extent of our knowledge of the truth, the extent of our personal change and spiritual growth, the change and growth of the Church … and so on.

The way Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 15:20 is that what we experience now is the first fruits … the first early part of the crop that gives promise of the harvest that is to come.

So that raises the question that feeds our hope as we live as citizens of the Coming Kingdom through this Era of Anxiety:

What practically - for our lived experience - does this all mean?

                 3. The ‘Keys’ to (the freedom of) the Kingdom

We might speak first of the Keys of the Kingdom … the freedoms of life in the Kingdom of God.

To be brought out of one oppressive - anxiety-inducing -  Kingdom into another (as Christians) means to be freed from the things that once controlled us.

In Colossians 1:13-14 

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

This rescue into God’s coming Kingdom frees us from anxiety-inducing fear of guilt and shame.

One of the big concerns for many in our society in the current situation is how to pay rapidly escalating energy bills and meet the increasing cost of eating.

Our consumer society has allowed us to forget how to live contentedly on the one hand and caringly on the other … leaving our leaders and our wealthier citizens unprepared to support the needy, and debt is a fear on many people’s minds.

But whilst the Christ of the inaugurated Kingdom is concerned about these situations we all too easily find ourselves in, the Gospel is primarily concerned with moral debt first because that is the one that really affects our destiny. 

You see, Christ’s death and resurrection, in his coming Kingdom, lift the fear of guilt and debt from our minds by paying that debt for us.

God says in Christ’s resurrection ‘This payment made by Christ’s death is sufficient for you - the sin that led to death has been fully paid up’.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, those who have been called according to His purpose …

And because that is the case - His followers’ sins are forgiven, this frees His followers from the big driver of anxiety, the fear of death.

Hebrews 2:14-15 puts it like this:

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death”

And it follows also from His resurrection that His death on the Cross and the Spirit He sent free us from the ‘powers’ that would enslave us …

Paul writes of Jesus in Colossians 2:14-15

“having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

Now, we can take those ‘powers and authorities’ to be personal … what sometimes people refer to metaphorically as our ‘inner demons’ (the habits, compulsions and addictions that make us our own worst enemy) … and also to be cosmic demons (the darker side of the spiritual and religious non-material world).

Whichever it is in a given situation, the coming of the Kingdom of God in Christ’s earthly life, death and resurrection inaugurate freedom from the things that bind us for His people.

                 4. The Penalty-free Kingdom (justified)

Now look, all our lives we have been subjected to evaluation.

We have had people like our parents, teachers … friends too … giving us approval or disapproval, good and bad reports.

The negative ones can really wound us and both positive and negative ones influence us.

There is constant accountability in our lives.

And we have to take on board the fact that there is accountability for our sins and failures, which are part of what’s caused all the trouble in the Creation, to God … whose good world has been badly affected by human sin.

However, for Christians the judgment on our sin has fallen already … and it’s fallen on the Lord Jesus Christ at His death and resurrection.

So Jesus promises in John 5:24

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

On the Last Day (as it’s called) when we all give an account of ourselves to God the sin-satisfying death of Christ on the Cross, the effectiveness of which was indicated by His subsequent resurrection having paid the price of sin for us, will ensure we have no case left to answer.

But there’s more, because the Era of God’s Kingdom has been inaugurated.

We don’t need to wait until the end of time to hear this healing and reassuring word from God.

In Romans 5:9 Paul spells it out - notice the tenses here, present and future - 

“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”

Our verdict is in … and will be made visible and evident in that future day.

                 5. The personal presence of the King

There are plenty of creeds and philosophies in this world where the adherents follow a dead leader’s ideas.

The resurrection means that’s NOT what you’re dealing with in the Christian faith.

We don’t follow a dead leader we fellowship with our risen Lord … and that is a very much more hopeful thing altogether!

Romans 4:25 tells us of Jesus “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

What He does for us to be pronounced declared righteous before God … for what we call our ‘justification’ … is not to fill a big Olympic-sized swimming pool reservoir of merit stored up for us.

It’s not setting up a sort of ‘virtue-filled’ bank account for us that someone keeps topped up on our behalf.

No … it is actually in union with Christ Himself that we are justified.

To be saved is not to get infusions or points of merit … it is to get Him, Jesus Christ Whom 1 John 2:1describes as “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One”.

He … the One Who was handed over to death for our sins (it doesn’t stop there!) was then raised to life for our justification.

And that living Lord Jesus now stands before God in Heaven, before the Father as our advocate … representing us there in all our prayers, and most preciously ensuring that all our prayers for God’s mercy are accepted.

Only a risen Christ (not a dead one) can do that for us.

As Paul again puts it in Romans 5:10:

“For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

It is not in knowledge of but in fellowship with the Risen Christ that we gain all this, and that fellowship with the Living God is such a HELP to God’s people in an Era of Anxiety, because we walk and talk with Him Who deals with us as we bring Him the sources of all our cares, and makes the case for us before the throne of God in Heaven.

                 Conclusion - the once and future King

There is quite a lot of evidence in human history that humans have a deep down heart longing to crown themselves a King.

We seem to have been created that way.

We NEED to be ‘taken to a leader’, as it were.

And that’s why back in Old Testament times the people kept on nagging God for a leader they could see … a King like all the other nations.

They weren’t supposed to have one because all human kings are humanly imperfect and God was supposed to be Israel’s beloved King … the only safe pair of hands to rule over them.

Not very much good their choice did them, and they and their offspring spent a very long time suffering for their choice,  LONGING for God to be their King again!

Guess what …

God sent Jesus, a man accredited by God to us through all the wonders and signs He performed whilst He was amongst us, then dying His sinless death to BENEFIT us and being raised to life for our justification so that we might be both right with God and have His presence in our lives to deal with our human experience of anxiety.

He brings the sure and certain hope of resurrection that draws the sting out of the worst that the future can hold for us.

And He Who fellowships with and advocates for us now will return and take us home when the Kingdom that’s now inaugurated in our experience gets fully realised at His return.

Anxiety takes root and feeds in the uncertainty of human existence.

Christ’s Kingdom of the resurrected future came near in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

And now we live in the overlap between His Kingdom that is coming and our present evil age … in fact it’s not just coming ‘one day’ but we have the down-payment and deposit of it in our real lives now.

It’s the first-fruits which authenticate, put the anxiety-defeating seal of certainty, on the harvest that is to come.

And that drives the anxiety of our existence from the faithful, trusting Christian’s door.

So …

“The time has come,” he said. 

“The kingdom of God has come near. 

And in view of THAT great epoch-making truth there is something Jesus tells us that we as a consequence need to do.

“Repent” … Jesus tells us.

Because the King has come and the Kingdom is being inaugurated.

Repent – turn back from rebellion against God which is sin.

“Repent and believe the good news!”

DIY Sunday Service Kit - 26/06/22 - Testing the 'Voices' and matters of 'Legacy'

  Welcome to the DIY Sunday Service Kit for June 26th., 2022. The matter of the sort of legacy we might leave and what it might be worth get...