The Lord's Day Morning
October 10, 2010
“What Is the Kingdom of God Like?”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke, chapter 13 as we continue our way through the gospel together. In this passage Jesus tells two parables, two short stories describing what the kingdom of God is like.
We should be aware of a few things. First of all ‘Kingdom of God’ is a favorite theme in Luke's gospel. This theme is found in all of the gospels. Different terms are used. ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, typically Matthew will use that. That's a Hebrew idiom where you don't throw around the word God lightly so sometimes you substitute terms for God though you’re referring to God, so ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ instead of ‘Kingdom of God’ referring to the same idea though. ‘Kingdom of Christ’ is sometimes used, but it's all the same theme. The Kingdom of God refers to the reign of God in this world and especially in the hearts of men and women and boys and girls. It is a dynamic concept. It's not like a kingdom with walls around it. It's sort of a pulling up the drawbridge and filling up the moats with alligators and hunkering in. It's a kingdom that's dynamically going forth in this world and Jesus talks about it all the time. He is an agent of the kingdom. His gospel is bringing in the kingdom. The kingdom creates the church.
Those two things are related. In fact, they’re inseparable, but they’re distinguishable–the kingdom creates the people of the kingdom, the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, and for some reason Jesus thinks important here to pause and instruct his disciples in the nature of the kingdom and so you and I ought to be scratching our heads and wondering why. This is not the only time that Jesus does this, but here Luke, if you’ll notice, connects these two parables with a ‘therefore’ in verse 18.
Now, what does that ‘therefore’ point back to? The immediate context is Jesus having done this amazing miracle for this woman who has been under a tremendous burden and satanic oppression for 18 years and the response of the religious leaders of his day who are present with him, is utter contempt for him and for her. And it seems that Jesus is saying to the disciples, “Don't be discouraged by their response to me. Don't think that just because the religious leaders of the day can see me do something like this and not only not get it and not only not believe my message, and not only not understand who I am, but actually oppose me, don't be discouraged by that. The immediate assessment of your contemporaries is not an adequate indicator of the effectiveness of God's kingdom or its one day extent.”
Now, that's a message that's important for us, too, because we live in a world, we live in a country which is increasingly hostile to the claims of the gospel. We have many contemporaries who think that they understand Christianity and they think that they've tried Christianity or tried the gospel or tried Jesus and they have weighed them in the balance and found them wanting and they have moved on and they’re a little bit perturbed that you’re still out there making claims for Jesus Christ.
And in that context you can be tempted to do something and that is you can be tempted to change the message to make the message more palatable and attractive to the world and culture around you or you can be tempted to adopt different methods which end up changing the message that you are proclaiming. And so Jesus words to his disciples of encouragement in the wake of his rejection by the religious leaders of his day about the kingdom are just as relevant to us today.
So let's pray before we read God's Word.
Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and we ask that You would teach us about the kingdom, but also that we would so experientially be acquainted with the way of Your rule in our lives; that we understand that Your kingdom will not fail and that Your Word will not return void and that Your gospel when proclaimed will bring men and women and boys and girls to faith in Jesus Christ and that Your church will be built. Fix these as firm realities in our hearts so that we can continue to be faithful, joyful, energetic believing witnesses to Your kingdom and to Your gospel and to Your Son. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the Word of God beginning in Luke 13: 18:
“He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”
Amen. And thus this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Jesus in these two stories shows how something that looks small can become great. Something that looks insignificant, but is in fact very significant; something that looks almost insubstantial can permeate everything. And He's telling these stories to encourage His disciples because He is perfectly aware of what the response to His ministry is and what the response to their ministries will be.
They are being called to preach Christ and his gospel in a world and into a culture that will overwhelmingly reject those realities. And if they view the kingdom by the measure of their contemporaries’ acceptance or rejection of Christ, by their contemporaries’ acceptance or rejection of their message, they will be discouraged because though they will see amazing things just like in Jesus’ ministry we saw amazing things. We saw amazing crowds follow Jesus’ ministry from time to time and we saw amazing responses of faith to Jesus’ ministry from time to time, and though the disciples, there will be days like the day of Pentecost when thousands come to trust in Christ, but there will be an overwhelming either yawn or rejection of their ministry, of their message, and of their mission by their contemporaries.
