The Power of Words

The Power of Words

A Sermon to be delivered on October 4, 2015 at Christ Redeemer Church in Newark, OH

Introduction and Background

When I sat down at the wire-framed outdoor table at Panera, it had been a long day already. I hadn’t eaten that afternoon, and constant phone calls had my ear throbbing.

The email from one of my best friends the day before saying that he’d like to get together this evening, had come as a bit of a surprise. He said he’d like to share something that had been on his heart.

A heart to heart? With another dude? “Something must be wrong”, I thought to myself.

The last time I had received such an email, my buddy had uncomfortably approached me about some sin in my life – some things that I hadn’t thought much at all about, but that had been nagging at him for weeks, if not months.  

Was this going to be another such encounter? “No way!” I thought, searching my mind a little here and there between meetings and calls. I can’t think of anything I’ve done wrong…wonder what this is all about…

But sure enough, the awkward meeting was not long underway before I learned that some of my words had offended. And there was no way around it – I had blown it.

As it turns out, I had used words that offended my friend.

If you have ever been so fortunate as to have had one of these lovely conversations, then you know two things about them. First, they are very uncomfortable. This isn’t a carnival cruise – its more like one of those miserable “free” cruises you win on the radio – you often get more than you bargain for, and its extremely uncomfortable!

Second, you know that they are moments of great learning and growth. They take a lot of courage for your friends, and they are orchestrated by God for your good. This is life in the New Covenant community. Life in the midst of the church, surrounded by people who care enough about you to kindly, but firmly say, “hey, we need to talk.”

The Key Point: Words are powerful, they can transform lives, heal broken hearts, topple great nations, and they are prized by our King. They are so because they reflect the character of God formed in us. They reflect our hearts.

This passage has many dimensions to it, but I especially want to focus on words this morning.

So let us begin where Paul begins to get an idea of the context for his exhortations.

In every Christian right doctrine, right knowledge of Jesus and His Word, is the foundation for their speech. From right knowledge flow right actions, soft hearts, and truthful words.

The Context – The Transformed Mind 

Back up with me, and read from Ephesians 4 beginning in verse 17 where Paul is going to remind the Ephesian church of “how they learned Christ” – that is to say, who they are in Christ.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. [18] They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. [19] They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. [20] But that is not the way you learned Christ!—[21] assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, [22] to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, [23] and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, [24] and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24 ESV)

John Stott argues that the “putting off” and “putting on” of this passage isn’t in the imperative, that is to say, it isn’t a direct command. Rather it’s a reminder of the truth that’s already been accomplished by Jesus in their lives.

Paul is not telling them something new. He is appealing to a truth they ought to know already – if indeed they have “learned Christ” – and he knows they have.

He is reminding them that as new creations in Christ, they must act in a way that reflects their new life. They must not clamp back on the shackles Jesus has paid a great price to break them free of.

As Stott reminds us, “Being a Christian involves radical change.” Once that radical change has taken place in our lives, we cannot, we must not live outside of that reality.

Therefore, Paul is reminding them of the gospel. And so it is that right doctrine leads to right behavior.

With that in mind, he begins to exhort them.

As we read these verses, notice that there is both a negative exhortation and a positive instruction. Put on/Put off. It is not good enough not to say or do something; one must replace the chains and filth of previous speech with the grace and beauty of speech that marks the new life in Christ.

Put off Falsehood

4:25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

Earlier in the chapter Paul says:

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, [16] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

This earlier instruction flowed from an explanation that their elders served the purpose of building up the church. They are a “gift” to the church because they are speaking the words of God’s truth to the congregation.

This reminds us of the importance of a good pastor/elder!

But Paul extends his instruction to the entire congregation because we have all been joined to Jesus through adoption. We have become fellow heirs and sons in His royal family.

Falsehood ought not to mark the people of God because it is lies that serve as the foundation for the enemies kingdom.

