After Easter: The Kingdom
After Easter: The Kingdom
It was a seminar and I would have given anything to have been there. As a teacher there are a lot of educational experiences that I would like to have been part of. Would you like to have sat with me under the tutelage of Aristotle when he pointed out the treasures of Greek thought and culture to Alexander and infected him with such a love learning that wherever he went from Macedonia to the banks of the Indus River he carried Greek culture and Greek learning with him. I'm not sure whether you would share my particular taste in wanting to have sat with William Rainey Harper at Yale a hundred years ago seven o'clock in the morning hundreds of people studying Hebrew before the rest of the curriculum began, to sit under a master teacher. Would you have desired to have been in a gymnasium in the locker room with John Wooden when he briefed Lou Alcinder and Gale Goodrich and Keith Erickson on the fine points of basketball?
These are master teachers, but nothing that they have done can compare with the seminar that's the story of this Scripture reading in Acts 1. The most intensive crammed course in human history. Jesus was the teacher teaching as he had done for three years but transformed by the glory and the power of the resurrection. The curriculum was the Kingdom of God, and that's not surprise because from the time that John the Baptist opened the door into the history of Jesus and pushed him through and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God, and spoke of the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom was the subject of what Jesus did and taught. One of the parables, the nature of the kingdom; one of the beatitudes, the lessons in the ethics of the kingdom; one of the miracles of Jesus, the demonstration of the power and renewal of the kingdom. So the teacher they were used to, here he was transformed; the curriculum they knew, though it was somewhat expanded because now he could interpret to them the meaning of his death and resurrection; and what he had spoken of as prophecy at the beginning of his ministry he could now interpret as history at the close of it.
But it wasn't the teacher and it wasn't the curriculum that made the after Easter difference. It was the timing. The timing was what made the difference. The story takes place after Easter, and the Bible tells us that that's kingdom time. As we look at this story and understand the meaning of the kingdom, will you watch with me for three realities of the kingdomits certainty, its power, its scope. The certainty of the kingdom, the power of the kingdom, the scope of the kingdom.
The certainty of the kingdom
The timing made the difference. When Jesus demonstrated the certainty of the kingdom. Think of the before. The disciples frightened, anxious, puzzled, guilty. How they would like to have had the opportunity to replay the scene of the Last Supper and their walk with Jesus when he was capturedtheir sleeping in the garden, their failure to own up to him in that moment of truth. You can imagine how they were riddled with ambivalence at their response to the crucifixion event. But then came the Easter shout, the Easter shout that echoed in that empty tomb. He is not here for he is risen! And it was passed by the grapevine of apostolic witness from person to person. And then Jesus appeared to them all, and his appearance demonstrated the certainty of the kingdom.
Christ's presence. He showed himself alive, and he showed himself alive not once where they could think Was it an illusion? Was I dreaming? Did I think I saw him? Did I want so much to see him that I conjured up in my imagination the vision of him? We've all that experience with people that we've lost that we've been close to. We've lost them in death and we think we hear their voice or their step. We wonder are they there. We dream of them. But Jesus kept on appearing for forty days and in those appearances testified to the certainty of the resurrection. He ate with them, gathered with them, demonstrated that he was alive
That certainty was based, then, not only on Christ's presence, as this story tells us, but on Christ's promise as his conclusion underscores. Jesus did not slip out the side exit and just leave a note behind. He did not disappear and leave them wondering what would happen next. When he left there was that majestic scene of the clouds of heaven and the voices of the witnesses saying, "He's going to come again the same way that you have seen him go. And all of that anxiety and puzzlement about the kingdom disappeared under the impact of the certainty of it. Jesus spoke of the certainty of that kingdom. He spoke of it after Easter, and the timing made the difference.
The power of the kingdom
He spoke also of the power of the kingdom as well as its certainty. Here again it was the timing that made the difference. Think of the before. Yes, they were baptized into John's baptism. Their commitment was ratified. Their loyalty was sealed. They left what they had and followed him. But they doubted. They were selfish. They quarreled. They arm wrestled for the left hand and the right hand seat in the kingdom. And then came Easter, and then came the teaching of the kingdom. And even that they didn't get right at first, because they read it in terms of political power and they said, "Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel at this time? Are you going to wipe from our shores the polluting footprints of those Romans who arrived a century ago under Pompeii and have held us in check ever since? Are you going to set up the throne of David in Jerusalem and mount it yourself to the tune of the great coronation trumpet?
And Jesus said that's not what this curriculum is all about in this crash seminar. The Father's in charge of all that stuff. It's about power that I want to talk to you, not the times and the seasons. It's about witnessing that I want to speak. It's about the baptism of the Holy Spirit with a power and a presence and a vitality beyond anything that John ever knew. And how they were changed. Before they panicked in the storm while Jesus slept, and they slept in the crises while Jesus prayed. They had life all backwards before the power of the Holy Spirit came to transform them.
