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The Proclaimed Kingdom, Part Two

The Proclaimed Kingdom, Part Two

From Series: The Kingdom of God, Volume 2

Selected scriptures (ID: 2396)

Two thousand years have passed since the first coming of Christ, and we still await His return. Why the delay? Alistair Begg continues to unfold the Bible’s storyline by explaining that we now live in what Scripture calls “the last days.” In this era, Christ tarries, as He has given His people a command to obey and a promise that He will fulfill: we are to proclaim the Gospel to all nations as He empowers us by the Holy Spirit.


Sermon Transcript:

I just finished the latest biography of Ben Hogan, and some substantial work well written by John Dodson; some of you may have read his book Final Rounds, and he has tackled Hogan—gone in greater length than the one by Peter Samson, for those of you who read golf books—and it was a quite fascinating journey. I was sorry when I came to the end of it but was struck by the fact that in Hogan’s life, as in everyone’s life, when we finally get to the end of things, we will surround ourselves with what matters most to us. At the end of the day, we will surround ourselves with the people and the things that matter most to us. If you think about that, if you think about the fact of your demise, if you imagine having only a few days left to live, where would you go, with whom would you spend the time, and what would you demand to have around you?

As I was reading the way in which his life concluded, it struck me in contrast the way in which Frances Schaeffer’s life had ended, and how when he was no longer strong enough on his deathbed to read his Bible he, the biographer tells us, would simply take his Bible and hold it close to him and pat it: a wonderful picture.[1] Of course, no one is ever going to take their Bible and hold it close to them and pat it at the end of their life unless, of course, the Bible has been important to them throughout the days of their lives. And it’s for that reason that we seek to make much of the Bible here at Parkside; that’s why we’ve been doing this series, trying to find our place within the big picture, trying to understand the story of the Bible from Genesis all the way to Revelation.

Now, I’m not sure that we’re doing particularly well, but we’re doing the best we can. Someone wrote to me last week and said they came just last Sunday, they didn’t have a clue what was going on, and could I help them? I said, “Well, join the club. There are many others who could identify with that.” I commended them to the tape table and said, too, that we would produce the materials for them in a quite splendid form when this series ends, and so they should relax and not get too concerned.

But we are looking at the Bible; we’re trying to remind one another that the Bible is a book with the answers at the back in many ways. It’s like a detective story that has all kinds of characters and bits and pieces that you don’t understand when you begin the opening chapters, and then finally they’re all woven together, and you get the picture. It’s like, we’ve said, a two-act play: if you only show up for the first act and leave, you have a beginning with no end; if you come only to the second act, then you have an end with no beginning, and you don’t understand how it fits together. 

The Bible, in many ways, is best read from the back to the front, and it moves from promise to fulfillment.

So it is that the Bible, in many ways, is best read from the back to the front, and it moves from promise to fulfillment.  And we’ve been discovering that Jesus fulfills all the promises of God. We’ve been learning that the way to find your direction around the Bible is to keep your eyes on the Lord Jesus, that he is the one to whom the Old Testament points. 

And of course, the disciples were the first to face up to this. Jesus was explaining to them all the time, “This is what was written about me, this is what the prophet said, this is why I’m doing what I’m doing, this is why I’m saying what I’m saying.” And of course, Jesus had stepped onto the stage of human history and began to announce the kingdom of God: “The kingdom of God is near,” he said to the people. “Repent and believe the good news!”[2] As soon as the disciples began to focus on this, they thought that the kingdom of God was going to come in all of its fullness: “Oh, the kingdom of God is near—Jesus is saying it. We should now look to see how this will manifest itself.” And they, of course, should have been reading their Bibles, the way we need to; then they would have understood what the prophets had made clear. The prophets had made it very clear that at the time of the fulfillment of these promises, the Messiah was going to bring about a great division, and the enemies of God would be judged, and the people of God would be vindicated, and then everything would be made brand-new forever and ever. 