John MacArthur notes that every other world religion is built upon Satan’s lies. The world fell into darkness through belief in lies. The Son of God was crucified because men believed lies. Jesus’ own apostle Peter denied Him speaking lies and cuss words.

In J.R.R. Tolkein’s great writing, the enemy emanating from the land of Mordor is said to speak in “black speech” – a term coined to convey the filth of evil.

Falsehood is the province of the enemy, and no Christian ought to dabble in the black speech of Satan.

Falsehood breaks fellowship. This is like the hand stabbing the leg “behind its back” (so to speak)! It affects the whole body. It is like aiding and abetting the enemy; allowing him to use us to hurt other members of our Lord’s glorious army.

James reminds us:

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, [8] but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. [9] With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. [10] From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:7-10)

And so Paul continues… 

Put off Corrupt Speech/Put on Grace 

4:29-30 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. [30] And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  

Let me first state what Paul is not saying. He is not saying that we not speak boldly against injustice or against evil. And sometimes those types of words seem to have a destructive appearance, not an edifying one. However, speaking words of truth from a spirit of love, speaking truth in the face of injustice and evil and villainy, while it may scandalize the listener, will later build up those who are wise, and have a purging affect on those who are true believers in the long term.

To give a secular example – Ronald Reagan did not temper his words at the Brandenburg Gate. Though his senior advisers (Powell/Baker) didn’t want that line use, saying it was “unpresidential” and didn’t fit the occasion, Reagan disagreed. At the crucial moment, he spoke truth, and that truth led to the end of the cold war.

To give a spiritual example – Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms did not temper his words or take back what he had written in his books. Even though it caused great division and scandal in the church in the short term, in the long term Martin Luther helped bring the church out of darkness and into the light of the truth of God’s word.

What Paul is saying is this: you are new creations in Christ. Do not let your words resemble a polluted, mangled, and fallen creation. Do not let your words signal corruption and sin.

Corruption is closely associated with the Fall, and that old body of sin which you have left behind. Corrupt speech ought not to characterize those whom Christ is re-creating in His image.

Words that edify are not always easy words to hear, but they ought always to be gracious words. Our Lord was said to be “full of grace and truth”, and though he had hard saying and rebukes for the people, yet His words always fit the occasion.

“Fitting the occasion” has to do with discernment. Later on Paul goes on to state, “…try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10).

May we have discernment as He did, using words that are a balm of healing as well as a sword of truth.

And the motive for our words is to please the Lord and not grieve the Spirit.

You are to remember what Christ has done for you – particularly in giving the gift of the Spirit who has “Sealed” you for the day of redemption, when Christ comes back.

This is like Paul stating, “your great Savior and Friend has given you the help and safety of the Spirit, and you ought to remember that speaking to others in corruption also hurts your friend Jesus and His Spirit.”

It is a beautiful gospel truth that woven into Paul’s exhortation there is a reminder that they have been “Sealed” until Christ’s return. That is to say, nothing they can do or say will now separate them from their Lord.

And Paul’s choice of “redemption” is not accidental. It is a reminder that while they strive against “corruption” which still inhabits their flesh, they know that one day their mouths will be “redeemed” – God’s re-creation will be complete.

He continues…

Put off Slander/Put on Kindness

4:31-32 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. [32] Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  

Here is the perfect example of the put on/put off. He says to put away anger and clamor and slander and malice, but to put on kindness and tenderheartedness.

Slander is the maligning of another person’s character – often behind their backs. It is the destroying of a reputation. Basically, it is the passing of judgment on another often in order to show oneself in a superior light.

Again, there is a difference between speaking truth, and maliciously tearing down another person. Often we say things behind someone’s back that we’d never speak to their face. These things ought not to be (James 3:10).

Speaking a rebuke in the spirit of love is done from a desire to edify, and done to someone’s face.

What is the remedy? Gospel kindness.

