Week One: “The Kingdom of God is Near”
Key Scriptures: Matthew 6:10 and 6:33
The Kingdom of God: More than Heaven; more than the Church
Imagine this: What if the good news of the gospel is even better than you thought it was? It is! The good news of the gospel is far greater, more expansive, and covers so much more than you ever imagined. This week we begin a four-week journey of discovering the “Gospel of the Kingdom of God.”
You might be thinking, “I know the gospel. I’ve heard the gospel. I’ve accepted the gospel.” That’s great! Because together, we are about to discuss that this good news reaches more deeply into our lives when we might think possible. This good news gives us a vision of how to live our lives day by day. This gospel of the Kingdom of God not only gives us the assurance of salvation through Jesus Christ and the promise of eternal life, it is also God’s radical plan to change lives here and now; it’s the Father’s way of growing us into mature followers of Jesus Christ. Over the years so many of us have only understood only a small part of the gospel, that is: the promise of salvation in Jesus and the assurance of living with God forever. To be sure, these things are definitely part of the gospel! But our generous, loving God has done far more than we have imagined, and that’s the purpose of this four-week series.
And if you are here today because you are exploring the claims of Jesus, or because you are curious as to what following Jesus is all about, well then: welcome! You’ve picked a great day to be here because you’ll hear that the good news of God’s kingdom is available for you, today!
In this first week I would like to share with you how Jesus understood—and preached—the gospel. This week we will examine Biblical texts from all four Gospels to discover the depth of the good news He proclaimed. Next week we will discover how the gospel presents the very real possibility of life-change for us right here, right now: before we die and go to heaven. In week three we will look at how the gospel of the kingdom of God was originally revealed in the Old Testament. And finally, in week four we will learn that the gospel presents a grand picture of a wonderful future. By the end of these four weeks perhaps we can see that the gospel is a more practical (and more life-changing) than we have ever imagined.
Let’s get started.
The first four books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) tell us about the life and teachings of Jesus. Each gospel also describes his death and resurrection. We call these books “gospels” because they contain the good news about Jesus. That’s what “gospel” means: good news. But what, exactly, is this good news? It’s communicated in this phrase: “the Kingdom of God is near.” John the Baptist preached this message
(Matthew 3:1-2) and Jesus began his ministry with this message as well: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”
(Mark 1:14-15) ‘After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” ‘
In fact, this is one way Jesus characterized his mission:
(Luke 4:43) “But he said, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’”
So here we see, early in each of these gospels, that the good news is the proclamation that God’s kingdom has come near to people. Other translations use phrases like “the kingdom of God is at hand.” Or, “the kingdom of God is breaking in.” Jesus was announcing that the Father’s reign was coming close—it was previously far away and now was coming near!
So: let’s try to understand what this kingdom is all about: we take the Lordship of Christ seriously God’s will is done God’s way, among God’s people. Early in his ministry Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. We find this great sermon in Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5, 6, and 7. It’s a message targeted to his disciples (see 5:1). Notice how prominently Jesus mentions God’s kingdom: he talks about the kingdom eight times in his sermon! Let’s look at the two central examples from the Sermon on the Mount. As part of the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught us to pray,
“Let your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)
Jesus instructed his disciples to pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, and then He explained what it would look like: God’s will being done “on earth as it is in heaven.” This is so important! Jesus is telling us that God’s kingdom is not a physical kingdom. It does not have political boundaries or borders. It is not found in one single location, but it is found wherever God’s will is done on earth, just as it is in heaven. Let’s try to imagine how God’s will is done in heaven. Do you think that in heaven people lie to one another? Or try to hurt one another? Do you think in heaven people are afraid about their future? No! Because God rules in heaven there is peace and harmony between people and there is no fear or anxiety about who is in control—God is! Part of the good news from Jesus is that it is possible to live here, on earth, in peace and harmony, free from fear or anxiety. In fact, Jesus is instructing his disciples to pray that this will become a reality. The reality of God’s kingdom should first be demonstrated among God’s people. That’s why Jesus instructs us—his disciples—to pray for this very thing in our lives.
This is very important. Some people think that this part of the Lord’s Prayer is simply like praying for world peace. But the rest of the Lord’s Prayer is about our everyday lives: “give us our daily bread; forgive us our sins; lead us not into temptation; deliver us from evil.” Of course, we should pray for world peace (it’s a good thing!) But Jesus is instructing his followers to pray that God’s kingdom would become an everyday reality in their everyday lives.
Let’s look at another mention of God’s kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount (remember, the Lord mentions God’s kingdom eight times in this sermon, but we are only examining the two mentions that come right in the middle of the sermon). In Matthew 6:33, Jesus tells us we should not worry about what we will eat or drink, nor should we worry about what we will wear, but we should seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and everything else we will take care of itself:
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
By looking at these two verses together we can see that Jesus instructs us to pray fervently for God’s kingdom to become a reality in our lives, and that God’s kingdom should be our highest priority.
The kingdom of God is not a physical place, but it’s a spiritual realm. The kingdom of God is the place where God rules. If God rules your heart, then that’s were you find the kingdom of God, in your heart.
