Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sent by the King

Steve Jobs remarked this year in the Wall Street Journal, “When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something -- Steve Jobs Best Quotes, The Wall Street Journal (8-24-11).

I wonder how many of us live life with that kind of clarity?  I wonder how many of us have a mission that is worthy of our life’s devotion?  Steve Job’s mission was “to make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”  In other words, advancing humankind through technology.  I love technology; and there is no doubt that humankind has advanced technologically because of Steve Jobs.  But has humankind advanced morally and spiritually? A good man can use technology to cure a disease or send a message of hope.  An evil man can use technology to destroy a city or broadcast fear. How many of us are texting on our cell phones right now?  How many hours do we spend a week on facebook, or checking our email?  I want to invite you to unplug for a moment and consider whether you have a mission that is worthy of your full attention, and your life’s devotion?  I want to consider for a moment Jesus’ mission, to redeem humankind by advancing the kingdom of God.

Let’s begin by looking at the message of the Kingdom (Gen. 1:28; Mark 1:15; Acts 1:3)  Mark tells us that Jesus went throughout Galilee proclaiming a simple message: “The time has come.  The kingdom of God is near.  Repent, and believe the good news!”  After his death, Luke tells us in Acts 1:3 that he presented himself alive to his disciples by many convincing proofs and for forty days spoke to them about the kingdom of God.  The kingdom was central to Jesus’ preaching…but what did he mean by it?   

“The time has come.  The kingdom of God is near.”  This is strange language to us.  In America we haven’t had a king since the War of Independence.  The only “kingdom” most of us have been to is “The Magic Kingdom” and that’s an amusement park.  God’s kingdom is real; but we do not always recognize it, or our longing for it.  Let me give you some examples from recent news stories…
  • A father whose young daughter died in a terrible car accident last week said on the news, “I’m not worried about my little girl, I know that she is saved and is with the Lord; but I am asking you to pray for my wife right now who has third degree burns over 80% of her body.”  
  • Then, on Tuesday a Texas man, Cornelius Dupree, wrongly convicted of rape and robbery was released after 30 years in prison. He’s starting his life over with his wife of 20 years that he met and married while he was in prison. "I just feel that the system needs to be fixed by whatever means so that this won't happen to anyone else."
  • Downtown, crowds are gathering calling themselves, “Occupy LA.”  A lot of them have lost their jobs in the down economy, or their homes in the mortgage meltdown, or can’t afford school tuition.  They’re frustrated.  We may laugh at them or sympathize with them, but in the end, what they hunger for is the same thing that man whose daughter died is hungry for, what Cornelius Dupree hungers for, and those people out on the street… the Kingdom of God.  It’s the same thing we all long for. We long for grace, for a world where sinners like us can turn back to God! We long for the lame to walk and the sick to be healed!  We long for justice to be done in an unjust world!  We long for a life that is stronger than death! When Jesus said that “the kingdom of God is near” he was talking about God’s rule and reign, he was talking about advancing God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven. He was saying that in his life and ministry, the kingdom of God is available to all who would enter it. 

Just look at Jesus' first sermon in Luke 4 where he opened the Isaiah scroll and reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed to free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Jesus did not invent the idea of the God's kingdom with his arrival; it has always been here, but he did claim that in him the kingdom of God is both advancing and accessible as never before.  Thus he dares to say, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing!” 

The second half of Jesus’ kingdom message is as important as the first.  “Repent (or turn) and believe the good news!”  What is the good news, really?  From the very beginning, it was God’s intention to bring his kingdom to this world through those who loved him and desired to walk in his ways.  In Genesis 1.28, human beings are commissioned to have dominion over the earth, and to carry out this responsibility with God as their co-worker.  This was our original job description. But as we mistrusted God and distanced ourselves from him and each other, our rule was corrupted.  That’s the bad news.  As we grow up, we begin to notice that the newspaper is filled with bad news– stories of selfishness and greed and violence and corruption.  We sense that it’s not the way things are supposed to be, but it is what happens when we attempt to rule the earth apart from union with God acting with us.  As we refuse to let God rule over us, we begin to rule over and dominate one another – and that makes for a lot of bad news. But that’s why Jesus calls the message of the Kingdom good news. The good news is that we can repent, turn from all our failed plans for living, and turn toward the King and his kingdom; that we can fulfill our original job description as we live in concert with his principles and ways.  

