Kingdom Come

Turn on your TV and tune to just about any televangelist and you will hear teaching about the kingdom of God. Most will say that it has yet to come; they tell us that Christ must come for his people (this is called the rapture) and then after seven years of tribulation, Christ will return with his saints to establish his 1,000 year reign. There are various shades of this doctrine, but for the most part, this is the doctrine in an overview. It was not too long ago that the Left Behind series was very popular. This was a series of books whose authors were promoters of this doctrine.

While a bit sensational, all this doctrine amounts to is good fiction. No where does Scripture talk about the “rapture” and the theological hoops these men have to jump through to arrive at their conclusions are numerous and unnecessary. In fact, when you examine the words of Jesus and what he said about the kingdom, he claimed that it was not thousands of years into the future, but “near” or “at hand.” That was the message he preached (Matt 4.17, cf. v.23): “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In addition, on more than one occasion, Jesus said the kingdom had come (see Luke 11.20; 16.16; 17.21).

And so with a message of the nearness of the kingdom and even advocating that the kingdom was upon the people who heard him, it is no wonder the Pharisees were confused. When they thought of the kingdom, they thought along the same lines as the televangelists do – namely, that this would be a physical kingdom, complete with a king reigning over a certain territory. But Christ is not advocating a physical kingdom; when Christ speaks of the kingdom, it is a spiritual thing. That is why he tells Pilate (twice), “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18.36). They were missing it. His disciples would miss it (see Acts 1.6). How frustrating that people are still missing it because of a faulty understanding of the kingdom!

Jesus is asked in Luke 17.20 by the Pharisees when the kingdom will come. Its a good question, probably a question on the minds of many of Jesus followers. Jesus gives them a straight answer: “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” (v.20b-21, ESV).

How the Kingdom will not come

Jesus explains first how the kingdom will not come. He says it will not come with “signs to be observed” or literally with “observation.” This is an interesting word and according to Vincent’s Word Pictures of the New Testament, it is a term used by medical writers concerning the symptoms of a disease. It is also a term used by astronomers, no doubt in their searching the stars for zodiac signs. No wonder Luke, a physician, picked up on this teaching from the Great Physician concerning the kingdom. It is not coming like a cold comes upon a person with signs. It is not like a study of the stars. The old saying is a watched pot never boils. This is how the kingdom is – with watching it will not come. In fact, the truth is that this pot is already boiling. Jesus is trying to tell the Pharisees and everyone else that the kingdom is already present. Also, men are not able to confine the kingdom to a certain location. It is not simply “here” or “there” – in fact, it is everything. The Psalmist writes, “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom is over all” (Psalm 103.19, emphasis mine). God’s kingdom is so much bigger than men see. And it is not coming with signs for it has always been and men will not confine for it is “over all.”

How the Kingdom has come

Jesus tells us why this is so in the rest of v.21: “…for behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” And here is the key to understanding the kingdom of God. The reason it does not come with signs and men will not confine it is because it already is among you presently. That’s just what Jesus affirms. It has already come. When did it come? Well, God has always been “over all,” ruling and reigning and exercising sovereignty over everything. Hence, it has always been inasmuch as it is an eternal kingdom. What Christ advocates in his preaching is the individual’s entrance into that kingdom. That is, Christ tells us how we might submit our lives and lives as citizens of the kingdom. Jesus tells us how we might live with God ruling from the throne of our hearts. God ought to be the ruler of our life as we allow him to reign in our lives through his word and the power which comes from the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.

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One out of Ten

It is amazing what we take for granted. People can take their spouse for granted until they are taken from them. Parents can take their children for granted until their child is sick or dead. People who take the Lord’s name in vain by swearing and cursing take for granted that God exists and will hold them accountable for every foolish word spoken. We take for granted technology, especially my generation who was raised surrounded by new technology. In Luke 17.11-19, I believe we find an account of men who took something for granted.

Ten Sick Men

Jesus is in the borderland, that territory betwixt and between Samaria and Galilee. It is probably a place of great tension as Jew mingles with Samaritan, the hated half-breeds. It is incredible that I hear so many televangelists talk about Christianity being “anti-semetic” (which simply is not true for God wants all men to be saved) yet they seem to forget that it was the Jews of the first century who were dogmatically prejudiced and racist. The Jew of the first century hated the Samaritans!

