Last Thursday’s local elections produced some unsettling results for British unionists. For those who seek to promote the union between the four nations of the UK, the outcome of last week’s voting produced some unsettling outcomes.
The Scottish National Party consolidated its political dominance north of the border, and Nicola Sturgeon’s remains committed to the goal of an independent Scotland. While in Northern Ireland Sinn Fein topped the poll to become the largest party in the new Stormont Assembly. If a new Northern Ireland Executive is formed, its First Minister would be Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Fein, an Irish republican committed to taking Ulster out of the UK.
So it would seem that our United Kingdom has a rather uncertain future, and British identity is rather fragile at this time.
In our reading from Acts today, however, we heard of a kingdom that is very different. A kingdom that is strong and secure, not fragile. A kingdom whose future is assured, not uncertain. A kingdom that is expanding to the ends of the earth, not potentially about to break apart. That kingdom is, of course, God’s Kingdom.
As we look at our reading from Acts chapter 1 this morning we will encounter the king of God’s kingdom; we will see the character of God’s kingdom; and, thirdly, we will discover our personal role in God’s Kingdom.
The King of God’s kingdom
Our passage today comes from the first chapter of the book of Acts. But as we look at verse 1 of chapter 1 it is immediately clear that Acts is the second book in a series. Because the author writes that “in my former book Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach”.
Bible scholars all agree that the Book of Acts is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke, much like The Empire Strikes Back is the sequel to Star Wars, or like Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets comes after The Philosopher’s Stone. Except that both Luke’s Gospel and Acts are history, not science-fiction. They were both written by Luke – a Gentile, a doctor and a missionary companion of the apostle Paul.
Together, these two volumes tell the full story of the birth of Christianity. Taken together, they take us from the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to the spread of churches right across foreign lands. That’s why in our sermon series we’ve moved straight from Luke chapter 24 last week to Acts chapter 1 today. They are both part of the same story, and both have Jesus as their most important character. To be precise, they both portray Christ as the King of God’s kingdom.
We only need to look at verses 2 to 5 of our passage today to remind ourselves why Luke regarded Jesus as so special, why his life story was well worth writing about. Because Luke reminds us in those verses that Jesus rose again having suffered and died on a cross. Indeed, the Risen Jesus “showed himself” to people “over a period of forty days”.
During this time he gave “many convincing proofs that he was alive” and “spoke about the kingdom of God”. Luke wants us to be in no doubt that Jesus is alive and has been taken up to Heaven, from where he now rules at his Father’s right-hand side.
You see, Jesus is the king of God’s kingdom. He occupies the most powerful position in the universe, outstripping every president, prime minister and parliament. So it’s no wonder verse 6 tells us that Jesus’ closest friends called him “Lord” before he disappeared from their sight. They recognised that he really was heavenly royalty – God’s only-begotten Son, the rightful heir to his Father’s kingdom.
The Character of God’s kingdom
But what exactly is the kingdom of God? What is this kingdom that Jesus now rules? Don’t worry if it sounds a bit confusing and hard to understand, because it seems his first friends were confused too! Listen to what they ask him in verse 6: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
It seems they expected Jesus to immediately make himself a king on earth. It looks like they expected Jesus, right there and then, to throw out the Roman army and make himself the ruler of a country called Israel.
But the disciples were mistaken. That’s why in verse 7, Jesus says the following: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; & you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, & to the ends of the earth.”
By these words, Jesus was correcting the disciples’ understanding of God’s Kingdom. He was trying to tell them (and us) what God’s Kingdom is really like.
Firstly, God’s Kingdom is spiritual not political. We enter God’s kingdom not by entering a specific country or territory, but by letting Jesus take charge of our lives. We enter God’s kingdom not by showing our passport as we pass a border post, but by turning from sin and asking Jesus to be our Lord and Saviour. So the disciples were wrong to think that Jesus would set up an earthly, political kingdom in Palestine. The truth is that Jesus is king wherever people trust him and follow him.
Secondly, God’s Kingdom is global not national. The disciples were wrong to think that Jesus was only interested in Israel and the Jewish people. In actual fact, Jesus tells them that people from every nation on earth can enter God’s Kingdom. Jesus tells them that he wants them to take the Gospel message from Israel & on to the ends of the earth. Wherever people live, from Ukraine to the United Kingdom, from Malawi to Mouldsworth, from Azerbaijan to Ashton Hayes, everyone is invited to enter God’s kingdom by putting their faith in Christ.
Thirdly and finally, God’s Kingdom has come but is not yet complete. The disciples thought Jesus was about to immediately set up God’s Kingdom in all its glory. But Jesus tells them that they (and us) need to wait for God’s Kingdom to arrive in its fullest sense. One day in the future, at a time God the Father has set, the Kingdom of God will come to completion. The Bible tells us that one wonderful day God’s kingdom will finally be finished. On that great day every Christian, every citizen of God’s Kingdom, will enjoy eternal life in a new creation – with no more disease, death or decay. A day every Christian can look forward to, a day when we will see God and be with him forever.
As I finish this morning, there may be one question in your minds. If God’s kingdom is going to be so great and glorious when it is complete, why is God waiting to finish the job? What’s causing the delay to the culmination of God’s kingdom? When will “thy kingdom come”?!
The answer given in the Bible is that God is being patient. God is patiently waiting for the maximum number of people to enter his Kingdom before he draws this world to a close. God is waiting for a great multitude of people to make Jesus their King. He doesn’t want anyone to miss out on his coming kingdom.
So, firstly, and most importantly, this means we ourselves need to make sure that we are citizens of God’s kingdom. Each of us needs to make sure that we have put our personal faith in Jesus as our King. Whoever we are, Christ has promised that he will never turn away anyone who comes to him.
Most of us, however, will have been Christians for some time. If so, then Jesus has a job for us! It’s the same job he gave to his disciples in our Bible passage this morning – to tell the world about the kingdom of God. Our mission at St. John’s is to help carry the good news about Jesus to everyone in Ashton Hayes and Mouldsworth. Jesus wants us to invite other people to make him their king.
With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can all do this by sharing our faith with our family, friends and colleagues. Or by inviting our neighbours to events here at church. For example, on 5th June we have our outdoor service at 1pm on the Playing Fields. Why not start thinking and praying now about who you could invite?
If we want to hasten the arrival of God’s kingdom, we can also pray for it. Next week marks the start of this years “Thy Kingdom Come” prayer initiative. Promoted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, “Thy Kingdom Come” is a chance to join with millions of other Christians around the world in prayer. To pray that opportunities will be given to each of us to share our faith. To pray that people from every nation will come to King Jesus.