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The Kingdom of God Is Near

The kingdom of God is both present reality all around us and a vision that we work toward in the future.

From the Editor

Hamilton's passage is but two verses long, but the chief idea of those two verses—the kingdom of God—knows no bounds. It's bigger than any one sermon, but Hamilton does a masterful job of helping his audience navigate the complexities of the now/not yet nature of the kingdom. As you read the sermon, notice how Hamilton introduces a sense of the kingdom, offers brief commentary, and punctuates each point with a down-to-earth story. This is a great example of how to preach grand themes in helpful, applicable ways.


The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good News!

That was Jesus' message. Everything else in the Gospels is a way of illustrating what that means. It's a way of teaching what life in the kingdom looks like, what it means to live as a servant of the King, who the King is, and how we enter the kingdom of God. Even the miracles Jesus performs are meant to be examples of what life is like in the kingdom of God—wholeness and healing and fullness of life. All of this is illustrating the central point of Jesus' preaching—the kingdom of God has come near.

Understanding the kingdom of God in today's world

Today we want to ask the question: What is the kingdom of God? Those of you who have been Christians for any length of time probably have some idea as to what the kingdom of God is. But the more you think about it, the more you wonder: Is that all there is to the kingdom of God, or is there more? Biblical scholars and theologians have devoted entire lifetimes to focusing on this one theme, trying to understand what it looks like.

The kingdom of God is a little harder for us to understand today than it was in Jesus' day, because we don't have a king, and we don't live in a time of kingdoms—at least in America. In the first century, the king was the ultimate authority, and there were a lot of kings. There were kings, and then there were emperors. Caesar had control over an entire empire. There were kings who controlled various regions and reported to the emperor. Had Jesus lived in another part of the Roman Empire, he might have talked about God as the emperor, and he would have talked about the empire of God. But he talks about the kingdom of God.

The king, for the people of Israel, was the highest authority. The king ruled completely and sovereignly over his kingdom. He was responsible for everything within the boundaries of that kingdom. He was responsible for the safety and protection of his citizens, but he was also able to claim them as his subjects. He could ask them to do anything he wanted them to do, and they had to do it. If they failed to do it, they were living in rebellion; they could be killed. All of their property ultimately belonged to him. Everything within the bounds of that kingdom belonged to the king. So, when Jesus looks for an analogy—a way of talking about who God is and what authority God exercises over us—he chooses the highest authority figure known to human beings. He says: God is above all of those earthly kings.

The Book of Revelation says that Jesus is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and he rules God's kingdom. God's kingdom is expansive; it includes all of creation. God rules over the entire cosmos. God created this little planet, and people used to think the Earth was the center of the universe. Today, we know it's not the center of the universe. We know that we're on the third planet from the Sun, a star that's not that magnificent, in a galaxy filled with hundreds of millions of stars like ours. We're just one galaxy among hundreds of millions of galaxies out there. God reigns over all the vastness of space filling it all. God is omnipresent—everywhere—and yet, on this one particular planet, God chose to create not only life, but human beings—creatures who are able to think, reason, love, and hate. He created us in his own image, with the capacity to do great good or to do great harm. He gave us the ability to make choices—to choose to follow God or to reject God.

Can you imagine what a risk it was for God to create beings that could actually turn their back on what he intended? God is King, whether you choose to be his subject or not. Your deciding that you don't want to follow him doesn't in any way diminish the fact that God rules over everything. It just means that you live in rebellion to the King. That's the story of humankind—a story of our rebellion against the King.

The King we have over us chooses not to force us to follow his commands; instead, he tries to woo us. He tries to lead us and guide us like a shepherd.

We find the climax of the story in God, the King of the cosmos, choosing to step into human skin on our planet. How amazing it is that the God who oversees the vastness of the universe says: I will walk among them, in skin just like them, and I will perhaps be able to lead them, show them, and help them understand.

Jesus comes and walks among us. For 30 years, he's in Nazareth, preparing. He's a carpenter. Then he comes preaching the good news of the kingdom of God—that God reigns and rules over everything, so follow him and live according to him.

His miracles demonstrate the power of the kingdom of God. He reaches out to people who are lost, and shows us the principles of the kingdom of God. He gives the Beatitudes, which are in direct contrast to the values of a world in rebellion.

What did humanity do with Jesus? We crowned him king and nailed him to a cross. But even this was a part of the plan. As we looked at the Cross, we could see for the first time the extent of our rebellion and the extent of Christ's love. In his death and resurrection, we realized that our hearts might be changed, and we might begin to live as a part of his kingdom.