I mean, think of it, my friends. When Jesus first spoke these words there were no people in this world who called themselves Christian. Today there are about two billion people on this planet that call themselves Christians. So Jesus is then proven in His story that the kingdom of God is going forth and though it is small as a mustard seed now it will grow to be a great tree in which the birds of the air will nest, but the disciples would not live and minister and see that big picture. And the fact of the matter is, none of us do and will. And so how we respond to the indifference or rejection of the kingdom and of the message of the kingdom and of the gospel and of the Lord Jesus Christ is very, very important to Jesus. And so Jesus is wanting to encourage the disciples and He's wanting to encourage you and me.
And there's a very important message to us in our own day and time that I want us to take in both congregationally and personally. And here's the message: “Do not despise the day of small things. Do not judge God's kingdom by its immediate reception and effect either in our own hearts or the hearts of those that we long to see changed by the kingdom or by our communities’ indifference or rejection of the message we proclaim.
You know, just over two centuries ago a German theologian looked out at his culture and he saw the intellectual elite, the people in the universities, the people in the professional classes rejecting Christianity because the found it frankly unbelievable. They were in the midst of the German enlightenment and they were gripped by the new thinking that was spreading across Europe and they were rejecting the message of Christianity and he looked at that culture and he said, “You know, the kingdom is going to fail. The church is going to dwindle unless we come up with a message that this generation will believe.” And so he attempted to adapt the gospel message in order to make it more attractive and palatable to his contemporaries. His name was Friedrich Schleiermacher and he gave a series of lectures or speeches or addresses called On Christianity to Its Culture Despisers. Now his goal was not to destroy Christianity and empty the churches, but that is the effect of his work. He was the father of what we call today theological liberalism and wherever that belief reigns, the churches died.
But it was designed to make the kingdom grow and to make the church prosper and to make the gospel attractive and palatable and the idea was, we've got to change the message if the kingdom is going to grow, if the church is going to survive, if the message is going to prevail, we've got to change the message.
Now, evangelical Christians since that time have by and large have rejected that particular approach. We know that God has given us the message in His Word, but we have tended to fall prey to a different kind of accommodation. And the kind of accommodation that we have been tempted to has been, one, to look around at the culture and then to look at the church and say, “You know, we're going to have to change the way we do church if we're going to be palatable and attractive to the culture.”
When I was in seminary, and it feels like the Dark Ages now, but it was only just over 25 years ago, the big thing was this. Some very, very intelligent people had looked across the landscape of the churches in America and they said, “You know, people respond to Christianity in America in the Protestant mainline churches basically with these two reactions. Church,” they say, “is boring and irrelevant.” And so if we're going to reach this culture we've got to make the church exciting and relevant. And so the strategy was–create a church that is positioned to attract the unchurched by giving them something that is immediately and obviously relevant to them and exciting and attractive to them.
Now one of the consequences of that was that Bible preaching, for instance, was not one of the top five things that unchurched people found exciting and relevant about the church. And so what happened in many, many churches is the preaching of the Bible disappeared.
And it's been fascinating. You know, in the last five years, survey after survey after survey has said that evangelical Christians, people who say they believe in the Bible and they’re in church many, many Sundays out of the year, evangelical Christians don't know their Bibles. And my response whenever I read one of those surveys is, “Duh!” Because for the last three decades church has been managed by those who say, “Don't preach the Bible. That's boring and irrelevant. Give them something that they want. Give them excitement. Give them something that seems immediately relevant to them. Don't preach the Bible. That's boring!” And then we're surprised that people don't know their Bibles.
I like you went through periods of my life, especially in the teen years, when I found church deadly boring. And then one day I woke up and suddenly the faithful Bible ministry of my pastor and my elders didn't seem boring and irrelevant anymore. It was precisely what my soul needed and I'm so thankful that my pastor and elders didn't stop giving the means of grace as Jesus appointed so that when I woke up there was something still there for me to hear. There was still a saving truth to respond to. There was the substance of Jesus’ message still there to arrest me. And I think it's important for us to remember that today.
Sometimes the things that we do may feel to you weak and ineffective. You know, it may seem that the means of grace and the message of the kingdom are small and weak and ineffective. And it may seem that the immediate results that the kingdom is having are insignificant, but Jesus says that God's kingdom is great and its growth will be steady and continuous even it is not perceptible in the reactions of our immediate contemporaries to the message.
