The coming of the kingdom of God

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Well this morning series in Luke's gospel has been intense these last few weeks hasn't it? Jesus has had hard word after hard word for us. And if I could summarise the big idea of the last three chapters I think it would be something like this: 'Don't live for this world, live for the next'. How do we do that? One way is by keeping the Day of Judgment in the front of our minds. And that is what Jesus talks about in today's passage.

So it's another challenging passage. And the challenge is to be ready when that day comes. And to help us Jesus gives six warnings, culminating in chilling imagery of division, judgement and death: Cheery stuff – not … but if it's true, all the more important that we listen carefully.

So the topic is the Kingdom of God.

Look at verse 20:

"Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, 'The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21 nor will people say,'Here it is,' or'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you.'"

'So Jesus where's this Kingdom you're always talking about?'

This is ironic, because Jesus declares that the Kingdom has come – he is the King, come to claim it. He said so in Luke 4, 7, 9, and 12; and he's demonstrated it over and over. The Pharisees just don't believe it.

So Jesus says well you won't see it – because they've already missed it – the Kingdom of God is among you (NIV footnote b). It's here because I'm here – if you refuse to recognise it, you'll never see it. They're like people sitting here saying 'when's church going to start already?' We're half way through! If you can't see it yet, you never will.

Jesus isn't going to talk to the Pharisees any more about this – they weren't listening anyway. But his disciples need to know that there will be a second coming and they need to be ready and what he says can be summarised as six warnings and a challenge:

Warning 1 – it will follow suffering
Warning 2 – don't be fooled
Warning 3 – don't be distracted
Warning 4 – don't look back
Warning 5 – don't think someone else can believe for you
Warning 6 – it will be a blood bath

We're going to have to run through these pretty quickly, so let's get started:

Warning 1 – it will follow suffering
Verse 22:

"Then he said to his disciples, "The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it…"

The prophets promised the coming of Messiah, who would conquer the nations. But the disciples need to know there'll be two comings – Jesus comes first in humility to die for sins – verse 25:

"But first he (the son of man) must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation."

After that will he come a second time, to bring the judgment day. He will return in all his glory – like the son of man in Daniel seven who enters the presence of God to sit as the judge on judgment day. So the days of the son of man are days of judgement, ultimately the Day of Judgement.

Now the OT the prophets had seen these two comings as one event – just like a mountain range that looks like a single peak from a distance. But the disciples needed to know these comings would be separated by a wait – because Jesus was about to suffer and die, and then the waiting would start.

So be warned, Jesus might be some time. And be warned because the waiting will be hard – he suffers first, and then his people suffer. Jesus' people will long to see him – we will cry out for an end: 'how long o Lord?' We will cry out for his return: 'come quickly Lord Jesus.' These are two characteristic prayers of the church.

We will long to see it, but the Day of Judgment might be a long way off. Two thousand years later we see what he meant. And just as no one but Jesus was able to put all the OT predictions together properly until after it happened, so we can should be cautious about how dogmatically we hold to our ideas of the second coming, which leads to warning number two:

Warning Two – don't be fooled

Verses 23-24:

"Men will tell you,'There he is!' or'Here he is!' Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other."

In that time when we're waiting people will invent comings, make predictions, proclaim all sorts of things. But don't be fooled, there will be no secret second coming, no need to make announcements, no need to go looking for it – when it happens we'll all know about it, it will be so obvious there will be no missing it.

Well we've seen the predictions. There was one this month – did you miss it? The Guardian reported a 'Christian Group' predicted the end of the world following the blood moon in early October. Cue scorn and ridicule. And well they might mock: Jesus said we wouldn't know the day or the hour until it happened. Don't go after them, predictions of his return are profoundly foolish. But Jesus is crystal clear – we won't miss it, just like you don't miss fireworks night, just like you don't miss lightening, it's going to be blindingly obvious. So don't be fooled, warning two.

Warning three – don't be distracted

"Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. "It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulphur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.'

Here the warnings get serious.

People were eating and drinking – and the flood came and destroyed them all; people were marrying and being given in marriage – and the flood came and destroyed them all; people were buying and selling and fire and sulphur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all; people were planting and building and fire rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.

The days of Noah were notorious, as was Sodom. But Jesus doesn't say people were lying and stealing, people were raping and looting. No they were unprepared for judgment because they were caught up in the normal things of life – they were enjoying the good things God provides – eating and drinking, buying and selling; and they were investing in future happiness – marrying, planting crops, laying foundations, starting building projects. They were living their lives, just like us.

