Kingdom Question

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1.15

eg 300w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Starting-a-Speech.002-768x576.jpeg 768w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Starting-a-Speech.002.jpeg 1024w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Starting-a-Speech.002-285x214.jpeg 285w" sizes="(max-width: 200px) 100vw, 200px" />Could you help me with something? It’s to do with the Kingdom of God. Later this year (October) I will be teaching a four-week series on this topic for the Thames Valley churches of Christ.
I’ve started researching and preparing – it’s a huge subject! I want to make sure we cover aspects of the Kingdom that are most relevant and significant, since we cannot tackle every aspect, nuance and theory in four weeks.
Hence, I’d be grateful if you could send me your top question about the Kingdom. In other words, if there was one question about the Kingdom that you could have answered, what would that be? Or, if there was one issue about the Kingdom that you would like clarified or explained, what would that be?
You can leave a message here, or email me on mccx@mac.com.
Many thanks, and God bless,
Malcolm
P.S.  Please pray for me as I prepare. I am excited, but not a little daunted!

The Weeping God

Luke 19.28-48

I’m preaching on Luke 19.28-48 tomorrow. What a corker! The verse central to the section is:

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41 NIV11)

Jesus weeping. It’s not the first time (John 11.35) and he’s not the only one (Luke 7.13; 8.52; Romans 9.2-3) But why now? Why here? Is he weak? Is he controlled by his emotions? Are the tears motivated by regret, fear or horror? The word translated ‘weep” could equally be ‘wailed’. Jesus burst into sobbing. Something serious and meaningful is happening. But what? Let’s note three things:

  1. Jesus saw things as they really were. The crowd rejoiced (19.37), but Jesus wept. It was not that they should not rejoice, just that they could not see the bigger picture. How we all struggle with this. Are we willing to accept the reality of where we are in our faith, our relationships, our parenting, our marriage? Or are we so blind as to not see and admit where we are in the wrong, where we are weak, and where we need help? Are we also ready to accept the lostness of the world around us? We do not need to despair, but we do well to lament.
  2. Jesus lamented the lost opportunity. He did all he could to speak truth and act in love so as to convince people that the kingdom was coming/had come. Yet, the vast majority of the people who heard him, saw his miracles and felt his love did not respond. Jerusalem (city of peace) was to be a war zone in a few years. It’s ironic, but terribly sad, that the city of peace does not know how to enjoy peace. Has God put an opportunity before you to respond to his love? Take it while you can. You do not know how long you have.
  3. Jesus wept for others, not himself. The self-forgetfulness of Jesus is inspiring and, in fact, divine.¹ He was not weeping because he was to suffer and die in the city spread out before him. That would be reason enough, but his focus was not, and had never been, on himself. He knew God had a plan and, though it would be difficult, it was a good plan – for the the people he could help. How tragic, then, that those he longed to help and could help, are the very people rejecting such help. No wonder he wept!

Why is Jesus weeping? Because he saw things as they really were, because he longed to gather people to a place of peace with God, and because he knew how much he could help.

He did not weep every day, and neither should that be our goal, but a little weeping could go a long way to help us have the heart of Messiah.

God bless,

Malcolm

¹For more on this see Keller’s excellent short book:

Here’s just one quote, “The way the normal human ego tries to fill its emptiness and deal with its discomfort is by comparing itself to other people. All the time.” Jesus is so different, he feels no need to make comparisons. Instead, his energy is used for compassion.

“You can’t beat a feast”, Luke 14.15

dsc_0021I’ve dined well and I’ve dined poorly. Once or twice I’ve not dined at all (ran out of money in Pompeii in the ’80s, but that’s another story). There are also some meals we share with people that have greater significance than most. Wedding receptions come to mind. We don’t want to miss out on those. A special meal was in the mind of the person who ate with Jesus one day, “When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”” (Luke 14:15 NIV11)

How did Jesus respond? We’ll be looking at that in the next few blog posts this week, and in the sermon on Sunday. Here are a few introductory thoughts. The person who says, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” clearly expects to be at the feast. Why then does Jesus tells the parable that follows? What is he hoping the dinner guest will understand?

We get a clue by connecting this parable with another from Luke 13.29-30. Liefeld points out that, “Luke 13:29-30 had shown that some who expect to be present will be excluded; this passage teaches that those excluded have only themselves to blame.”¹ There were some in Jesus’ day who were in danger of missing out not through misfortune, but sheer hard-headedness.

A second passage that informs us is Isaiah 25:6-9:

“On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”” (Isaiah 25:6–9 NIV11)

Now we can see to what kind of feast the man was referring – the kingdom of God as a banquet. There it is – for all people – “all nations”. The person who understood this would say, “Blessed are all peoples that will eat at the feast” – including gentiles. The fact that the man dining with Jesus keeps it individual – “Blessed is the one” – indicates he sees the promise from a Jewish-exclusive perspective. During the intertestamental period this passage was re-interpreted in ways that excluded gentiles. Jesus came to widen the scope, to correct the myopia, to raise the hopes of all those far off from God.

