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The Proclaimed Kingdom, Part One

The Proclaimed Kingdom, Part One

From Series: The Kingdom of God, Volume 2

Romans 5:1-11 (ID: 2395)

The Gospel minus the cross is merely a placebo. Without Jesus’ death, our greatest problem, sin, has not been and cannot be addressed. From Romans 5, Alistair Begg reminds us of the centrality of the cross of Christ. At Calvary, God’s wrath against our sin was satisfied and the way was opened for us to have fellowship with Him. Because of what Jesus has accomplished, all of the blessings and benefits of the Gospel are ours. If we are in Christ, then, we have nothing to fear.


Sermon Transcript:

Now, we’re going to read from the Bible in Romans 5—Romans 5—and we’ll read the first eleven verses. Romans 5:1: 

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Amen.

Let us pray together:

Our gracious God and loving Father, for the beauty of the earth, for the blue sky, and for the sunshine upon us this day, we give you our humble thanks. For the opportunity to reflect with gratitude upon your goodness to us in family life and particularly for the gift of our fathers, we praise you. And for all that this day has meant in terms of your fatherly care of us—and we are your children by creation, and in Christ we become your children by grace through faith, and we’re able to come and call you our Father in a very intimate and personal way. It’s a remarkable truth, especially given the state of our lives without you; our disinterest in you; our rebellion towards you; sometimes, just our indifference; on other occasions, our absolute forceful resistance to your claims.

And yet as Paul reminds us here, if when we were your enemies you reconciled us to yourself, how much more, then, having been reconciled, will we be saved through your life. And we thank you that tonight we’re in this place and we have the opportunity of spending this hour in worship, of turning to the Bible and considering its claims and its instruction, of sharing in the lives of those who are professing their desire to follow hard after you as they’re baptized. And we pray now that your blessing may attend all that we remain to do. We thank you that you have designs and desires for us beyond even our own ability to conceive. And in this we find our confidence, as we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Well, we’re considering again the story. I feel, I said to one of my colleagues, that I’m trapped to this little button here and the screens. I told you when I began, I didn’t like this; I don’t like it any more now than I did when I began, but I’m so stuck with it now that there’s no way out of it until the end—it’s like running a cross-country race. I do hope that people are learning. If they’re not, then it is a tremendous exercise in futility, and so I’m hopeful and prayerful that we’re actually doing okay.

If we want to know God and want to know his blessing, then we meet him in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Those of us who were present this morning realize that Jesus is the source of God’s blessing; that’s where we ended. If we want to know God and want to know his blessing, then we meet him in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We actually sang about that:

I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus, the Nazarene,
And wonder how he [has loved] me,
A sinner, condemned, unclean.[1] 

And at the very heart of that message is something that we’ve considered before, but which bears repetition and is vital for us: and that is simply that all of the blessings and benefits of the gospel become ours as a result of what Jesus has accomplished on the cross. And we saw in one of our preparatory studies that the whole notion of substitution lies at the heart of the sacrificial system in the Old Testament, pointing forward to all that Jesus would one day accomplish on the cross. The Old Testament people were looking forward to it, and we, in turn, are looking back upon it.

It is by way of the cross that God the Father makes it possible for sinful men and women to have fellowship with him. Without the cross, there is actually no gospel at all.

And so, I want to spend the majority of our time this evening reinforcing for us that which is at the heart of all that we believe and all that we know of God. It is by way of the cross that God the Father makes it possible for sinful men and women to have fellowship with him, and without the cross, there is actually no gospel at all.  If you think about that—allow that to settle on your minds for a moment—without the cross, there is no gospel at all. A gospel minus the cross is akin to a doctor offering a placebo rather than the actually needed medicine. 

And you know in all these tests—I read about them every week—some drug company is making an experimentation, and certain control factors are in place. And some people are given a placebo, and other people are given the real thing. And the interesting thing, of course, is that some who receive the placebo announce that it was a tremendous help to them and that they were greatly changed as a result of it. Of course, the doctor has eventually to tell them that they weren’t, because what they were given, actually, was just a little pill made of sugar, and it was doing nothing at all.

In the same way, if the gospel is presented to people minus the cross, if the story of the gospel goes something like this: “Are you messed up and need fixed up? Are you lonely and sad? Do you need help? Would you like to get your life sorted out? Would you like to be changed? Would you like to get organized? Would you like to be a number of things?”—to which the answer is almost exclusively, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, to all of the above”—people may actually be led to believe that what they were responding to was the gospel. But in actual fact, it isn’t the gospel, because there is no gospel unless we have the cross explained to us. Now, that doesn’t mean that that message won’t do people any good. Many people will say, “Well, it’s done me a tremendous power of good. Ever since I began to think in that way, I have really done a turnaround.” But unless the cross is conveyed, then the preacher has neither confronted the problem nor has he conveyed the solution.

