Learning To Walk In The Kingdom Of God: A Sermon Series: March 5th, 2017

Every faith community develops their own traditions.  I have to be honest that I’m ambivalent about traditions.  I like them because they give structure and a sense of familiarity to a church.  Traditions can be an easy way out.  Just because we do it last year doesn’t mean we do it this year. 

 

We have started a tradition of focusing on one of the four gospels during Lent.  We pour ourselves into reading the gospel, talking about the gospel and having a sermon series on the gospel.  Last year we read through the gospel of John.  This year we’re going to read through the gospel of Matthew.  We’re offering small groups on Matthew. 

 

Today I’m starting a sermon series called, “Learning to walk in the Kingdom of God.”  For six weeks we’re going to focus on what Matthew teaches us about walking in the Kingdom of God.”   

 

We have all sorts of resources to share.  One is this devotion.  This is a reading guide through Matthew.  Take this home and put it in your Bible.  I’ll put this on the Chain of Lakes Facebook page each day during Lent.  The second resource is the small groups that we are offering.  We’re offering five small groups on Matthew.  The small group corresponds with the sermon.  You might wonder, “why would I participate in a small group during Lent?  Matthew addresses many of the questions that we are addressing in our changing culture.  Matthew helps us understand, “who are we, what does it mean to be a person of faith in 2017.”  And we have the opportunity to look at Matthew with a group of people who have the same questions. 

 

The third resource is this sheet of sermon notes.  This is a teaching series, so I’ll share a lot of information about Matthew.  Save your own sermon notes.  It could be like your own personal Bible Study. 

 

The four resource is your own Bible.  I want to encourage you to bring your Bible to church during Lent.  We have Bibles, but bring your own.    

 

What Bible do I use?  The Bible I recommend is the Harper Collins NRSV Study Bible.  You can order it on-line and have it in a week.  Do a Google search. 

 

SLIDE             A Study Bible gives you introductions to each book of the Bible.  You can read three pages in the Study Bible on Matthew

 

SLIDE             And this Study Bible gives notes.  I love the notes.  Just in Matthew half of the pages are notes.  One of the biggest obstacles to reading the Bible is the Bible is confusing.  These notes will answer a lot of questions you have. 

 

This tradition of reading Matthew is part of a dream that the you and I at Chain of Lakes love the Bible.  We know the story line of the Bible, are comfortable reading the Bible, and are equipped to apply the Bible to their lives.  We don’t fall for false teaching on the Bible.  That’s why it’s so important to come to worship during Lent and participate in a small group.

 

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            Friday was my birthday.  Thanks for all of the birthday wishes that you shared with me.  I’ve celebrated a few birthdays.  The more birthdays I celebrate the more I reflect on my life purpose.  A life-purpose is the essence of who we want to be in life.  About 15 birthdays ago I came up with my life purpose.  It’s made up of four statements.  I encourage you to come up with your life-purpose.  If you had four statements that define you, what would they be?  I pray my life purpose at the end of my prayer time in the morning.  My life-purpose is this:

SLIDE Love as Jesus loved

            Grow to be like you

            Be a blessing to others

            Help bring in your kingdom.

 

These four life-purposes start with my family, go out to my work as a pastor, and then to the community.

            I want to help bring in the kingdom of God. 

            Bringing in the kingdom of God is part of our Purpose here at Chain of Lakes.  When we say that we want to be disciples who impact the world we are saying that we are part of a movement to bring in the kingdom. 

            Bringing in the kingdom is meant for everyone.  It’s not just meant for people with a Rev in front of their name.  It’s not just meant for people who have attended church all their life.  If you have hardly ever attended church in your life you can bring in the kingdom. 

            There are two basic criteria for anyone to bringing in the Kingdom.

            Our heart’s beat and our lungs pump. 

            Put your hand on your heart.  Is your heart beating? 

            Put your hand on your lungs.  Are your lungs working?

            You are candidates for bringing in the Kingdom.

 

            Brining in the kingdom is important to God.  If you have your Bibles turn to Matthew 3:2.  Pick up one of the read Bibles or one of the Blue Bibles.  In the red Bible turn to page 878; in the blue Bible turn to page 2 in the New Testament.  Let me set up this story.  The first two chapters of Matthew are about the birth of Jesus.  Matthew and Luke are the two gospels that have the birth of Jesus.  Mark and John don’t have the birth stories.  In chapter 3 Matthew moved from the birth story to about thirty years later. 

SLIDE             In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  Matthew 3:1-2

 

            Shortly after this we find the story of Jesus being baptized by John.  Then Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness—that is Matthew 4.  Then Jesus begins his ministry.  We come to Matthew 4:17.

SLIDE             From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  Matthew 4:17.