But of course, instead of that actually happening in the time and life of Jesus, it is clear to the disciples that things apparently are going in the wrong direction. Here is this king proclaiming a kingdom, and instead of defeating the enemies of God, he’s apparently being defeated by the enemies of God. After all, what kind of king is it who ends his life hanging upon a cross? And so, the Gospel records tell us that the disciples were discouraged when Jesus died. They hadn’t fully grasped what the prophets had predicted and what Jesus had made clear. And then up from the grave he comes, the resurrection validating his claims, and out he strides in triumph to introduce himself to the disciples and to others.

But still this great division hasn’t come, still the nations are not judged, still the people of God are not vindicated. But, of course, the disciples really shouldn’t have been surprised. They’re honest enough to tell us that they were when they finally write later on—at least the apostles do—because Jesus had told them frequently that when he left there would be a great delay before he returned. In John 14, for example, he said, “I’m going; don’t let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, you believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it weren’t so, I would have told you. I’m going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you can be as well.”[3]

Well, the disciples thought that was a great idea. And they were hoping that it would happen very quickly, despite the fact that Jesus had repeatedly made it clear that this delay would be significant. And in Luke chapter 20, a long time ago when we studied that, we remember that the story of the vineyard that was planted and rented out to farmers by the one who had established it was the story of the owner going away, quoting Luke, “for a long time.”[4]

Living in the “Last Days”

Now, what this points to is the fact that the promises of the kingdom are not to be completely fulfilled until Christ returns—until his second coming. And in the meantime, we live in a period that the New Testament refers to as the “last days.” For some of you, that is a strange phrase—you are unfamiliar with it. For others of you, it is a very exciting phrase and immediately gets you salivating in all kinds of ways that, frankly, you should have a glass of water and repent of. Because there is doubtless far too much nonsense and a great deal of confusion surrounding our preoccupations with the last days. And it’s important for us to recognize that when the New Testament uses the phraseology, it is describing the time between the first coming and the second coming of Jesus.

So, for example, Hebrews begins in the past: “God spoke in various ways by his prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us in his Son.”[5] Paul, in a similar vein, to Timothy in the third chapter of 2 Timothy, says, “Timothy, you need to know this: that in the last days there will be terrible times.”[6] He’s not describing for Timothy something that is a way out there, but he is describing for Timothy something that is contemporaneous with him, because the last days have begun with the appearing of Jesus and will conclude with his reappearing. James does the same thing in James chapter 5. He chides those of his readers who are hoarding their wealth; he said, “It’s a silly idea to hoard wealth given that you are in the last days.”[7] And the last days, then, is the period in which the New Testament letters were written; all of the letters at the back of your Bible were written in the last days. And we ourselves are living in the last days. 

Those of you who remember Venn diagrams from mathematics at school will identify this very simple Venn diagram that is before you there. You will know that in a Venn diagram the key area is the area where the two circles, or the five circles, or whatever it is, intersect with one another. That is the point of great interest, and that’s the reason for that diagram: the present age represented by one circle, the age to come represented by another, and where the two intersect is the period between the first and second coming of Jesus. And we live at the intersection of this present age and the age to come. 

We learn from the Bible that the kingdom of God is both now and it is not yet. And this, you see, is a very, very important thing to understand. If we don’t get to grips with this, then we will be guilty of all kinds of wrong thinking and wrong application; we won’t be able to find our way around much of the material. And the answer to it is in recognizing that the kingdom of God has come with the appearing of Jesus on the earth and through his death and resurrection, and that’s why he spoke of it as a present reality. Remember when he casts the demons out of the man who was blind and mute, as we saw last time in Matthew chapter 12, the Pharisees say, “He is doing this by the power of the Evil One.”[8] Jesus says, “That is logically ridiculous; if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God”—notice present tense—“has come upon you.”[9]

And it is for that reason that when he takes little children on his lap and he speaks to the crowd and he uses the children as an illustration, he says, “Unless you receive the kingdom of God”—not as a little child, but like a little child—“unless you come in childlike trust, you will never enter it.”[10] He’s not talking about an entry into some future realm; he’s talking about an entry into a present realm—into the present rule and reign of Jesus himself.

The kingdom is now, but the kingdom is also something that we anticipate in the future. Only when the Lord Jesus returns will it be fully introduced.

