Sunday, August 9, 2009

Divine Humility and Kingdom Power

Text: Mark 8:31 - 9:50
JESUS SAID, "I TELL YOU THE TRUTH, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power."

To see the kingdom of God come with power! What true disciple of Jesus Christ would not want to see that? Proud oppressors put down, wicked rulers toppled, the hungry fed, the righteous rewarded, justice done, and peace and brotherhood extended over all the earth. That certainly would be worth seeing, and not only seeing, it’s also something we’d like to participate in and get the benefit of.

But here it’s nearly two thousand years later and still we don’t see the kingdom of God come with power. The messed-up brokenness of this world seems to go on as it always has. We see poverty, unemployment, and oppression. We see elected officials deceiving the voters and neighbor cheating neighbor. We see a man willing to kill total strangers at a fitness center to get revenge for how life had treated him. The celebrities we admire turn out to be riddled with drugs and adulteries, and often our lives and the lives of our own families wouldn’t bear media scrutiny, either. So how could Jesus say that "some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power"? Did our Lord-- who is the Truth-- somehow slip up and say something that wasn’t true? Or is the problem with us, that we’re off track on what the kingdom of God really is?

When I was in seminary, one of my professors, R. T. France, taught us something about the kingdom of God that I’ve never forgotten, and I don’t want you to forget it, either: He said, "The kingdom of God is that state of affairs where God is Lord and King-- beginning with you and me." It’s worth saying again: "The kingdom of God is that state of affairs where God is Lord and King-- beginning with you and me." In the kingdom of God, God is absolute Ruler. In His kingdom, God gives all the orders and gets all the glory. Where God is King, those who willingly bow the knee to Him are raised to a right relationship with Him and a right relationship with one another. His subjects enjoy the benefits He gives, including joy and fulfillment and peace. Where God is king, justice, righteousness, and holiness prevail.

The Gospel of Mark is about the coming of God’s rulership. In chapter 1, verse 15, Jesus declares, "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" With every demon driven out, every healing performed, Jesus advanced the borders of the kingdom. The Kingdom was present, but not yet achieved its full power. We must understand: The kingdom of God is not something that one minute does not exist and the next minute, there it is in all its perfection! Rather, it comes in gradually, without our realizing it, then one day our eyes are opened and we recognize what God has been doing all along.

Jesus’ statement in chapter 9, verse 1 follows on from the events at the end of Chapter 8. You’ll remember that in 8:29, Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ. I don’t think we can fully grasp what that meant for the Jewish people in the 1st century. At Christmas we joyfully sing, "Come, Thou long-expected Jesus" and "O come, O come, Emmanuel," but for a 1st century Jew, those hymns would have been cries of hope and anguish. Please, Lord! Send your Messiah, your Christ! Save us now! We can’t take much more! So when Peter has said, "You are the Christ!" and Jesus accepts the title, you have to know what the disciples were thinking. "Ah, soon we make our move! The Messiah is here! God will send His angels, His faithful ones will fight, and the wicked oppressing ungodly unrighteous uncircumcised false-god-worshipping, Temple-desecrating Romans will be driven out by force! The kingdom of God will come with power!"

That’s how things are supposed to happen, right? In this world, that’s the way things have to happen. If conditions are bad, you have to take your pride and your confidence in your hands and stand up and fight. You have to be assertive and aggressive and speak up and struggle for what you need and deserve. And if you’re too weak to do it yourself, you call upon somebody else who can be assertive and aggressive and outspoken enough to get out there and fight and win for you.

But that’s not how it works with the kingdom of God. With the kingdom of God, our normal expectations are turned upside down. Jesus accepts the title of Messiah, warns the disciples not to tell, and begins to teach them to expect His crucifixion. No no no no no, Jesus! says Peter (and you know he was speaking for them all). This is no time for You to be talking about weakness and death! This is the time for glory and triumph and power! But Jesus rebukes Peter and says, "Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

For the kingdom of God to come, it had to come God’s way, through the suffering and resurrection of His Son. It had to come through the divine humility of Jesus Christ our Lord, who submitted to a shameful, unjust death to take the punishment for our sins. Jesus could never have sat down at the right hand of His Father in glory unless first He had taken His throne upon the cross. It’s Satan’s business to make us object to that, so we’ll uselessly spend our time and energies bringing in a human version of God’s kingdom in purely human ways. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to open our eyes and help us see things God’s way instead.

Jesus makes it clear: If we would be children of the kingdom, we must follow Him in His divine humility. We don’t live in a time and place where they execute people by crucifixion, but Jesus still calls us to deny ourselves and take up our crosses. He calls for our hearts to be so utterly dedicated to God that we’re willing to suffer injustice, shame, even torture and death for Jesus’ sake. We see the kingdom come in power when our own wills are crying out, "I want, I need, I gotta have, I wanna do!" and we submit to God’s rulership and do what He wants instead. Not by our own strength, but through trust in Him. The kingdom of God is that state of affairs where God is King, starting with you and me, but can be true for us only because first it was true for God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is His divine humility in saving us and redeeming us from our sins that makes it possible for us to submit to God’s rulership and see His kingdom come in this world.

