I want to talk to you about the coming kingdom. For us who know and trust Jesus, his return and the accompanying judgment is good news. It brings deliverance and with our Lord we pray, thy kingdom come. Because quite frankly we're running out of answers here. This world is in trouble.
As we begin this morning I'm compelled to share a small preamble, and this is dangerous because in our passage of study this morning there are a series of sermons, but in order for us to understand Jesus' statement in Luke 17 we must first understand the wider context. The primary purpose of the passage, and a reference to a story found in Genesis 19. All the while we don't want to lose sight of the bigger picture.
A very important hermeneutic as we seek to study and understand Scripture is to allow the Bible to be its own interpreter. To compare Scripture with Scripture. Luke 17 can easily be classed as part of the long line of apocalyptic literature. It is mysterious and profound all at the same time. This passage is not a group of isolated, random, disconnected stories, but rather it's Jesus artfully communicating his overriding purpose. That is, ushering in and establishing his kingdom. If we read between the lines, we see conflict, we see controversy between two opposing kingdoms. There is espionage, there's intrigue and intelligence and warfare.
To use another metaphor, Earth and its inhabitants are terminally ill. God prescribed a treatment plan and it's the only cure for healing, but sadly only a few are compliant. I believe we can trust God's good judgment to do what is necessary. To do that which is in our best good. To remedy the problems of sin here in our lives and in our world. After all, he is the ultimate caregiver. God is doing all that he can to restore us and to restore his world, but it appears that some will need to go under the knife. It seems that for the tragedy of Earth, the contagion of sin to be contained, there will need to be surgery. Radical, major surgery. With his holy presence, his glorious presence, he will cleanse the earth, restore his name and safeguard the universe.
Moving to our passage of study, Luke 19 we come to a pivotal verse in this sequence of stories. I'd like you to turn to Luke 17:20. Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom would come he answered them and said, 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 in your midst.
The question of the day then and now is, when is the kingdom coming? How will we know? What will be our heads up that the kingdom is coming? Jesus says to the Pharisees, the kingdom is not coming with signs to be observed, it's already here. The kingdom is right here in your midst, being evidenced all around you. Luke 17:1 to 19 share story after story of the evidence of the kingdom in their midst. The changes of their lives. He said to the Pharisees, are you blind? Can you not see? Have you no perception? Do you need a 2 by 4 over the head to get your attention? Do you need a clarion call from a trumpet?
But how do we understand the dichotomy, the discrepancy between Luke 17 and Matthew 24. Jesus has just said in Luke 17, the kingdom is not coming with signs. Matthew 24 the disciples asked, what will the signs be? And he gives a litany of things they were to look for. Obviously there are several ways to express the kingdom. There are two ways to describe the coming kingdom. Two aspects to the kingdom. The kingdom is both present and future. It's already, but it's not yet.
Theologians have described the kingdom, the dual aspect, as the kingdom of grace. The present reality in which we live, but also the kingdom of glory, our future hope. The kingdom of grace, Jesus came. He graced us with his presence, and it's made all the difference in our lives and in our world. The kingdom of grace is slowly dawning, imperceptibly almost, hearts are changing, lives are changing from the inside out. This is our present reality. We're thankful for that.
But the kingdom of glory is something that is future. It doesn't really come until Jesus comes literally and physically. The ultimate coming of the kingdom comes when Jesus comes. When in a twinkling of an eye, this mortal puts on immortality. Glorification is what we long for. When Jesus comes in all his glory.
Luke 17 blends the aspects of the kingdom. It's already, but it's not yet. It's present, but it's future. The kingdom is dawning. It's coming. It ebbs and flows in our personal lives and in the world around us. You have better weeks than others, don't you? The kingdom is coming. It's ebbing, it's flowing, but it's growing. Like the unrest in Libya. Muammar Kaddafi is on the run. He's being displaced.
The kingdoms of this world are being displaced as well. The devil is on the run, and it's a little uncertain, a little shaky just now during this anxious time, the kingdom of grace, but the kingdom of glory is coming. The ultimate coming and fruition and certainty of his coming is unquestioned. Undeniable.
Daniel 2 talks of the image. The kingdom. You recall? A stone is cut out without hands and it comes down and it strikes the image. It becomes a mountain and fills the whole Earth. The kingdom is coming. In revelation, the prophetic voice of God promises and it's as good as done. Revelation 11:15. The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he will reign for ever and ever. The kingdom is coming.