The Cross Is God’s Answer

At the heart of all of this are a whole host of questions; let me summarize them as three.  Any thinking person has to say to themself: How can God pardon sinners without at the same time encouraging sin? How can God pardon sinners without encouraging sin? How can he, actually, at the same time, show justice in punishing sin but mercy in pardoning it? How can he admit sinful men and women into heaven without spoiling the holiness of heaven? Now, the answer to all of those questions is the same: only by means of the cross. And as foolish as it sounds to those who are perishing—and it does sound absolutely silly to people who don’t believe—the Bible tells us, Paul says, that those who are being saved, they understand that this is to them the very power of God.[2] So that when the cross is preached, we anticipate at least two things happening: we should anticipate that unconverted sinners may be humbled by it and brought to faith in Jesus, and that those who are believers would come to rejoice in the cross, to glory in the cross, and to make much of the cross. 

God keeps all of his appointments at one place—namely, at the cross.

So, when we say that all of God’s blessings are made available to us in the Lord Jesus Christ—that he is the source of blessing, and as we alluded to it this morning, we said that God keeps all of his appointments at one place, namely, at the cross —this is what we’re saying. It’s important that we’re clear. Something had to be done about sin and the fact that God had expressed his anger against it.

But God couldn’t simply overlook it or just stop being angry. That’s the way many people read their Bibles. They say that somehow or another God was really concerned about sin right up until about Malachi, but then in the four hundred years in between the Old Testament and the New Testament, he sort of changed his mind; he got over it; he decided he wasn’t going to be angry about it anymore. And all of the fire and brimstone and the aggravation and the wrath that was represented in the Old Testament, you come into the New, and it’s all just “love your neighbor as yourself.”[3] 

Of course, that’s a gross misunderstanding of what’s happening. If God were simply to stop being angry at sin or simply to overlook sin, then he would cease to be God. Because the justice of God, which is inherent in his character, demands that sin is punished, he can’t turn a blind eye to evil, and so, in order to deal with this—the story is fantastic—God in his grace sends his own Son to take the punishment that sinners deserve. And as it says up here, our salvation is by way of substitution. And that’s why all of the Old Testament sacrifices point to Jesus. In him and in his death, God’s anger, God’s wrath—which is just his settled disposition towards sin—all of that is satisfied—or, in a big theological word, is propitiated—so much so that when a man or a woman comes to trust in Jesus, they need no longer face it.

Now, do you remember our memory verse from a long time ago, 1 Peter 3:18? Everybody knows this verse; I can see some of you mouthing it already. Here we go: “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” Jesus didn’t come to add to the sum of our total happiness. Jesus didn’t come to meet us on Chagrin Boulevard and say, “Hey, would you like to have me in your life?” Jesus came to meet us at the cross, bearing all of God’s condemnation on sin—which I deserve—and by means of taking my place, bringing the judgment of the last day into the present, so that on the last day, when I stand before the power of God’s judgment, I’m able to say, “I’m with him”—“I’m with him.”

I forget where I was just the other day, and someone wasn’t going to let me in. And I said to the person, I said, “I’m with him.” And they said, “Oh, you’re with him?” And I said, “Yes.” And they said, “Well, then, come in.” It made all the difference. And when we get before the gate of heaven, knowing ourselves as we really are, what are we going to say? The Christian is simply going to say, “I’m with him. I’m with him.” They’re not going to say, “I was baptized”—that’s important. They’re not going to say, “I was diligent”—that’s fine. They’re going to say, “I’m with him. He died in my place; he lived my life.”

Redemption, Reconciliation, Justification, and Conquest

Now, let me commend to you a book that we’ve been plugging in the bulletin for some time now—I think it’s probably gone from the best seller list at Parkside, but there’s no reason why we can’t bring it back; it’s now in paperback—The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges.[4] This is a must read for everybody that wants to get serious about the gospel. And Jerry Bridges, in a very simple and helpful way, elucidates the significance of a number of words, which I’m going to just give to you in a moment here. And I’m giving you, if you like, the CliffsNotes, and you can go to the book, and that will in turn send you to the book, and you’ll be tremendously helped.