And then came the new baptism and the indwelling of the Spirit, and those whom Jesus had referred to as "Oh, ye, of little faith became martyrs faithful unto death. You know I think how the Greek word for witness flowed into its second meaning of martyr, because of the faithfulness of the apostolic company. Jesus had taught them about the Spirit. He had taught them about the Spirit in the chapters of John that are to youfourteen through sixteen. He had told them "If you as earthly parents respond kindly to your kids when they ask you for something, isn't the heavenly Father going to give you the Holy Spirit if you ask him? And yet none of that had caught them. None of that had grasped them until the after Easter when the certainty of the kingdom ratified the promise of the power of the kingdom and they were willing to wait in Jerusalem until it happened.
It's the timing that made the difference when you talk about the Spirit. It was after Easter and after Easter is kingdom time.
The scope of the kingdom
The certainty of the kingdom. The power of the kingdom. The story talks about those two, but it moves on to deal with the scope of the kingdom. And here again the timing made the difference.
Can you picture that scene in John 4 when the disciples begin to feel a little lightheaded and faint, sick to their stomach on the trek to Samaria. "Ought we to be here? Are these the kind of people that we ought to deal with? They're not our kind. Their religion is corrupt. Their ethics are perverted. They're not a pure stock to Jewry as we are. And even Jesus himself had said "I don't come at this stage in my ministry to deal with people from the ends of the earth. Remember what he told the Syrophenecian woman? I come to minister to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
That was before, but then came Easter. Then came the resurrection, the completion of the ministry of Jesus, the preparation for the work of the Spirit which would take the gospel worldwide in its scope. And Jesus said starting here in Jerusalem where the trial was rigged, where the witnesses were bribed, where the combined entrenched power of Roman and Jew conspired to me in, here in Jerusalem you stay and be my witnesses, and then fan out into the rest of the province of Judea, whose very name reminds us of Jewishness and all of that opposition and misunderstanding to the ministry of Jesus. There, too. And then onto Samaria with its corruption and its perversion, where Philip went and talked about the kingdom in Acts 8, and beyond that to the end of the earth.
Before the book of Acts is through it shows us the trail of Paul going to Ephesus in chapter twenty and doing kingdom talk there. The curriculum of the seminar had taken, and Paul took the message to Ephesus in that city of straight Roman roads, precision colonnades, amphitheaters, pagan temples. Paul said the kingdom of God is here. And then on to Rome where the light of the kingdom, Paul said, out dazzled the light of imperial majesty, where nothing that the Senate and the Roman people could muster in terms of power could stop the movement of the kingdom of God. And the very last verse of the book of Acts has Paul in Rome talking about the kingdom, the curriculum with which Acts began is the message with which it concludes. It's the after Easter message. And the gospel went out in that great tidal wave of response that makes the wave of Krakatoa look like a bubble on a pond. The gospel went out, and it reached your pagan ancestors and mine.
You know when we see those slides of people from New Guinea, the slopes of the Andes, the tribal peoples, the hill country of India, we feel that somehow we must have come from different stocks than that. I don't know what family portraits you have of your ancestors and the Germanic tribes in 300 A.D.Scandinavia, the Britains, my old Viking founder of the Hubbard clan. He wore no Brooks Brothers suit, carried no Samsonite briefcase. And despite all that paganism, the certainty of the kingdom and the power of the kingdom reinforced that movement into the full scope of the kingdom. And the power of the kingdom came to a little town in Northern Ireland where a revival meeting was being held, and my daddy went forward at age sixteen and the kingdom reached him. And it went to a little village in northern New York when my mother was fourteen, and she committed her life to Christ. And her agnostic father mocked her and he said, "If you're going to make a fool of yourself by becoming a Christian, why can't you do it in a decent, respectable place like an Episcopal or Congregational Church and not with all those Baptists?
But the scope of the kingdom has reached us all, as Jesus promised that it would, when the church goes out and that relay race of witness was carried on with the baton undropped and the Spirit to the runners unflagging. And it came to me, and it came to you. This is after Easter. It's mission time. It's witness time. It's kingdom time.
Five responses to the kingdom
What does this mean to us? Will you note five things with me, quickly in conclusion. Five responses that I suggest in light of the story of the certainty and the power and the scope of the kingdom.
