************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 37 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 15, 2020
Belgic Confession Article 37 (#2)
"The Kingdom of God"
I The Coming King and Kingdom
A King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. He dreamt of a statue -- an enormous, dazzling statue. Its head was made of gold, its chest of silver, its belly of bronze, its legs of iron, and its feet of iron and clay. He also dreamt of a rock, a rock cut out but not by human hands. It struck the statue and smashed it. The rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.
What is the meaning of the statue? Daniel interpreted the dream for the king and said the statue represents different kings and kingdoms that will arise and rule over the whole earth. What is the meaning of the rock? Daniel said,
(Dan 2:44) "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever."
In a later vision Daniel is shown that associated with this Kingdom of God is a Son of Man, the Messiah:
(Dan 7:14) He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
A coming King and Kingdom -- that's the promise of God to Daniel and the people of Israel. Sometime in the future the Messiah will come and His Kingdom will be established.
B The Messiah and Messianic Kingdom. This is what every Jewish child of God was hoping, praying, and waiting for. For when the Messiah comes and establishes His Kingdom all that is wrong in our world will be set right. God's people will be set free from oppressors. The rich will no longer tyrannize the poor. The lame will begin to leap and jump and dance. The blind will see a world of vivid color. The deaf will listen to the songs of birds and the music of harps. The deserts of Israel will be turned into fragrant gardens. Swords and spears will be hammered into plows and hoes. Enemies will become friends. Jerusalem will be at the center of the world, and all the kings and rulers of the earth will come there to worship Israel's God. When the Messiah comes all will be perfection and beauty and all that is imperfect and blemished will be banished.
C Imagine the excitement created, then, when John the Baptist announced, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Mt 3:2). And Jesus generated even more excitement when He went a step further and announced, "The time has come ... The kingdom of God is near" (Mk 1:15).
Today we continue our study of the doctrine of the last things. In doing this study we need to spend some time looking at the Kingdom of God. You see, in thinking of the future we, like the Old Testament believer, need to think of the Kingdom of God and its King.
II Kingdom: Present and Future
A What is the Kingdom? It is the rule of King Jesus in which He acts to bring history and all of the universe to a state of perfection so that God is all-in-all.
Billy Graham writes there is an inscription on the walls of the Library of Congress which few people know about. It says: "One far-off divine event toward which the whole creation moves." A visitor saw this inscription and asked the guide what it meant. He said: "I think it refers to the second coming of Christ." When the Library of Congress was erected, some God-fearing official ordered that inscription to be etched in the dome of our seat of government, believing that its truth was vital to the concern of our nation.That inscription hits the nail on the head. In or through the Kingdom, God is moving all of creation, all of history (including the history of our country), to a far-off event, to a glorious conclusion.
We can't help but observe that there are at least two kingdom differences between God's ways and ours. First, God -- not man -- is in control. We have all heard of the Tower of Babel. Probably it was a ziggurat. In Mesopotamia some 2000 years before Christ, the landscape was dotted with ziggurats. They were built in layers like squared-off wedding cakes. They supported stone stairways that led toward heaven. Archaeologists tell us that the steps of the stairways were too high for human use. Instead, they were designed for the gods. At the top of the ziggurat was a small shrine, at the bottom a larger temple. The shrine at the top represented the heavenly dwelling of the god. Man believed he had to build the ziggurats so the god or gods could visit the temple below and be involved in the affairs of mankind. In establishing His Kingdom, God does the opposite of man at the Tower of Babel. He involves Himself in the affairs of man and directs the history of the universe apart from man's help.
Though sinful man thinks he needs to build a stairway from heaven, in many or even most of the pagan religions, man also tries to climb the slow, painful road to perfection and join himself to the divine being. We find this among the Greeks, Hindus, and Buddhists. In the Buddhist faith, for instance, the successful practitioner keeps being reincarnated at higher planes or levels of being until finally he attains Nirvana and becomes one with the divine. The Kingdom of God is not man's upward climb to perfection but God's breaking into human history to establish His reign and advance His purposes.
B To a certain extent we can say that the Kingdom of God is already present today. After all, Jesus did ascend to heaven where He is seated at the right hand of God and has Kingdom, power, and glory.
And, there are many signs that the Kingdom is already present with us. One such sign is the casting out of demons. When Jesus does this, He shows He has gained a victory over the powers of evil, and that therefore the Kingdom of God has come.
(Mt 12:28) But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
Another such sign is the performance of miracles. John the Baptist is in prison. He hears about Christ's teaching and miracles and wonders if He is the Messiah. So he sent his disciples to ask, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"
(Mt 11:4-5) Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: (5) The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised ..."The miracles of Christ indicate that the Kingdom is present.
Another sign, even more important than miracles or exorcisms, is the preaching of the gospel. It is no accident that in His reply to John the Baptist, the final and climatic sign which shows that Christ is the Messiah and that the Kingdom has truly come is this: "the good news is preached to the poor" (Mt 11:5).