 

            What do you notice about the two passages?  The first words out of John the Baptist’s mouth as recorded in Matthew and the first words out of the mouth of Jesus as he started his ministry.

            It’s as if Matthew is setting up the theme of his gospel.

            The Kingdom is a significant theme in Matthew   

SLIDE

55 times the word, Kingdom appears in Matthew

20 times the word, Kingdom appears in Mark

43 times the word, Kingdom appears in Luke

5 times the word, Kingdom appears in John.

 

            Each of the four gospels has a theme.  One theme in Matthew is the Kingdom. 

            One of the focus of this series is to equip you to read and study the Scriptures.  We’re going to learn about the Kingdom and we’re going to learn about the Scriptures.  Some people are skeptical about the Bible.  We’re going to address some skepticisms about the Bible in this series.  If you’ve ever been skeptical about the Bible, share your story with me.  Send me an E-mail.  I might address your skepticism in a sermon.

            In my ministry I have often been asked the question, “why are there four gospels.”  Why can’t there be one gospel?  In fact critics of the faith have used the fact that there are four gospels as a criticism of faith.  People will say, “it says this in Matthew and this in Mark and they are different.”  So that leads me to question the truth of the story.

            If you’ve ever wondered why there are four gospels and not one gospel you are not alone.  SLIDE       A man by the name of Tatian who lived in the 2nd century wondered why there are four gospels.  He took the four gospels and tried to turn it into one story.  He took Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and created what is called the Diatessaron, or a harmony.    He tried to harmonize the four gospels.

            Having four gospels is much better than one harmonized gospel.  I think of a gospel as a perspective on a story.  There’s one story with four perspectives.  Having four different perspectives on the story doesn’t mean we need to question the story. 

Let me give you an example. 

            This past Thursday evening the Minnesota Gophers played Nebraska in basketball.  Minnesota is having a good season.  Minnesota won the game 88-73.  Gophers are rolling. 

SLIDE             Here is the headline for the St Paul Pioneer Press who was covering the game: “U makes it 8 straight”

SLIDE             Here is the headline for the Minneapolis Tribune who was covering the game: “Send ‘em home happy”

SLIDE             The game was covered by a reporter from the newspaper in Omaha.  Here was the headline for that newspaper “Rudderless Huskers blitzed by Gophers.  Coach Tim Miles cites needs for a quarterback”

            What is the story.  Is the story that the crowd went home happy; is the story that Minnesota won their 8th straight game; is the story how the Nebraska team needs a quarterback.  These are three different perspectives on what happened.   

            Now imagine if someone was reading these three headlines in 200 years.  What would that person think?  The person might wonder why there are such different perspectives.  Why are the people who wrote about the game looking at it so differently?   People look at this so differently I wonder if the game happened. 

            Do these different perspectives make us question the reality of what happened?  No.  I wasn’t at the game; I listened to it on the radio.  I didn’t see the game, but I believe the game happened.   

            One way to think of the four gospel writers is people who were reporters with a point of view.  They had a point of view.  They were writing the story of Jesus.  It is the same story.  Each of the writers had a perspective or an interpretation of what happened.  They shared that perspective as they wrote the story. 

            The perspective that they shared was meant for a particular group of people.    

            Let’s go back to the Gopher Basketball example.  The Omaha newspaper wrote for the perspective of the Nebraska fan.  ….  The Star Tribune & Pioneer Press wrote for the perspective of the Minnesota fan.

            Just knowing that helps us understand more clearly the story that was written. 

SLIDE             When we read each gospel we want to be familiar with the point of view of the person who wrote the gospel.  We want to be familiar with the community for whom the gospel was written. 

            For the first gospel, Matthew—what is the point of view of the person who wrote Matthew.  For the sake of today, let’s call him Matthew.  What was the community like for whom he wrote.  Each of the gospels was written for a group of people in order to pass on the message of Jesus.

            How do I figure out the point of view of Matthew?   How do I figure out the community for whom he was writing.

            It’s not that hard.  One way to learn the point of view of the gospel writer is to see how each gospel writer started the story.    

SLIDE             An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham Matthew 1:1

 

            Matthew then went on to share that Abraham was the father of Isaac.  Isaac was the father of Jacob.  Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.  It goes on and one.  Matthew closed his genealogy by writing this: 

SLIDE

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations;

And from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations;

And from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

Matthew 1:17

 

            Reading a genealogy is not interesting reading.  This could be an easy part of Matthew to skim.  Though it is important that Matthew included women in the genealogy and one prostitute. 

            But the genealogy becomes interesting when we ask the question, “why would Matthew start his story in this way?”  Why would people reading or hearing Matthew’s story find this interesting?

