Note: This is the first installment of what I hope will become a weekly feature on this blog – a quick, think 500 words or less, recap of this past Sunday’s sermon at RCC. The goal is to help catch you up if you weren’t able to join us, reinforce key points if you were able to join us, add additional content, and create a resource you can share with friends or refer back to in your own walk with God. I’ll give you a one sentence summary of the talk, the key passage, and whatever else seems helpful. Hope it’s helpful!!
Sermon in a Sentence: Understanding why the Kingdom of Heaven causes so much controversy helps us endure conflict and opposition.
“You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”Matthew 5:11-12 (CSB)
We’re gearing up for a collection of messages that will walk us through the Sermon on the Mount by taking two weeks to explore the idea of the Kingdom of Heaven as we find it in the first 4 chapters of Matthew’s gospel. When the Scripture says “kingdom of heaven”, we should think “rule and reign of God” or “community, culture, and creation operating under the rule and reign of God.” God’s Kingdom is about an authority, not about a territory. This notion of a Kingdom provides us with an incredibly compelling vision for our lives as followers of Jesus – a community of love, mercy, justice, and concern for the good of the world. Yet, this captivating vision has always created deep controversy. Why?
In this talk, we look at the three primary sources of opposition to the Kingdom of Heaven in the early chapters of Matthew’s gospel.
Think Herod for this one. Sure, no one loves a political rival but this isn’t a legislator concerned about a strong challenge in their next primary. This is someone willing to murder every male child two and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding region. That’s next level.
And, no, this does not mean that if you work on the Hill, you’re a bad Christian and living in rebellion against the rule and reign of God in your life. The real question for each of us, regardless of profession, is how we use whatever power we have. If you use your power for the good of others, you’re in line with the vision of the Kingdom. But if you insist on using power for your own selfish gain, you’re pushing back against Heaven itself. This one is about power, not position.
John the Baptist really goes after the Pharisees and Sadducees when they come to check out his revival meetings, “you brood of vipers!” Not exactly the way to curry favor with the religious elites. But John is worried about religious complacency (you think you’re good with God because of the family you were born into) and religious condemnation (those who use the ethical teachings of the New Testament simply to judge, condemn, criticize, and look down on others). Hypocrisy, empty religion, earning favor with God, and condemning others have no place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Remember, Jesus comes not to condemn the world but to save the world (John 3:17). The gospel offers both salvation and transformation by a grace that transforms our hearts and then our lives.
In short, it never ends well for religious hypocrites.
Jesus and Satan go toe to toe in Matthew 4. Satan offers Jesus the kingdoms of the world in exchange for His worship but Jesus will have none of it. Jesus and evil and categorically opposed to each other – they’re never going to get along, which is why so many of us are trapped in futility. We’re trying to have a vibrant relationship with Jesus but keep a little foothold in evil. We want Jesus and greed to coexist in our hearts or Jesus and any other form of self-centeredness. There’s got to be a way to honor Jesus and sleep with the person I’m dating, right? Wrong! Don’t waste time trying to get Jesus and evil to be friends. It’s never going to work.
Bottom line: Getting serious about your relationship with God always creates some controversy as the light of the gospel collides with the darkness of evil, empty religion, and the abuse of power. Hopefully, if we understand how the Kingdom of Heaven challenges the values of the Kingdoms of this world, we can find a little more strength to endure the challenges of our lives.