Twenty three years ago I loaded up my small car with clothes, books and some of my other prize possessions and began the long drive to Seminary out in Manitoba. I didn’t intend to stay out there very long. My hope was to get my degree and find a position in ministry somewhere near my home. That didn’t happen. I ended up living within 120 miles of Winnipeg for the next 19 years in Dauphin, Moosehorn and Kenora. When I left home, I was unaware of the adjustments I would have to make when I became a resident of that area. After all, I wasn’t going to a foreign country. I was simply going to another province. Yet the differences I encountered were remarkable. The differences ranged from different rules regarding auto insurance to the politics to the way people think. In many ways, I felt like an immigrant in my own country. I even committed some faux pas because I thought that things out there were the same as here. When I first got out there I planned to visit my aunt in Gimli. I was staying with some friends in a place called Steinbeck, about 100 miles from Gimli. I needed to call my aunt but I didn’t have her number. My friends just said to look in their phone book. I didn’t realize that all of Manitoba needed only one phone book. Here, the Kitchener area had its own phone book. Toronto had its own phone book and so on. I assumed with the large distance between Gimli and Steinbach that there was no way my aunt’s number would be in their book so I called directory assistance instead and paid my friends the fee it cost them. I felt rather foolish to find out my aunt’s number was in the phone book. Now that’s something small and I realize that some of you really know what it is like to be an immigrant. You had to learn so many new things to build a life here in Canada including learning an entirely new language and culture. You understand that in order to successfully immigrate to a new place we must change the way that we think and even act. Many of you, if you don’t know it first hand, have listened to your parents or grandparents tell you what it was like to immigrate. You know that to move from one kingdom to another we have to adjust our attitudes, behaviours and even beliefs to be more in line with the New Kingdom.
That is why John the Baptist said when he began his ministry preaching in the desert of Judea:
2 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
John was the forerunner of Jesus. He knew that the coming of Jesus Christ meant that God was inaugurating His Kingdom - a kingdom radically different than the kingdoms of this world. John called people to prepare themselves to enter this new kingdom.
I. This new Kingdom has different values than the kingdom of this world.
I mean, that’s why there are teachings of Jesus that are difficult to accept-they go against the values of this world. I mean, look at some of the Beatitudes:
Mt 5:3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mt 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Mt 5:5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Mt 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mt 5:11 "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
I know when I first read these, they didn’t make much sense. I mean, aren’t those who are RICH in spirit blessed? Aren’t those who are happy the ones the world sees as blessed? The world thinks meek means weak. Aren’t those who are strong and powerful enough to make things go their way the ones who are blessed? And what about this stuff about persecution and bearing slander? These are not the things the world values.
Here’s some more:
38 ¶ "You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5)
It is easy to look at this and think, “Jesus, You’ve got to be kidding!”
Oh, and here’s a biggie:
43 ¶ "You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
This is radical stuff that Jesus is saying here. These are teachings that are hard to accept. But they are things that are valued in the Kingdom of God. Being part of the kingdom of God involves valuing what God values such as righteousness, Forgiveness, Mercy, Love and Peace.
II. To prepare ourselves for the Kingdom of God involves adopting its values as our own.
It is no accident that John called people to repent to prepare for the coming Kingdom of God.
In his call to repentance he called people to leave the values of this world behind and embrace the values of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Notice how John was calling people to turn from sin. In doing that, he was calling people to change the way that they think and act. He called them to a change of heart. That is why repentance is often strongly associated with sorrow for sin. When we repent, how we think about sin changes. It goes from being something that we delight in to something we mourn over. When we repent sin goes from being something we boast about to something we are ashamed of.
King David is a great example of this. When Bathsheba entered his bedroom I’m sure he was absolutely delighted and enjoyed every minute of the encounter. After being confronted by the Lord through the prophet Nathan he was convicted, he mourned and he repented.
"When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah" Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD" -- and you forgave the guilt of my sin. ... Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit." (Psalms 32:3-5, 1,2, NIV).
Repentance also involves a change of values. Whether we realize it or not we are thoroughly indoctrinated in the philosophy of this world and not in the Kingdom of God. From birth we have been both caught and been taught the values of this world. We couldn’t help it. This world is committed to a philosophy that says that we can make life work without God.
Issac Watts, in an old him called, “Am I a Soldier of the Cross,” is a hymn that asks us how committed to Jesus Christ we really are. He asks three questions in the third stanza:
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God?
I think we know that answer to the last question. This world is not a friend to grace, to help us on to God. Speaking of this, Chuck Swindoll wrote:
Remove your rose coloured glasses. ... Now then, looking at “this vile world” in raw reality, answer the question, “Is it a friend to grace?” Will this world help you to know God? Love Him? Serve Him? As you sit at the feet of its professors, as you listen to its music and watch its films ... will the road narrow to the path that leads to God? No one in his or her right mind could ever answer yes.
