The Kingdom of God is Here!
We ended last week in the darkness of the exile. Israel, once again under foreign oppression. God, silent. And the people had nothing to do but hope that the Son of David would finally come for them like God had promised He would.
We pick up the story today on one ordinary day in Jerusalem about 7 BC. It’s been almost 60 years since the Roman occupation began, and 400 years since the last prophet spoke. And on this day, an ordinary priest named Zechariah had his name drawn to enter the temple and burn incense.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—it’s extremely likely that this was his first time ever inside the temple.
And so he would have stepped inside the dark, gold-plated room, with a ceiling 60’ above him. And he would have approached the gigantic curtain that separated the Holy of Holies, and stopped before the altar of incense. And with hands likely shaking from fear, he would have began to burn the incense.
And then he realized he wasn’t alone. There was another person in there with him. But this other person was not a human. This was an angel.
And I don’t know what comes to your mind when you think about angel, but don’t think about a cute little baby or a blonde lady in a white dress and wings. We don’t know exactly what angels look like, but we do know that they are terrifying. That is the consistent reaction that people in the Bible experience when they see an angel: terror. And that’s what happened to Zechariah. “Fear fell upon him” (Luke 1:12).
“But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared’” (Luke 1:13–17).
Did you catch that? Anything sound familiar there? Do you remember last week when we read the last words of the last prophet Malachi?
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (Malachi 4:5–6).
And after 400 years of silence, Gabriel appears and quotes those exact words to Zechariah, and says, it’s happening. The day of the Lord is at hand. God is coming to visit His people.
Six months later that same angel appeared to the cousin of Zechariah’s wife. And with everything we’ve learned in our series so far, let these words sink in to your ears:
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end’” (Luke 1:26–33).
Do you hear it? The Promised One we’ve been waiting for, the king, is about to be born to you, Mary.
Mary understood what was going on. Do you remember her words of praise to God when she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth? She said that “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever” (Luke 1:54–55).
I read the Bible for years, and never really understood what was going on here. I never really understood how these words from Gabriel and then from Mary connect up with the rest of the big story of the Bible, and show how Jesus is the fulfillment of this story. He’s the promised king. He’s the one that this whole story has been about from the very beginning. He’s the offspring of Eve. He’s the offspring of Abraham. He’s the son of David. And He finally, finally, came.
But oh, the irony. That this long-promised king was born with the animals, and placed in a trough, and grew up in a town with no reputation, working alongside Joseph in obscurity for three decades. Not what we would have expected.
But finally the time was right. After thirty years, we read in Matthew 3 that: “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 3:1–2).
And soon afterwards came the day for the king to come forth and be anointed. No oil was poured on His head, but He was baptized by John, and coming up out of the water, He was anointed by the Spirit of God, and “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:17).
And then after forty days of being tried in the wilderness, Jesus began his ministry. Mark 1:14 tells us that “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming 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).
It’s ironic that this language of kingdom is so strange and foreign to so many Christians today. Because as we’ve seen this fall, the whole storyline of the Bible is a story about the kingdom of God.
Now it’s true that we haven’t seen that exact phrase necessarily until now, but the idea has been there all along.
We saw how Adam was made in the image of God and given a commission to have dominion, which meant that he was to reign over this world as God’s representative. He was a king, and this world was God’s kingdom. Same thing with Noah.
We saw how royal language was used of Abraham, and then how Israel was commissioned to be a nation of royal priests, or priestly kings. Through Israel, God was going to reign on the earth. And then this theme was so clearly obvious in the story of King David.
The whole storyline of the Bible up until now could be summed up as the story of God establishing His rule on earth. In other words, it’s a story about the kingdom of God.
And the way He establishes His kingdom is through covenant. God made covenants with Adam and Noah and Abraham and Israel and David, and it’s through those covenants that He built His kingdom and carried forward its program into the world.
God’s kingdom comes through God’s covenants. And not surprisingly, this is actually the title of one of the books that I’ve found most helpful in understanding how to put together this big story of the Bible: Kingdom Through Covenant.
And all of that has culminated now in Jesus. He is the king, and in Him the kingdom has arrived. And so we shouldn’t be surprised to hear Jesus talk about the kingdom over and over again.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). “Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10). “The kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). And don’t almost all of the parables began with the words, “the kingdom of heaven is like”? And we could go on and on.
But for whatever reason, many of us miss this. We don’t notice the kingdom.
And as a result, we are unfairly hard on hard on Jesus’ disciples and the other Jewish people of his day for their expectations of Jesus. Because as you read through the gospels, it’s clear that Jesus’ disciples expected Him to ride into Jerusalem and destroy the Romans and give the kingdom back to Israel. They thought He was going to be a political messiah, a political saviour.
And if you’ve gone to church for any length of time you’ve probably heard people criticize this kind of thing, and maybe even talk about how silly Jesus’ disciples were, or how worldly their thinking was. Because we know better, and we know that Jesus didn’t come to be a political Messiah to wage war on His enemies. He came to be a spiritual saviour to rescue us from our sin.
But what I want to suggest to you that Jesus’ disciples may have actually understood some elements of the storyline of the Bible better than many of us today. Because they understood the idea of the kingdom. And they believed that the king had arrived. And the most natural thing for the king to do would have been to march on Jerusalem and destroy his enemies and reign. That’s what David did. That’s what kings do.
And guess what? That is what Jesus is going to do. We’re going to get there later on in the series, but Scripture is very clear that Jesus is going to do what kings do and what His disciples expected Him to do. He’s going to come and vanquish His enemies and reign as a king here on earth. It’s really going to happen.