Prince William’s job description is to be a Prince.  There’s a rumor going around that Prince William and Catherine are going to have a baby.  It’s gossip headline news. Why?  Because it means there will be an heir to the throne one day…and more money to be made from those paparazzi photos. What right does this child have to be king or queen?  For that matter, what right does Prince William have to be king one day?  What right did William have to that fairy tale wedding with Catherine in Westminster Abby as millions looked on?  Only one right.  His birthright. In the 20th century there was one well known instance where a prince gave up that birthright (watch the Best Picture of 2011, "The King's Speech"), and in a sense that is the situation we are in because of our sin.  But the good new is that King Jesus has reclaimed us as members of his forever family, and that through faith in him we have a royal inheritance. Paul says that, “God’s unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:5). For “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son" (Col. 1:13). 

Once we understand this good news and trust in the One who announces the message of the kingdom, we’re ready to go on a mission with the King; to begin advancing his rule and reign as citizens of his eternal kingdom.  In Acts 1:6-8, the Risen Jesus describes that mission to his disciples before he ascended to heaven.  

The mission of the King (Acts 1: 6-8)  When Jesus said “The Kingdom of God is near” his disciples naturally thought it was coming immediately.  They also thought it would mean the restoration of Israel’s national influence and power, which is why in Acts 1: 6, they ask the Risen Lord, “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel”? Notice that Jesus does not correct them, but gently and firmly responds, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”  In other words, do not fret over or speculate about the future; rather, focus on the present reality of God’s unfolding spiritual kingdom and your place in it.  

We are not so different from these first disciples.  We have our own agendas, our own “kingdoms” that we want to establish; and we hope to use God as the means to our own ends. I’m thinking of the man who says of his fiancé, “She’s the answer to all MY dreams.”  I can’t help but ask myself, “Yes, but are you prepared to be the answer to all HER dreams?”  So often we see other people, the church, even God, as a means of fulfilling our agendas.  Jesus is reminding us that he is the King and that he is on a mission, the missio dei, mission of God; a mission he wants us to take part in.  “Your dream is to restore the kingdom to Israel; but my mission is bigger than that…to bring every nation into God’s kingdom and plant the seeds of the kingdom in every human heart, bringing repentance, and restoration, the fruits of righteousness, and the blessing of eternal life.”

Steve Jobs said that the quote that made an impression on him went like this: “Live everyday as though it was your last, because someday it will be.”  I want to suggest that it takes even more courage to live everyday as though it was the first...of an eternal life; to live knowing that the decisions you make now will affect the present moment and the lives of those around you…for eternity (Rom. 3:23).  What does that look like?  Well, first off we’ll have to turn off our cell phones and close our lap tops long enough to talk to people face to face!  At the gym, God is calling me to listen to a man filled with a lot of anger.  He knows I’m a follower of Jesus, and my ministry right now is to listen to him and occasionally get in a good word about God.  On Friday a woman from China asked me the most wonderful question as we sat at tables, face to face, in conversation.  “What is grace?” she asked.  I told her that grace is the undeserved love of God.  Her eyes brightened.  It’s exciting to go with Jesus on his be a blessing to people all around us as we advance God’s kingdom.

A little Nursery School girl came up to me after we had chapel time and asked, “Pastor Steve, do you live here at church?”  I respond, “No, I don’t live in the church, but I do work here.”  Don’t we often think of Jesus the same way?  We say to him, “King Jesus, you are my Lord and Savior.  I believe in you and I want to meet you right here every Sunday and praise your name…and then be with you forever in heaven.”  That’s great, but notice what Jesus is doing right about now…he’s walking out the door.  "Hey, Jesus, I thought you lived here. Where are you going?”  “Come and see,” he calls after us.  “But Jesus, it’s so comfy in here.  The pews are soft, and the music is beautiful, the sermons are a little long, but I can deal with that.  Hey, Jesus!  Come back!” You see, King Jesus is on a mission, and to follow him means we must go with him, out there, out into that big strange, beautiful, scary world, and find out what he’s up to.  Are you ready?  Let’s pray…and then, let’s go.

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