This world is committed to building a society independent of the supreme God of the universe. Canadian societies’ ongoing embrace of secularism is simply a symptom of this. An example of this is the State Funeral of Jack Layton. God was more or less left out of it. The official clergy person was from a church where they feel free to reject parts of the Bible they don’t agree with. The Eulogy of Stephen Lewis was all about how Mr. Layton worked to try and build a better society down here. At an event where people should have been reminded of the need for the eternal, Mr. Lewis kept his remarks grounded only in the here and now mentioning such mundane things as Mr. Layton’s support for bicycle lanes. Bicycle lanes are well and good. I like bicycle lanes. I think there should be more bicycle lanes. If I was a councillor in Toronto I would vote for bicycle lanes. But friends, bicycle lanes don’t lead to Heaven. It is a reflection of the values of the world that eternity was given so little attention at the funeral. I wonder what the founder of the NDP, the Baptist Pastor Tommy Douglas, would have made of it.
It is my firm conviction trying to build a better society on any foundation other than the values of eternity is like building a house on sand. I think Tommy Douglas understood that. He advocated the social reforms he did because he believed they were in line with eternity’s values.
“Improving people’s economic condition is not an end in itself, it’s a means to an end…. I never thought a man could save his soul if his belly was empty or that he could think about things like beauty and goodness if he had a toothache.”
Tommy Douglas in conversation, 1982, from Dave Margoshes, Tommy Douglas: Building the New Society, Preface.
When John the Baptist called people to join the Kingdom of God he was calling them to adopt a new set of values-God’s values – the values of eternity. He was calling people to leave the values of this world that say we can make life work without God. He called people to be baptized as a sign that they were ready for the Kingdom.
III. For all this, John’s baptism was incomplete. Even he said so himself:
11 "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
It is one thing to want the values of the Kingdom of God. It is quite another to actually live them. That is why John said that the one coming after him, Jesus was more powerful and greater than him. Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Jesus would not only preach what God required, but through the Holy Spirit give people the spiritual power they would need to actually DO what God required. The Law of Moses was written on Stone. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus would write the law of God on our hearts.
In baptizing with the Holy Spirit, Jesus would work an inner transformation in people. The Law sought to change people from the outside in with motivations such as guilt, shame and punishment. The Holy Spirit changes people’s hearts-their inner motivations and desires. That’s what it means to be baptised in the Holy Spirit.
That’s what water baptism in the name of Jesus really is – an outward sign of an inward change. It is an outward sign that someone has joined not merely the church, but the Kingdom of Heaven and has decided to adopt its God, its Savior, its values and its power to change lives.
As I close, I want to ask you a few questions. The first one is, “Do you belong to the Kingdom of Heaven or are you firmly rooted in the kingdom of this world?” “Are your values that of the Kingdom of Heaven or are they those of this world?” These are important questions to consider because whether we like it or not, the world, as John says, and its desires pass away but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:17)
If you are firmly rooted in the values of this world, you are firmly rooted in something that will one day disappear. This life is short. This life is transitory. If we live for the kingdom of this world we will lose everything. As Jesus said:
36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? (Mark 8)
But if we become part of the Kingdom of God we become part of something that transcends us and will last forever. Let me urge you to join the Kingdom of God through repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ – the ruler of the Kingdom of Heaven.
What if you already have? Let me urge you to examine your life in the light of the values of the Kingdom of God. Like I said, we are so immersed or baptized into the world that we often hold its values without even realizing it. Find out what those values are by regular reading of the bible and be open to them even if they go against what you have learned from childhood. To live successfully in the Kingdom of God we must adjust our thinking to be in line with its values.
The last words of Jack Layton in his letter to Canadians were:
“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”
I agree but the love the world needs finds its source in God. The hope the world needs is found in Jesus Christ. The optimism the world needs is based on the promises of God. In short, if we look to the Kingdom of God and join it and adopt its values, yes we will change the world – but by building and participating in the Kingdom of God - not apart from it.
We are like Abraham. Abraham, says the author of Hebrews, left his home in Ur of the Chaldees and dwelt in the Promised Land like a foreigner because he
was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11)
We are too. What would we be like if we truly lived like citizens of Heaven? What would our church be like? What kind of impact would we have on our community? I think we would be able to give the world more and more of a taste of what the kingdom of Heaven is all about. They might even like it.
C. 2011 by Rev. Steven Brown. You are free to use portions of this message but please do not pass this off as your own.