Tag Archives: Kingdom of God

Remembrance – for past or future?

Today we celebrate the end of the First World War (Armistice Day coinciding with Remembrance Sunday for the 100th Anniversary of the end of that war), and remember soldiers who died – as well as those wounded (in body or mind), and civilians, refugees, and the many casualties of war.

We remember that the Great War was not the “War to end all wars”, that the Second World War followed, and the Korean, Vietnam, Falkland, Gulf and many other wars after that. We could get lost – and depressed – looking back.

Looking at today’s gospel (Mark 1:14-20), we remember how Jesus looked forward and announced something better: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” Mk 1.15

It took the disciples a time to recognise Jesus as King / Messiah, and longer to realise that did not mean a revolution and the end of the Romans. Jesus is King. But his kingdom is good news for people of all races. And all people need to find the good news through repentance and belief.

We prefer to make excuses. I wasn’t involved – its them. But jealously, ambition, pride . . . these are ours, as well as the faults of others. We are (all) sinners who need to repent. The good news is for us – but knowing and admitting our part in failure is the way into God’s Kingdom, now and always.

Jesus would suffer, and his sympathy and understanding for the bereaved is clear (remember his mother Mary given to John’s care at the foot of the cross? John 19:25ff).  In the same way his care for the tormented and the suffering is clear from many healings, and the way they were carried out with care for the sufferer, rather than concern for publicity value.

So, let’s give thanks. That we live in freedom and peace – not forgetting many do not, even today. We live with the good news, the offer of entry to God’s Kingdom, where life is so much better. For us and for others, repent and believe.

Sowing?

In Ireland, they take longer over the weather forecast, and even include the statistics for grass growth over the last month in different areas!  Perhaps it is not surprising, given that agriculture is a rather more serious concern for the average person there than in the UK.

It may be that as we read Matthew’s account of the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23 – leaving out v10-17), we are brought up against what we are serious about.  It is meant to be an encouragement (like the rest of the chapter, all about the Kingdom of God).  Reading carefully, we may learn what is beyond our control (and not worth worrying about), and what is going on (to help if possible, and beware the dangers for ourselves).

Jesus knows that when the message of God’s Kingdom is sown (which applied to his ministry, and still to ours today) it is a call to loyalty, obedience and action.  The reaction to that call varies:

  • there are hard places, like the path which will be ploughed after sowing, but loses seed to birds.  Some people just want to know, they have their own agenda, know what they want – and it doesn’t include God.  For anything to grow there, it will have to be tucked into a gap made by the Holy Spirit.
  • The rocky ground is just shallow.  There is no problem getting a reaction here, but it is liable to pass on to the next enthusiasm, and the next.  If this ground can be cultivated (sometimes it can’t), honesty is needed.  To live the Christian life is the best thing you can do – but it will be hard at times.  More than ever you need other believers to watch out for you, pray for you, and need you to help them too.
  • The seed is never sown in sterile compost!  We all come with weeds – past hopes, habits and hang-ups.  To get through these, not only do we need honesty, but also to know the worth of God, and the temporary nature of so much that seems to tempt or threaten.

This parable may be very familiar to you, but I suggest it may reveal how serious we are about sowing God’s Kingdom, and living it.  Don’t be surprised or upset that some sowing of the Kingdom fails to grow – it doesn’t mean the seed is bad, or the sower useless.  Understand the problems, if that will help.  But above all realise that sowing will produce a harvest, a good and significant one.  Jesus’ disciples needed to know that when his ministry hit opposition – and they still do.

Fitting it all together

The gospel reading this Sunday is long – either the full account of Jesus’ Passion from Matthew, or a shorter version.  That leaves us to try and make sense of all that is going on.  It is rather like a detective story.  Different events, perhaps connected, but is there a pattern?  It all comes together at the Cross, as Jesus dies, with the last strands tied up at the Resurrection.

Let me try and bring two major strands together. One picture of Jesus comes from the prophet Isaiah, who spoke of a “Suffering Servant”.  It doesn’t make easy reading:

Isa 53:6 All of us were like sheep that were lost, each of us going his own way. But the LORD made the punishment fall on him, the punishment all of us deserved.

His suffering is, somehow, for us. By his death, he sets us free. It’s not obvious – partly because it is not flattering. It means I need someone else to die in my place. Coming to terms with that is part of the offence of the gospel – like the reminder that Christian life begins with repentance, and trusting God to do for me what I am incapable of.

But I talked about a detective story. Alongside this theme of Suffering for us in the way Isaiah described, there are others. Perhaps the easiest is Jesus the Messiah King:

Mat 21:5 “Tell the city of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you! He is humble and rides on a donkey and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

On Palm Sunday, Jesus rides into Jerusalem, cheered by excited crowds.  All through his ministry, he had spoken of the Kingdom of God (Matthew calls it the Kingdom of Heaven), and slowly his friends came to understand that it didn’t mean a revolution against the Romans. It meant a community of people, for whom “God rules” – God in charge, directing lives, activity, priorities.

It seems that Jesus was the first to put together these 2 great ideas – the King, and the Servant. 2 ideas which nobody else had imagined could combine in one person!  But don’t think that is all there is. We could talk about why it was important that his identification with us included suffering, so that all who suffer and have suffered know he understands. We could talk about Sacrifice, and how Jesus is both priest and sacrifice. Or we could see that through the language of the “Lamb of God”.  That’s not a complete list! There are so many things brought together, resolved and explained at the cross. But if that is difficult to focus on, or to remember for more than a minute, just take the two.

Jesus is the Suffering Servant. Isa 53:5,6  But because of our sins he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received.  All of us were like sheep that were lost, each of us going his own way. But the LORD made the punishment fall on him, the punishment all of us deserved.

Jesus is the promised King  Psa 89:3,4  You said, “I have made a covenant with the man I chose; I have promised my servant David, ‘A descendant of yours will always be king; I will preserve your dynasty forever.’ “

and if nobody expected those to come together, that is why it was unexpected!