            Who would be interested in this genealogy?  The Jews would.  A person who was taught and trained about the stories of Israel.  A Jew would know the person in the genealogy.  The genealogy tells the story of Israel.  If we heard a listing of the United States Presidents that would tell us a story of our country. 

            Matthew was placing Jesus in a historical context.  Jesus is the continuation of this story that started with Abraham.  Matthew concluded the genealogy by saying that Jesus was the Messiah.  This term was important for the Jews.  They had been waiting for the Messiah ever since the prophets had predicted that a Messiah would come. 

            Another tip about Matthew and the community for whom he was writing.  When we read Matthew we’ll often notice how often he uses the Old Testament.  Often something will have happened and Matthew will write, “this is to fulfill what was predicted.  In the first chapter of Matthew we’ll read after the birth of Jesus was described:

SLIDE             “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:  ‘Look the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.”  Matthew 1:22-23. 

Fourteen times Matthew did this in his gospel.  Something happened and Matthew shared that what had happened fulfilled a prediction.

            These are three important tips that can help us understand the point of view of Matthew.  He started out with the genealogy; he wanted to emphasize that Jesus was the Messiah; and he showed how an event was a fulfillment of something that had happened in the Old Testament. 

            Matthew was writing for a group of people who were very familiar with Jewish customs.  Why is that important?  Most people think the people to whom Matthew wrote to a group of Jews who were now following Jesus.  Because they were following Jesus they had been kicked out of their local synagogue. 

            The people for whom Matthew wrote were wondering, “do I belong to this world?”  Have you ever asked that question.  Do I belong to this culture, to this country?  I know with the huge disagreements that are happening people are wondering, “do I belong to this place anymore?”  Matthew helps us understand to whom we belong.

            If Matthew was preaching to us today he would say “You first belong to the kingdom.”  It’s not easy to be part of the kingdom. 

            In his story Matthew acknowledged that frequently there was a clash between different kingdoms.  In the small groups we’re going to look at the first four chapters in Matthew.  In those four chapters there was an incredible clash between kingsoms.             

            As soon as Jesus was born the wise men came to Herod.  Herod wanted to find baby, Jesus.  Herod asked the wise men to tell him where the baby was.  The wise men found Jesus, but they didn’t go back to Herod.  Herod became enraged, and he immediately ordered that all the babies under two around Bethlehem be killed. 

            There was this clash of kingdoms.  Here’s the point.  Despite the clash of kingdoms, God prevails.   

            God prevailed.  An angel warned Joseph in a dream what was happening and the family escaped to Egypt.  They were safe.

            In the third chapter Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan river.  This was one of the most powerful scenes in Matthew.  It was an illustration of the power of the Kingdom.  Right after that Jesus went into the wilderness.  He fasted for 40 days.  He was tempted three times by the devil.  The Kingdom was in peril.  Jesus didn’t give in to his temptation.  God prevailed.  . 

            In the clash of Kingdoms, God always prevails.  Despite crucifixion there is resurrection.

            Some of us might feel that we are experiencing this clash of forces in our life.  Nothing goes right for us.  Perhaps you’re having a health problem that won’t go away.  Perhaps you’re discouraged about something that is happening in our family.  Perhaps you’re in a job that is not going well.   We can’t even find a job.

            Matthew teaches us that this clash is part of our human reality.  Matthew also says that in this clash God will prevail.   If we’re going through a hard time, don’t give up on God; don’t blame God.

            What would have happened if Joseph had said, “I’m too scared about what is happening.  You God should have never let this happen, I’m not going to Egypt.”  Jesus would have died shortly after he was born.  What would have happened if Jesus himself had said, “these tempations are too hard, why are you letting this happen Abba, Father.”  The devil could be our ruler today. 

            Pain, disappointment, discouragement shouldn’t lead us away from God; they should lead us to go deeper with God.  The Kingdom will always prevail. 

            Which leads me to close with a story about our own faith community, Chain of Lakes.  We’re getting closer to meeting the charter requirements for becoming a church.  Yay, God!  We have 74 signatures.  We only need 11 more.  Let’s be honest, It’s taken us a long time to get here.  It’s been eight years since we’ve started this church.  We’ve had many discouraging moments.  Here we are.  We’re very close to becoming a church.  That’s why we were started.  Our future is so incredibly glorious.  If you were here last Sunday when we were celebrating different foods from all the cultures at Chain of Lakes—wow!  That was awesome.  The energy that was here.  Wow!  It’s a tiny vision of who we are called to be. 

 

            Our story is an example of God prevailing.  I think there are spiritual forces who would have loved to see Chain of Lakes fail.  In our future who are going to be helped because of the witness of this faith community.  We are going to help people in faith and relationships and to be healed and to know their identity.  We are going to have people who lived out the Kingdom.  There was a clash of Kingdoms right here.  And guess who won?  The Kingdom of God.