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The Unshakeable Kingdom of God

The Unshakable Kingdom of God

 

Hebrews 12: 14-17, 25-29

14 Pursue the goal of peace along with everyone—and holiness as well, because no one will see the Lord without it. 15 Make sure that no one misses out on God’s grace. Make sure that no root of bitterness grows up that might cause trouble and pollute many people. 16 Make sure that no one becomes sexually immoral or ungodly like Esau. He sold his inheritance as the oldest son for one meal. 17 You know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected because he couldn’t find a way to change his heart and life, though he looked for it with tears.

 

25 See to it that you don’t resist the one who is speaking. If the people didn’t escape when they refused to listen to the one who warned them on earth, how will we escape if we reject the one who is warning from heaven? 26 His voice shook the earth then, but now he has made a promise: Still once more I will shake not only the earth but heaven also. 27 The words “still once more” reveal the removal of what is shaken—the things that are part of this creation—so that what isn’t shaken will remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that can’t be shaken, let’s continue to express our gratitude. With this gratitude, let’s serve in a way that is pleasing to God with respect and awe, 29 because our God really is a consuming fire.

 

 

Many Christians believe the Kingdom of God to be a future goal to get to. That it’s a place. It’s heaven. You might believe that as well, But Jesus doesn’t say that.

 

In the first Gospel, Mark, Jesus has just been baptized by John the Baptist. He comes up out of the waters and was forced into the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan for 40 days.

 

After he spends time in the wilderness, he comes into Galilee announcing God’s good news saying – Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!

 

This is Jesus announcing his ministry! Saying essentially – I’m bringing the Kingdom of God near to everyone NOW! What a radical statement that was. After all you couldn’t be a part of God’s future kingdom unless you followed all of the laws of Moses. How dare this teacher from Nazareth claim to bring God’s kingdom to everyone!

 

But what really is the kingdom of God? Is it a place? I know many Christians believe that Israel is where the final Kingdom of God will be. But what about Jesus saying that the Kingdom is at hand or it’s coming near through him?

 

Maybe it’s easier to believe that God’s kingdom is some far off goal to get to, rather than it being here now.

 

So what did Jesus mean by the Kingdom of God coming near or is at hand now? We see it in his actions! By healing other’s afflictions, we come face to face with the Kingdom right now, in the present. That is, Jesus does not just point to the heavens to talk about the kingdom of God. Jesus also points to real people in real difficulties and through their healing shows what the kingdom of God is like.

 

And it’s not only about physical healing. Many times, when Jesus heals someone of an infirmity, their hearts and minds are transformed. He says things like Your Faith has Healed you. For Jesus, their healing transforms their lives. Their healing is a moment of salvation!

 

In Luke, Jesus once tells the Pharisees, “The Kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For in fact, the KOG is among you.” Jesus promises the presence of the kingdom right now! he kingdom of God is found wherever and whenever God meets the gathering of the faithful. God has promised to meet us wherever we gather, whenever we call on God’s name.

 

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus speaks about the present reality of the kingdom; ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Throughout the gospels, there is a central confession that the kingdom of God has arrived with the coming of Jesus even if its complete fulfillment still awaits us in the future.

 

So, what does all of this have to do with our scripture from the letter to the Hebrews?

 

In this scripture, the author is telling the people of the church to give thanksgiving and gratitude for God’s unshakable kingdom. He also gives them instructions for living among others, similar to what we heard last week in Paul’s letter to the church in Thessaloniki. Things like:

     Live peacefully among everyone!

     Live a holy life among everyone!

     Make sure people know about grace, don’t let them miss it!

     Make sure there is no bitterness or strife among you. Not only will it hurt you, but others will see it and it will pollute them against God as well.

     Keep yourselves holy and clean – not squandering the grace you have received by refusing to change your hearts and lives.

     Don’t resist God speaking to you! Listen to what God’s is saying to you.

     And know that God can shake up the world if God wants!