First, think what the kingdom means, how powerful and transforming it is. Satan is defeated. Death is vanquished. In whatever circumstance you find yourself, the power of the King is present. The glory of the creation is restored, as the miracles of Christ anticipated. Forgiveness and new life are available to whomever believes. There's the rehabilitation of the oppressed as the gospel if preached to the poor and the captives are set free and the church is formed as it is here for mission, for worship, for nurture, for fellowship. That company of people whose bond is the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And to minister to each other and testify that the kingdom is here just as we know that the kingdom is also coming.
The second thing we want to do then after we have thought about what the kingdom means is to look for its signs in our own lives. Look for its signs in our own lives. Whenever loneliness overwhelms you and something says within Christ loves me, he is for me, he is here with me that is the presence of the kingdom. Whenever you do something wrong and the grace of God floods your life and gives you the gift of repentance and you say I'm sorry and receive anew the forgiving grace of God, that's the presence of the kingdom. Whenever your natural response would be to retaliate and you don't, where your kind word confronts the harsh word of someone else, that's the presence of the kingdom. Wherever it would be easy to turn your back on someone in need and instead you offer your hand in help, that's the work of the kingdom. And we treasure it. We rejoice in it. We affirm it in our lives. It's what makes us what we are. The Holy Spirit bringing the reality of the kingdom of God wherever, in any circumstance you say Jesus is Lord, you have acknowledged the power and presence of the kingdom.
The third thing to do. Join that company of witnesses. If you have come to God through Jesus Christ you have that same spirit. The baptism that Christ promised is yours. That power is there, and it is now your task to witness. And I would suggest that you'd better witness because that's the only contribution that you can make to the whole job. There's no CPR or artificial respiration that you could have offered that could have raised Jesus from the dead and launched the days of the kingdom. There is no gimmicky argument that you can use that will open up a stubborn heart and bring the light of the gospel into a life so the person says I believe. That's the Spirit's work. There is no way that you can engender on your own steam sustaining and eternal acts of love in Christian mission in the cause of Christian justice. That's the work of the Spirit. That's kingdom work. There's no way that you can plan the future. There's no way that you can predict the time of the second coming. That's not your task. Witnessing isbeing there, watching it happen, saying it happened to me, saying it can happen to you, testifying to the transforming grace and power of God in Jesus Christ and all that he has for human destiny and human hope through that transformation. So Jesus says you'll have that power and then you'll be my witnesses. Because of what witnesses did, we are here. And the baton is passed to us in our generation to take the message from our own community to the ends of the earth. Relay runners all, not saying look at me, not saying look what I can do, but witnessing to the power of the gospel through Jesus Christ, to the presence of the kingdom in human history in him.
The fourth thing is to wait with joy for the fullness of the kingdom, for the great victory it will mean. We live between the empty tomb and the coming cloud. What a magnificent time that is to live. With all of the assurance of past history on our side and all of the hope of prophecy yet to be fulfilled before us, we carry on our work and we carry it on with joy.
I went to Santa Barbara a couple of weeks ago ostensibly to celebrate my birthday but really to see my two grandchildren. And my namesake, who is about a old, brought out his bank. And Grandpa duly reached in his left hand trouser pocket and pulled out some coins and gave them each by each to those tiny fingers, and he dropped them in the slots. And when I thought that I had fed that coffer about enough, I went on with other things sitting in the Bentwood rocker in my daughter's living room; and I was conscious of that little guy bent down with his nose through the curlicue in the Bentwood and his eye one inch from my slightly opened pocket. And then I felt a hand, two, three inches slipping into the pocket. Is there more there, Grandpa? his body language was telling me. And I said I wish I were nave enough to live that way. I wish I could trust God enough to live that way, to have my hand out in God's pocket, to have my eyes on those treasures that he wants to give me, to have my eye to that joy that will be made constant at the second coming of Christ, to reach out for all that the loving Father has for me, to enjoy the fullness of Christian hope every moment that I live.
So we think of what the kingdom means and we look for the signs in our lives and we join the company of witnesses and we wait for joy for the further gifts of his fullness. Then we want to do one more thing, and that's simply remember where you live. When someone says, "Where do you live? it's easy to say Temple City, El Monti, San Marino, LocEnata, Elcidina. But where you really live is after Easter. That's your address. That's the great reality, the great label of your existenceafter Easter.
You live in the land where forgiveness through the grace of Jesus Christ is possible. You live in the land where love can be the new style of life because of the power of the Holy Spirit. You live in the land where witness needs to be born and can be born to the ends of the earth. You live in the land where the triumph of Christ is being celebrated today by scores of millions of people around the world. You live in that after Easter land. The Easter story with its certainty, with its power and with its scope has brought home to you the message of the fullness of God's kingdom.
The timing makes all the difference. You and I live after Easter, and that's kingdom time.
Preaching Today Tape #08
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David Hubbard served as president of Fuller Theological Seminary for 30 years. His books included contributions to the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series.