You can forgive, you can stop slandering, you can conquer bitterness BECAUSE God has done a great thing in Christ.

This is not simply a reminder of the example of Jesus as a pattern to follow. It is a command to replace Spirit-empowered kindness with flesh-corrupted slander.

You have been empowered by the Spirit to live in the likeness of His pattern.

Therefore, not only does the example of Jesus humble and focus our minds, but the Spirit gives us the desires we need to be kind, to speak truthfully, to withhold slander, and the maligning of others.

This is what it means to live as a new creation – this is what new covenant life in Jesus is all about.

Conclusion – To what end are we living?

5:1-2 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. [2] And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Let me conclude with these two verses because they are a beautiful reminder of who we are in Christ, and to what end we are aiming.

Too often we Christians abuse our freedom in Christ. I believe this is the case because we forget the cost of our loose words, and the power they contain for good.

No one here wakes up on Saturday morning having to make the trek to the temple. You don’t have to spend several hours hauling or herding an animal to its destination, only to watch the animal butchered, the blood pouring out in sacrifice. You don’t have to spend your afternoons staring at the blood trickling down over the alter; a reminder of why you would be there in the first place – sin. You sinned.

Yet we do have a sacrifice – and a bloody one at that.

Too often our thoughts are not meditating upon the cross in a meaningful and personal way. Too often we forget that profane word, that unkind gesture, that crude joke, that unloving action, all cost Christ a painful trip to the cross.

So Paul wants us to remember the gospel – not in order to enslave us to moralism, but to remind us that we have been bought with a price, and that price was far too high for us to be uncaring in action, cold in heart, and loose with our words.

So in these final two verses the apostle says that we are to “imitate God” in order to be a “Fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

There are two main things we need to take away here…

  1. You have been adopted into the family of Jesus, and are joined to Him spiritually as a bride is joined to the bridegroom. Therefore your identity is to be found in Him. We are to be imitators of Him as “beloved children.” You have put off the old man and put on the new. Brothers and sisters, let us walk that way this week – in the power of the Spirit, let us strive toward holiness with our mouths. Lifting each other up. Saying things that mark us as Christians. Not saying other things that would cause our Father grief.
  1. The aim of our speech is to bring glory to God. If we cannot say for certain that our words would be a pleasing aroma to Jesus, then we ought to reconsider their content.

Ultimately, there is life and death in our words – there’s a great deal at stake, as Paul reminds us elsewhere:

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, [16] to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:15-16)

No one is sufficient for them because we cannot fully understand the privilege of being a child of the King and representing Him here on earth.

Not only is it our privilege, but bringing glory to God is the highest reason for our very existence. For as Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Jonathan Edwards sums up:

In God, the love of what is fit and decent, cannot be a distinct thing from the love of Himself, because the love of God is that wherein all holiness primarily and chiefly consists, and God’s own holiness must primarily consist in the love of Himself. And if God’s holiness consists in love to Himself, then it will imply an approbation of the esteem and love of Him in others. For a being that loves himself, necessarily loves love to himself. If holiness in God consists chiefly in love to himself, holiness in the creature must chiefly consist in love to Him. And if God loves holiness in Himself, he must love it in the creature (pg. 173 the end for which God made the world).

Our words reflect the very image of God being renewed in us, and therefore the character of God being formed in us is shown forth in our words. Because God regards His own character as the most pleasing and worthwhile thing in the universe, He loves to see this character reflected back to Himself and shown to a watching world as a testament to His own greatness.

May the Lord bless the rays of His character that shine forth from your mouths, and may you look at your words more carefully – for what they really are – powerful tools in the Redeemers hand, reflections of His attributes and the work He has done within you, for the edification of the church and the glory of God.

Amen.