Their sights were set on this world, they were investing it all in this world – right up to the point when for them this world ceased to be – the flood swept them all away, the fire incinerated it all.

This is as serious as it gets. Life and death, heaven and hell. People will be swept away to judgment simply because they were distracted by the normal, boring, everyday things of life. So don't get distracted, don't forget that this life is passing away … invest in the life to come.

Warning three: Don't get distracted.

And closely related, warning four:

Warning 4 – don't look back

Look at verses 30-33:

"It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no-one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no-one in the field should go back for anything.  Remember Lot's wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.

When you get on an aeroplane they'll tell you in the unlikely event of an emergency you must leave all your possessions on the plane and get out as quickly as you can. Makes sense – what could you possibly have that would be worth risking your life for? Likewise what could you possibly have in the house that would be worth going back for? What is there in this whole world that is worth the risk of landing on the wrong side of God's judgement?

Do you see how this is like the last point but so much more subtle and dangerous? The great mass of people in Sodom had no idea that judgement was coming – they were busy. But Lot's wife? She heard the warning and she was getting out… but she left her heart back in town… her feet were running, but her heart wasn't leaving; her life was there in Sodom and she couldn't imagine going on without it. And so she doesn't.

And Jesus words are aimed straight at us:

"Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it"

Try all you want to hold onto your life, to keep control, to make the good times last but they won't; you know you can't take it with you but knowing and doing are two different things, put that truth into practice, don't live for now, don't invest in a life that's passing away – let go your life because you will only lose it.

And don't miss the rest of the sentence:

"whoever loses his life will preserve it."

Try and hold on and it will slip through your fingers … but let it go, give it all up for Jesus, and he'll give it back to you – he gives a new life, a better life – eternal life.

Warning 4: don't look back.

Warning 5 – don't think someone else can believe for you

Verse 34:

"I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left."

Two will be together, one will be taken, the other left; one will be taken, the other left; one will be taken and the other left. Do you feel the weight of that? They may have lived their whole lives together, shared everything – even the same bed, even a lifetime but one will be saved and the other left bereft and alone they will be separated forever.

You can't rely on someone else's relationship to Jesus. We all stand or fall alone, on the basis of our own response to him – either you're in, or you're out. Either you trust Jesus and you'll be saved, or you'll be lost. No one can believe for you, this is the dividing line of the judgment day – one will be taken and the other left. One will be taken and the other left … which will you be?

Warning 5 – don't think someone else can believe for you.

The sixth is a little harder to get, but I think the gist is that that day will be a day of blood shed and death – like a bloody battle field picked over by the scavengers…

Warning 6 – it will be a blood bath

"Where, Lord?" they asked. He replied, "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather."

Sometimes the disciples are so overwhelmed by Jesus that they just open their mouths and something comes out, they don't know what to say, but they have to say something… so their question 'where Lord' doesn't make much sense. And the answer doesn't really clear it up! But I think Jesus has in mind the image of vultures gathering to feast on bodies after a battle. The day of the coming of the Son of Man will be a great and terrible day – for those who know and trust Jesus it will be the end of pain, the end of waiting, of suffering, of sorrow, it will be a day of astonishing, and eternal joy. The party starts when Jesus comes back and will never end.

But for those who were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, for those who left their hearts in Sodom, for those who aren't taken but are left … that day will be a day of horror, when their rebellion against God will be returned upon them in blood and pain, in shame and ever lasting torment. Like a field strewn with bodies that will be a day for the vultures, for the scavengers, a day of bloodshed and tears. You will know where by the vultures circling overhead.

I hope by now the big idea is clear: You don't want to get this wrong… this is the one thing you need to get right. Whatever else you do, get this sorted, be ready when Jesus comes back. Be warned, it will be a massacre, a blood bath: for those unprepared it will awful beyond imagining.

So Jesus issues six warnings.

And that leaves us with a challenge – when that day comes, will you be ready? Will you be fooled?
Will you be distracted?
Will you be looking back trying to hold onto your life?
Will you be surprised to miss out?
Will your body be left for the vultures?

Or will you listen to Jesus' warnings?

Whoever tries to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.

So which are you doing? Will you be ready when Jesus returns?

Let's pray.

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