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Aug 28 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 26, 2012 – Mark 1:9-15

The kingdom of God is at hand

Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14-15

INTRO: When we resume our Thursday night meetings in September,

We will start working our way through Jesus’ parables
– specifically, the ones that elucidate his teaching regarding the kingdom of God
– it was Barbara’s suggestion that I use this morning to provide an introduction to that topic

The Bible’s Overarching Story

There are a few stories in the Bible where everything works the way they should
– Esther is an example of this
• in the end, bad guys hang on their own gallows and the good guys rule the empire
– in Daniel, too, the various episodes turn out as we would hope
• believers who stay true to God cannot be roasted or devoured while their enemies end up as ashes or grime between the claws and teeth of lions

These snapshots show us how circumstances are resolved in a world where God is in charge
– there’s a reason these stories appeal to us
– they turn out exactly the way we would expect if God constantly intervened in human affairs

But when we come to the life of Jesus, the story is messed up — the Son of God should not be tortured to death on a cross
– we see the world not as it should be, but as it is
• people have taken control of the plot, and announced, “We do not want this man to reign over us” (Lk. 19:14)

A message runs through Bible from beginning to end, that one day God will put an end to all the nonsense
– the foolishness of human governments, of oppression, murder, rape, and everything evil

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together,
and a little child will lead them.
(Isa. 11:6)

Israel’s poets and prophets called this golden age, “God’s reign”
– less frequently in the Hebrew Scriptures, “God’s kingdom” (his rule, reign, or government

The overarching story of the Bible is that the world is not right
– not always just, good, beautiful – and we can’t fix it
– one day God will bring it down and replace it wit his direct rule
• It is in this light that Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”
• God’s kingdom is wherever his will is being done
– this is a prayer we need to personalize — “Your kingdom come to me, Your will be done in me as in heaven”

Two different religious interpretations evolved from this story

A Jewish view – a nationalistic vision
– world governments would be dissolved and Israel exalted
– God would firmly establish his authority in Zion and rule the world from there

Another, later, development
– the righteous men and women of Israel’s history would be resurrected to participate in God’s kingdom

A Christian view – a transcendent vision
– the present world will be destroyed
– then everyone will be judged and either be taken to heaven or sent to hell
• the kingdom of God (or heaven) is what believers experience after death

Neither view gives us an entirely accurate picture

The two episodes reported, Jesus’ baptism and temptation, are extraordinary

The heavens opened, the Spirit descended on Jesus, and God spoke
– then the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert, where he was first accosted by Satan, then ministered to by angels
• (we also notice that the Spirit is associated with a dove, while Satan is associated with “wild beasts”

The supernatural opens onto Jesus and swirls around him

Afterward, we come to the message of Jesus

First, it is “the gospel of God” – a message that is good and it is “of God”
from God or about God (actually, both)
God is taking the next giant step toward humankind

The theme of the Jesus’ message is “the kingdom of God”
– Jesus says two things about it:
• “the time is fulfilled” – kairos, the perfect and unique moment
“Fulfilled” – no more waiting
• “the kingdom of God is at hand”
– does this mean, it has not yet arrived, but is on its way? or does it mean the arrival of the kingdom has begun and is now underway?
– the same word appears later in Mark

“Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!” Immediately while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, came up accompanied by a crowd with swords and clubs . . . (Mk. 14:42-43)

Jesus was talking about something that was already happening in that moment

The strange teaching of Jesus

How could the kingdom of God have arrived with Jesus?
– the world didn’t change, evil wasn’t obliterated, justice didn’t prevail

The answer lies in what Jesus will later on call “the mystery of the kingdom of God” (Mk. 4:11)
– one way to think of it is that God’s kingdom comes in two stages
1.) It comes secretly and spiritually in Jesus
2.) It will come universally and completely with the return of Jesus

We may not fully understand what Jesus means, but he’s making this announcement for our benefit
Jesus is trying to awaken us to something – what is it?