 

 

 

The Generational Divide: Luke 9:37-48

Some study notes from Bible study last night. The passage (Luke 9:37-48) immediately follows the Transfiguration.  I don’t have this in my notes, but at study I showed the group the beautiful ‘Transfiguration’ painting by Raphael, which is study in contrasts with the scene of the transfiguration and the one my notes below discuss. Here is the painting:

Transfiguration_Raphael

The Generational Divide

9:37-42 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. [38] And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. [39] And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. [40] And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” [41] Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” [42] While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.

Jesus’ Power Displays the Inbreaking of the Kingdom

Jesus’ authority in this situation is clear. He is King over all creation – He is king over all spiritual goings on in this world.

I think that much of what we see in this passage has to do with the inbreaking of the kingdom of God, and the power of Jesus over the demonic powers of this world. But there is also a feature of this passage that concerns us – namely how people of this world are blinded by their sin and by Satan to these spiritual truths, and have hearts that are slow to grasp the importance of loving others as Jesus did/does.

A key passage to understand the relationship between Jesus’ kingship and His kingdom, and the authority he holds over demons is found in Matthew 12:

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. [23] And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” [24] But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” [25] Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. [26] And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? [27] And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. [28] But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. [29] Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. [30] Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. [31] Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. [32] And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:22-32)

So the question becomes, if Jesus has the power to do these things, do we believe He has the power to do them. It is not simply that our belief somehow activates God’s power somehow. No. That is not the right way to think of it. God works according to His own sovereign pleasure. But it is perhaps more correct to state that God indeed takes pleasure in our prayers, and indeed gives us the faith to believe. The faith is actually a gift from God. For as Paul states in Ephesians 2, your faith is a “gift” so that “no man may boast.”

This is so that God will receive all the glory. For our purpose is to bring Him glory. That is our end, our great summum bonum.

A Study in Contrasts

Now, we’ve talked a lot in our study of Luke about Jesus’ miracles, and I’ve mentioned in a small group setting that it becomes difficult not to become desensitized to what we’re reading. These people lived a long time ago, we know don’t them, we haven’t lived a day in their shoes, we didn’t see this stuff take place. So we’re left to read it and imagine what the scene might have been like. God gave us His word and our imagination for just this reason.

Jesus has just come down the Mount of Transfiguration. We read about it last week and talked about the amazing display of glory, which the disciples were privileged to behold.

Now, He’s coming down off that hill and the first people Luke tells us He encountered were those who could use His power the most – those oppressed and possessed by demons.

But there’s a problem here, isn’t there. Jesus doesn’t respond as He usually might be expected to – its not as cut and dry as Jesus heals, then goes on His merry way.

We learn that there’s a man whose only son has been physically oppressed by a violent demon, and it seems that the disciples of Jesus weren’t able to cast the demon out.

Why?

It seems the answer is in Jesus’ reply: they lacked the faith necessary to accomplish the task. For Jesus states – in a way that must have sounded like a rebuke – “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?”

There is a direct connection between His glorification at the top of the mountain, and His reply to these people.

Luke must know that he has set before the reader a study in the contrast between the reality of Jesus and who He was, over against the unbelief and lack of faith of the people. Wasn’t it just last study that we read how an audible voice from heaven shook Peter, James, and John to their core with a proclamation of the deity of Jesus? Wasn’t it just a few hours before that Jesus was shining like the sun in resplendent glory?

The people here – the masses – didn’t see the transfiguration. But they saw many other miraculous signs from Jesus. So the reality of who Jesus is, does not square with the way in which the people respond to Him.

We are all like this – slow to believe in what Jesus says, and slow to obey him. I know this to be true from personal experience, for I count myself as part of this group.

For those doubters who say, “I’d believe and have faith if I saw Jesus do all that with my own eyes.” Passages like this, and many more to come, will build a case against that proposition. What we learn from a survey of the gospels is that seeing is not necessarily believing. There were a remnant of people who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet they still went on to tell the Jewish religious authorities in hopes of getting rid of Jesus. They didn’t believe.