There are three senses in which Jesus uses the term "the kingdom of God," and we're going to try to unpack those three senses. When you read what Jesus says about the kingdom of God, you may find it's not this idea that Jesus is talking about; it's that idea. Plug in the right understanding, and suddenly the parable or teaching of Jesus makes sense.

The kingdom of God is a present reality.

I want to illustrate the first sense of the kingdom of God with a story. My wife Lavonne and I love to go to the mountains to hike and ski. Several years ago, we took the kids on vacation to the Olympic Mountains in Washington, and one day we hiked up to Hurricane Ridge. From where we were standing on Hurricane Ridge, we could see the mountains all around us. It was beautiful. We got a little bit winded up there, so we decided to take a break. We opened up bottles of water, sat down, and began to drink. While marveling at the majesty of the mountains, I looked down and saw a miniature world before me, teeming with life and activity and energy. All sorts of animals were bouncing around and flitting to and fro. There were things that I could see and things that I could barely see—little dots here and there of all of this life.

I began to think about the world below in light of the kingdom of God. The little creatures living in that one patch of tundra never move more than three or five feet away from that spot. They can't see the mountains. They can't see the grandeur all around them. All they can see is their one little square foot—the grasses around them. This is the first sense of the kingdom of God: God rules and reigns over everything, whether you acknowledge it or not. God is the force behind all the smallest particles on our planet and all the vastness of space. God rules over everything. God is present everywhere. There is nowhere that God is not. At this moment, God is all around and God's kingdom is all around, and everything obeys certain principles that God himself has set in motion. When Jesus talks about the kingdom of God in this first sense, he is talking about living with the recognition that God reigns over everything right now, right here. All around you, God reigns.

You need to wake up in the morning and remind yourself of this. We get so used to living in this world that we think this is all there is—what we can see and feel and touch. But you know, don't you, that everything is transient? Those of you who live in the nicest homes in our community are going to find that one day, a hundred years from now, your homes will be turned into apartments or torn down for a shopping mall. All of us in this room are going to die one day. We're going to be laid in the ground. After a period of time, we're going to be returned to dust. A hundred years from now, nobody's going to remember us. You think this is all there is? We're on this tiny little outpost in a tiny little part of the Milky Way galaxy in the vastness of the cosmos. You've seen the Hubble telescope pictures. You think it's all about us? That's not how it works.

You need to somehow change your perspective and begin to see that God reigns—that you are a part of his kingdom. The single most important thing is that I live according to his kingdom. When you begin to live according to the rules of God's kingdom, you find that life begins to go differently for you because you're living not according to the rebellious standards of the world, but according to standards of God's kingdom.

God's kingdom is all around you. There's nowhere you go that God doesn't reign. You either choose to recognize the truthfulness of that and live accordingly, or you choose to live in rebellion, rejecting the truth. If you choose the latter, you will find that your life doesn't go quite the way God intended. We're meant to recognize that the reign of God is all around us and to live accordingly.

The kingdom of God is a vision for the future.

The knowledge that God's kingdom is all around us is not meant to lead us to ignore the world, saying, "None of the problems in the world really matter, because I live in the kingdom of God." Instead, it's meant to compel us to try to help this world look more like the kingdom of God. We live in rebellion, and the world lives in rebellion, so we see a lot of things in our world that are broken and reflective of our brokenness. But we pray: "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." In teaching us to pray this prayer, Jesus is talking about the kingdom of God not only as a present reality, but as a future vision. He's saying the kingdom of God, if it was fully realized on this earth, would mean a great deal.

How would today's world be different if God's reign was recognized by all of humanity? Would there be wars in 12 different countries on our planet today if God's reign was recognized everywhere? There is enough food on this planet to feed everyone, but every day 30,000 people die from malnutrition and starvation-related diseases. Would that happen if God's reign was recognized everywhere? Kansas City is the 13th most racially segregated major city in the United States. Would our neighborhoods look differently if God's reign was recognized everywhere? How would we run our American businesses? What kinds of scandals would be avoided in our country? What would be the single most important thing in each of our lives if God's reign was recognized fully and completely?

But God's kingdom is not yet realized, and since we live as those who are striving to be a part of that kingdom, we have our feet in two worlds—in the rebellious world and in the kingdom of God. When Jesus talks about the kingdom, he's talking about a vision for the future. The kingdom of God is what you work toward in your life. It's what you strive for.

Karl Marx talked about religion as the opiate of the people. He thought that Christians focused people's attention on heaven—on "pie in the sky." In his mind, they were of no use, because focusing on heaven meant little worry about the earthly condition. To the degree that Christians have done that, they have failed Jesus Christ. Jesus cares very much about our world and wants us to live like the kingdom was fully present today. He wants us to work toward seeing the realization of the kingdom in the future.