And that's very important for us to know. You know, we hear drastic reports, for instance, in America today about how many children of believing homes go off to college and in their early years of their career and never ever come back to a steady life of participation in the local congregation. And you have all of these drastic reactions to these terrifying numbers and statistics that you hear.
And very often the reaction is, “We've got to do something completely different than we've ever done before.” And we forget that parents living the gospel before their children; teaching the gospel to their children; praying for their children; and bringing them to be with the people of God every Lord's Day has for two millennium nurtured Christianity. It looks weak. It looks small. It looks insignificant, but God has appointed His means of grace to work in the kingdom He's built.
Or, we look at the church and we say, “The church is up against it. The church is struggling. She's weak within and wracked with all the same kinds of social challenges and problems that the culture is wracked with around us and the message seems so weak and contemptible. It seems so unpalatable and it seems so unpopular.” But when the Word is preached and baptism and the Lord's Supper is administered and prayer is offered as the people of God gather, God blesses His means of grace. The kingdom goes forth. It creates the church, God's means of grace work in the world. And Jesus is encouraging us here to believe that God is building His church. I mean, that, in the end is the point, isn't it, that you can study all that the New Testament says about the kingdom of God and in none of it will you get this message: “The building of God's kingdom is up to you.” Now, we get to participate in it and we must respond to it, but God's kingdom is God's kingdom and He builds His kingdom and what He builds cannot fail and the way that He builds His kingdom will not fail. It is our job to believe that and to respond to that and to live accordingly with that–with that hope that His message will prevail in this world and that the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and He will reign forever and ever.
It's so important that we believe that. It's so important that we understand that or we’ll be tempted to change the message or we’ll be tempted to denigrate the means that He has given for the building up of His church or the message that has been given for the kingdom to announce.
Maybe you've been praying in vain for God's kingdom to manifest itself in the heart of a friend or a child or a brother or a sister or a parent. Do not despise the day of small things because there are things that look insignificant to our eyes and the Lord is doing something deeper and bigger than we could ever imagine.
Jesus wants His disciples to be encouraged by that even when the religious leaders of His day are rejecting Him. Even after He's done a mighty miracle they can reject Him. And Jesus says, “The kingdom in the end will not be judged by them, but when God unveils that kingdom, when He shows to all of us what He's been doing, our breath will be taken away.” And we’ll say, “Jesus, what you said was true. It may be like those tiny little mustard seeds, but it's a huge tree now. It may be like that leaven, but you can't even detect but that leaven has spread through everything now and leavened the whole. Your kingdom has grown.”
I love what J. C. Ryle says.
“Christianity is a religion which at first seems so feeble and helpless and powerless that it could not live. Its first founder was one who was poor in this world and He ended His life by dying the death of a malefactor on the cross. Its first adherence were a little company whose number probably did not exceed a thousand when the Lord Jesus left this world. Its first preachers were a few fishermen and publicans who were most of them unlearned and ignorant men. Its first starting point was a despised corner of the earth called Judea, a petty tributary province of the vast empire of Rome. Its first doctrine was eminently calculated to call forth the enmity of the natural heart, Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks, foolishness. Its first movements brought down on its friends persecution from all quarters. Pharisees and Sadducees and Jews and Gentiles, ignorant idolaters and self-conceited philosophers all agreed in hating and opposing Christianity. It was a sect everywhere spoken against. These are no empty assertions. They’re simple historical facts which no one can deny. If ever there was a religion that was a little grain of seed at its beginning that religion was the gospel, but the progress of the gospel is great and steady and continuous.”
It is true, my friends. Do not think that you have to position and maneuver yourself for God to work even in this hard-hearted world because the kingdom will be built. The only question is will we have the pleasure of participating in that. If we trust Him to build His kingdom and if we use His means, we will have the joy of participating in that, but we’ll get none of the credit for ourselves because He's building His kingdom.
Our Heavenly Father, we thank You for the kingdom which is not of this world which You are building in the reign that You have established in our hearts by the gospel and the church that You have created because of the work of that kingdom. And we pray, O Lord, in a day in time when the world says to us, “Your message is no longer compelling to us. Your mission is despicable to us. Your claims are uncompelling to us.
We pray, O Lord, that we will hear the words of Jesus speaking more loudly over those messages of rejection and saying the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, my child. And then we pray that you would give us faith even of the size of the mustard seed for we know that if we but trust Your ends and Your means we will by grace be able to move mountains.
We ask these prayers in Jesus' name. Amen.
