The Once and Future King
Scriptures: Luke 17:20-33; Luke 4:16-21
This week in our church eNews I told about a conversation I had with a Jewish Boy Scout whom I met at a Boy Scout camp in North Idaho. The boy had many questions about what Christians believe and why there are so many different churches. But near the end of the conversation he asked me this question. He said, “How can you Christians believe that the Messiah has come when there is still so much suffering in the world?”
Good question. In our first scripture Jesus reads this passage from the prophet Isaiah: [Slide 1]
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus reads this text then says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Really? This scripture is about the coming of God’s kingdom. It’s about end of violence and oppression, the end of poverty and hunger, the end of disease and disability. In what sense has Jesus fulfilled this scripture?
In our second scripture the Pharisees ask Jesus when the kingdom of God will come. Essentially they are asking the same question as the Jewish Boy Scout: “If you are the Messiah, if you are God’s promised king, then where is the kingdom?”
Jesus replies, [Slide 2] “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you,” or some translations say, “the kingdom of God is within you.”
Some people take this to mean the kingdom of God is not something out there; it is something in here—in our hearts. It is a spiritual kingdom. Which is partly true. Jesus came to transform our hearts. But he also came to transform our world. That’s what Isaiah was talking about and what Jesus affirms when he says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” When Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is among you,” he means that that kingdom of God has arrived in him, but at present it is a hidden kingdom, not something readily observable.
Elsewhere Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed. [Slide 3: Mustard seed] If a mustard seed were dropped on some dirt you wouldn’t even see it. You would not even know it is there. But it is, and over time it sends down shoots and pushes up little spouts, and a bud begins to grow and leaves appear, and it grows and grows until eventually [Slide 4: Mustard plant] it becomes like a tree big enough for the birds to build a nest. [Slide 5: Blank] Or Jesus says, the kingdom of God is like yeast in bread dough. Looking at the lump of dough you would not know the yeast is there. But it is, and over time it begins to ferment and bubble and expand and push out the sides of the dough until the whole lump is transformed. The kingdom of God is like that, Jesus says. It has arrived in him, but it is not yet fully visible.
Jesus goes on to tell his disciples, “The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.” The term “Son of Man” comes from Daniel, chapter 7: [Slide 6]
I saw one like [the Son of Man] coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
When Jesus uses the term Son of Man, he is referring to God’s future king who will reign over all peoples, nations, and languages, bringing God’s righteousness and peace to the whole world.
So who is this Son of Man? Jesus tells us in verse 25: [Slide 7] “But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation.” The promised Son of Man is none other than Jesus, who as he speaks these words is on his way toward crucifixion in Jerusalem.
And that’s why Jesus says to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.” Jesus is about to be taken away from them. For a time it will appear as if evil and suffering have triumphed. But the suffering of Jesus will be the key to God’s victory.
In seminary one of my teachers compared it to D-day in World War II. [Slide 8: D-day landing] On D-day, June 6, 1944, about 2500 American soldiers were killed attacking the beaches of Normandy. In the next three months, between June 7 and August 30, an estimated 20,000 more Americans were killed securing the region of Normandy as a base for the assault on Hitler’s Germany. It is sobering, especially on Memorial Day, to remember how many Americans gave their lives in just one battle to defeat the greatest evil of the 20th century.
But that battle was a turning point in World War II. In a very real sense the power of Nazi Germany was broken on D-day. Once the allies had a base in Normandy [Slide 9: Normandy troop build up] they began pouring troops and tanks and supplies and equipment across the channel into France. There were still many battles to be fought as the allies struggled across Europe toward Germany. There was still much suffering and many more lives to be lost. But in a sense, strategically, the war was won on D-day. It was just a matter of time. [Slide 10: Blank]
That is the sense in which the kingdom of God has arrived in Jesus. The coming of Jesus is like the allied troops landing in Normandy. When Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, the power of evil in this world was broken. Admittedly the battle is not over. There is still evil and suffering in this world. But a decisive turning point has been reached. A beachhead for the kingdom of God has been established in this world, and one day it will permeate the whole creation, like lightning flashing across the sky from one end to the other.
The question is whether we perceive the true situation.
This week I read about the diary of a teenager girl living in Berlin during the Second World War. [Slide 11: Brigitte] Her name was Brigitte Eicke, seen her in front of a row boat. Brigitte began writing in her diary in December of 1942, and she wrote in it almost every day. Her entries from 1944 to 1945 show a teenager aware of but untroubled by the chaos around her. For example on February 1, 1944, she writes in her diary: “The school had been bombed when we arrived this morning. Waltraud, Melitta, and I went back to Gisela’s and danced to grammaphone records.” [Slide 12: Brigitte and friends] This is in Berlin early 1944. In November of that year, as allied troops were advancing across Europe nearing Germany, Brigitte complained in her diary about a disastrous perm she got and worried about how she would look the next day when she went to work. On March 2, 1945, just two months before the Nazi surrender, Brigitte wrote in her diary, “Margot and I went to the Admiralspalast cinema…. It was such a lovely film, but there was a power cut in the middle of it. How annoying!” (quoted by Jane Paulick in “The Carefree Life of a Teen in Wartime Berlin,” Spiegel Online International).
Brigitte’s diary helps me understand Jesus’ words in verses 26-27: [Slide 13]
Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark.
In other words, like Brigitte, they were unaware that there world was about to change, that in fact it had already changed and they just didn’t know it. [Slide 14: Blank]
That’s what Jesus is saying here in these scriptures. Evil, hate, violence, injustice, oppression, poverty, addiction, disease, dysfunction, alienation, pollution—all these things have been defeated, and one day the victory will be complete, and the creation will be transformed into the place it was meant to be all along.
The key is to see where things are going and not give up. The key is to see that the battle turned. Hate, injustice, suffering, alienation—these things will not go on forever. In Jesus the allies have landed, and you can ignore that fact or join those who are living into the new reality.