The question is, is it coming in you? Are you embracing kingdom principles and values? Jesus said the kingdom is in your midst. Jesus was right there with them. Wherever the King is, the kingdom is. As Jesus takes up residence within us, in our midst, our hearts, our priorities, our preferences, our interests change. The kingdom is not so much geographical as it is a clash of ideologies. It infiltrates. It goes behind enemy lines. It lodges in our minds, within us, within our hearts and minds. It's a slow, meticulous, intentional process of transformation. As ambassadors we plant the banner of the kingdom wherever we go when our behavior exhibits the love and grace of Jesus.
My last study with you was about the patient patriarch, Abraham. Today, enter Lot. His legacy was quite different. Decidedly different than Abraham. Lot lost his family. From him, two nations, bitter enemies of God's kingdom came. You remember the sordid relationship that he had with his daughter just a little while later. Sodom had affected Lot's family.
As we read further in Scripture, we come to the words of Jesus in Luke 17:32. Remember Lot's wife. The phrase has an ominous ring. With the expression a vivid picture comes to my mind. I can still visualize the picture roll as a child in my Sabbath school classroom. The crystalline statue depicting motion yet standing motionless. Feet going one way, head going another. She was poised to make a decision. I wonder how long that crystalline statue stood on those plains. A sentinel of warning. Her facial expressions etched in that moment of indecision. Frozen in time. Captured for all to see.
Can you sense the trauma she was having? Can you enter into the feelings that she must've had? She was leaving behind all that was near and dear to her. The luxurious home. The wealth that had taken a lifetime to put together. Some of her family. Her own flesh and blood. How is it that this devout pilgrim journey ended in such an abrupt tragedy.
Let's turn back the pages of time and hear the story. She once was a venturesome young woman. She left Mesopotamia with Abraham and Lot, his nephew. She had also heard the call of God, embarking on a journey to who knows where. She had traveled for years. Slept in a tent. Bore her children in a tent. Entertained in a tent. She had lived a nomadic life, roaming with the herd.
She was proud of Lot's choice, the well watered plains of Jordan. The convenience of the nearby city. It probably wasn't long before she was asking Lot, I would like to go to the market. I saw the caravan go by yesterday. It was heavily loaded and it came from the East, back from Haran and Ur. Can we go? Perhaps a little while later she made this request. Lot, there's so much to see and do in the city, could we move our tent just a little closer so we can be conveniently there? And finally, one day with all the charms of a woman she said, Lot, could we move to Sodom? Could you build me a real house so we can be like normal people? Finally they packed the tent. They moved, and the years passed by.
How exciting it had been for them to build their house. A real house like normal people. To have a place without the dust and the animals under feet. There were culinary skills to perfect. Children made close friends. There were music lessons and recitals. Finally the children began to marry and have their own families, and their own circle of friends. Lot's wife had gotten caught up in all those activities that make life.
Yes, some of their friends had changed and were questionable. The townspeople were getting a bit rowdy. Crime and violence had increased. Temptations, blatant and in-your-face. But like the proverbial frog, they grew accustomed to the warming water. Lot's family was caught up in the culture. They were changed rather than changing those around them.
They went to Sodom with great intentions. They intended to be pure and white as the lily in a dirty, filthy pond. Sodom had worsened gradually, and what to them was once a challenge or questionable, finally was just acceptable. What to Abraham would have been a glaring compromise to them they were indifferent. Sodoms culture slowly and insidiously changed them.
Do you suppose our culture could change us? Affect us? Are you immune to the culture, what's happening around you? We're dreaming if we think we are. What a few years ago may have been disgusting to us, today is routine and perhaps the humor on a sitcom TV program. Today it seems celebrities are trying to outdo themselves with the most outlandish behavior to get attention. If they've got it, they flaunt it.
I read in Patriarchs and Prophets, chapter 14. The Destruction of Sodom. It was a sobering, reflective read and I invite you to take a look at that sometime this week. On page 169 it says there, we should not needlessly expose ourselves to influences that are unfavorable to the formation of Christian character. Another. In choosing our home, be careful about the moral religious influences that will surround your family. That would include of course the environment inside the home. And what streams wirelessly to small or large screen display.
But back to our story. Wherever there are people, there are problems, and there certainly were a lot of people in Sodom. One evening Lot was out at the city gates catching the six o'clock news, and some strangers came in and Lot, following the example of Abraham, being hospitable, he invited them to his home. At first they declined. They were going to sleep in the streets. The city square. On a park bench perhaps. But they didn't know how rowdy these townspeople could get.
Lot finally persuaded them, and it's a good thing because as he expected a tumult broke out. It seems the whole neighborhood had gathered in his yard and there was a knock on his door. The story is recorded in Genesis 19. Let's look at verses 5 to 7. And they called to Lot and said to him, where are the men who came to you tonight. Bring them to us that we may have relations with them, but Lot went out to them at the doorway and shut the door behind him and said, please my brothers. Don't do this wicked thing. They pressed hard against Lot. Who made you a judge over us. You're just an alien. You're the new guy here. What are you telling us what to do for. They were about to break down the door when the two strangers, who happened to be two Angels, reached their hands out and pulled Lot back in, closed-door, and struck the crowd, the mob, with blindness.
Sodom didn't have much over San Francisco, or Las Vegas for that matter. These places were places of idleness, leisure, wealth, entertainment. Sometimes it seems like our society is headed in the same direction. Listening to the radio a few mornings ago, there was a Christian news service that said, Abercrombie and Fitch is not selling clothing. They're selling human anatomy. There's a current TV program. I hope you've missed it. It's called Desperate Housewives. They go for and they get whatever they want regardless of the collateral damage.
Satan, it seems, has repackaged and adulterated most of the good gifts of pleasure that God has given us. All the good that comes from God can be abused, can tend to obsess and lead to excess. Case in point. Do you live to eat, or eat to live? During the apostle Paul's day there were groups of people who were abusing life. In Philippians he said their destiny is destruction. Their God is their stomach, their glory is their shame, their mind is on earthly things. Pleasure is a wonderful gift from God but taken to extreme it can captivate us and enamor us, perhaps even more than God himself.
You've heard it said that if God doesn't come soon he's going to have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah. What a weird world this place is becoming. Same-sex marriage. It's a political hot button. Civil union, maybe. Call it a general partnership or an LLC, but not marriage. No! That's an oxymoron. Those words don't belong in the same sentence. God created and gifted us as male and female, and he brought Eve to Adam, not Steve.
Verse 12 reads this way. Then the men said to Lot, whom else have you here. A son-in-law, your son, your daughters. Whoever you have in the city bring them out of this place. Well Lot goes out under the cover of darkness and he talks with his family. But they don't receive it well. They look at him like he's jesting. You're joking right? Silly old man.
Verse 15 says that morning dawned and the Angels urged lot, up! get up! Take your wife and the two daughters that are here with you and leave the city, but he hesitated. He hesitated, and so the men seized Lot by the hand and Lot's wife by the hand and his two daughters by the hand. It says in verse 16, the compassion of the Lord was upon Lot and his family. God didn't want to give them up. It was hard for him to let them go. They were bewitched, bewildered, enraptured. There were two Angels with four hands and four people and it took each of their hands. Patriarchs and Prophets says, but for the Angels of God they would have perished in the ruin of Sodom. They were literally snatched from destruction.
Lot's wife was following, but you might say she went kicking and screaming. They dragged her almost against her will. God had called years before but the call had dimmed. The heart had changed. She had drifted. Notice verse 17. And it came about when they were brought outside the city that one said, escape for your lives. Do not look back. Do not stay in any place of the Valley. Escape to the mountains lest you be swept away. Hesitancy or delay at this point, even a lingering look back at their beautiful home and their flesh and blood would have cost their life.
And then we come to that famous notorious verse, verse 26. But his wife from behind him looked back and she became a pillar of salt. Remember Lot's wife, Jesus said. Picture her there. She is torn between trusting God and returning back to those things that had brought her comfort, security and pleasure.
This is also our story. The struggle that we personally experience is captured in the facial expression of that crystallized salt monument, standing as a sentinel in the plain. We all experience the pull to look back. The tendency to trust the personal hedge that we've placed around ourselves, rather than trusting God's hedge of provision and protection. We've felt the pull to embrace the here and now. To experience it. Her struggle is our struggle, and yet Scripture admonishes us, fix your eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen, because what is unseen is eternal. What is seen is temporary. If we only have the present, the here and now, then perhaps the hedonist philosophy makes more sense. Eat, drink, be merry, tomorrow we die. If, on the other hand, the here and now, what is seen is temporary, and that which is unseen is eternal, then we better recalibrate our lives.