Already, but Not Yet
What Jesus’ disciples did misunderstand was the matter of timing. Along with most of the Jewish people of their day, they thought that the kingdom was going to arrive, in its fullness, all at once.
And when the kingdom of God came in it’s fullness, then this present age of human history would come to an end, and the kingdoms of this world would pass away, and the Age to Come would begin, where the righteous would be resurrected and God would create a New Heavens and a New Earth and the Messiah would reign forever.
But what Jesus tried to help His disciples understand was that even though the kingdom of God had arrived, it had not arrived in its fullness all at once. That was the point of the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast (Matthew 13:31-33). The kingdom of God had arrived like a seed planted in the ground, or a little bit of yeast added to a lump of dough.
In His first coming, Jesus was dealing with the real problem with the world, which was not the Romans, but was the sin in our own heart. And so in Him, the kingdom of God had broken in to this world and was at work in the hearts of people, transforming them from the inside out and causing them to submit to and obey King Jesus.
And it is only after every tribe, language, people and nation have had a chance to hear and respond to this saving news that the kingdom will finally come in it’s fullness.
But make no mistake: even though it’s not here in it’s fullness, it is still here. If you have been saved by Jesus, if you’ve placed your faith in Him, you’re in His kingdom.
Here’s a way of trying to understand all of this. Think about the way that we celebrate Christmas. My mom grew up in a very straight-laced Dutch home. They understood that Christmas was on December 25. And so when do you think they celebrated Christmas? On December 25. They would literally put up their tree on Christmas Eve.
Because that’s the way they thought. Christmas was either here in all of its fullness, or it wasn’t here at all. Black or white. All or nothing.
That’s the way Jesus’ disciples and the other Jewish people thought about the kingdom of God. Nothing, and then everything.
But many of you understand it’s not quite as cut and dried as this. Because for many of you, Christmas starts doing its thing in your life long before December 25. By the time December 1 rolls around, Christmas will already be at work, transforming your home decor and your playlists and your intake of unhealthy sweets.
Christmas arrives and starts doing its thing long before the calendar turns over to December 25 and we get to take a day off and open your gifts and so on.
And this is just an imperfect way of trying to understand the arrival of the kingdom. The first coming of Christ was like the day you set up the Christmas tree. The kingdom of God broke into this world and began its saving, transforming work even though it would be some time before it arrives in its fullness.
When Jesus was born, and especially when He rose from the dead, there’s a sense in which the Age to Come began, even though this present age hasn’t come to an end yet. And Jesus commands us to come and live under His reign and authority, even as we wait for His kingdom to arrive in its fullness.
The kingdom is already here, but not yet here. Already, but not yet.
Next Few Weeks
We’re going to come back to this idea of the already-but-not-yet kingdom many times in the next weeks and months. It’s a very important truth we need to understand in order to really grasp the big story of the Bible. The whole last part of our series, from January to April, will really be asking the question: how do we live as citizens of a kingdom that is already here, but not yet here?
But first, in these next seven weeks, we get to focus entirely on Jesus. And we’re going to do that by going back and seeing how Jesus is the main character of the storyline of the Bible.
Next week Tim is going to preach on Jesus as the second Adam. The week after that, we’ll hear how Jesus is the promised offspring of the woman who crushes the serpent. Then we’ll spend a week each hearing about Jesus as the offspring of Abraham, and the high priest and sacrifice of the New Covenant, and the Son of David, and our true temple, the One who rescues us from spiritual exile, and finally as the judge and life-giver, the Son of Man who brings us into the age to come.
And so we get seven more weeks of seeing clearly how the story of the Bible culminates in Christ, in whom all the promises of God are yes and amen.
I am so thrilled about these next weeks. I’ve been looking forward to them for so long. And my heart for us as a church in these weeks is that we would behold our saviour. I want us to see and be stunned by the glory of Christ. I want us to love Jesus more than we ever have before.
This has been my experience as I’ve grown to understand how Jesus fulfills the story of the Bible. Jesus is my personal saviour, but He’s so much more than that. And the more I’ve seen that, the more I’ve seen His glory, and the more I’ve grown to love Him in ways I never have before.
And I want that to keep going, and I want us all to experience that. And so that’s been my prayer for us as a church as we head into these weeks: “Lord, let us see your glory. Holy Spirit, show us Christ. And leave us stunned.”
Would you join me in praying that for yourself and for your church in these coming weeks? I can’t imagine God would not want to answer that prayer.
The Lord’s Supper and Baptism
In terms of this morning, I can’t think of a better way to conclude our time than by what we’re about to do next, which is to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and then witness a baptism.
In the Lord’s Supper, we’ll celebrate that in Christ, the New Covenant has arrived. Full forgiveness for our sins has been secured once and for all by the sacrifice of Jesus.
In the Lord’s Supper we also look to the coming fullness of His kingdom. Jesus said that He wouldn’t drink of the fruit of the vine again until the kingdom of God had fully come (Luke 22:18). And so, as we eat and drink, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). We remember that the king has come, and shed His own blood to atone for our sins, and we proclaim that He is coming again.
And then, baptism. Baptism is such an important part of being a part of the kingdom of Christ. In Matthew 28, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [Do you hear the words of the king of the world there?] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations [do you hear the words of the Abrahamic covenant there?], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age [when the kingdom comes in it's fullness!]” (Matthew 28:18–20).
Baptism is the sign that we have entered the Kingdom of Jesus. It’s our citizenship ceremony. We get to witness one being baptized this morning and at least two others next week. And there’s probably not a better way for us to celebrate the kingdom this morning.