But there is a common ground upon which ten men united that day Jesus was travelling through: sickness. On this day, these men were no longer Jew or Samaritan; they were lepers. Ten men stood at a distance and shouted in loud voices, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (v. 13, ESV). These men are crying aloud to God incarnate for mercy. We, too, at one time, we crying aloud to the Master. Ours was not physical leprousy but spiritual leprosy, yes, sin. We needed mercy, grace, pardon.

In response to their cry, Christ gives them a command: “Go and show yourselves to the priests” (v.14). Now what would ten lepers have to show the priests? They were unclean, unable to even come close to the place of worship. Unable to even intermingle with people. These men are to go on the basis of faith; faith that by the time they arrive to see the priests, their leprosy will be healed. Indeed, that is what happened – on the way, their leprosy was cleansed.

One Saved Man

One of the men who was sent by Jesus noticed that he was healed. I don’t know how this took place, if he saw from the others that their leprosy was cleared up or if he saw himself first, but he did know that he was healed of this leprosy. Did he make it to the priests? The text does not say. But he turned back and was worshipping God all the way back to Jesus. Luke tells us it was with a “loud voice” that he was praising God. Picture it: here is man, searching for Jesus, shouting aloud praise to God everywhere he goes. What a picture for us! We too have been healed from our spiritual leprosy. Why not go about praising God and thanking Christ?

This man finds Jesus and falls at his feet, another sign of worship. Here he is reconizing the deity of Jesus. Jesus does not stop him, for Jesus is God in the flesh. And then Luke gives us the final detail of this picture which colors the whole scene: “He was a Samaritan.” This is no small detail. For the Jew, it would have smeared the whole scene. For the Gentile (Theophilus?), what brilliance this adds. No one, not even the hated half breeds, were outside of the mercy and love of God. But Jesus has some questions for this Samaritan man…

The way Jesus remembers it, there were ten men he had to heal; where are the rest? Weren’t they all healed from their leprosy (rhetorical, for Jesus knows)? Where is everyone else, worshipping and thanking God? Ah, and there we have it. You see these nine who did not return took for granted the healing of Jesus. He had healed lepers before (see 5.12-14; also possibly 4.40). And He had used much the same formula: a person with leprosy comes, he says go show yourself to the priest, the leper is healed. They must have known He was able to help and that is why they came to Him. And they went away, taking for granted the healing power of Christ; all except for one, a Samaritan.

I suppose at the heart of this is ingratitude. Unless we are in constant praise to God for everything he gives us (including life, breath, and being), we will take God and His power for granted. It is a “ho-hum” attitude of the majestic power of God. I think those nine who did not return had a ho-hum attitude of the healing power of Christ; they just knew He could heal and it was business as usual for Him to heal. How often do we resemble the nine instead of the one? It is just business as usual as we breath, as we live. We expect that from God (as though we deserved it). It is this ho-hum attitude toward the awesome power of God that will lead us toward a less grateful attitude of the blessings, great or small, of God.

Sin, Faith, Duty

 I remember as a kid growing up that there used to be several shows that would come on Nickelodeon that had obstacle courses. Usually kids were split into teams and competed against each other. One show had families compete against each other and the losing family would get “slimed.” Ah, what wouldn’t entertain a child. Jesus spoke of obstacle courses, also. He condemned any obstacle course that caused “little ones” to sin. He condemned obstacle courses that kept people from coming to him by faith. In Luke 17.1-10, we have Jesus teaching us about deadly obstacle courses and how we can keep ourselves from becoming one ourselves.

Unforgiving Servants

Jesus tells us that “stumbling blocks” (Greek) are sure to come. That is, it is impossible to keep some people from putting obstacle courses on the pathway to life. Surely, since the time of Jesus, men have been doing this. Why in the first century the apostles were combating obstacle course artists. That’s why they had the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15. That’s why Paul had to write to the Galatians. That’s why Jude wrote his little letter. Jesus tells us the fate of these obstacle course artists: they have been found lacking (“woe”). In fact, it would be better to have a giant “millstone” tied around that persons neck and for them to be hurled into the sea. That’s how grave their offense is. The cause “little ones” to stumble, to sin. Now, who are these “little ones”? Most jump to the conclusion that they are children. While these would be included in this phrase, the words used here points to simply one who is “small.” Thayer’s Lexicon says this is someone who is inferior to other citizens of the kingdom because of their small knowledge about the kingdom. This could be a grown adult kingdom citizen who is put into an obstacle course and stumbles. The person who leading new Christians and young Christians down the obstalce course has a lot to answer for.