The kingdom of God is a vision for your life. It's what you're supposed to be about. You need to get up in the morning and say: "God, how can you use me today? What can I do in mission for you today as I seek to live as a citizen of your kingdom?" The kingdom of God is both a present reality all around us and a vision that we work toward in our lives for the future.

The kingdom of God is the climax of human history.

Finally, the kingdom of God is the ultimate climax of human history. Sometimes, when Jesus speaks about the kingdom of God, he's speaking about a present reality somewhere else—a place where God's reign is completely experienced without any rebellion toward God. Scripture tells us that the day will come when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, where the kingdom of our God will transplant the kingdoms of this earth. The Book of Revelation says that in that day there will be no more sorrow, no more grief, no more death, no more pain, that God himself will be the light in the midst of that kingdom. There will be no one living in rebellion to him, and his will for the world will be perfectly done.

Just the thought of that promise of the kingdom creates joy within us. That's the hope we have as Christians—that one day we'll be in that place. We know that that place currently exists for all those who love God. At the end of their life, they have the opportunity to join the heavenly kingdom where God's will is perfectly done.

After one of our evening worship services was over, I received a telephone call from my mother. She said: "Adam, I think this is the evening when your grandfather is going to pass away. We're all at the hospital, and I didn't know if you'd like to join us."

When I arrived at the hospital, all the children and some of the grandkids were there in the hospital room, and the family said: "Come to the bedside, Adam."

As I stood at my grandfather's bedside, I took out my anointing oil that I carry with me wherever I go, and I anointed my grandfather in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Then I laid my hands on him, and I prayed for him: Oh God, we give you thanks and praise. And I thank you for my grandfather, for these children's father. And we commit him to your love and care right now, at this very moment. We pray that you would hold him in the palm of your hand, this man who is a sheep of your flock, a sinner of your redeeming. Lord, we give him to you as you gave him to us. In your perfect time, O God, we pray that you would welcome him into your arms of love; that you would wash him clean and make him new; that you would allow him to enter your kingdom and see the things we only dream of on this side of eternity. O God, please take care of my grandfather and hold him near. We give him to you. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

As I ended that prayer, my uncle Trevor, who is an EMT, was holding my grandfather's hand on the other side of the bed. He said, "Adam, right as you were praying, Dad breathed his last." God had welcomed him home.

We sat there in the hospital room for an hour after that. We talked, read the Bible, prayed, laughed, cried, and told stories. We were able to celebrate, because we had the hope of the kingdom of God.

There are three senses of the kingdom of God. The first sense is that the kingdom is all around you. There's nowhere that God doesn't reign, whether you recognize it or not, so live in God's kingdom. Walk in his kingdom; walk according to his precepts. The second sense is that the kingdom of God is a vision for what the future could look like if our planet was not in rebellion. As Christians, we must work toward that vision and seek to make it a reality here and now. The finals sense is that the kingdom of God is our ultimate destination. It is our hope and the place we will be one day, where there's no more sorrow, no more pain, and no more death.


I'll end this message the way Jesus ended his message when he preached that the kingdom of God is near. He said there were two responses we make to the kingdom. The first response is to repent. Repentance means you "think differently afterwards." Now that you know this fact of the kingdom of God, you begin to think differently. You see the world differently. You have a different perspective. You change how you think, and when you change how you think, you change your behavior.

Jesus also says that we should believe the Good News. Many of us grew up in church backgrounds where the Good News wasn't good news, but bad news. Every week you felt more guilty after church than you felt when you walked in. God was someone to be terrified of in life. You didn't feel your hearts lifted up by the good news of the kingdom; but twice in this passage of Scripture we learn that the kingdom of God is the Good News of God.

It's good news that God reigns and that God's reign is all around us. It's good news that you have direction for your life and know where you should be going—that the future can be better than the past. It's good news that you have the hope that, when this life is over, you have an eternal building in heaven not made by human hands. Your task is simply to trust that this is so.

For your reflection

  • Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul?
  • Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach?
  • Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers?
  • Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
  • Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points?
  • Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers?
  • Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers?
  • Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? (For help on what may require credit, see "Plagiarism, Schmagiarism" )

Adam Hamilton is the founding pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. Adam is married with two daughters. His latest book is Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics (Abingdon Press, 2008).

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Sermon Outline:


The coming of the kingdom of God was Jesus' central message; everything else in the Gospels is a way of illustrating what that means.

I. Understanding the kingdom of God in today's world

II. The kingdom of God is a present reality.

III. The kingdom of God is a vision for the future.

IV. The kingdom of God is the climax of human history.


It's good news that you have the hope that, when this life is over, you have an eternal building in heaven not made by human hands; your task is simply to trust that it's so.