Understanding the Kingdom
I wonder what you think the Kingdom of God is. In the Old Testament we learn of all kinds of different earthly kingdoms. Each one of these kingdoms were doomed to fail from the start, because of the promised commencement of a new and everlasting kingdom. Perhaps by having a brief overview of what Jesus in the Gospels said about the Kingdom will help us understand more about it before we focus on just a couple of aspects. From what Jesus said, we learn that:
- The kingdom had small beginnings.
- It advances slowly and unspectacularly.
- It works in an unseen way, like yeast in dough.
- It grows side by side with evil and error.
- The members are drawn from every part, for it is a universal part.
- When discovered, it is the source of true joy and fulfilment.
- It requires sacrifice, submission and surrender.
- It ends in an eternal separation of the good from the evil, of the true from the false.
- It centres only on Jesus Christ (Luke 9:28-36).
So having seen these descriptions, mainly from Matthew 13, we can now go on to a main definition of the kingdom. We find this ultimate definition in Romans 14:17 ‘For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ This is the experience of salvation. Every believer, all those who trust in Jesus Christ, has entered it and been accepted by Jesus when He died on the cross. So, having described it and then defined it, the next question we ask is how do we enter the Kingdom of God. Well, after such a long introduction, we are going to look at this aspect of the God’s Kingdom based on our reading of John 3:1-18. So, if you haven’t done so already please do have your bibles open at that passage – John 3:1-18.
In the passage tonight, Jesus gives three different aspects of the one entrance into the kingdom. To enter the kingdom, a person simply has to follow Jesus. For some people in Jesus’ time, such as a lot of the Pharisees and other religious Jewish groups, this was much too simple. Then Jesus has an encounter with Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee.
Nicodemus was initially attracted to Jesus because of the miracles He did. Nicodemus wanted to know more about Jesus and His teachings. Nicodemus himself was the teacher of the Jews, and he had great respect for Jesus the Teacher from Galilee. Now, Nicodemus was a Pharisee, who by definition had to live by the strictest religious rules and regulations. Nicodemus was deeply sincere in his search for truth and God. Nicodemus went to see Jesus at night, not presumably because he was afraid to be seen talking to Jesus, but more likely because he wanted to have a quiet word with Jesus away from the crowds. He wanted to have an uninterrupted word with him, where Jesus could not be distracted. He was a man of high moral standard, had a deep religious hunger and yet blind to basic spiritual truths. Do you not think that Nicodemus is or was just like we are and were today? So Jesus proceeds to give Nicodemus three different pictures of salvation.
1. Birth (vs. 1-7).
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’
The Lord Jesus began with a word that is familiar with everyone, as birth is a universal concept and experience. Now the word ‘again’ means ‘from above’. So the phrase born again, means to be born from above. Though all humans have experienced a natural birth on earth, if they expect to go to heaven then they must experience a supernatural spiritual birth from God above. So we meet once more the blindness of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time. Nicodemus may indeed have been a representative of the religious leaders. Nicodemus did not understand what Jesus was talking about. Jesus, we know, was speaking about a spiritual birth, but Nicodemus thought only about a physical birth. Looking at the church today, however, the situation does not appear any different.. So often “born again”, to a lot of people means a family’s church history, church membership, ceremonies and so on. Or, as my boss and family insist that it means: raving monster loonies.
However, because Jesus was patient, he further explained this new birth. To be ‘born of water’ is to be born physically” to enter a second time into his mother’s womb” but to be born again means to be born of the Spirit. Just as there are normally two parents involved in physical birth, there are two “parents” for spiritual birth: the Spirit of God (John 3:5) and the Word of God (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23-25). The Spirit of God takes the Word of God, and when a person believes for the first time, the Word gives the life of God.
It should be noted here that Jesus is not saying that new birth comes from water baptism. In the New Testament, baptism is connected with death, not birth; and no amount of physical water makes a spiritual change in a person. Jesus’ emphasis here is on believing, because salvation comes through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). The evidence of salvation is the witness of the Spirit within (Romans. 8:9), and the Spirit entered our life when we first believed (Acts 10:43-48; Ephesians 1:13-14). Now, water baptism is a vital part of our Christian life and obedience to Jesus and witness for Him, but it is not necessary for salvation. The one way of salvation and entrance into the kingdom of God, is through faith in Jesus the Son of God, with the outward evidence involving baptism.
This birth, like all births, has at least four aspects to it: pain, nature, a life and a future.
a. Pain – Human birth involves pain, both for the parents and for the baby. So does spiritual birth. At Easter we are reminded this of the pain Jesus endured on the cross so that we might become members of the Kingdom of God. Believers in their Christian life should endure the pain of persecution, suffering, and prayer and witness as we seek to win new people to Christ.
b. Nature – Children inherit the nature of the parents, and so do the people in the Kingdom of God. We take on the divine nature (2 Peter 1 :4). As believers we should naturally have an appetite for the things of God (2 Peter 2:2-3). As believers we should have no desire to go away from the Kingdom of God (2 Peter 2:20-22). As believers we are to feed on the Word of God and grow in spiritual maturity (Hebrews 5: 11-14).
c. Life – Human birth, involves life and spiritual birth into God’s kingdom involves the life of God. John uses the word ‘life’ about 36 times in his gospel. The opposite of life is death, and anybody not in the Kingdom of God, do not and cannot have God’s eternal life in His kingdom.
d. Future – Human birth involves a future, and we are born again to a living hope, both in the present and the future (1 Peter 1:3). Police cannot arrest a newborn baby because it has no past, and the future is in front of that baby. When born again into the Kingdom of God, sins are forgiven and forgotten, and the future is bright with a living hope in the Kingdom of God.
