Prepare for the Coming Kingdom (Luke 17:20-37)

Ellen and I have been married for 10 years.  They have been the best ten years of my life.  My wife is intelligent, caring, funny and compassionate.  Ever since I met her she has always been these things, but I did not always see it.  I remember walking with a friend in Arlington, VA and talking about life.  I was struggling with how I felt people were being disrespectful towards me with sarcasm and criticism and the thought came into my head, “Ellen has never ever treated me like that.”  The Lord was trying to show me something, but I was not ready to see it.  I was single and looking to date someone, but I did not want to date anyone who was not a realistic choice for marriage. 

Ellen did not fit my initial criteria of a wife. As a Christian, I was expecting to meet someone at church or in a Bible study and Ellen was outside of those boxes.  I just could not see what was right in front of me. I realized that I wanted to pursue a relationship with Ellen when I was on a date with someone else.  I was sitting across from someone who, on paper, was everything I thought I needed; a strong Christian woman, biblically wise, and active in evangelism and discipleship.  While I was sitting at the restaurant, I realized that I did not want to be there. On the way the home I stopped by to bring some ice cream to my friend, Ellen, because she was feeling sick. As I sat on the couch and talked with her that night, my eyes were opened that I was in love with her.  Until that moment, I could not see her true beauty and grace.  She was right in front of me, but I could not see her…that is until God opened my eyes. 

Maybe that is you this morning.  Maybe God has been telling you something, but you have refused to listen.  Jesus has continued to try and reveal himself to the Pharisees.  They were staring right at Him, but they could not see who He was.  He was the One promised to them long ago, but they were blinded because they were looking for something else.  Jesus did not fit their criteria for the Messiah so they missed what was right in front of them.  Jesus tried to help the Pharisees by encouraging them to see the Christ of the kingdom. 

See the Christ of the Kingdom          

            Questions are very revealing.  If you pay attention, you can help understand where people are coming from.  The Pharisees reveal their lack of understanding of who Jesus was and His purposes by asking questions about the timing of the kingdom of God. Jesus replies with shifting the focus of their questions.   Luke 17:20,

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

The Pharisees were looking for signs of the coming of the kingdom. Jesus tells them not to be looking for signs, but to be looking to Him. 

            The kingdom of God is already in their midst in the person of Jesus Christ. There are some translations, including the King James Version, that translate that last phrase, “the kingdom of God is within you.”  This has confused many people to believe that the kingdom of God is in everyone’s hearts, but this would be a very poor reading of the text.  Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees who did not honor Jesus as Lord in their hearts, but rejected Him. All throughout Scripture men are said to enter the kingdom rather than the kingdom to enter men.  The point of the passage is not that we have God within us, but that God has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ.  This is what Jesus means when he says, “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”  He has come to inaugurate His kingdom. 

            The Pharisees were the kind of people that would have made charts and graphs coordinating human events to anticipate when the kingdom of God would come.  They wanted to be able to assert with confidence that the end was near.  Jesus said that this is a wasted effort.  The kingdom of God is not observable through signs. I was talking with a friend this week who received an email from a local church declaring that the end of the world is about 6 weeks away. This church believes that it can pinpoint the exact end of the world by looking at things happening in the Middle East and various biblical prophecies. It is nonsense. They have taken their eyes off of Jesus Christ and are speaking authoritatively about something that we cannot speak authoritatively about.  It sounds good and it may draw a crowd, but it is mere conjuncture.  It is not wrong to think about how biblical prophecies are coming to pass during our days, but we should focus our energy on Jesus and His sure word, rather than the meager guesses of men.

            Jesus changes His audience in verse 22 from the Pharisees to His disciples.  Jesus told the Pharisees to look to Him and now he warns his disciples to not follow those who claim to be the “Messiah” or to those following false messiahs. Verses 22-25,

And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. (Luke 17:22-25)

There will be no need to study the signs or wonder if the Son of Man has come for there will be no doubt. Jesus gives a very clear picture of how evident his return will be with an illustration from nature. We probably have all been outside enjoying the cool breeze of a summer afternoon when lightning strikes and fills the skies. In that moment, everyone knows the storm has come. So it will be at the return of Christ; on that day everyone will know. 

            The Day of the Lord cannot be avoided.  All of history is moving towards that day when God will judge humanity for their rebellion and sin.  As the prophet Joel says, “For the day of the LORD is great and very awesome; who can endure it?” Who can stand in the face of God’s judgment?  It cannot be avoided; the Son of Man will come, which is why the two words that begin verse 25 are so important, “But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” The same Son of Man who is going to come in judgment will first come to be judged.  The only one who can stand on the Day of the Lord is the one who,

walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; He who does these things shall never be moved (Psalm 15:2-3;5).

Jesus walked blamelessly and only did what was right, yet was crucified to take the blame for all the wrongs of anyone who would turn and put their faith in Him.  And after he died, Jesus was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Majesty on High.

            Friend, do you realize how powerful those two words are, “but first?” You and I will be judged by the Son of Man, but first, he came to suffer for us.  Friend, do you know for certainty that you will endure the day of the Lord?  Jesus came for you first with grace, before he comes in judgment.  Jesus is standing right in front of you, will you see him?  Will you see the Christ of the kingdom?

