“A Culture not of This World”
Texts: Mark 4:26-32 & I Peter 2: 1-10
Let’s begin with the gospel reading. It’s a parable about the Kingdom of God. A parable is a teaching tool, an instructor’s illustration. It is shared with the intention that we draw meaning from it. As a teaching aid, the parable leads us into a deeper understanding or appreciation of the topic at hand. Now the parable is about the Kingdom of God. How are we, who live in a democratic republic to understand, the word “Kingdom.” As religious jargon we can throw around phrases like the Kingdom of God as if everyone knows what we mean and they do not. That is why I used the arresting phrase “A Culture not of This World.” My point is that to live in a monarchy, in a kingdom is to live in a culture as well as a very specific political structure. In addition, the monarchy can vary tremendously. There are absolute monarchs, constitutional monarchs and titular, or ceremonial monarch. Each type of monarch holds a different range or degree of power . . . a particular set of royal prerogatives and duties. That’s where the word culture communicates more clearly than “kingdom” to us; the word culture quickens us to a whole range of implications—political, social, moral, symbols of power and even religious meanings.
So what Jesus is saying with the phrase “Kingdom of God” needs to be spelled out. He means that God is king as in an absolute sovereign. He has no higher, or controlling authority. He rules completely and demands total obedience. Our God as king is also absolutely benevolent, all wise and all providing. He is our absolute ruler without being despotic, or tyrannical. The Kingdom of God is not of this world because it is over this world; it encompasses this world.
When Jesus came preaching the gospel, good news, of the kingdom of God, he declared:
believe the gospel. Mark 1:14-15
So, the gospel is the gospel of God. The good news that God’s rule is coming into being in our midst, on earth, between us. In another place, Luke 11:20, Jesus tells us:
If I by the finger of God cast out demons, no doubt the Kingdom of God
is come upon you.
Therefore we know that the Kingdom of God has come in the person of Jesus, the Christ. It has come with authority and power so that it is accurate to declare that Jesus is indeed King and Lord over all. Yes, He is King of the Jews and He is Lord over all the peoples on earth. However, this “lordship” is only apparent to the eyes of faith. Against the testimony of faith are arrayed all the principalities and powers of this present world order from before the time of Jesus and even until now. The visible, material power of the state—the Roman Empire in Jesus’ day, the nation state, or even globalism, the international governments of our day—presents itself as the only credible rule and authority. What is the Kingdom of God compared to this?
Now we are exploring the crux of Jesus’ parable. The parable of the seed is about the invisible power of spiritual truth, the gospel of God, which opposes itself to the nations. If we made an Easter application of this passage we would say that Jesus, in His burial, is the seed put into the ground. Through Jesus the gospel of God has been sown into this world and once there it begins its own development, powerful, hidden growth; it is absolutely independent of human will. It is, as the power of God, inexorable and inevitable. The world goes on quite oblivious (“the man should sleep, and rise day and night,” vv. 26-7) but “the seed should spring and grow up, he knows not how” (v. 27). Why? Is it because “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). I do believe so. “The earth brings forth fruit of herself” (v. 28). And just as we take advantage of the earth’s fertility, her fecundity, it must be apparent that we did nothing to cause this abundance. It is all of God. Secretly and invisibly the Kingdom of God is growing to perfection and it shall be brought to perfection in the end, or at the last. At the harvest it will become apparent what God has worked.
The parable of the mustard seed restates this development from the least to the greatest, from the nearly invisible to the gloriously triumphant and apparent. There is unsuspected greatness in the tiny mustard seed. Similarly there is something about the church which is humble, tiny, a sense of something which might be dismissed, overlooked, or ignored. But only for a season, the day is coming when the Kingdom of God will overshadow even the vastest of human governments; it will be the mustard tree—it and not the welfare state. The Kingdom of God will become a place of habitation, yes, for fowls in the parable, but for us in the age to come. And all this by the concurring power of God in nature because He is the God of nature. In the end, we shall be gathered into the Father’s barn, a ripe, golden harvest—many sheaves of mature wheat. So we note the little seed of 120 believers in Jerusalem, the church, which has become billions already—there are over 830 million Roman Catholics today and nearly as many Protestants. So we have a young convert today on earth who shall become a glorified saint in heaven. And all this is to the glory of our God and Father in Heaven, His Only Son and the Holy Spirit.
Before we leave Mark 4, I want to share this common point with 1 Peter 2:10. Peter writes that we exist to “declare the excellencies of God who has delivered us from darkness into His glorious light.” This is our purpose. So, in Mark v. 21, we have the Lord telling us that we are candles, and that if we are good—that is redeemed, then we should do good and bring salvation to others. In other words God expects a grateful return . . . some useful employment from those of us who have believed the gospel. We receive the gospel in order to give it away. The gifts and graces of God are what make us a candle. We exist to give a little light, for a little while. Yes, we are always at risk of being extinguished by a sudden wind, and yes, we are always wasting away (like a spent candle); but we must not allow our light to be put under a bushel basket. Others should be the better for our having been here; they should be instructed and enlightened by our presence. All has been given to us that we may give to all! Surely we have the ears to hear this! The seed of the gospel exists to be sown into the world, into the hearts of many. Take heed what you hear. We are to pay attention to the message that we have to deliver as reliable messengers. There is this matter of measure for measure—if we give abundantly unto the Lord, He will be bountiful unto us. In the spirit realm what we do not use, we surely lose. But if we deliver what we have received, much more will be granted . . . much more will be available to be entered into.
Three things have been running through my sermon this morning. They are all related to the purpose of declaration and would make an excellent three-point sermon title. They are:
1. Edify believers
2. Exalt the Lord
3. Evangelize the world
Our church, any church, needs to labor in constant reformation; we need to keep on track. We must become fashioned, spiritually formed, even disciplined folk—an evangelistic people. Our purpose is declaration—let’s make it an informed declaration. What the world needs most is deep people—the gifted and talented won’t cut it, neither will the brightest and the best. True spirituality is a relationship of obedience—so we must commit to making ourselves a theological people. We need to sharpen our understanding of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ until we see it applicability to all of life. How? Well, that deserves a lot more conversation but I will in a preliminary manner say, we could start by seeking more fellowship, more prayer. We could begin by making more space and place for each other, which can only happen if we intentionally unbusy ourselves. Simplify our lives for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of edifying, exalting and evangelizing.