So Thankful He can Do This Stuff…

Interestingly, as I read this passage, I was greatly comforted because of the reminder that Jesus has the power to heal, to cast out demons, and to create in us a clean heart. In other words, He has the ability to bring us spiritual peace.

I don’t want to minimize this. Because when we are tormented by the enemy, fall prey to our own depraved desires, we can know there is grace and there is power to save us, and to bring us back from our wanderings. It is this power that is stronger than anything else upon which we must rely.

9:43-44 And all were astonished at the majesty of God. But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, [44] “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”

It is perhaps noteworthy that the works of Jesus are being attributed by the people as coming from God. This is in contrast to the way the Pharisees saw Jesus as casting out evil spirits by the power of Satan (11:15). The common people seemed to realize that good things come from God (This is the theme of Psalm 127, and of course James 1:17).

I love the response here of Jesus to the miracle, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”

PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT I AM SAYING!

Now the contrast is complete. What kind of king gives himself up to his enemies? What kind of king plans to do so even before he is captured? Even before the plot to capture or kill him has been completely formulated!

This is no earthly king. One of our rulers would never have sacrificed himself for a group of people who couldn’t even muster up enough faith to partake in his work with him.

Hence the greatness of Jesus and of the gospel. For as Paul says:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. [7] For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—[8] but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [9] Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. [11] More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)

Any other leader would have thought the transfiguration a confirmation of his right to rule the earth – and indeed it did just that for Jesus. But from there Jesus departs from the expected path. He once again sets aside His glory and condescends to save us.

This isn’t done subtly either. He gets their attention – He says to them to “let this saying sink into your ears.”

9:45 But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

Now how did the disciples react? They didn’t get it. They didn’t understand it. And, to be honest, they didn’t want to understand it. For it says, “they were afraid to ask him about this.”

In saying that Jesus’ words were “concealed from them” Luke is basically saying that these things were spiritually discerned and God did not give them wisdom to discern them. It’s just that simple. They didn’t get it, God didn’t allow them to understand it, which was perfect because frankly they didn’t want to understand it.

Don’t you think this might have been a tiny bit important? Perhaps the disciples just might have wanted to get to the bottom of this?

And people wonder why we can get into heaven on the basis of our own sovereign choices! If left to ourselves we will ignore the truth of the gospel. We will run far away from the wisdom of God. We are fallen creatures who love the darkness rather than the light (John 3:19-21). And when faced with difficult truths, we obfuscate or simply choose to ignore the facts in front of us.

Why do we do this? It could be the illusion of control is slipping away and we don’t like that. We like the idea of planning our own destiny, or at least heavily influencing it by our free will acts and choices. We don’t want to face future difficulties and act irrationally toward them by thinking that if we ignore them they’ll just go away.

This is perhaps why the disciples didn’t want to probe deeper into what Jesus had said.

9:46 An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. [47] But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side [48] and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”

The Nature of the Kingdom

And to prove just how far their heads were buried in the sand, the disciples were still unsure of what kind of kingdom Jesus was about to usher in. So instead of reconciling what they saw on the mountain with what Jesus was saying about His impending death, they focused on the more cheery prospect of Jesus’ earthly reign. For as we recall from earlier studies, some might have thought that He was about to establish a political kingdom and would overthrow Herrod’s rule, so they were starting to jockey for position within this upcoming administration.

However, looking back on these things, we do need to reconcile the Mount of Transfiguration with his saying here. What is going on here? How can He be both sovereign king of all the earth, and yet give himself over to his enemies to die?

I’ve made the argument before that the kind of kingship Jesus was conveying – the kind of kingship we share with him – is that which is put in place by God, established by His hand, and carried out in love through the power of the Spirit. Indeed, much of our conquering (as seen in the book of Revelation) is done in the realm of the spiritual. As Paul says:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

The nature of the kingdom is now spiritual, though Jesus reigns over all created matter – whether physical or spiritual. Indeed He utilizes that which is physical to accomplish the spreading of His spiritual kingdom. Therefore it is a false dichotomy to speak of two separate kingdoms. There is not a spiritual kingdom over and against (or separate from) a physical kingdom. They are two facets of the same one kingdom.

