Tag Archives: kingdom of God

Today’s Scripture – October 19, 2017

Luke 9:49-50 (NIV) “Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”

The disciples were feeling good to be part of a very privileged group – not only chosen out of all of Jesus’ followers to be His inner circle (and thus almost certainly destined for greatness), but also specifically invested by Jesus with authority to do miracles and cast out demons (Luke 9:1-2).

But when they saw someone driving out demons in the name of Jesus (and being successful at it!), that exclusivity felt threatened. If just anyone could invoke Jesus’ name and cast demons out, it would make their own abilities less special, and perhaps their positions less secure. (After all, the majority of them had just spectacularly failed to drive out a demon!)

Jesus’ answer was surprising: “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you.” They didn’t understand it then, but Jesus knew that it would only be a few weeks before the tide of public opinion would rapidly turn against Jesus and against His followers, and then it would be to their definite advantage to have others in their corner.

Jesus was looking at the larger picture. If somebody was casting out demons in His name, that was an indication that that person had faith in Jesus’ name, and would not quickly turn against Him or His followers (Mark 9:39-40). Like Moses before Him, Jesus longed to see the day when all people were filled with the Holy Spirit, and able to do amazing things (Numbers 11:29). That would be the ideal, the sign that the kingdom of God had really reached the whole of humanity.

But the disciples were only seeing a very small picture, which had their personal advancement at its center. That would change after the day of Pentecost, but in the meantime, Jesus had to keep urging them to see things differently .

Father, in Your kingdom there is no place for us to build our own kingdoms. In Your kingdom there is no exclusiveness and no cliques, but an open door for all who will trust in You for salvation, and who are willing to obey You as Lord. In Your kingdom, we are all valuable parts of Your one body, all with different callings and abilities, but no one more important or with a more direct line to you than another (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Help me to live out that reality today. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 18, 2017

Luke 9:46-48 (NIV) An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all–he is the greatest.”

Jesus’ time was short, and the disciples still had not caught the vision of who He really was and what He had really come to do. Their minds were still focused on the hope that Jesus, as the Messiah, was going to establish the kingdom of Israel as soon as they got to Jerusalem, oust the Romans, depose the Herods and, buoyed by a rising tide of popularity, set Himself up as king on the throne of David.

Of course, as Jesus’ elite lieutenants, the hand-picked twelve out of the multitudes that regularly followed Jesus, the most natural turn of events would be for all of them to take the top spots in the new administration. The only question was what the internal pecking order would be. Hence the discussion of who would be the greatest, Jesus’ second in command, and who would have to take the other, lower spots. Each of them could muster a convincing argument as to why they should be at the top of the heap.

But when Jesus heard this discussion, He knew that He had to stop this line of thinking cold, and redirect the discussion immediately. So he brought a little child to His side, and used that child as an exemplar of the greatest in God’s kingdom.

In Matthew’s fuller telling of the event, Jesus tells the disciples, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4 NIV) He was telling them that their whole focus was wrong. Little children in the home of loving parents don’t strive to put themselves first or to convince their parents that they should love them the most. A small child, secure in the love of his or her parents, merely exists in that love, obeys what is commanded, receives what is graciously given, learns what is taught, and is satisfied.

Likewise, those in the kingdom should be as humble and unassuming as that child, not pushing themselves forward or striving to be counted as the first and best. Instead, secure in the love of God, they should merely exist in that love, obeying what is commanded, receiving what is generously given, learning what is taught, and being satisfied that they are deemed worthy to be God’s people. The one who ceases striving for power and position is the greatest in the kingdom of God, and will receive both power and position in return.

Father, this is completely counterintuitive to the natural human spirit that wants to be recognized and advance up the ranks, and can’t see how that can happen without actively pursuing it. But the rules of Your kingdom are NOT the rules of the world. Help me to rest, to exist like a child in Your love, to obey instead of pushing, to receive rather than pursuing, and to be thankful that I am loved and accepted as one of Your own. Amen.

 

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Today’s Scripture – October 10, 2017

Luke 9:27 (NIV) I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

Jesus had come to make the kingdom of God a living reality in the world, and to get the people ready to enter it. John the Baptist prepared the people for Jesus; Jesus prepared the people for the kingdom.

Jesus was Himself the embodiment of the kingdom of God on earth. As long as He was in the world, people could experience the reality of the kingdom at second-hand by watching how He lived, and experiencing all of the wonderful things that He could do. However, the kingdom was still only a second-hand reality to His followers, even His closest disciples.

But very soon, Jesus would turn His steps south to Jerusalem one last time. During this trip, Jesus would take the steps needed to make the kingdom a living reality for everyone. He would die on the cross, taking on Himself all of the suffering, torment, and separation from God that the people deserved for their sins, paying the penalty in full. Then, on the third day, He would rise again as the first fruits of those redeemed through faith in Him, defeating death, and opening the way for all into an eternity in heaven.

