God's Present Kingdom
It has been a few years since a Jehovah Witness has come to my door. I think the Presbyterian manse must be "black-listed" or something. I know they are in the area, but they have never come to my door. But before I moved to Beeton I had a very interesting visit with two Jehovah witnesses.
I was in seminary at the time and was eager to sharpen my theological convictions by engaging in dialogue with the two women at the door. They began by telling me how Satan was in control of the world and how the Book of Revelation predicted the defeat of Satan.
Of course, I agreed with the notion that Satan would ultimately be defeated as prophesied in Revelation, but I objected to their statement that "Satan was presently in control of the world". So I began to rhyme off a number of passages that demonstrated that Christ was presently reigning in heaven and on earth.
I didn't intend to embarrass them, but my barrage of Scripture passages must have confused them because they asked if they could come back another time with one of their more experienced colleagues. I said yes, although I probably shouldn't have considering I was actually a guest that day in my friend's home.
The Scripture passage before us today is one of many Scriptures that teaches that Satan is not running the show--Christ is. And the fact that Christ is now reigning on heaven and on earth is of paramount importance and relevance to us. For if Christ is now reigning it should promote great confidence in the church as we endeavour to advance the kingdom of God in our present world.
This is important because the Christian Church, for the most part, is not a confident group.
We bemoan all the factors working against us. The Christian Church is battling the popular notion that all belief-systems are equally valid--a notion that makes the cross of Christ an unnecessary event. The Christian Church is battling the failures of our past. Instead of learning from our failures, many churches in the midst of decline have simply shrugged their shoulders saying, "That's just the way it is today". The Christian Church is competing against a fast-paced society that seems to value entertainment above all else.
Yet, as the apostle Paul reminds us, this is not our real competition. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6:12 that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood"--that is, our struggle is not against a certain group of people, it is not against government policies, or societal values. Our struggle, Paul says, is "against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places". The question is, can we win this struggle?
To this, the Bible answers with a resounding YES! The Christian Church WILL succeed because the kingdom of God is a present reality in this world. Never mind those statistics that say the church is in decline because Jesus promises in Matthew 16:18, "I will build My church". A church that is obedient to Christ WILL grow because this is what Christ has promised and He is in control.
Where did this notion come from, that Satan is the ruler of the world? The notion actually comes from Scripture. Satan said to Jesus in the desert, "(this domain) has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish"(Lk. 4:6). Yet, we must interpret this statement with what Jesus said later on in His ministry, "Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out"(Jn. 12:31).
There was a time when Satan did rule on earth, but that time is not the present. Jesus came to cast out the devil and to put an end to his reign. We do not have to wait until the 2nd Coming of Jesus to see "the good guys win". The kingdom of God is a present reality. And how we exist as a church should be profoundly affected by this truth.
Our text affirms the belief that the kingdom of God is a present reality. Admittedly, the kingdom is not in its final or perfect form, but it is present nonetheless.
Our passage this morning begins in verse 20 and the context is that Jesus has healed many with diseases and has cast out many demons. These miraculous healings and exorcisms, as you might expect, attracted quite a crowd. Just like when the paralytic had to be lowered down through the roof because of the crowd, the following of Jesus had become so great that Mark writes that "they could not even eat a meal"(v.20). Again, if we picture the Toronto subway at rush hour we will get an idea of how crowded it was in this home.
And again we see that, whenever Jesus attracted a crowd, He also attracted the religious leaders. We read, in verse 22, the scribes' theory of how Jesus was able to cast out demons. The scribes reasoned that Jesus was possessed by Beelzebul and that "He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons."
Jesus responds to this with a statement that exposes their skewed logic, "How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he is finished! But no one can enter the strong man's house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house"(v.23-27).
In this parable, the house represents Satan's domain, that is, the world. The strong man is the devil, and his property are those who do not follow God. We see then, Jesus explaining His purpose for casting out demons. In order to inaugurate God's kingdom, it is necessary that the influence of the evil one be significantly curbed. This is explicitly stated for us in the parallel passage in Luke's gospel, chapter 11, verse 20, where Jesus says, "if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you."
There you have it. With the arrival of Jesus came the special reign of God's kingdom. Satan is no longer the ruler of this world. The Great Commission confirms this when Jesus says, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth"(Mt. 28:18).
This is a very important statement. This is a very important statement because there or those who would limit the kingdom of God to being a description of heaven. Heaven is indeed the kingdom of God in its perfect form, but when Jesus says that "the kingdom of God has come upon you" He is talking to those who are alive on earth. All authority has been given to Christ "in heaven and on earth".
This has enormous implications for the Church. Let me begin to frame these implications with a question: Where is Jesus now? (repeat question). Jesus is in heaven at the right hand of the Heavenly Father(Heb. 1:3, 12:2). Jesus is not physically among us. And if Jesus is no longer physically among us, how can we say that the kingdom of God is present on earth?
The answer to this question is that the kingdom of God is present on the earth through us. The Church is meant to be Christ's visible presence on the earth. We see this in so many places in the New Testament.
We see this in the teaching of Jesus when He says, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say 'Look, here it is!', or, 'There it is!' For behold, the kingdom of God is within you"(Lk. 17:20, 21). The same truth is confirmed in John's 1st Epistle when he writes, "greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world"(1Jn. 4:4).
The Christian Church is not maneuvering from a position of weakness. We are the kingdom of God on this earth.
We are not perfect--far from it--but we are God's kingdom nonetheless. We may be negligent in using our God-given power, but this does not change the fact that "greater is He who is in (us) than he who is in the world".
The Church can, and should, make a difference in this world. We have the authority of Christ behind us, and what a shame it would be to waste it.
Many of you know that while I was in Florida, I went with Allie to watch the Florida Panthers play the Toronto Maple Leafs. I have a friend who works for the Maple Leafs and so I called him up and told him that we would be at the game. He said that he would get us put on a special list and that we would be able to go down to the locker room area after the game.
In case, you weren't aware, the average fan is not permitted in the locker room area. One needs to be invited by someone with authority. On our own, Allie and I would not have been permitted down there. But with my friend's authority behind us we were able to go. Now wouldn't it have been a waste if Allie and I did not make use of our friend's authority and go down to the locker room?
And what a waste it would be not to utilize the authority of Christ as we seek to advance His kingdom in this world. We will succeed at very little in the church if we do not have the authority of Christ behind us.
This is why churches decline and close. Churches decline and close when the members think that everything depends on them. If we are leaning on our own efforts, this church will not grow. Only as we rely on the authority given to us by Christ can the church be built.
Without my friend's authority we would have been prevented by security from reaching the locker room area. And without the authority of Christ behind our every action, the evil one will prevent us from reaching our goals.
I am here to say that we do not need to be hindered in our work for Christ. The kingdom of God is within us in the person of the Holy Spirit and Christ plans to build His church through us. The church, of course, is made up of many parts and each part must pull its weight.
My question for you then is, are you prepared to answer the call to advance the kingdom of God in this community? If you are, I want to assure you that the power and authority of Jesus Christ will sustain you. Amen.