Seek the Coming of the Kingdom

            There is hope for every single person, but one day that hope will run out. Jesus reminds his disciples of the importance of seeking his kingdom today. The calling of Christ is an urgent call.  Verse 26-30,

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. (Luke 17:26-30)

Jesus gives two examples of Day of Judgment; the days of Noah and the days of Lot. In both cases, Jesus is highlighting three things.  First, Jesus wants us to see how the destruction will be total by ending of each example with, “destroyed them all.” Second, He wants us to see that God’s grace is extended to those who trust in Him.  The Scripture refers to both Noah and Lot as righteous (Gen 6; 2 Peter 3:7).  Salvation and judgment always happen together. Some are judged and others are saved.  Lastly, Jesus wants us to see how sudden all this will happen. 

            The point of this entire section of Scripture is for us to wake up and seek the coming kingdom. Notice the description of the people who are destroyed: eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, marrying and bring given in marriage.  Everyone who was judged was not ready.  They were living life and enjoying themselves, thinking that they had more time, and then the end came.  Friend, are you enjoying God’s world, but rejecting Him as King over your life?  Are you so busy with living that you are neglecting true life?  Seriously, take a moment to ask yourselves, are you living for eternity or are you focused on just living? 

            Jesus says in Matthew 6:33 “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  We must seek his kingdom first.  In preparing this point, I have tried to add caveats to lessen the force of this admonition, but the Lord wouldn’t let me.  This is serious.  Will you be like Noah who prepared for the Day of Judgment, or will you be like everyone around him who ignored the future by holding fast on to their present life? Hear Jesus’ words,

On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left (Luke 17:31-36).”

Did you hear that warning, “Remember Lot’s wife?”  She was fleeing the destruction, but she looked back and was turned to a pillar of salt.  Remember how she did not continue to the end.  Remember how she did not trust God’s word. Remember. Some of the greatest battles we face can be overcome if we simply remember. We remember God’s promise of judgment and we remember God’s promise of salvation through Christ. Remembering gives us the focus to press on. 

            Do you see how hard it can be if we try to add caveats to our lives?  Listen again to Jesus’ words, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.”  Have you lost your life for Jesus Christ?  Does your life look different than your neighbor who doesn’t know Jesus?  What difference has Christ made in your life? 

William Tyndale was one who did not try to preserve his own life, but lost it for Christ’s sake.  He wanted to translate the Bible into English, but the government refused him so he fled England in 1524. He would live as a fugitive for 12 years, giving up his family, his friends, his country.  He wanted the common man to read of the coming judgment of the Jesus Christ in his own language and to read how Jesus Christ came first to suffer and die in our place. Tyndale did not count his life worth more than the kingdom of God.  In early October of 1536, a 42 year old William Tyndale was strangled by his executioner; then burned at the stake. He lost his life for Christ’s sake, therefore God saved his life as He did Lot and Noah through the hope of our Savior. 

Tyndale may be an extreme example, but do you get the point?  Jesus wants everything. He wants to govern every facet of life: building and planting, marrying and being given in marriage by the kingdom of God. Seek the coming kingdom of God and be willing to lose your life for his sake that you may truly find it.

Safeguard the Communion of the Kingdom

            In verse 37, the disciples ask where the judgment is going to happen.  And Jesus replies,He
said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” Jesus offers a vivid picture of the coming judgment: death is going to come on everyone who ignores the kingdom of God. They will be left circled by the vultures who will pick apart their flesh. We should heed this warning so practically how do we do that?  We safeguard the communion of the kingdom.  We live as citizens of the kingdom of God as we live out our relationships in the fellowship of the church.  There is no better way to ensure that we will not die in judgment if we are willing to die now for one another.  We must lose our lives for Christ’s sake, and we do that by wrapping our lives up together with God’s people.

            The Lord has set up systems in our lives to safeguard our relationship with Him. In calling us to live in community with one another, the Lord is putting us in a place where we can lose our lives for others. Acts 4:32-33,

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

One of the greatest characteristics of the earlier church is that, “no one said that any of the things belonged to him was his own,” but everything that they had (possessions, gifts, time, energy, etc.) was used for each other. We are called to live in this level of communion. What has the Lord given you that you can give to others? About a month ago two ladies contacted me with a need they saw in our church nursery. They asked me if it would be alright if they took one of their days off to deep clean and beautify the nursery. This is what was said, “Pastor, I feel this would be a great way for me to contribute to the church! I’m good at cleaning and organizing things so I saw this as a perfect opportunity.” Someone loves the church enough to give time and energy to serve the church with the gifts and talents that the Lord has given them.

What has the Lord given you that you can give to others? If this is our heart, we will be protecting the communion of the church. Living in communion forces us to die to ourselves; to die to our preferences, our agendas, and our ways of doing things. It may sound hard, but it is God’s way of protecting us from the coming judgment.  The calling of Christ is a call to die and there is no better way to consistently live our calling out than within the local church.  We are going to recommit ourselves to this calling to die once again by identifying our lives with the life of Jesus Christ.  1 Peter 2:21-24,

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:21-24)

Jesus lived for others. His body was broken with our sin on the cross so that we might die to sinful selfishness and to live humbly in righteousness. The Lord’s Supper is our way to recommit our lives to God and to each other by remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We know that the Son of Man will come again in glory, but first he suffered for us to bring us to God. Therefore in partaking in communion, we are proclaiming the only way to endure on the Day of Judgment is to trust in the One who endured judgment in our lives. 

            The Lord’s Supper is an invitation open to believers who have repented of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  This is an invitation, but should never be entered into lightly for God’s Word states,

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Corinthians 11:27-29)

As we prepare the table, take a few moments to ready your hearts to receive communion.

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