The New Testament employs all kinds of metaphors and words in order to convey this one truth. So here are four of those words. The first word is redemption, which simply means that we have been set free by the payment of a price—set free by the payment of a price.[5] That’s the significance of Peter’s words here in 1 Peter 1:18: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed”—What were you redeemed from?—“from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” This amazing picture of life without God: “You were redeemed from your empty way of life.”

If you were going to cross-reference that, you could go, for example, to Ephesians chapter 2, and Paul in Ephesians 2 says this: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit [who’s] now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us”—all of us without exception—“also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”[6]

Now, you see, this is not a very palatable message, is it, for nice people in the Chagrin Valley? I mean, they don’t want to come to church and hear this. They want to come to church and hear, you know, “You’re a fine fellow, and we’re glad you’re here, and we just want you to go out and be a finer fellow than you were when you came in.” And they come in, and all of a sudden the Bible says, “You know what, you’re not a fine fellow. You’re a rascal, you’re a vagabond, and you’re a dreadful sinner.” “Oh,” he said, “I don’t want to listen to that kind of stuff.”

God doesn’t save righteous people. He doesn’t save good people. He hasn’t a category in heaven for those who are doing very, very well and trying to make a go of it in life.

Well, that’s only the first part of the story. The second part of the story is that God saves sinners. He doesn’t save righteous people; he doesn’t save good people; he hasn’t a category in heaven for those in the Chagrin Valley who are doing very, very well and trying to make a go of it in life.  He has a place for those, but it’s not in heaven. And he redeems from the curse of the law and from the bondage to sin. Hence, in the hymn writer’s words, “Be of sin the double cure, cleanse me from its guilt and power.”[7] And those two things always go together in redemption. That answers the question, incidentally, that people say, “Well, are you once saved, always saved?” Well, the answer is yes, when you’re truly saved, and when you’re truly saved, the death of the Lord Jesus applied to one’s life deals with the curse which he has borne by dying as a curse for us, and also deals with the ongoing power of sin within our lives as a result of him giving the Holy Spirit to live within us.

The second word is reconciliation.[8] This is 2 Corinthians 5, where in those wonderful verses that are familiar to some, Paul points out that we were alienated, hence our need for reconciliation. Again, people don’t think of themselves in these terms, but man, by dint of his sin, is alienated from God; there is a hostility that exists. The prophet says that our sin separates us from God.[9] The psalmist says of God, “You hate all who do wrong.”[10] Interesting, isn’t it?  Our sin separates us from God, and God hates all who do wrong. It’s not a message that you hear very often; it’s certainly not very palatable, again. People want to know that even though I’m this and I’m that and the next thing, God is really a very nice person. He’s like a grandfather that I used to have. He’s like a gigantic Santa Claus: he just gives out gifts and he’s really not concerned about things and he overlooks everything. No, he doesn’t. He hasn’t, and he won’t.

Now, you see, this is what makes the gospel so glorious. How can he, then, punish sin as it deserves and pardon sinners? The answer is in the cross: that God has reconciled us to himself. Actually, in the section that I read in Romans chapter 5, when Paul describes us as God’s enemies: “If when we were still God’s enemies”—remember he said in verse 10—“if when we were still God’s enemies he reconciled us to himself”—or he justified us—“how much more since we are reconciled and justified will he not save us through his Son!”[11] The emphasis there is not on the fact of our sinful hatred of God. When Paul says, “when we were still God’s enemies,” he is referencing the notion of Psalm 5:5: “God, you hate all who sin.” And Paul says, “If then, when we were in the situation where our alienation from God resulted in his hatred towards our sinful existence, if in that, God came and reconciled us”—then he says, “Surely this is just the most amazing news of all.” And he, in turn, has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

The other word that is wrapped up in that is the word justification: under God’s condemnation, but now we are righteous in his sight.[12] Romans 3:23–24 are as good a place as any to go: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” You see the interweaving of these words. 

In his union with us, Jesus has assumed our obligation to perfectly obey the law of God; and through that same union, Jesus assumes our liability for not obeying the law, and he has paid that liability by his death upon the cross.

And here again is the gospel. You need to understand this. If you don’t understand this, you can never share this. Remember last week we thought about the notion of being “in Adam,” and how our union with Adam brought us into the experience of sin, and how if we are in Adam, we face death, and then a second Adam comes to the fight—namely, Jesus. And in his union with us, Jesus has assumed our obligation to perfectly obey the law of God, and he does so; and through that same union, Jesus assumes our liability for not obeying the law, and he has paid that liability by his death upon the cross.  So he fully satisfied justice on our behalf. You see, if a person is justified… Let’s say I’m sentenced to ten years in prison, and I spend the ten years in prison; after I have satisfied justice, that no longer accrues to my account. No one is going to come back to me on that again. It is taken care of and it’s dealt with. And Jesus, by his death, satisfies the justice of God.

Let me give you just a quote from Bridges which I think is very helpful. He says, “As believers we must steadily keep in mind that Christ has satisfied the justice of God on our behalf. Never again should we fear the retributive justice of God. Yet many believers do live under a sense of fear of God’s justice.” Right? I know that because the fear rises within our hearts, and many of you come and speak to us on the pastoral team about this. “We know we sin continually, and sometimes the painful awareness of our sin almost overwhelms us. At such times, we still are prone to view God as our judge meting out absolute justice. [What] we fail to grasp, by faith, [is] the fact that Christ Jesus has fully satisfied God’s justice for us.” And then he says, parenthetically, “One morning in my private devotions I was reflecting on my sin, which for some reason seemed particularly painful to me that day. In my discouragement I blurted out, ‘God, You would be perfectly just in sending me to hell.’ Immediately on the heel of those words, though, came this thought. ‘No, You wouldn’t, because Jesus satisfied Your justice for me.’”[13] You see, this notion of being in Christ is a huge notion. It’s not a trivial thing; it’s an amazing thing.

The final word I give you is the word conquest. You remember, we pictured this when we looked at the freedom of the Israelites from the enslavement in Egypt, and God comes in, conquering the powers that had held them in their grip; and that is the word that is used, the notion that is used, of the way in which when we were powerless in the face of evil forces that held us captive, Christ’s power set us free—Colossians 2:15.

Now, in the strictest of senses, I cannot have done my job until the congregation at Parkside understands this. It doesn’t matter how many years I’ve been here—and I feel very much like Peter in addressing you this evening, where Peter in his second letter says, “You know, I know you know these things, but I intend always to remind you of them, so that after my departure you will be standing firm, convinced of these things.”[14] That you will know that this is the gospel, that you will be able to identify what is not a gospel—what is bringing countless thousands of people in its tracks, church buildings filled and filled with thousands of people wandering aimlessly in the path of a pseudogospel that has no cross in it at all. The issue of sin is barely addressed, the notion of reconciliation and propitiation and justification and conquest and reconciliation.

This is what I hear now from my colleagues; they tell me, “You know, people can’t handle those words. I mean, sensible people in the twenty-first century, they can’t be dealing with those ‘a-t-i-o-n words.’ Don’t give them that; you’ll scare them off.” Well, I got a higher view of what people can handle, and I think I have a different view of what the Scriptures demand of us. And if you go all the way through the Gospels you’ll find that this is the emphasis. 

(Incidentally, here’s where we are. Remember this? I wake up in the night dreaming of this thing. You say, “You do? So do I.” “I wish it was a dream,” says someone. “It’s a nightmare.”) 

The kingdom of God: God’s people in God’s place, God’s rule and blessing.[15] That pattern in the garden spoiled as a result of sin; promised to Abraham and his descendants; experienced, in part, in Canaan; and all of the blessings that come to Israel and through Israel to the nations; and then the whole notion of this partial fulfillment in Israel itself in Canaan, in Jerusalem, in the temple, in the law, and in the earthly king, which, as we saw, reaches the pinnacle of the kingly time in Judah and Israel in the days of David and Solomon. And then the prophesied kingdom: the remnant of Israel, the inclusion of nations, a new temple, a new creation, a new covenant, a new king, and a great blessing.

Now, we need to go on from there to the present kingdom, which is what we’ve been trying to wrestle with now: that Jesus Christ is the new Adam, he’s the new Israel; that in Christ the tabernacle and the temple find their fulfillment; that Jesus Christ is the one who, in the new covenant, provides rest for his people. 

The Four Gospels

You then get to the four Gospels. You say, “Well, that’s a relief; it means that we’re moving towards the end.” Yes, we are.  We know the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the Synoptic Gospels. Any good dictionary will explain that, and anyone who thinks about it for a moment will understand it. The Synoptics are similar; there are similarities between them, but they are distinctive. John—his Gospel is different in its style and contains a lot of unique material. The gospels are complementary; they’re not contradictory. And I want you just to get a feel for what each of the Gospels does. I’m not going to expand on this at all.