Loud and clear we hear Jesus say that those least expecting to share in the kingdom of God will participate, while surprisingly, those most expecting to be diners may be among those who miss out. What can we do to make sure we don’t miss out on this gracious gift? More in the next post coming soon.

God bless,

Malcolm

PS – the sermon on Sunday is on this passage. 10.30AM, Watford church of Christ, Laurance Haines School, Vicarage Rd, Watford, HERTS, WD18 0DD

¹ Expositor’s Bible Commentary

The Curious and the Serious, Luke 13.22-30

curious-001eg 150w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Curious.001-250x250.jpeg 250w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Curious.001-174x174.jpeg 174w" sizes="(max-width: 150px) 100vw, 150px" />There’s all the difference in the world between the curious and the serious. In terms of effort, the curious try, the serious do. When things don’t go as expected, the curious complain, the serious suck it up. The curious miss opportunities, the serious consider themselves lucky – when in fact they are the beneficiaries of a focussed attitude.

We see this laid out for us in Luke 13.22-30 – the passage I’m preaching through on Sunday in both Watford and Bracknell. As usual, Jesus teaches and his hearers are surprised. More than that, they are shocked – even scandalised. Why so? Because the curious think they are being serious, but Jesus knows they are being indecisive. Let’s unpack this a little.

First, we hear a classic question, “Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”” (Luke 13:23 NIV11) Jesus does not answer the person directly, but responds to the group (“He said to them”). This teaching is for everyone.

Second, we are told of the right attitude: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24 NIV11). “effort” – agonizomai, meaning, “a technical term for competing in the Games, and from it we get our word ‘agonize’.”¹ Entry is not made without a struggle. It takes considerable effort to escape the gravitational pull of this world, our sin, our fears.

Third, we discover that not all will make it, “many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to” (Luke 13:24 NIV11) There’s no auto-enrolment here. This kind of ‘trying’ is superficial, not sincere.

Fourth, we learn the time for making a decision is limited, “Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’” (Luke 13:25 NIV11) Of course, death shuts the door, but so does a hard heart. We don’t know when death is coming, so we must decide while breath is in the body and our hearts are soften-able.

Fifth, we find that association is not the same as qualification, “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’” (Luke 13:26–27 NIV11) It seems the hearers of Jesus’ teaching did not combine what they heard with faith. Attendance at church and knowledge of the Bible is no guarantee of a good heart.

Sixth, we see the true fate of the curious-but-not-serious, they will weep and gnash their teeth (sorrow and anger combined).

Seven, we have hope for the, “last who will be first, and first who will be last.”” (Luke 13:30 NIV11) Those who made every effort – the unexpected, the apparently unqualified, but the serious and decisive – will enjoy a feast.

There are a myriad of lessons here, but what leaps out at me is the surprise of those who expect to be on the inside, but are left on the outside. How could they not be surprised – if they were really listening to what Jesus said? I mean, not merely hearing, but accepting (James 1.22). The sober-moment personally is to check the eagerness of my response to God’s Word. Am I acting on what I hear at the time I hear it, or waiting for a more convenient time?

Malcolm

¹Morris, Leon. Luke: An Introduction and Commentary. TNTC 3. IVP/Accordance electronic edition, version 1.9. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

Challenging All Chemists

chemistry-001eg 150w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Chemistry.001-250x250.jpeg 250w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Chemistry.001-174x174.jpeg 174w" sizes="(max-width: 150px) 100vw, 150px" />Can you help a non-chemist? I did pass Chemistry ‘O’-level with a ‘B’. A miracle of Biblical proportions in itself, and credit to awesome teacher Mr Tolputt. I fooled whoever marked my paper, but not myself. Chemistry does my head in. I am however, in awe of the topic, and I could use some help for a ‘thing’ I want to do this Sunday. Allow me to explain.

I’m preaching on Luke 13.18-21 which contains both the parable of the mustard seed and this parable:  “Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”” (Luke 13:20–21 NIV11) I’m of the opinion that Jesus is not giving us a first-century version of TGBBO.*

Rather, he is:

  1. Revealing the nature of the kingdom – that it grows
  2. Reassuring his followers that growth may not be rapid, but it will arrive
  3. Reminding his listeners that from while someone as insignificant-looking as an unorthodox semi-rabbi from unfashionable Nazareth of questionable parentage may not look impressive, give it time and his message will spread wider and have more impact than anyone could imagine.

Hence my chemistry quest. I’d like to conclude my sermon with a practical physical demonstration of something small having a disproportionate effect on another substance. I’ve asked a Chemistry teacher of mine for ideas and she’s on the case. But I thought I’d widen the pool. Can you think of something that we could do safely in a school hall on a Sunday morning?  If we use your suggestions I’ll give you credit on the day and on YouTube!

Many thanks for your help in advance. Yours in Chemical ignorance,

Malcolm

*(The Great British Bake Off, about which there has been much recent controversy – but that shall remain a story for another day).

“Kingdom Kwestion, Luke 13.18-21” – VIDEO

What is the kingdom? Jesus taught about it all the time. It mattered to him. What do you think it is? “Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.” Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”” (Luke 13:18–21 NIV11)