Finally, forty days later, He would ascend into heaven to the right hand of God the Father. From there, He would pour out the Holy Spirit on His followers on the day of Pentecost. On that day, the kingdom of God would arrive on earth in power, becoming a reality in the lives of His followers. No longer would the kingdom be embodied in Jesus. From that time forward, it would be embodied in the heart of every believer and, through their lives, manifested throughout the world.

Of course, only eleven of Jesus’ twelve closest disciples would live to see that day. Judas Iscariot would betray Jesus into the hands of the Jewish leaders, and then hang himself out of guilt and despair. He would not experience the kingdom becoming a reality. But the other eleven disciples would experience for themselves what it was like to live in the kingdom of God, and the complete fulfillment of this prophecy of Jesus.

Father, thank You for the reality of Your kingdom down to today. Your kingdom isn’t something that we look back upon as a great, but temporary, event. Nor is it something we have to anticipate in the far-off future. It is still a living reality for all who follow Jesus. Lord, help me to live in the reality of Your kingdom today. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 6, 2017

Luke 9:23 (NIV) Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

The disciples were horrified about the things Jesus said were going to happen to Him: that He would be betrayed, rejected, and killed! Peter even rebuked Jesus for saying such things, and received a rebuke in return (Matthew 16:22-23).

Then Jesus began to teach His followers the costs associated with being a part of the kingdom of God. Some teach that the kingdom is all grace, with nothing expected of those who belong to it. But Jesus never taught it that way. By definition, belonging to the kingdom of God means resigning one’s membership in the kingdom of this world. You can only serve one master (Matthew 6:24). It also means having to radically switch allegiances in every sphere of one’s life. That means that, like Jesus, the people of the kingdom will almost always find themselves at odds with, and often opposed by, the rulers of the world system, and those who wield authority in it. There is a huge cost involved in belonging to the kingdom of God.

The key to the kingdom lifestyle is contained in this single verse. Not only is Jesus going to willingly take up a cross Himself, all who want to follow Him must also take up their own cross. To the disciples this phrase meant something entirely different than it does to modern Christians. To many today, a cross is defined as a struggle, a trial, or an inconvenience. But to everyone in Jesus’ day, a cross meant only one thing: an agonizing and absolutely certain death!

Jesus was not saying that His followers would have to be willing to suffer inconveniences or indignities. He was telling them (and us!) that His followers had to be willing to go through the agony of intentionally putting to death their old lives, their old selves, so that they can receive in exchange a new life, a resurrected self, transformed and capable of walking in the power, love, and grace of God’s kingdom.

And this is not a one-time event in the life of a disciples. Every day presents new draws back into the world, new draws toward compromise and sin. Every day, the cross of death to the world must be consciously and deliberately taken  up anew. Every day the decision to be a follower of Christ must be consciously and deliberately made.

Father, much of the teaching in many churches ignores the deliberate death to the world and the daily commitment required of true disciples of Jesus. Instead, we assume that once we make a decision for Christ, everything is on autopilot. How different from what is written for us in Your word! How different from the lives of dynamic and effective Christians through the ages, who all took up their crosses each new day and purposefully followed in the footsteps of Jesus. Lord, I commit myself anew today to this way of the cross, this way of death to the world, this way of fully following Jesus. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 2, 2017

Luke 9:10-11 (NIV) When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.

The apostles returned to Jesus full of news about the various missions that they had been on. They had each experienced God’s blessings, God’s provision, and God’s power for ministry as they went out in obedience to Jesus’ commission. But Jesus was so overrun by needy people who were crowding around Him, that they had no chance to share.

So Jesus loaded them all into a boat (Mark 6:32) to go off for some quiet time, where they could wind down away from the crowds, and be able to share their experiences. It was a great strategy, but it didn’t work out exactly as planned.

When they got to their destination, they found that there were thousands of people there waiting for them. The people had seen Jesus and the disciples in the boat, and had been able to determine where they were headed and beat them there. At that point, Jesus had three broad actions that He could take. He could simply put back out to sea and find another place to land. He could send the people away, berating them for barging into a personal retreat. Or He could set aside His own agenda, and that of His disciples, and minister to the crowd.

It’s no surprise that Jesus chose the third alternative. And it’s no surprise that He did it without grumbling or complaining. He welcomed the people graciously, as if they were His sole agenda. He taught them about the kingdom of God. And He healed all who were sick. Those people, far from being an interruption to His agenda, were the very reason that He had come into the world. That was a vital lesson for His disciples, both then and now.