And this is a general statement, but Matthew emphasizes the fact that Jesus is the Christ of the Old Testament Scriptures. You’ll find in Matthew’s Gospel that with frequency you come on this phraseology: “This took place to fulfill….” And there are over a hundred references in Matthew’s Gospel to Old Testament Scriptures. 

Mark emphasizes the fact that Jesus is the Suffering Servant who calls us to suffer too. The Gospel of Mark is essentially in two halves. It comes across very, very clearly right around 8:29 when Peter recognizes that Jesus is the Christ. You remember when that great moment when Peter says, “You are the Christ, [the Son of the living God].” And from that point on, indeed 8:31, Mark then says, “Jesus began then to teach them that the Christ must suffer many things and go up to Jerusalem and be crucified at the hands of cruel men and on the third day be raised from the dead.”[16]

The Gospel of Luke proclaims that Jesus is the Savior of the world. Of course, we’re not saying that one does this to the detriment of the others; it’s just emphasis. Luke focuses on salvation, constantly referencing the forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit: “If [you] … being evil, know how to give good gifts [to] your children: how much more [will] your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”[17] And when we read Luke’s Gospel—I hope this came across—Luke was constantly saying that salvation was not limited to religious people; indeed, they were in danger. Nor was it limited to the Jews; it was for all people and for all nations. And in reading Luke’s Gospel, we saw men and women and children and adults and rich and poor and Jews and gentiles all coming to trust in Christ. And when Luke then goes on to write his second volume, in the Acts of the Apostles, it is no surprise to us that he writes how the good news spreads to the whole world. 

And the Gospel of John emphasizes the fact that Jesus is the Son of God who gives eternal life to those who believe. It begins in that characteristic way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”[18] Jesus is the eternal, unique Son of God the Father. John has for us all these amazing “I am” statements: “I am the light of the world,”[19] “I am the good shepherd,”[20] “I am the bread of life,”[21] “I am the way … the truth and the life.”[22] And all of those claims are supported in the Gospel of John by a series of miracles. When John begins to wrap his Gospel up, you will remember, in John 20:31 he says, “All of these things, a lot more stuff than this was done and we could write about it for a long time,” he said, “but these things were written and these miracles were performed in order that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ and that by believing you might have life in his name.”[23]

The Composer and the Conductor

Now, one final thing and we’re through—the famous diagram. (That’s enough of that. No, I take it back, just I’ll leave it there for a moment.) The conductor returns. If you ever played in the school orchestra, you remember, you had a conductor—a poor soul by any standards, whatever his or her name was. I remember going to the Solon orchestra concerts in which our children were participating and thinking, “Nobody could pay me enough money in the whole world to stand in front of this ugly group of children making that discordant noise. There is no way in the world. Poor man, day after day, after school in the band room, screeching and wailing on half-tuned violins and violas, and just the worst trumpeters you have ever heard in your whole life—just vicious stuff by any standards at all.”

Of course, interestingly—and I have never had this explained to me and this is parenthetical and not necessarily politically correct—but I’ll say it in any case. It’s always been of interest to me that when it comes to the football program in a school, there’s this erudite standard, you know. If someone like myself shows up and says, “Hello, I’m here to play in the football team for Solon High School—varsity. I demand to play and I want to play and I’m going to run around on the field with everybody else and that’s why I’ve suited up.” Coach says, “Sit down. Sit down for the rest of your life. Your mother can write; she can do whatever you want. Sit down. We have a program here, we’re committed to winning.” Right? Standard fare. Now I show up with a violin: “Go ahead! You’re in.” “But I can’t play it.” “Doesn’t matter.” So, I say again, there is no one in the world could pay me enough money to be one of these things. I take my hat off to the conductor.

Where are we going with this? Well, to the end. Those of us who enjoy, from time to time, orchestral music understand that an orchestra functions by means of a score which provides the notes for it to play, and a conductor who directs essentially when the notes are to be played and the speed at which they are to be played and various ins and outs. Clearly, a disaster would follow if the orchestra were to get rid of their conductor or if they were, at the same time, to tear up the score.

God is the composer who created our world and gave us the score. We ignore the score to our peril, and we reject the leadership of the conductor also to our devastation.

Now, you’ve already put the analogy to good use, haven’t you? This is what men and women have done. God is the composer who created our world and gave us the score. We ignore the score to our peril, and we reject the leadership of the conductor also to our devastation.  But still, men and women play their own notes and play them in their own time, disowning the conductor, tearing up the score, and yet at the same time expecting harmony. Every day in the newspaper, someone will say, “I wonder why it is that we can’t all live together and be nice to one another.” Well, why would we ever imagine that we could do it in the world when most of us can’t do it in our families? Husbands and wives are not nice to one another, parents are not nice to their children, and children are rebellious to their parents. So, cosmically, it’s no surprise that the world is the way it is. 