So, the kingdom is now, but the kingdom is also something that we anticipate in the future, because only when the Lord Jesus returns will it be fully introduced.  It’s only then that Jesus will say, Matthew 25:34, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” 

So, the Christian belongs to the new creation, but has not yet received all of the benefits and blessings of that new creation, because the Christian, for the time being, lives in a fallen world, a world which bears the marks of sin and the marks of God’s judgment against it. So, there is this antithetical dimension: the present age, the age to come; the kingdom that is now, the kingdom that is not yet. 

Well, somebody in thinking this out may then say to themselves, “Well, I wonder why it is that there is any delay at all? Why is it not wrapped up by now? After all, things seem to have been going on for a very long time. The King came, he walked on the streets of Palestine, he taught those who would listen to him, he died for sin, he was resurrected, he ascended to the Father—what’s the reason for the delay?”

Well, of course, we already know now that Jesus had said there would be a delay and frankly, two thousand years isn’t very long from God’s perspective. In the framework of eternity, two thousand years isn’t very much. But it is what it is, and what the Bible tells us is that God has deliberately delayed the return of Jesus so that more people may have a chance to hear the gospel and repent and believe. That’s the reason for the delay. Because God is a gracious God, his kindness leads us to repentance. And in 2 Peter and in the third chapter where Peter has been addressing this whole issue of the return of Jesus, he identifies the fact, in verse 3, that his readers need to understand that “in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing … following their own evil desires [and saying,] ‘Where is this “coming” he promised?’”[11] 

And you would recognize that even today, on the television or in newsprint and in articles and in references, the idea that Jesus of Nazareth is going to return in power and in great glory is absolutely disdained, as well as denied, by the vast majority of thinking people. Of all the things that they may think about Christianity, of all the ideas that they may be prepared to contemplate, of all of the principles from it that they may even be interested in applying or seeking to apply to their lives, if you were to say to them, “Do you know that Jesus Christ, who lived on earth, who died for sin, who was raised from the dead, who ascended to the right hand of the Father—do you know that Jesus Christ is coming back again? And that you have an appointment to meet him?” Oh, they’d say, “Don’t be absolutely ridiculous. I never heard such a thing. That’s craziness!” But understand this—you must understand this: “In the last days scoffers will come.”[12]

Now, isn’t this amazing? Here are all these people scoffing at God and his promises, and what is God doing? Delaying. What do the scoffers deserve? His judgment, his punishment. What is he granting them? His patience and his mercy. “Do not forget this one thing,” Peter goes on, “dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord [isn’t] slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.” No, he’s “patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”[13]

Proclaiming the Kingdom

God, in Christ, has given to his followers both a command and a promise. The command is to go into all the world and tell people; the promise is that he will give his Holy Spirit to enable them, to enable us.

Now, it’s for this reason that we’re referring to this as the proclaimed kingdom—the time of the proclaimed kingdom—because it is in this era that the good news of the kingdom of God is to be proclaimed throughout the nations. And God, in Christ, has given to his followers both a command and a promise: the command is to go into all the world and tell people; the promise is that he will give his Holy Spirit to enable them, to enable us.  And of course, without that, what hope did this little funny group of individuals have? A frightened little group, hidden away behind closed doors, thinking that their king had come to an end on this cross, and yet suddenly, hitting the Jerusalem streets with a great and strident tone, with a message of a risen Christ.

Well, Luke ends his gospel with that command and that promise, and he begins his second volume by telling us clearly that the disciples were doing their best, but they couldn’t quite get ahold of it. And in Acts 1:6, when they met together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Now, they’re off on just about everything here, aren’t they? They’re off on the timing, they’re off on the focus, they’re off on the notion of restoration. They haven’t grasped the fact—despite the story of the good Samaritan, despite the way in which Jesus had made it clear to the children of Abraham—they haven’t grasped the fact that Jesus’ concern is for all people everywhere and is not limited to Israel. They don’t understand that there is to be a delay, and that during that time, the gospel is to be proclaimed to the whole world.

“Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He says, “Well, let’s first of all settle this issue: it’s not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”[14] Now, there is a verse that would save a lot of us a great deal of time and anxiety, wouldn’t it? There’s a verse that would take a significant number of books off our shelves, because these books exist for the sole purpose of addressing the times and the dates that Jesus has said it is not for us to know. And some of us have used this as the paradigm of our own Christian testimony. This is the thing that gets us up in the morning, this is the thing that floats our boat, this is the thing that allows us to argue and get intense about issues. And Jesus says, “Well, first of all, put your diaries, your calendars away, get rid of your crystal ball; that’s the first thing I need to say to you. But let me tell you this: you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you’ll get to work as a result of that. You’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”[15] 

In other words, Jesus says, “The reason for the delay is so that I may issue my command, give you my promise, and send you my Spirit.” And of course, Acts of the Apostles, as it begins, gives to us the story of the day of Pentecost. You can read it as your homework. In Acts chapter 2: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.”[16] 

Some of you with terrific memories can think back to Genesis chapter 11. And when you think back to Genesis 11, there is one word that comes to your mind. (I’m now speaking to two people in the group.) The one word that comes to your mind is babble or Babel, because it is in Genesis 11 that man gets together with his buddies and he builds the Tower of Babel. What did we say when we studied that? We said that then God introduced confusion into language and scattered the nations throughout the world, and that the way in which nations are positioned in the world and the development of language within the world is directly tied to what God did in Genesis 11. Anthropologists may not reach that conclusion, your university professors may not have started from that point, but they are in deep difficulty to explain who’s where, why they’re there, how they got there, and where it is they’re going.

The Spirit is given so that the people of God may bring the Word of God to the world of God.

The Bible, whether we accept its record or not, gives to us clarity in the subject. Genesis 11 happens, the nations are scattered, the language is mixed, confusion reigns. Acts chapter 2: the day of Pentecost comes, the Spirit is given with the express purpose to help spread the good news about Jesus throughout the world. That’s why the Spirit is given: so that the people of God may bring the Word of God to the world of God —God’s people filled with God’s Spirit, conveying God’s Word to God’s world. That’s it—that’s Pentecost.

Pentecost is not about sitting around and telling people your experiences of the Holy Spirit: “Well, let me tell you what happened to me. I was out in a field, and all of a sudden,” and so on. I’m glad of all of those things and just keep them to yourself. They are really the same kind of thing as the intimacies of your relationship with your spouse. They are irrelevant to everybody else. They are not an issue. Thank God for them if they are realistic and move on. But that’s not why the Spirit was given. The Spirit did not give his gifts so that we could have them as toys and sit around and look at them and show them to our friends. The Spirit was given so that the gifts might be tools that may be employed in making the good news of Jesus known to the nations of the world, because the nations are divided, but now, through the gospel, God is calling together a multinational family united in the Lord Jesus. 

Now, I’ve seen things in recent days again—I watched a piece last night on Fox, I think it was, where we were debating and dialoguing over the United Nations and the pluses and minuses for it. And the United Nations is an attempt to do what man will never do and what only God can do. Because in order for men and women to have an allegiance beyond their nation and beyond their selfish preoccupations, it demands that they are transformed by a power outside of themselves.

And right now, we have the Ambassadors in Sport with us, and some of your children are going to be involved in the wonderful soccer program. And I had the privilege of addressing them just the other morning. And in doing so, I was confronted by a group of individuals from a variety of nations throughout the world, and not least of all, a significant group from Europe. Those of you who follow soccer—football—will know that right now we’re in the Euro 2004 championships, which sets England against the Czech Republic and the Czech Republic against Denmark and Holland against Germany and France against Italy, and the whole of Europe is completely focused on defeating each other. And in that room that I addressed the other morning were representatives of a number of those nations, fiercely patriotic, totally committed: “We’re going for the Netherlands!” “We’re going for the Czech Republic!” “We’re going for Sweden!”—whatever it might be.

But you know, the wonderful thing in the group was that actually they were a multinational family at a far deeper level than their commitment to who wins Euro 2004. United by what? Not an interest in soccer. United by the power—the transforming power—of the gospel, so that their interactions with one another, their banter with one another, their humor with one another, is all founded on the fact that God, by his Spirit, has made all things new, and that the Spirit of God has come upon all people so that they might proclaim the good news. 

And that’s why the Acts of the Apostles, then, is the story of the gospel expanding. Here we are two thousand years on. God continues to be patient, and he expects us to be diligent. So, in this proclaimed kingdom, you have the sending of the Spirit, you have the gospel being preached to all nations, and then you have the return of Jesus. 