Throughout Chapter 9 and into Chapter 10, our sovereign Lord causes things to happen to show us the Christlike humility His kingship demands. In verse 9, after the awesome experience of the Transfiguration, the Voice of God echoes from the cloud, "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!"

Listen to Jesus! Hear and obey His word! Let His voice drown out the conflicting demands of your flesh and this world. Let His will be your first priority and your greatest joy.

Then in verse 12, Jesus again mentions that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected. In divine humility the kingdom comes, and in no other way. Will you accept His death for your sake? It is the way of the kingdom.

In verse 14 and thereafter, Jesus and the three disciples come down from the mountain and encounter the crowd in conflict over the other disciples’ failure to drive a vicious demon out of a young boy. Mark tells us the teachers of the law were arguing with the other disciples. What about? Most likely, about who had the best technique or the best formula for driving out demons. About which of the two groups, the Pharisees or the Nazarenes, had the most power. But in verses 23 and 24, all Jesus demands from the father of the boy is the merest measure of faith. Not faith as a work or faith as human effort, but faith as total humility before Almighty God and total submission to His will. Jesus delivers the boy and afterwards, in verse 29, He tells his disciples that kind of demon can come out only by prayer. But what is prayer, true, honest, God-pleasing prayer? Again, it is our confession of our total dependency on His power and His will.

When we pray, is it to get God to do our will? Or is it for us to seek His will and to accept it when we know it? Where there is a prayerful, submitted heart, there is the kingdom of God.

Not easy, is it? It wasn’t easy for the disciples, either. Along the road to Capernaum, they reverted to the old human understanding of the kingdom of God as position and greatness and power. You have to wonder if Peter, James, and John hadn’t been a little proud of themselves for having seen what they saw on the mountain. But once they all returned to home base, Jesus reminded them of what the coming of God’s kingdom was all about. "Sitting down," Mark tells us, "Jesus said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.’" It is humility that gives us our place in the kingdom of God! The little child Jesus calls to Him is a walking parable of that truth. Not because children are intrinsically good or innocent, but rather that in that culture in particular, children were not esteemed. They were helpless and humble and dependent as Jesus was when He hung on Calvary’s cross, with only faith in His heavenly Father to tell Him that He would be raised to life on the third day. And we see the kingdom of God come in power when our hearts are disciplined to trust God for all our needs, when we are content to be humbled and even humiliated in this world, providing God will get the glory.

Then the disciples object that some other man, not of their group, was driving out demons in Jesus name. John reports that he told the man to stop. But Jesus says no, "whoever is not against us is for us," and "I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward." Our group pride is meaningless in the sight of God. Rather, His favor hinges on and revolves around Jesus Christ. This teaching of our Lord would find greater fulfillment after He ascended into heaven, when the Gentiles began to believe in Him and the Jewish believers had to come to terms with the fact that belonging to Christ didn’t mean joining a Jewish club.

Can we do that? Can we judge only by the measure of Christ and stop drawing lines according to whether someone is inside or outside our particular group? When we do, there is the kingdom of God come in power.

And in verses 42 and following, Jesus impresses on us our critical responsibility for the spiritual well-being of others, especially those who are young in years or young in the faith. There are many ways that spiritual pride can cause us to do things that could lead the weaker brother or sister astray. Is the kingdom of God come in us to the extent that we give up our freedom for the sake of others? And Jesus says, "It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell." There’s more to this teaching than hands and feet and eyes! What is precious to you in this world? What is dearer to you beyond anything else? Your health? Your financial security? Your relationships? Your good name? Jesus says, if any of these things causes you to sin, if any of these good things separate you from God and prevent you from submitting to His kingdom rule, end it. Cut it off. No good thing on this earth can compare with the glory of God’s perfect rulership over you, and no earthly loss, however painful, can be in any way as bad as the agony of hell, the eternal pain of knowing you’ve missed His glorious kingdom for ever.

How does the kingdom of God come in power? Against all the expectations of this world, it comes in weakness and humility. It comes through the cross of Christ and His humbling, saving, pride-purging work on our behalf. The kingdom of God certainly will bring justice and liberation and prosperity and joy. It will bring it, because all creation will be in submission to Christ as King. Pray that God will humble your pride, lest you remain in rebellion and sin and know His kingship only from the depths of hell. Pray He will give you faith to trust and grace to submit to Him in holy joy, that you may know the height and depth and width of the blessings of His rulership.

By Christ’s divine humility, God’s kingdom will come perfectly in power. Blessed were the eyes who saw its coming in the days when Jesus walked this earth. In our time, may He grant us eyes to see and hearts to proclaim His glory alone, now and forever, amen.

No comments: