On Thursday 18th September the people of Scotland will decide whether they want to remain in the United Kingdom. They will vote in a referendum to decide whether to continue a 300 year old political union with England and Wales, or go their own way. The independence vote pitches Alec Salmond and his Scottish National Party against Alistair Darling and the Better Together Campaign. Over recent months it seems that the opinion polls have got closer and closer, and the result this September is increasingly hard to call. It would seem that the United Kingdom has an uncertain future and, whatever the result, has been shown to be rather weak and fragile.
In our Bible reading today, however, we hear of a kingdom that is very different. A kingdom that is strong and secure, not fragile. A kingdom whose future is assured, not uncertain. A kingdom that is expanding to the ends of the earth, not about to break apart. That kingdom is, of course, God’s Kingdom.
As we look at our reading from Acts chapter 1 this morning we will encounter the king of God’s kingdom; we will see the character of God’s kingdom; and, thirdly, we will discover our personal role in God’s Kingdom.
But before I go any further, let’s pray: Father God, help us all to understand our Bible reading today. May we all hear you speaking through it, and may both our heads and our hearts be moved. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.
- The King of God’s kingdom…
Our passage today comes from the first chapter of the book of Acts. But as we look at verse 1 of chapter 1 it is immediately clear that Acts is the second book in a series. Because the author writes that “in my former book Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach”.
Bible scholars all agree that the Book of Acts is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke, much like The Empire Strikes Back is the sequel to Star Wars, or like Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets comes after The Philosopher’s Stone. Except that both Luke’s Gospel and Acts are history, not science-fiction. They were both written by a doctor called Luke, and tell the full story of the birth of Christianity. Taken together, they take us from the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to the spread of churches right across foreign lands. That’s why in our sermon series this month we are looking at Luke chapter 24 and Acts chapter 1. They are both part of the same story, and both have Christ as their most important character. To be precise, they both portray Christ as the King of God’s kingdom.
We only need to look at verses 2 to 5 of our passage today to remind ourselves why Jesus is so special. Luke reminds us that Jesus suffered and died on a cross, and then rose again. The Risen Jesus “showed himself” to people “over a period of forty days”. During this period he gave “many convincing proofs that he was alive” and “spoke about the kingdom of God”. Two weeks ago we looked at Jesus’ appearance to two people on the road to Emmaus, and last week we reviewed some of the evidence for his resurrection that Jesus gave to his disciples in Jerusalem. Luke wants us to be in no doubt that Jesus is alive and has been taken up to Heaven, from where he now rules at his Father’s right-hand side.
You see, Jesus was – and is – the king of God’s kingdom. He occupies the most powerful position in the universe, outstripping every president, prime minister and parliament. So it’s no wonder verse 6 tells us that Jesus’ closest friends called him “Lord” on the last occasion that they saw him. They recognised that Christ was really God’s Son, he really was their risen Lord and Saviour. He really had become the king of God’s kingdom.
- The Character of God’s kingdom…
But what exactly is the kingdom of God? What is this kingdom that Jesus rules? Don’t worry if it sounds a bit confusing and hard to understand, because it seems his first friends were confused too!
Listen to what Jesus’ friends ask him in verse 6: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” It seems they expected Jesus to immediately make himself a king on earth. It looks like they expected Jesus, right there and then, to throw out the Roman army and make himself the ruler of a country called Israel.
But the disciples were mistaken. They had misunderstood what kind of king Jesus was, and didn’t understand what the kingdom of God is really like. They had got things wrong and needed Jesus’s help, and so do we. We all need God’s Son to explain to us what God’s Kingdom is all about.
Let me read Jesus’ words in verse 7, before I try to explain them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” By using these words, Jesus was correcting the disciples understanding of God’s Kingdom. He was trying to tell them (and us) what God’s Kingdom is really like.
Firstly, God’s Kingdom is spiritual not political. We enter God’s kingdom not by entering a specific country or territory, but by letting Jesus take charge of our lives. We enter God’s kingdom not by showing our passport as we pass a border post, but by turning from sin and asking Jesus to be our Lord and Saviour. So the disciples were wrong to think that Jesus would set up an earthly, political kingdom in Palestine. The truth is that Jesus is king wherever people trust him and follow him.
Secondly, God’s Kingdom is global not national. The disciples were wrong to think that Jesus was only interested in Israel and the Jewish people. In actual fact, Jesus tells them that people from every nation on earth can enter God’s Kingdom. Jesus tells them that he wants them to take the Gospel message from Israel and on to the ends of the earth. Wherever people live, from Israel to Iceland, from Ghana to Gidea Park, everyone is invited to enter God’s kingdom by putting their faith in Christ.
Thirdly and finally, God’s Kingdom has come but is not yet complete. The disciples thought Jesus was about to immediately set up God’s Kingdom in all its glory. But Jesus tells them that they – and us – need to wait for God’s Kingdom to arrive in its fullest sense. One day in the future, at a time God the Father has set, the Kingdom of God will come to completion. The Bible tells us that one wonderful day God’s kingdom will finally be finished. On that great day every Christian, every citizen of God’s Kingdom, will enjoy eternal life in a new creation. A new creation with no more disease, death or decay. A day every Christian can look forward to, a day when we will see God and be with him forever!
- Our role in God’s Kingdom: Faith and Mission
So Jesus wanted his disciples to know that the kingdom of God is spiritual not political. That it is global not national. And that it has come but is not yet complete. But the obvious question is: What’s it all got to do with us? Where do you and I fit in? Where does St.Michael’s Gidea Park come in God’s great kingdom plan? So before I finish this morning, I want to leave us with two applications for ourselves. I want to leave us with two reasons why this is all very relevant to ourselves. (So if you are sitting comfortably, here goes!)
Firstly, and most importantly, we all need to make sure that we are personally citizens of God’s kingdom. Each of us needs to make sure that we have made Jesus our King and are ready to enjoy God’s glorious new creation. In other words, we all need to make sure that we have said sorry to God for our past, turned to Jesus for forgiveness, and asked the Holy Spirit’s help to follow Jesus in future. Jesus has promised that he will never turn away anyone who comes to him.
So if you are here this morning have never before come to Christ, why not do so today? And if you are not yet sure where you stand with God, do come and speak to me to find out more, or simply come here each week to discover more about the Christian faith. We’d love to see you here again.
Many of us here, however, will have been Christians for some time. If that’s you, then Jesus has a job for us! It’s the same job he gave to his disciples in our Bible passage this morning. Our job is to tell the world about the kingdom of God. Our mission at St. Michael’s is to help carry the good news about Jesus to everyone in Gidea Park. Jesus wants us to invite other people to make him their king.
With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can all do this by sharing our faith with our family, friends and colleagues. Or by inviting our neighbours to events here at church. For example, in September we shall be holding a mission weekend here full of fun events, followed by a weekly course that will give people the opportunity to explore the Christian faith for themselves. Why not start thinking and praying now about who you could invite?
As I finish this morning, there may be one final question in your minds. If God’s kingdom is going to be so great and glorious when it is complete, why is God waiting to finish the job? Why doesn’t God make everything new right now? What’s stopping him getting rid of sin and suffering today?
The answer in the Bible is that God is being patient. God is patiently waiting for the maximum number of people to enter his Kingdom before he draws this world to a close. God is waiting for a great multitude of people to make Jesus their Lord and Saviour, Master and King. He doesn’t want anyone to miss out on his kingdom to come. So if you want to make sure God’s kingdom comes quickly, please turn to Christ yourself and play your part in taking the good news to all in Gidea Park.