The Work of the Spirit

Now, what is the work of the Spirit? With this we will finish for this morning and come back and wrap it up this evening, God willing. What is the work of the Spirit? Let’s summarize it in three ways. First of all, the Spirit of God brings new birth. You understand the way this is working: God extends his kingdom in these last days—the now dimension of it—he extends his kingdom in these last days by the work of the Holy Spirit, whom he has given to his people in order that his people might do the work to which he’s called them. We have about five thousand people will move around this building this morning; we have approximately a dozen or fifteen out of the vast number that represents Parkside Church that have actually taken themselves out to the nations of the world. There is reason for encouragement, but there remains a deep challenge, doesn’t it? And what could be more important than spending your life making the good news of the gospel known? Nothing could be. And that’s why the Spirit of God has been given: in order that, when the Word of God is at work, he might bring about new birth—he brings about new birth. 

Think about this: by nature, we are all rebels; we rebel against God; there is none that seeks after God, no not one.[17] The Bible tells us that God now “[commands] all men every where to repent.”[18] That’s what Paul says in addressing the Athenians in Acts chapter 17. Okay? So, here sits this morning Mr. X. Mr. X is a rebel—he’s a rebel. He doesn’t have a T-shirt that says “rebel,” he doesn’t necessarily have a tattoo that says “rebel,” but he is a rebel. He may not be rebellious within his home or in his office, but he is a rebel against God. There’s no way that he cannot be, because he was born rebellious against God. That God against whom he is rebelling has commanded Mr. X to repent. And Mr. X sits, and he says, “It’s going to take a miracle for me to do that. It’ll take a miracle for me to do that.” Exactly. Of course it will. That’s the work of the Spirit. And the work of the Spirit of God is to perform that miracle.

What is the work of the Spirit of God? It is to accomplish what cannot be accomplished in any other way, by any other route.

That’s the significance of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John chapter 3. That’s the significance of what Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians 5: “If anyone is in Christ, [they’re] a new creation; the old is gone, the new has come!”[19] It’s the work of the Spirit to convict us of sin and to convince us that Jesus is the one who, by his death, has dealt with it. Now, let’s be very, very clear about this. What is the work of the Spirit of God? It is to accomplish what cannot be accomplished in any other way, by any other route.  The Bible is so clear on this. If you read Ephesians 2, he says, “When you were dead in your trespasses and in your sins, you were made alive in Christ.”[20] How can dead people come to life? It’ll take a miracle. 

The gospel is not a word of encouragement to those who are sort of well-meaning people who would like to add a little religion. No, the word of the gospel is a word that comes to the rebel heart.

You see, this is the gospel. The gospel is not a word of encouragement to those who are sort of well-meaning people who would like to add a little religion. It is not a word of encouragement to those who would like to have a little Jesus in their life. No, the word of the gospel is a word that comes to the rebel heart : I am a rebel against God. I may be indifferent to him, I may be antagonistic to him, but I’m actually rebelling against him. He, then, comes by the Bible, and he says, “I’m commanding you to do an about-turn to repent of your sins and to believe in me.”

And the individual says, “There is no way that that is going to happen. It’ll take a miracle for that to happen.” Yes, it will, and that is the miracle of regeneration. It is something that God does; it is not something that we do. It is something that God achieves; it is not something that we engender. We are saved by grace through faith when we come to understand what we are unprepared to face—namely, that we have a deep, endemic problem. Insofar as we are stuck on ourselves and left to ourselves, we have no hope for time or for eternity. And when that dawns on us—that’s why we read the Ten Commandments this morning, because there is no one in the hearing of the reading of the Ten Commandments that can say, “I didn’t break the Ten Commandments.” We read those things. We remembered that Jesus said, “You’ve heard it said this, but I’ll tell you that.” And as he tightens it up, it becomes more apparent to us. But there’s many a Sunday when we can hear that and it doesn’t matter; we just gaze off into the distance and think about something else.