So Jesus says “watch yourselves!” To whom is Jesus speaking? Verse 1 says he is speaking to his disciples, i.e. the twelve. He is telling them, “You have been with me this whole time; don’t mess this up!” Don’t veil the entrance to the kingdom so people stumble or sin. Now they know how terrible the fate is for the obstacle course artists – don’t become a stumbling block or put one in the path for kingdom citizens. Hold onto what you know to be true and don’t mingle it with the erroneous! But suppose one of these obstacle course artists gets a hold of your brother and he sins? What then? “Rebuke him,” Jesus says. That is, express strong disapproval of what he has done. Show him his sin that he might repent. What if he repents? “Forgive him,” Jesus says. Here is the hard part: we don’t have any problem telling others their wrong – we struggle with forgiveness. Especially when Jesus portrays the sinner’s inability to stop sinning. He sins and repents. Forgive him. He sins again. Forgive. Surely there must be an end to this forgiving business. Surely eventually, we are permitted to stop forgiving him. Jesus says, “you must forgive him.” Why? Think about it. Our life is liek a vapor. To God, 1000 years is like a day. We come to him several times, hundreds of times in our “day” in this life and ask and beg for forgiveness. Does he forgive us? Absolutely. Totally forgiven with the blood of Christ, even before we ask. Then why in the world would he expect less from us. If your brother repents, forgive him.

Unfaithful Servants

What I mean by “unfaithful” is simply that the disciples are not “full of faith.” This is seen in their exclamation, “Increase our faith!” They are admitted to their own weakness, their lack of faith. They admitted they need help on this one. How difficult it is to forgive like God requires of us! So hard, the apostles knew they needed help. Are we any different? Is it not a challenge to forgive everyone who sins, especially if they sin against us? We must cry out with the disciples, “Increase our faith!” We need help, Jesus!

And he does. Jesus helps the disciples put things in pespective. It seems he is saying, “You have all the faith you need with a faith like that of a mustard seed. What you need to focus on is whom your faith is in.” Faith always has an object. You can’t have faith in nothing; you must have faith in something. Most people’s faith is in themselves. Perhaps that is whom the disciple’s faith is in when they say, “Increase our faith!” They are saying by themselves, they cannot do what Jesus asking them to do and Jesus is saying “You’re exactly right! But with faith in me, no matter how small it may be, you can do this.” It is Christ who lives within us, through us. And we need help with forgiving and stumbling blocks. But if we understand we are dead to ourselves but alive to Christ, we can do this “through Christ who gives us strength.” Jesus is calling his disciples to put their faith and trust in him to accomplish this lofty ideal of forgiveness.

Unworthy Servants

Jesus wraps up this teaching with a parable. He gives us the mindset of a true servant of God. Just as a servant does what he is commanded and performs his duties without thanks, so should also the servant’s in the kingdom perform their duties. It is a thankless job to be a Christian. Sure, we have our fellow servants, our brothers and sisters in Christ, who encourage us. But when we boil things down and strip away the layers, at the core, the Christian walk is a thankless duty. And why wouldn’t it be? It is hard work to be a Christian. It requires round-the-clock devotion to the Master. It requires work in the field during the hottest part of the day and labor in house in the evening. It is praiseless, thankless, arduous, dirty work. And I believe too often we are ungrateful for the work God has given us.

We live in an entitlement society which believes everything should be handed to them on a silver platter and they shouldn’t have to work to get it. Our society thinks they deserve special treatment for no reason. And when they get what they don’t deserve, there is no thanksgiving, no gratitude; just more of the same selfish desires. Unfortunately this mentality has spilled over into the church. So many Christians think they are entitled to something from God, as if he owes them something. God doesn’t owe us anything! We are entitled to none of the benefits of heaven and if he left us to wallow in our own sins so that we had to endure eternal punishment for all eternity it would be no less than wee deserved.

God has given us to work to do, a service to render, a ministry to perform. And the unworthy servant says, “I have only done what I must do.” That is the key. We shouldn’t even be servants for the Master, yet he loved us so greatly he gave us what we needed: Jesus. And now we serve him as unworthy servants. How can we not be thankful for the opportunity and ability to serve him? How can we look at our Christian walk as anything less than performing the duty we owe our Master? Our indebtedness to God prompts us to do what we ought.