Now, perhaps you thought that Jesus only preached about forgiveness or about the need to be born again. He certainly does talk about these things, and they are very important—vital, even. But the new birth is the entryway into God’s kingdom. Jesus talks about God’s kingdom far more than he talks about what we call “salvation.” In the four Gospels Jesus uses the words “salvation” or “saved” 23 times. Yet Jesus mentions God’s kingdom nearly 120 times! This does not mean that being born-again is unimportant, no! In John chapter 3 Jesus tells Nicodemus that we cannot not enter the kingdom of God unless we are born again. So the new birth in Christ is our entryway into God’s kingdom. Remember: his kingdom has no borders and no boundaries. It’s not political or social— it’s about God’s will being done God’s way, among God’s people. The result is righteousness, peace, and joy (Romans 14:17).
Romans 14:17 “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,…”
His kingdom brings the peace and order of Heaven into our everyday lives. Who doesn’t want peace? But the way to peace, real peace, is new birth in Jesus Christ. It’s the starting point. The reason why the good news is better then you first thought it was is that the new birth opens the possibility of living in God’s kingdom here and now, as well as after we die and go to heaven.
Many of us think that the gospel is only about going to heaven when you die. And we are promised eternal life in Jesus Christ, but the gospel is also about learning a new way to the live: God’s way. And the result of living in God’s kingdom is that a little bit of heaven begins to break into our everyday lives here and now. That’s why Jesus began his ministry by saying the kingdom of heaven is “close at hand.” He wasn’t trying to say God’s kingdom was going to take over the earth once and for all. He was trying to say that God’s kingdom finds its home in the hearts of God’s people, if we will only receive him through the new birth, and learn to live as subjects of Jesus, the king. That’s why being born from above is so important. It’s the starting point. We cannot live fully as subjects of King Jesus apart from his grace and mercy, apart from his Spirit living in us. Still, so many people have limited the gospel to mean only going to heaven when we die. The gospel is so much bigger! The gospel presents the good news that we can live heavily lives here and now. Not that we will be perfect, but that heaven is being worked into us little by little, day by day, as we follow Jesus. Living Kingdom lives requires that we be born again. No matter how hard we try our own efforts we will never reflect the goodness and the mercy of Heaven. But the same grace that saves us can also transform us. (Or at least begin to transform us as we walk with Jesus.) This is good news!
Do you think that our heavenly father will force us to wait until we have died in order to receive the benefits of becoming God’s children? Not at all! First his grace gives us the assurance of life in heaven; then that same grace works the life of Heaven into us day by day.
Now that we’ve discovered how important the kingdom of God is to the good news Jesus preached, let’s just take a moment or two to clear up a few misconceptions about the kingdom of God.
First of all we should not confuse the kingdom of God with heaven. God’s kingdom includes heaven, of course, but God’s kingdom is so much larger. Remember: the Kingdom of God is anywhere that God’s will is being done God’s way. It’s where the king has dominion. That’s how we get the word, “kingdom:” it’s a combination of the two words, king and dominion. So it’s true that God rules in Heaven, but he also rules in the hearts of his people. This is an important distinction, because if we think “the kingdom of God” means only “Heaven,” we will think that everything Jesus said how about the gospel of the kingdom is for some future time after we die. But Jesus said that God’s kingdom is breaking into the here and now, or at least beginning to, so the kingdom is more than Heaven.
Second, the kingdom of God is not the same thing as the church. It’s true that the Bible describes the church as “the bride of Christ.” And the church has a very special place in God’s heart. But sadly there are many churches were God’s will is not done God’s way. That’s okay: churches are filled with imperfect people and the church is where imperfect people worship God together. But God’s kingdom is so much bigger then the church, so the kingdom is more than the church.
Matthew 12:46-50 “While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Perhaps the best way to understand the kingdom of God is the passage given to us by the Apostle Paul in Romans 14:17 it says, “The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Wherever people relate rightly to God, wherever there is the peace of God, and wherever there is the joy of our salvation, that’s where the kingdom of God is.
This means we can discover the kingdom of God in some surprising places! One great Old Testament example comes from the book of Daniel. Daniel was the servant of God who lived in exile, in Babylon, far away from Jerusalem. And yet Daniel’s life was characterized by righteousness, peace, and joy. Daniel’s life and ministry was an outpost of God’s kingdom. This should give us all hope that we can be ambassadors of God’s great kingdom. If Daniel lived in harmony with God in strange and foreign land, we can do the same at our work, school, or wherever God has planted us.
You can find God’s kingdom in unusual places. For example, in a prison Bible study, where convicted criminals who have surrendered to Jesus live in prison doing God’s will God’s way day by day. Or you can discover God’s kingdom among a playgroup of young mothers and their children. While the children play, godly women support and encourage one another as they live lives in right relationship, peace, and joy. In offices and workplaces everywhere you can discover the presence of the King in the hearts of his people. And yes, on Sunday morning at church you can discover the group of imperfect people who have come together to try to learn to do God’s will, God’s way, for God’s sake.
This great kingdom is what we will study in the coming weeks. God’s kingdom is not owned by any one culture, or any one denomination. God’s kingdom exists wherever Jesus, the king, has dominion in the hearts and minds and lives of his followers. It means that the kingdom of God can sneak in anywhere and can operate in any environment. And that’s good news, too! I invite you to join me on this journey of discovering God’s kingdom.
And the very first step is to be born from above: to receive God’s free gracious gift of forgiveness in Christ Jesus; and to surrender your heart to him. Perhaps you came here today and you have never made the first step, which is to be born from above by the Spirit of God. Jesus said we cannot see or enter God’s kingdom without being born from above. Perhaps today is your day to be born into a brand new kingdom!