Now if you’ll take your hymnals in hand and turn with me to 427 as we prepare to come to the Lord's table, let's sing Charles Spurgeon's great hymn, Amidst Us Our Beloved Stands.
[Congregation sings hymn]
Please be seated.
The Apostle Paul tells us of the origin of the Lord’ Supper and its institution in 1 Corinthians 11. He puts it this way:
“For I received from the Lord that which I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing, he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy Word.
The Lord's Supper is a sacrament. It's a sign and seal of God's covenant of grace. It's something that God give us to confirm His promise to us and to strengthen our faith in that promise, to assure us of His love and of His saving purposes for us. It's a God-appointed means to grow us in grace. It's one of the principled ways that God has appointed or ordained to strengthen us in the Christian life. And the Lord's Supper we feed on Christ by faith and are strengthened by him. So the Lord's table is for those who are believing, who are trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ and so I would invite to this table, the Lord's table, all of you who trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation as He is offered in the gospel and who have joined yourselves to the body of Christ, the church. If you are here with us today and you are not a believer, you are welcome, but I charge you not to come to this table because, if you do, not believing, you will be precisely the one about whom Paul is speaking about not judging the body rightly. Do not eat and drink condemnation to yourself. Instead, I would charge you to wait and think and pray. Think of your heart and your sin. Think of the claims of Christ the Savior, think of the gospel of grace in the scripture, and then repent and believe and then the next time we gather at the Lord's table, come as a brother or a sister in Christ with us, trusting in Him, and we receive you gladly in the Lord.
Let us set apart these common elements to a holy use by prayer. Let's pray.
Eternal God, You are the Lord of creation and of redemption. Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, You have made yourself manifest in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. We gather at the Lord's table today at Your own bidding and we acknowledge Your grace to us. Make these common elements to serve as Your means of grace to Your people and grant that we would receive them by faith and so taste of heavenly mercies that are bestowed only by the Holy Spirit. Lift up our hearts to heaven on high that we might feed on the risen and ascended Christ in His glorious humanity by faith. We ask this all through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Since the Lord's Supper is for professing believers in Jesus Christ who have discerned the body of the Lord, it's appropriate that we confess our faith together before we come to this table. So do this with me using the Apostles’ Creed.
Christian, what do you believe?
I believe in God the Father, Almighty,
Maker of Heaven and Earth:
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
he descended into hell;
the third day he arose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge
the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting. Amen.
On the back panel of the bulletin you will find an abbreviated version of the Ten Commandments. The commandments remind of three things at least. They remind us of our sin for we have broken each of these commandments. They remind us of the perfection of Christ's life and sacrifice because he obeyed these commandments perfectly and died under their penalty in our place. And He did so not only that we would be forgiven, but so that we would be changed and enabled to walk with God in His will. And so these commandments also remind us what the godly life of a walk with Christ looks like. So let us repeat these Ten Commandments as we prepare to come to the Lord's table.
1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
2. You shall not make for yourself an idol. You shall not worship them or serve them.
3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5. Honor your father and your mother.
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
10. You shall not covet.
[Dr. Derek Thomas]
On the night in which Jesus was betrayed he took bread and having blessed it, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Take, eat. This do in remembrance of me.”
Likewise, after supper Jesus took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood shed for many for the remission of sins. Drink you all of it.
Let us pray.
Lord, it cost the death and shed blood and humiliation, and shame of the Lord Jesus to forgive us our sins, to make us presentable to You. There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin. He only could unlock the gates of heaven and let us in. He who thought it not robbery to be equal with god but made himself nothing. But the foxes have holes and the birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere where to lay His head.
We thank You for Gethsemane. We thank You for Calvary. We thank You, O Lord, for a substitute, One who bore our sin and our shame in His own body upon the tree.
We thank You this morning afresh for the gospel, for grace that pardons all sin, that by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone we may stand before You as adopted children and heirs,
joint heirs with Jesus Christ.
Help us, O Lord, as we go our various ways just now to rejoice and treasure the gospel and treasure Christ. That's where our hearts would be today–in love with Jesus.
Oh, that we might love You more than we do. Have everything that there is of us. Take us and use us and do with us as You will because whatever You do it will be for our good. And we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Now let's sing together in your bulletin, The Power of the Cross. O, to see the dawn of the darkest day”.
Now from the God who promises to build His kingdom receive this blessing.
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.