Sunday, February 14, 2016
Sermon: Luke 17: 20-37 The Coming Kingdom - The Return of the King
Whenever we pray the Lord’s prayer, there are many things that we pray for. Deliverance from evil; forgiveness as we forgive; daily bread. But before we get to those things which we need every day, we pray for some other things. We ask that God’s name would be hallowed (made holy, honoured by all). We ask that God’s will would be done on earth the way it is done in heaven. But there’s one more thing we ask. ‘Thy kingdom come’ or ‘Your Kingdom come.’
We pray that God’s kingdom would be known on earth the way it is in heaven. That everyone would submit to God’s rule. That God would be king over all. And you might think to yourself, well, when’s this going to happen? In a world of religious terror, and rising secularism, when will God’s kingdom come?
In our reading today, the Pharisees ask the very same question. When will the kingdom of God come? It’s as if they’ve got their diaries out, ready to write in the day when it will come. They’re looking to the future, wondering when it will eventually come, but Jesus says that it is already here. ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.’
The kingdom of God isn’t like an advancing army, and you’ll see the cloud of dust rising from their feet. You’ll not hear the sound of helicopters or warplanes or tanks. It’s too late for that. It’s too late to look ahead, because ‘the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.’ It’s already here! The kingdom of God is here, because the King is here. As Jesus stands before them, the kingdom is here, but they couldn’t see it; they wouldn’t accept it; they didn’t like the look of it.
The kingdom is already here, because the king is drawing people to himself in repentance and faith. We skipped over chapter 15 (lost sheep, coin, son) because we’ve looked at them before, but Jesus told those parables because the Pharisees were grumbling about the tax collectors and sinners drawing near to Jesus. Jesus is saying that the kingdom of God is here. And it is also here and now in Aghavea, as men and women, boys and girls turn to Christ the king. The kingdom of God is already here, and is growing.
But as Jesus turns from the Pharisees to the disciples, he gives us a paradox. Something that sounds confusing, but as we look at what Jesus says, it will hopefully make sense. Jesus says to the disciples that the kingdom is already here, but that it is still to come. [This is the eschatological tension so beloved by theologians]. He explains it by pointing to three different coming days; days in the future. Days which set out the way the world is as we wait for his return.
The first ‘coming day’ he talks about is in verse 22. ‘The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.’ These coming days are the ones we’re living in. They’re the kind of day when your heart is heavy; when you’re worn down by opposition or hardship or suffering or shame, and you long to see Jesus face to face.
They’re the days that remind you that you live in a fallen world; a world which hates you the way it hates Jesus because it hates Jesus. Your desire is to see Jesus’ return, but Jesus says ‘you will not see it.’ Not last Tuesday, when the tears were tripping you. Not yesterday when you longed for heaven. You’re so desperate to see Jesus that you might even fall for the people who claim that they (and they only) have him. He’s here, in our wee meeting. Or he’s in this particular spiritual experience. Or that he has already returned somewhere else in the world. When I was writing this sermon, I had a vague memory of some Australian who claimed that he was Jesus, so I googled it, only to find that in the past 3 years there’ve been two Australians, both convinced that they are Jesus - Brian Marshall and AJ Miller.
Jesus says, ‘do not go out or follow them.’ Why? Well, because when Jesus does return, you’ll know about it. You’ll not miss it. ‘For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.’ In these coming difficult days - the days we’re now living in - we’re to wait for the return of the king. We’ll not miss it, so don’t be taken in by impostors or fakes.
The next coming day Jesus talks about is in verse 25. It was coming then, but happened fairly soon after he spoke about it. ‘But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.’ Jesus looks ahead to the cross, looming on the horizon as he makes his way to Jerusalem. Once again we see that this wasn’t a tragic mistake, an unfortunate series of events. Jesus knew what was in front of him, in this coming day, Good Friday. It’s only through that day that the final coming day could come. The final day, ‘the day when the Son of Man is revealed.’ (30). The day when God’s kingdom comes fully and finally - and suddenly, unexpectedly.
To help us see what that day will be like, Jesus points us to two other days recorded in the Old Testament when something sudden happened, well, suddenly. ‘Just as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man.’ (26) ‘Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot...’ (28) The things people were doing weren’t wrong; in fact they were decent, good, normal things - eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage... buying and selling, planting and building. Good things, but not the best thing. The only thing that could save.
It’s when Noah entered the ark that the flood came ‘and destroyed them all’ - all the eating and drinking and marrying ordinary decent people. It’s when Lot leaves the city that the fire and sulphur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. Salvation was available, but they didn’t get round to it. Salvation was possible, but only a few took hold of it (8 in the ark, 4 in Lot’s family).
Are you planning for the future only in this life, while missing out on the real future? As you get on with your eating and drinking and marrying and going to weddings and buying and selling and planting and building, caught up in everything that’s happening, are you missing the fact that this could be the day of the Son of Man, the day of God’s coming kingdom, the day of salvation or judgement?
This coming day is certain and fixed. We don’t know when it will be. But when it happens, it will reveal Jesus, and will reveal our hearts. Jesus is speaking to disciples: ‘On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in his house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back.’ When Jesus comes, don’t worry about anything else. To turn back is to show that you weren’t ready; you weren’t really caring for Christ. That’s the example we heard in our first reading, which Jesus summarises in verse 32: ‘Remember Lot’s wife.’ She escaped Sodom, but looked back; her heart was still in the city, and she became a pillar of salt. To seek to save your life, to try to hide away will bring loss; to lose your life will be to keep it.
The coming day will be sudden; the coming day will reveal our hearts; and the coming day will bring separation. Only those who are ready will be with Jesus. And Jesus gives the picture of two in one bed, husband and wife. One taken, the other left. Two women working side by side, grinding corn into flour. One taken, the other left. It’s not enough to be close to a Christian; you have to be a Christian; to have that assurance, to be ready for that day.
The kingdom of God is here; it is in our midst. But it is still coming - Jesus has endured the cross, so that in these coming days we can look forward to that certain coming day. It will be unmissable - like lightning flashing across the sky. It will be sudden - like Noah’s flood or Lot’s fire and sulphur. It will bring separation as it reveals our hearts. But like Noah’s ark and Lot’s mini-exodus, God will bring his people through safely. You can’t write it in your diary - Tuesday week, the day of the Son of Man, be ready. But every day, remind yourself, maybe today. Maybe today will be the return of the king. Kingdom come, fully, finally, forever.
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 14th February 2016.