Father, it is easy to mistake our agenda. We can easily get to thinking that our agenda is church work, or social work, or, especially for pastors, study and preaching. And we can easily resent people whose presence interferes with those agendas. But we need to take a lesson from Jesus. His agenda is our agenda: telling people about the kingdom of God, and helping them to find the physical, emotional, and spiritual wholeness and freedom that spring from that reality. Thank You for this lesson. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 14, 2017

Luke 8:16-18 (NIV) “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.”

Jesus had just finished telling His followers the meaning of the parable of the sower that He had presented to the crowd, a meaning that many of the listeners in the crowd could not see because their rejection of the good news and of Jesus Himself had closed their ears and blinded their eyes.

The core truth presented here, shown by a comparison with the parallel passage in Matthew 5:14-16 using the imagery of a lamp under a bowl, is that the people of the kingdom are not to hide the light, the truth that they have been given by Jesus that guides their lives and actions Jesus did not teach the idea of “secret Christians.” The fact that His disciples were His disciples was expected to be evident to all, friend or foe. And He also did not expect them to keep the truths of the kingdom to themselves as “secret teachings.”

Jesus shared the deep truths of the kingdom frequently among the crowds that flocked to hear Him. He didn’t filter them, but He knew that even though He talked about them using illustrations that made the truths obvious to those with ears that could hear, those whose hearts were open, those same illustrations hid the true meaning from those whose hearts were hard and who had closed their ears to the truth. In a sense, the truth was always hidden in plain sight from those who would not receive it.

This was reinforced by Jesus’ words that everything that was hidden would be revealed, brought into the light. Many religions pride themselves on having a body of secret truths that are only revealed to initiates. There are even some sects and factions of Christianity that claim to have a store of hidden knowledge that has supposedly been passed down only to initiates from the days of Jesus.

But Christianity needs no hidden knowledge, and doesn’t benefit if the secrets of living in the kingdom are restricted to only a few. All that is necessary for salvation, for sanctification, and for successfully living life in the kingdom of God are plainly written in the words of the Bible. But, as always, the things of the Spirit are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14). Without the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart to give light to what the followers of Jesus wrote, much of what is clearly recorded on the pages of Scripture is inscrutable and confusing.

This helps explain Jesus’ closing words. Even Jesus’ own followers must be careful how they listened, just as Christians today must be careful in how we read. Those who have the Holy Spirit, and who listen to His guidance as we read, will always be able to find deeper truths in the words, no matter how often we read them. But those who don’t have the Holy Spirit won’t be able to discern the truths in a single paragraph. Even what they think they know of the truths of Jesus’ words will end up being lost to them.

Father, I have experienced both sides of this. When I was involved in the New Age, I was taught “secret interpretations” of the Scriptures that only led me further away from the true light. But when I turned away from all of that and came into the light of Christ, when the Holy Spirit transformed my life in a moment and took up residence in my heart, I could suddenly see the real meaning of the words of Scripture that had always been there, but that my eyes had been too clouded with “secret knowledge” to see. And those plain truths were far more amazing and life changing than any of the so-called deep secrets that I had learned before. Thank You, Lord, for making so readily accessible all we need to know to live for You, and for giving us Your Spirit, so that we can see it. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 13, 2017

Luke 8:1-3 (NIV) After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

Until the time came for Him to go to the cross, Jesus’ mission was focused on preaching the good news about the kingdom of God, and living out its implications before the people. This not only raised the levels of excitement among the people, it also created a sense of anticipation,, looking for the arrival of the kingdom in earnest, as well as a real hunger for its appearing.

Jesus’ entourage consisted of not only the Twelve, but also many others who followed Him for various reasons. Among these were many women who had received release from bondage from Jesus, both the spiritual bondage of demon possession and the bondage of physical illness.

Among the three women listed by name, Mary Magdalene is certainly the most well-known. This is partly due to her role in the drama of the resurrection, and partly due to movies and books about the life of Jesus that cast her as a young woman saved from a life of prostitution, and even as a possible love interest of Jesus Himself.

Mary was not a prostitute, nor was she, as some have written, the sinful woman Luke wrote about at the end of chapter seven of his gospel. What Jesus had delivered her from was being possessed by seven demons. She, like the rest, was most likely an older woman who had means enough to help support Jesus and His followers as they traveled.

What drove these many women to follow Jesus was purely gratitude for the healing and deliverance that He had brought to their lives. He had literally given their lives back to them, and they, in turn, returned those reclaimed lives to Him with their time, their talents, and their resources.

Father, I can really relate to these women. Their reason for following Jesus is exactly mine. Jesus saved me from my sins, literally giving me my life back. And, out of gratitude, I gave that redeemed, restored life back to Him, vowing to follow and obey Him all of my life, to serve Him with my time, my talents, and my resources. It has now been more than 30 years, and I have never regretted that commitment, never turned away from it, and I never will. Amen.

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