• 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!””
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.”
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.
“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!”