Though the disciples did not understand this, we need to understand it. For our goal, as articulated so well by R.C. Sproul, is to bear witness to an invisible kingdom:

In answer to their question about the kingdom, Jesus gave the fundamental mission of the church. Men would be blind to His kingship, so His disciples were given the task of making it visible. The fundamental task of the church is to bear witness to the kingdom of God. Our King reigns now, so for us to put the kingdom of God entirely in the future is to miss one of the most significant points of the New Testament. Our King has come and has inaugurated the kingdom of God. The future aspect of the kingdom is its final consummation.[i]

And I’ve mentioned this in my work on Revelation, but Anthony Hoekema is very helpful here:

The kingdom of God, therefore, is to be understood as the reign of God dynamically active in human history through Jesus Christ, the purpose of which is the redemption of God’s people from sin and from demonic powers, and the final establishment of the new heavens and the new earth. It means the great drama of the history of salvation has been inaugurated, and that the new age has been ushered in. The kingdom must not be understood as merely the salvation of certain individuals or even as the reign of God in the hearts of his people; it means nothing less that the reign of God over his entire created universe. “The kingdom of God means that God is King and acts in history to bring history to a divinely directed goal. (quoting Ladd)”[ii]

The Least of You

Now we get to the point of things. Jesus brings a child near, and says that the least of you will be the greatest in the kingdom of God. To quote the title of a CJ Mahaney book ‘Humility: True Greatness.’

What is it that makes humility and being “the least” so powerful, so highly sought after in the kingdom Jesus is describing?

I’d wager that it’s because they both serve as descriptors for love.

The kingdom of God is characterized by love. It is the overriding hermeneutic, outlook, worldview, and lens through which a Christian must look – a lens put into place by the Holy Spirit.

This is because the kingdom of God is ruled by God, and God is love. Therefore the kingdom will be characterized by individuals who behave, think, and talk like God.

And because God loves His creatures and creation, we too should love them. Which means we should place ourselves in a posture of servanthood, of putting others first, in loving others, of not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. This is the attitudinal position of someone who is “great” in the kingdom of God.

The Generational Divide

Jesus was clearly annoyed at the generation in which He lived. But a generation passes, and another pops up. It only takes 40 years. Generations come and generations go. But what I believe that what is going on here is that Jesus is drawing the distinction between the ways of those under the law of the old covenant, and those who will makeup a new generation of believers.

The kingdom Jesus is ushering in consists of a new generation. The newness of this generation is seen also in how Jeremiah articulated the coming of the new covenant:

In those days they shall no longer say: “‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ [30] But everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge. [31] “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [32] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. [33] For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

I’ve said in countless lessons that we live in the already/not yet. We live in a time of inaugurated eschatology, in laymans terms this means that Jesus ushered in a kingdom during his ministry on earth. It is an unseen kingdom, a kingdom of God.

It is all well and good to read about and talk about demons and the spiritual world, and all this theology of eschatology and so forth. But what does it matter?

Here is why it matters. If Jesus inaugurated a kingdom, and that kingdom is one whose guiding hermeneutic is one of kindness, love, and deferential treatment to others, then don’t you think its slightly important that we live in that way now?

This is why futurism isn’t all its cracked up to be. Because we live now, and God cares about how we live now.

Our lives now are to be characterized by the same driving principles that will govern them upon the return of our Savior. That is why the future has invaded the present. We are to live in such a way that the invisible will become visible to the hearts and minds of those who we work with, play with, hang out with, and minister to.

For as Paul says:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. [15] For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, [16] to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

Footnotes

[i] Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, Pg. 307.

[ii] Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, Pg. 45