In all likelihood, ancient Sodom is covered by sand and by the salty mineral encrusted Dead Sea. It's the lowest, deadest, most lifeless spot on earth. 1388 feet below sea level. How ironic that this ancient wicked city sunk perhaps the lowest in depths in selfish hoarding and pleasure seeking.
Back to Luke 17. The message in Luke 17 is found really in verse 17 of Genesis 19, where the warning is given. Escape. Do not stay anywhere in the Valley with the low life. Do not stay where you can be burned. Do not look back. Escape to the mountains. He calls us to higher ground. Less involvement with things around us, more involvement with the God who created us. Why did Jesus ask us to remember Lot's wife? He knew our tendency to be preoccupied with the here and now. With life and how busy it gets, to the exclusion of God.
It's interesting that in Luke 17 none of the sins of Sodom are mentioned. Only that they were going about their day-to-day lives, caught up in the race called life. No time to be still and know, truly enjoy the creator. To intentionally walk by the Spirit. To hear the whisper behind you, right? Turn to the right or the left. Sin is that which separates from God. That which separates relationships. Things good or bad.
If we are obsessed by what is important in our culture, it will shape us. God knows that what we admire changes us. What we worship shapes us. That's why he asks us to worship him. Not because he's a God who's stuck on himself and needs us to worship him, but rather he knows the principal, by beholding we are changed. If we worship anything other than him, it diminishes us. It draws us down lower. So God is not arbitrary in asking for our worship. He's wanting the very best for us. We were created in his image and for that image to be restored and safeguarded, we need to be worshiping him. God wants to be first place in our lives.
Let me close with this. You remember the ancient city of Pompeii in first century Italy. History has a way of repeating itself. Human nature has a tendency to flow through the generations. There had been rumblings for some time. The people had grown accustomed to these false alarms. These repeated occurrences. And then one day Vesuvius blew its top and lava moved towards the city's edge. Oozing into doorways, into windows, blocking any way of escape. Excavations show that the people were trapped almost in a place like in a place of time. They were going about the normal routines of life. The chores around the house. Sitting at the table with family. With looks of surprise and horror on their faces. One plaster cast depicts a lady who was running but looking backwards and in her hand is clutched a precious stone.
Attachment to things, earthly things, our treasures can lead to destruction. The stories of catastrophe that we have in Scripture, and incidents that happen around us in our world, not caused by God but because he is withdrawing his presence and Satan has more and more influence and right to people's lives. All these things that are happening around us, these calamities, almost afraid to turn on the news. All of these are like warning flags, red flags to get our attention. To help us focus more on what's important.
As it was in the days of Noah, as it was in the days of Lot, as it was in the days of the disciples before Jerusalem was destroyed, as it was in the days of Pompeii, as it is in our day, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. God is so gracious. So good. Through the Angels he reached out to Lot and his family. Please take hold. You've got to get out of here.
Most of us this weekend will reflect a little bit on September 11, 2001. 10 years ago, a decade ago now, our nation was caught up in chaos. There was smoke. There was fire. There was a blanket of dust and ash. The image of those towering inferno's have forever been indelibly placed in our minds. We think of those who escaped ground zero on 9/11. The firefighters. The rescue workers were anxious. They were reaching out. Hurry, take my hand. Let's get out of here. This building is going down.
In a similar way, God reaches his hand out to you and to me today. He asks us, why will you die? I take no delight in the destruction of the wicked. Escape. How can I give you up? How can I let you go? The great conflagration to some will be purifying. To others it will be destructive.
Very soon Jesus is going to come and he's going to establish his eternal, glorious kingdom, and if the kingdom is within you, if your heart and your mind and your life is being transformed, in that process of transformation you will not look back at what you've collected and gathered around you, you'll look up with joy and anticipation. Is your suitcase at the door? Are you peering out the window? Are you ready? Are you ready to go home?
Hymn of Praise: #11, The God of Abraham Praise Scripture: Luke 17:22-30 Hymn of Response: #625, Higher Ground
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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Steve Foster 10/14/11