     And as you are receiving the Kingdom of God now, one that cannot be shaken, be grateful! And let your gratitude be seen – by serving God, respecting God, and standing in Awe of God.

 

All of this sounds like a life that has grown in such a way that everything they do comes from God. And that God has changed their hearts. Transformed their very life through Service, healing, loving, helping…and more. All of this, given by God you you! US!

 

And then, the author reminds his readers that they have an unshakeable kingdom of God within them! Here and Now!

 

When you hear that what are you thinking? I am thinking about how God has given me this gift, and that I don’t always do with it what God would want me to.

 

Sometimes, I (and perhaps you as well), let my ego stop me from serving others. Or my selfishness. Or my bitterness. And that I allow these and others things to push those nudges/messages from God way down, out of sight and mind.

 

If we have within us the KOG that is unshakable, unable to be destroyed, Steadfast and unwavering no mattery what we say or do, then why do we walk around like the world is about to end? Why are we filled with gloom and despair? Fear and anxiety? Why are we so unsure about everything? WE HAVE THE KOG WITHIN US!

 

I wonder if we truly realize what this means? Because if we did, if Christians all over the world really understood, were about to comprehend the reality that the Kingdom was all around us as well as within us, then the world would perhaps look a lot differently.

 

Because if it were here now, within us as Christ lives in us, then how we live would change, right? Our churches would change. Our worship would change. Our relationships with others would change. And these things would always be changing to meet the needs of others within God’s kingdom!

 

Let’s face it. Most of what we believe sounds illogical! Unbelievable. That Someone love me so much that they died for me? And then they were raised from the dead? And we celebrate that by drinking his blood and eating his body? And I believe that this is why our faith was not ever about right beliefs, but instead by how we live.

 

As Christians with an ancient text written thousands of years ago, and with an invisible God, and that none of us have ever seen a literal raising of the dead – We have an improbable, unlikely, far fetched religion!

 

And yet, there is just something about Jesus, something about his message, his love for all people, his peaceful way, that many have professed faith in God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Why?

 

Maybe, when we first realize that Jesus wants to be in our lives, when we first admit that we aren’t worthy and have sinned, and that we don’t know it all, but grace covers us, I believe that we truly know that Christ lives in us. We don’t know much about this faith, but we feel something and it feels like unconditional love. If someone asked us if we knew Jesus, we’d shout YES as loud as possible. But as years go on, it is if we forget…or something.

 

As I look back at my life, I often wonder if that was when God was gently shaking the junk out of my soul. Wooing me back into his presence. Calling to ME. And asking me to not only love God, but to love others as myself.

 

I thank God every day for my salvation in Jesus Christ. But our gratitude should go further than just stopping at ourselves. Faith isn’t about us, it’s about who we have faith in, not what we have faith in. Christianity is first about Jesus, then about changing our hearts and minds to live a different life that calls us to love unconditionally like Christ. And with that love, we come together in service to the poor and oppressed, the addicts and mentally ill, the ones that society puts down, the widow and widower, the grief filled and the broken, the hungry and the homeless.

 

According to recent statistics, there are more than 200 Christian denominations in the US. And a whopping 45,000 world wide. This need to divide over our beliefs being more important that someone else’s….that wasn’t God’s plan! Jesus told his followers to GO! And love others as I have loved you. Gather with other followers from all the nations, baptizing them and teaching them every command I have told you, everything I have taught you. Feed the hungry, lift up the broken hearted, bless the poor in spirit, teach them about my love and my command to love.

 

In other words, share my love, share what I taught and commanded, work together, extend grace, mercy, and justice to all. If all Christians did this, then we wouldn’t have denominations at all! We’d all be working together, and if we didn’t see eye to eye with them, we would share our love in Christ Jesus. That would come first. Not our need to control. Not our need to be right. Love.

 

And yet, even though this didn’t happen, God is still using us, still using all denominations, to share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

And this supports what the writer to the Hebrews was saying, “Listen to God! Allow Jesus to change you, to transform your life, as you receive the unshakable Kingdom of God here and now. Tell God how thankful you are for all that God has done in your life, and let your gratitude be in your service to others. 