Perhaps the most simple way to understand him is to  imagine a fifth dimension
– we live in a universe of four dimensions (three space dimension and one time dimension)
• if the first dimension is thought of as a line, and the second as a plane, and the third as a cube, then imagine climbing this ladder one more rung
– if we lived in the one dimensional space of a line, we’d have no knowledge or experience of the second dimension
• if we lived in the second, we’d have no knowledge or experience of the third
• living in three space dimensions, we have no knowledge or experience of a fifth — yet our universe could not exist without it
– this extra dimension is as much a part of our universe as the four that we experience and know and it includes forces and objects imperceptible to us

In scripture, there are instances of interaction between the dimension of heaven and the dimensions we know
– in Jesus, God entered our four-dimensional universe
• as a result , there is much more interaction in our world with the fifth dimension
• this is the flurry of supernatural activity we see going on around Jesus
-it happens in Jesus and through the Holy Spirit — and it changes everything

Oliver Sacks, in his essay “Hands,” tells of a woman in her sixties who was born blind and with cerebral palsy
– when he observed her intelligence and commented that she must be proficient with Braille, she reacted strongly
• “I can’t do anything with my hands,” she told him, “They’re completely useless”
– this confused him, especially because she felt normal sensations in her hands
• but when tested, she could not identify anything he placed in her hands–not even his own hand
-she had never learned to use her hands to explore the world

Dr. Sacks came up with a theory
– since everything had been done for her since infancy, the part of her brain that utilized sensory input from the hands was never developed
• the neurons and synapses were there, but not be used for their intended purpose
• his challenge was to help her discover her hands and, through them, discover her world
– the breakthrough came when she first reached out a hand to feed herself
• from then on, she used her hands to “see” everything she had only known as words or sounds
• the previously unused area of her brain began to develop — soon she began sculpting faces

Thirty plus years ago, I began reading up on human consciousness
– I was trying to understand the practical meaning of phrases like “Practice the Presence of God” and “Be conscious of God at all times”
• was this an innate human capacity? did it involve a part of the brain that is never developed by most humans in western civilization?
– think of Paul’s use of the phrase, “the eyes of your heart” (Ep. 1:18)
• maybe the only reason we’re blind to the kingdom of God is because we don’t know we have eyes
• we’ve never used or developed that (fifth-dimensional) part of our brains

I don’t believe awareness of God’s kingdom is entirely an acquired skill — we cannot “see” or “enter” the kingdom apart from his grace
– but I do believe that we have a part to play in developing a kind of spiritual vision
• and the more we practice, the more acute our spiritual sight becomes

CONC: “Repent” – Change! Adjust to this new reality

Awhile back someone gave me the book Father Joe and I finally got around to reading it this week

Tony Hendra, the author, wanted to change world through laughter, yet he became very upset by changes in the Roman Catholic Church following Vatican II
– throughout his life, a friend and mentor had been a monk, whom he affectionately referred to as Father Joe
– when he shared his complaints with Fr. Joe, his wise mentor pointed out that change was necessary
• but he also explained that people are confused about change when they assume it always means they are producing or turning to something new

“The world worships a certain kind of newness. People are always talking about a new car, or a new drink or play or house, but these things are not truly new, are they? They begin to get old the minute you acquire them. New is not in things. New is within us. The truly new is something that is new forever: you. Every morning of your life and every evening, every moment is new. You have never lived this moment before and you never will again. In this sense the new is also the eternal.”

Repent means change — and in this instance, it is a change that brings something new
– it is new, because it is something that happens in us

The kingdom of God is the new way of living with him
– the new way of being a human person
– it is the formation of a new society or community
– it is a new (fifth-dimensional, if you will) power of transformation and going about God’s will in the world

What we want to do is develop our new set of spiritual skills
– through practice in prayer and Christian community
• to discern the kingdom of God
• to let it come and let God’s will be done in our mind, heart, soul, bodies, words, and actions
• to live in the world in love, being good people and doing good to the glory of our “Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16)

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