But then there’s a morning comes, and all of a sudden it’s as though, in the reading of the Ten Commandments, there is a sword that goes under your third rib and it goes right underneath you. You say, “Where did that come from?” And you’re convicted of your sin and you say to yourself, “I don’t want to hear this nonsense. I don’t want to be sitting here and feeling bad about things. I don’t want to be reminded of these things. I came here in order that I would feel better. And here I am, and I feel worse.”

Yes, of course you do, and you must, otherwise the good news of somebody dying for that sin that pierced your third rib, the good news of someone dying for their sin, it’s like, “What is that about? I never heard anything so silly in my life. What is this Jesus dying on a cross? What’s he doing up there?” Well, he’s dying for sinners.

You see, but I can’t convince you of that. If I spoke from now until five o’clock this evening, took a break, and then went right through to midnight and employed every good metaphor and analogy and the best of the powers of persuasion that I can muster, I could not convict a single person of the fact of their sin. Therefore, I don’t worry about it. And I certainly know that I couldn’t convince anybody that, once convicted, Jesus is the only answer to the sin of which they’ve been convicted. But why should I worry? Because that’s the work of the Spirit of God. That’s what God does: he brings new birth.

That’s why we study the Bible; that’s why we’re studying this, because what the Spirit of God does is, he opens our eyes to understand the truth about him. So, the Bible becomes for us not some history book or some bizarre story, but all of a sudden, the Bible becomes to us light and illumination. And then the Spirit of God enables us to put our trust in Jesus.

Our friends and our neighbors have said, “You know, that guy’s as bad as Saul of Tarsus. He’ll never become a Christian; there’s no way he’ll become a Christian. There’s no way he’s going to become like a little child and enter the kingdom of heaven. There’s no way that he’ll get down on his knees and admit his sin.” Well, no, not as a result of human coercion, that’s absolutely certain. “But everyone who is born again,” says Peter in 1 Peter 1:23, “is born again through the living and enduring word of God.”[21] 

So, the Spirit of God brings the Word of God to an individual’s life, convicts them of their sin, convinces them that Jesus is the Savior for that sin, and enables them to trust in Jesus.

I don’t know how the Spirit moves,
Convicting men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
And creating faith in him.[22]

“The wind blows where it wills, you can hear the sound of it, you can’t tell where it’s coming from or where it’s going. So,” says Jesus, “is everyone who’s born of the Spirit.”[23] Come back tonight and listen to these testimonies in the baptism, and you’ll listen to ordinary people give testimony to the fact that although they were religious in their background, although perhaps they had an interest in God, they had never been convicted, never been convinced, never been enabled, and the Spirit of God came and opened up their hearts and minds and they were converted. 

And as the Word of God, the gospel found in the Bible is proclaimed, the Spirit works to call people to Christ—the Spirit works to call people to Christ. Has he called you to Christ? Have you been called to Christ? Oh, I know someone’s called you to Parkside, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. But have you been called to Christ? Is this your story: convicted, convinced, enabled, childlike, filled? That’s Christianity. That’s what we’re about. That’s the proclaiming of the kingdom. 

So, either we are those to whom the message needs to come, or we are those from whom the message needs to proceed. Ninety-five percent of the resources of Christianity in America remain in America: human resources, all of the resources, all of the pastoral teams, all of the workers, all of the devoted folks—good and solid folks. We ask the question about the Muslim world. Well, who’s brave enough to go to the Muslim world? Who’s brave enough to go to North Africa? Who’s brave enough to teach English as a foreign language in mainland China? Who is brave enough to take your career as it stands right now, with all your hopes and all your dreams, and give it up for the good news of the kingdom? “Oh Lord, I’m getting around to it. I’ll wait till I’ve finished this. I’ll wait till I’ve retired from that. I’ll wait till I’m ready for this.” Look at all this resource.

The Nations Need Christ

Let me finish with this: I met a man a couple of weeks ago in St. Andrews. He was sitting in a little box at the tenth tee, and as soon as he spoke to me, it was clear that he came from Lancashire, from Manchester. And I said to him, I said, “What in the world are you doing in St. Andrews?” “Well,” he said, “I’d been working in Manchester Airport and driving forty miles each way to my work. And I was driving home a year ago, and I said to myself, ‘You know, what I’d really love to do? Is I’d love to go to St. Andrews’”—his wife and he used to take holidays up in St. Andrews, up there in all the beauty of the Scottish coast—“‘I’d like to go up and live in St. Andrews for the rest of my life.’”