 

Let your gratitude be your service! This is exactly what the unshakable kingdom of God looks like. It is here now. And in the future. And we don’t know! But we know that we are called to serve others all through our life of faith.

 

Because faith is far more than only belief in the existence of God. Faith is the willingness to give ourselves over, at times, to things we do not fully understand!

 

I recently read a story that might help us see the unshakable kingdom of God at work….

 

This story is about an unnamed girl who writes: I remember trying to tell my story of faith and feeling like I didn’t have one. It was really hard. Had I not lived? Had I not gone through pain? Of course I had. My war wasn’t this external chaos of bad choices and messy relationships. It was the opposite. It was the internal pressure to be perfect, the fear of failure, and lack of identity and self-esteem. It was the feeling of why am I this way and why can’t I change it? Why can’t I just not be afraid or anxious or caring about what everyone thinks? Caring so much about the opinions of people who don’t even know me. And feeling completely lost because of it. Never taking the time to get to know the real me because I was too busy trying to be what I thought other people would like for me to be in order to be loved and accepted and known.

 

This was my struggle. Deep wounds of loneliness, isolation, and to the point of depression and thoughts of suicide. I really couldn’t see beyond what I thought people saw me as. It crippled me. I was so unhappy. Those years I hated myself. I hated how things were that I felt I couldn’t change. I didn’t see a way out. It was terrifying. I felt like I had no one to turn to. I felt like I was living in hell. It was like I could only see what was wrong with me and I used it as an excuse to not let people in.

 

“And just like a tree that slowly grows, the higher we reach, the deeper we go.”

This is one of my most favorite song lyrics by Jason Upton. I think it’s because I love sea shells and also because there’s something about it being small that reminds me of my faith sometimes. The faith of a mustard seed fascinates me and brings me hope. There’s just something so beautiful about God taking something so small and using it to make something SO big. So much bigger than anyone thought. And I’m that tree slowly growing but going deep. 

 

My story is of a girl who who believed more in what she couldn’t do than what she could. But not anymore. Fear no longer leads and anxiety doesn’t keep me from being true to discovering who I really am. A long time was spent waiting and hoping things would change or for someone to come and tell me something different. To help me believe, to give me faith. But it’s a choice.  I had to choose faith. I had to choose it for myself.

 

Today I choose again to believe the truth of who I am, and who I am becoming. I choose to believe that what Jesus did for me on the cross set me free from all sin and death and bondage and instead he gave me life and a hope and a future.

 

How did I get out of the pit of isolation, depression, and lack of identity? Well it started with faith. It started with Me stepping out in faith to do all the things God had already put in my heart for years. I had always wanted to mentor middle school girls in a youth group and I had always wanted to sing on a worship team. But this wasn’t from of place of needing to be seen or loved, It was from a genuine desire to serve God in obedience and passion. It was truly surrender.

 

What got me out was Jesus, faith, and people.Someone asked me this once, “How did you find joy and freedom?” and what came out surprised me: friendship.

People who were willing to walk with me even in my brokenness. Who wouldn’t judge. Who would listen. Who would be patient. Who would remind me of God’s truth and not let me sit in self pity. Who would encourage me and see me how God saw me even when I couldn’t.

 

God brought me into community and church family and a purpose all at once. I knew that it was in serving God and putting myself in a position to serve with the gratitude I felt in my heart because of Jesus’ love, that would bring me out of where I was.

 

It was there I was reawakened to my purpose. That’s why I’m so thankful for friendship and for Jesus’ love. These have been gifts of God that have sustained me through hard times. Gifts that  gave me the strength to be who God created me to be!

 

Can you see it? This unshakable kingdom residing in you? IT IS. In all of us! In great thanksgiving for this unshakable faith, this unshakeable love, this unshakeable hope, we gratefully serve God by serving others.

 

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