Now at this, Nicodemus must surely have had a surprised look of incredulity on his face, because Jesus says ‘You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.'” Nicodemus was a Jew, a part of God’s covenant people. His life was an example to all, as a faithful Pharisee. He obviously could not comprehend the thought that a Jew had to be born again from heaven – nothing could be so simple! His natural thinking would immediately have thought maybe a dirty Gentile dog may need to be born again, but never a faithful Jew. No wonder he was surprised!
2. The wind (vs. 8-13).
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven-the Son of Man.
It is possible that the evening wind was blowing just then as Nicodemus and Jesus sat the housetop talking. The ‘wind’ in the Bible, signifies the Spirit. When Jesus used this symbol, Nicodemus should have remembered Ezekiel 37:1-14. The prophet Ezekiel saw a valley full of dead bones; but when he prophesied to the wind, the Spirit came and gave the bones’ life. Again, it was the combination of the Spirit of God and the Word of God that gave life. The nation of Israel was dead and hopeless, and in spite of the morality and religion of the people, they needed the life of the Spirit. The new birth from above is necessary to enter the Kingdom of God, but it is also a mystery. Everyone born of the Spirit is like the wind: it is impossible to explain or predict the ways of the wind or the Spirit of God.
Nicodemus came “by night’ and he was still in the dark! He simply could not understand the concept of new birth even after Jesus had explained it to him. Jesus insisted that Nicodemus’ Old Testament knowledge should have given him the light he required (John 3:10). Yet, he still could not see how to enter the Kingdom of God. What was his problem? Religious leaders would not submit to Jesus’ authority and witness (John 3: 11). The religious leaders continued to believe Moses, yet would not believe Jesus (John 5:35-47). “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?”
3. The snake on the pole (vs. 14-18).
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
This story from Numbers was certainly familiar to Nicodemus. It is a story of sin, for Israel rebelled against God and had to be punished. God sent fiery snakes that bit the people, so that many died. Yet it is also a story of grace, for Moses intercede for the people and God provided a remedy. He told Moses to make a brass snake and lift it up on a pole for all to see. Any sick and dying person could look to the brass snake on the pole and be immediately healed. So, it is also a story of faith, punishment, salvation and faith. The phrase lifted up means to be crucified (John 8:28; 12:13-24) and also be glorified and exalted. John points out that our Lord’s crucifixion was actually the means for Him to be glorified (John 12:23). However the cross was not the end of His glory, it was the way He achieved His glory (Acts 2:33).
Much as the snake on the pole had to be lifted up, so the Son of God, Jesus had to be lifted on the cross. This happened to save all people from sin and death. In the camp of Israel, the solution to the “snake problem” was not in killing the snakes, or taking medicine against the poison, or pretending the snakes were not there, or passing anti-snake laws or by climbing the pole. The answer was to look in faith at the lifted snake. Now, the whole world has been bitten by sin (Romans 6:23). God sent His son to die, not only for Israel, but also for the whole world. The Kingdom of God is not just for Israel, or England or even the United States of America. How does a person enter the Kingdom of God? By being born again from above, which means believing on Jesus and looking to Him in faith.
Each of us that are believers have therefore entered into the Kingdom of God and are spiritually living. The difference between living spiritually and being dead spiritually is faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus could well have come to this world as a Judge and destroyed every rebellious sinner; but He came in love. Jesus came into the world as our Saviour, to guide us into the Kingdom of God, and He died on the cross, Jesus became the “uplifted snake”. The brass snake in Moses’ day brought physical life to dying Jews; but Jesus gives eternal life to all who asks and trusts in Him. He brings the Kingdom of God for a whole world, Nicodemus eventually entered the Kingdom of God, when he spoke up for Jesus in John 7 and came into a “sunlight of confession” when he identified with Jesus at Calvary bringing the spice to prepare the body for burial (John 19:38-42). He realized that the uplifted Jesus on the cross, was the path into the world-wide Kingdom of God
Therefore lets go over tonight’s lessons from the meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus. The definition of the kingdom of God is exposed from Romans 14:17 which we also see as the experience of salvation. “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The path into the kingdom of God, was defined in the 3 distinct pictures Jesus told to Nicodemus. Firstly in the picture of new birth from above, secondly in the picture of the blowing wind or spirit and thirdly in the Old Testament picture of the snake on the pole.
As we finish, what are we to say. For those of us who are in the kingdom of God: are you growing in your faith and immersing more of yourself into the Kingdom of God. Is your story or testimony of what Jesus is doing in your life up to date, or are you living on past memories, last Easters’ prayers and past Sundays’ sermons. The testimony of how we are living in the Kingdom of God is vital for our witness in the Kingdom of God. Jesus commanded us to go and tell, so go and tell the wondrous news of an eternal kingdom – one which will never end! God has promised and He always fulfils His promises.
Now finally, what stops people from entering into the Kingdom of God? People want to continue to do things against God, and this keeps them from coming out of darkness into the light of the Kingdom of God. This is because the closer someone who loves darkness gets closer to light, the more their evil ways are exposed to the light of God. It is not any intellectual problems that keep people out of the Kingdom. It is a moral and spiritual problem. It would involve a change of lifestyle, of being ‘born again’ as it was.
What is your reason, for not being yet a believer and follower of Jesus Christ? If for some reason, you are not part of God’s kingdom yet, then your opportunity is here. You may not get another chance. You might just walk on out of here tonight, not having entered into the eternal Kingdom of God, and die. It really could be that shocking and happen. Take your opportunity now. Please do come and see one of the leaders about how you can enter the Kingdom of God this very night!