A final sign of the presence of the Kingdom is the forgiveness of sin. In the Old Testament prophets, the forgiveness of sin was predicted as one of the blessings of the coming Messianic Age (Is 33:24; Jer 31:34; Mic 7:18-20; Zech 13:1). When Jesus came, He not only preached forgiveness but actually gave forgiveness.
Can there be any doubt that the Messianic Kingdom has already come? What the Old Testament believers could only wait and watch and hope and pray for is a reality for us because of the coming of Christ.
C At the same time, we have to say that the Kingdom is also future; that it is something we are still looking forward to. For instance, if the Kingdom is fully here then Satan would no longer be active and there would no longer be conflict between good and evil. And while it is true that through the ministry of Jesus the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the dead are raised, it is also true that they all still die. In other words, the Kingdom is present, but not yet fully present. The future is here but not yet fully here.
III Response to the Kingdom
A The Kingdom is present and the Kingdom is future. The Kingdom is already and the Kingdom is not yet. We have the Kingdom and we look forward to the Kingdom. What does this mean for us today? What are the implications of this?
First of all, the church lives in a state of tension, of conflict, between the present age and the age to come. We are caught up in the time between the two comings of the Lord. We have experienced the victory of the Kingdom of the King; and yet, like all other men, we are at the mercy of the powers of this world. We are in the world but not of this world. We belong to the King and are part of His Kingdom of light, and yet we must live and work in a world infested by the darkness of sin. We must plan and work and look for a future while living on an earth which may last a long time.
I've told you before about the difference between D-Day and V-Day. D-Day (June 6, 1944) is the day the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy during World War II. When the Allies were able to establish and keep their beachhead most people realized the Nazis had lost the war even though the war did not officially end until V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day) almost a year later (May 8, 1945). Between D-Day and V-E Day many battles were fought and many soldiers were wounded or killed.
For the Christian, D-Day has already come. On Good Friday and Easter Sunday we know that Satan already lost the war but the war does not officially end until V-Day, the day of Christ's return. Between D-Day and V-Day many battles continue to be fought and many soldiers continue to be wounded. We are caught in the tension between D-Day and V-Day. We know the war has already been won yet we continue to do battle with Satan and the forces of sin and evil and darkness.
Not a day goes by that we don't experience this tension. We want to live as law-abiding citizens of the Kingdom, as obedient subjects of the King, it is even our full intention to live this way, yet we find ourselves being unlawful and disobedient. We do not do what we want to do; instead, what we don't want to do, that is what we end up doing (cf Rom 7:7-24). Furthermore, the Kingdom means righteousness, joy, peace, perfection (Rom 14:17). But our day-to-day experience is sickness, death, weakness, imperfection, and struggle. And, we are to be heavenly-minded but most of our thoughts end up being centered on earthly things. Yes, everyday we live the tension between the already and not yet of the King and His Kingdom. We are caught up, I say, in the tension between the present and the future, between D-Day and V-Day.
B Second, we must urgently carry out the church's mission because we know the King has come and some day will come again. In talking about the Messiah, John the Baptist declared that He would be both "gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Mt 3:12). Up to this point in time we have seen the gathering but not the burning. Someday, congration, the burning will take place.
Do we want men to be gathered or to be burned? Think about fellow workers, neighbors, friends, even family members -- do you want them to be gathered or to be burned? We are being reminded that it is either the one or the other. And it is our job, our calling, to be used of the Lord to gather them in before it is too late. As Paul puts it, "now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor 6:2). That's why, in the words of our text, Jesus said, "The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news." So now is the time for all men to repent and believe. But after Christ comes again there is no more time to repent and believe; instead, there is only punishment and death for the unbelieving. Knowing this the church goes out into the world and urgently implores men to repent and believe before it is too late.
A famous rabbi was asked, "Rabbi, when should a man repent?" The rabbi calmly replied, "You should be sure you repent on the last day of your life." "But," protested several of his disciples, "we can never be sure which day will be the last day of our life." The famous rabbi smiled and said, "Exactly. So repent now." Therefore we implore all men on Christ's behalf to be reconciled to God now, right now, before it is too late.
C Third, living as a citizen of the Kingdom while in this world demands nothing less than total commitment. As Christians, our interests must be subservient to our King. Anything that jeopardizes our service for the King of kings must be identified and treated as a lower priority. Anyone who lives for King Jesus while in this sinful world must center his or her life on Christ alone. We must seek first the Kingdom and its righteousness, trusting that if we do so, all other things that we need will be given to us (Mt 6:33). We must be willing to give up all that we have to obtain the Kingdom's riches (Mt 13:44-45). In order to remain in the Kingdom, we must be ready to pluck out our eye and cut off our hand if they cause us to sin (Mt 5:29-30). We must be willing to forsake father, mother, brother, sister, even our own lives, for the sake of the Kingdom (Lk 14:33).
The King has come; the King is coming. The Kingdom is already; the Kingdom is not yet. We must never forget this as we study the end times.
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