It seems, of course, a simplistic notion to suggest that the God who is the composer of the score, if we would just pay attention to the score and bow under the baton of his conductor that he has sent, then we would at least be able to make a stab at it. But no, no, we don’t want that at all. Everyone playing their own tune, everyone playing their own song—some are playing jazz, some are playing classical, some are playing rock. Everybody says, “Listen, it’s my life; I’ll do exactly what I want.” And what do we have? We have a dreadful noise, just a horrible cacophony of sound.

What do we need? Well, we’re dreadfully in need of a conductor. Jesus is the conductor. In fact, he’s both the composer and the conductor; he wrote the score, and he conducts it. Jesus has come into the world to restore order. Jesus is able to change the ugly, discordant nature of our lives into beautiful music. The conductor is able, by his empowerment, to engender a symphony of praise to God. He, by his life, played the perfect music, by submission to his Father; and by his death, he has made it possible for us to return to God’s orchestra, despite the way in which we’ve treated him, despite the fact that we are such lousy players and we don’t want to do what the conductor says, despite the fact that we all want to play special little bits at the end of the line: “Well, I don’t like the fact that I’m a triangle. So, given just that moment of silence in this great crescendo, I’ll just go ‘ding,’ just so that everyone in Severance Hall may know that I’m here.” “No, you won’t; don’t do that. You ‘ting’ when it’s time to ‘ting,’ and you don’t ‘ting’ when it’s not time to ‘ting.’ So, you suck when you should suck and blow when you should blow and do what I tell you—I’m the conductor.” By his resurrection, Jesus has been established as the eternal conductor.

“Well,” you say, “but we’re still producing discordant notes; our world is not marked by harmony.” Well, the conductor has come, yes, but we still disobey him; some refuse to acknowledge him at all. So, where in the world are we? What is this kingdom business? If there’s a King and a kingdom, why is it the way it is? Well, because the kingdom has come, but it hasn’t come in all of its fullness. And Jesus taught his disciples that when he left them there would be a delay, and then he would return. And he told them that when he returned, he would conduct the music, and people would play by the score. Everything would be put to right. All discordancy would be gone; it would be banished forever.

That’s then, but in the meantime, what are we supposed to expect? How do we understand what’s going on between the ascension and the return of Jesus? Where are we in this—from the garden of Eden to the fall, all the way through the birth of Christ, his death, his resurrection, his ascension? Someone says, “Well, I’m tracking so far, but I don’t understand the predicament we’re in right now.” Well, we’ll come to that next time.

Let’s pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, we confess to you that we complain and moan about so many things, and we fail to see that we have rejected the score that you have written for us and we refuse to bow beneath your guidance as the conductor of that score. We’re about to share with some who have come by the reading of the score to discover that you really are the person you claim to be. And we pray that as we listen to them and as we share in their baptisms, that you will bring others among us here tonight underneath your kingly rule. We bring our lives and our gifts to you now, and we pray, Lord Jesus, that we might see you in the fullness of who you are and all that you’ve come to do. And we pray in your precious name. Amen.


[1] Charles Hutchinson Gabriel, “I Stand Amazed in the Presence” (1905).

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:18 (paraphrased).

[3] Matthew 22:39 (NIV 1984).

[4] Jerry Bridges, The Gospel for Real Life: Turn to the Liberating Power of the Cross … Every Day (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002).

[5] Ibid., 76.

[6] Ephesians 2:1–3 (NIV 1984).

[7] Augustus Toplady, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” (1776). Paraphrased.

[8] Bridges, The Gospel for Real Life, 93–98.

[9] Isaiah 59:2 (paraphrased).

[10] Psalm 5:5 (NIV 1984).

[11] Romans 5:10 (paraphrased).

[12] Bridges, The Gospel for Real Life, 102–3.

[13] Ibid, 45–46.

[14] 2 Peter 1:12–15 (paraphrased).

[15] Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1981), 47.

[16] Mark 8:31 (paraphrased).

[17] Luke 11:13 (KJV).

[18] John 1:1 (NIV 1984).

[19] John 8:12 (NIV 1984).

[20] John 10:11 (NIV 1984).

[21] John 6:35 (NIV 1984).

[22] John 14:6 (NIV 1984).

[23] John 20:30–31 (paraphrased).

Thankfulness: A Mark of Grace
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