And the notion grew in his mind as he drove the forty miles home, so much so that, by the time he got home and sat down to have his tea, he told his wife, “Let’s sell our house.” She said, “Sell the house? What happened to you?” “Well,” he says, “I want to go to St. Andrews.” “Oh, but you can’t just up and go to St. Andrews.” “Yes, I can. Watch me; I’m going. Let’s sell the house.” And sell the house they did and packed up their goods and shackles and made the long trek north. Radical alteration in his circumstances, dramatic change in his remuneration. Giving up finance for a quality of life, giving up resources for a dream, giving up what he had regarded as stability and security to him for a passion that had begun to fill him.

And I said to myself, “This is amazing,” as I went down the tenth fairway. Here is a man who is prepared to turn his life upside down and to spend his days in a four-foot-diameter box, giving out tees and scorecards. To say goodbye to all of that for this, as lovely as it is—it’s not of eternal significance.

And yet, how many Christians, who are prepared to proclaim the kingdom of God—“It’s coming; it’s not now, it’s yet; it’s for the nations of the world; it convicts, it convinces, it enables, it causes to trust. Yes, we’re all for that!”—“See ya tonight if it isn’t raining. See ya tonight if I’m not doing something else. See you next week maybe. But of course, I’m committed to the kingdom, oh yes.”

Oh no, oh no. The percentages are just about as we have them: fifteen, out of five thousand, prepared to give up their small ambitions for the sake of the kingdom of Christ. The nations of the world need Christ. That’s what they need, that’s how Palestinian and Jew can sit together and drink coffee and rejoice. That is how Saudi Arabia can be transformed. That is how Afghanistan will be changed, and that is the only way that it will be changed. 

But of course, don’t expect to hear that on CNN or on Fox. Just listen for the scoffers: “You’re not telling me that this Jesus is coming back again, are you?” Yes. Yes! And in the meantime, the kingdom is to be proclaimed so that one day from every nation and tribe and language and tongue there will be people gathered around the throne of God.[24] And some will say, “You know, if it hadn’t been for you leaving that corner of Bainbridge and giving up your small ambitions, under God, I would never have been here. Thank you for coming. Thank you for telling me. Thank you for honoring your King.”

Father, I pray that your voice in all of these words may be heard, that your truth may be welcomed, that your power may be unleashed, so that some are born anew and others of us who have sidetracked into Bypath Meadow, consumed with mutual funds, retirement accounts, Medicare plans, and trips to sunny places, may make sure that all of that is poured through the sieve of your command to reach the world and of your promise to enable by your Spirit.

May the love of Jesus draw us to him. May the joy of Jesus enable us to serve him. May the peace and contentment that comes in knowing Jesus grant to us stability and clarity as we reflect on where we’ve been, consider where we are, and ponder where we might be. And may grace and mercy and peace from the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit be the abiding portion of all who believe today and forevermore. Amen.


[1] Source unknown.

[2] Mark 1:15 (NIV 1984).

[3] John 14:1–3 (paraphrased).

[4] Luke 20:9 (NIV 1984).

[5] Hebrews 1:1–2 (paraphrased).

[6] 2 Timothy 3:1 (paraphrased).

[7] James 5:1–3 (paraphrased).

[8] Matthew 12:24 (paraphrased).

[9] Matthew 12:28 (paraphrased).

[10] Mark 10:15 (paraphrased).

[11] 2 Peter 3:3 (NIV 1984).

[12] Ibid.

[13] 2 Peter 3:8–9 (NIV 1984).

[14] Acts 1:7 (paraphrased).

[15] Acts 1:8 (paraphrased).

[16] Acts 2:1 (NIV 1984).

[17] Romans 3:10–12 (paraphrased).

[18] Acts 17:30 (KJV).

[19] 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV 1984).

[20] Ephesians 2:5 (paraphrased).

[21] Paraphrased.

[22] D. W. White, “I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace” (1883). Paraphrased.

[23] John 3:8 (paraphrased).

[24] Revelation 7:9 (paraphrased).

Thankfulness: A Mark of Grace
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