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The Kingdom of heaven

Sermon April 4, 2009

One of the difficulties we have in understanding the Bible is the loss of original meaning to religious jargon.


Chuck Swindoll compared some preachers to Parrots: “We are running shy of eagles, and we're running over with parrots.”


“Content to sit safely on our evangelical perches and repeat in rapid-fire falsetto our religious words, we are fast becoming overpopulated with bright-colored birds having soft bellies, big beaks, and little heads.”


It is a painful analogy, but it is true enough. What I call religious jargon, he calls religious words, and I run into it often.


          One Baptist fellow who worked for us years ago came to me to note that we needed, on our web site, to tell people “how to be saved.”


          “Saved,” in that usage is Jargon. Meaningful to insiders, but opaque to those not in the know.


                      Sadly, I think even the insiders suffer a loss of meaning.

I ran into this in graduate school at the University of Texas.


          I was admitted into a doctoral program in the field of communication.

          I had to spend a lot of time that first semester in learning the jargon


                      Academics are fond of what they call “constructs.” where one word or phrase represents an entire theory.


                      And sometimes, even the academics lose the meaning of the words.

Over the years, I have encountered problems in Bible reading with ideas that arise from this loss of meaning.


          Once we have adopted a meaning of a word or phrase, we repeat it, like parrots, with little sense of what the author had in mind.

Often, we have to dig a little to find the original intent of the author. And I am sometimes left thinking that they had a different sense of these word from that held by popular Christian thought.


          And even unpopular Christian thought, like ours.

For me, there have been little switches that won’t close, and I have to go back again and again trying to satisfy myself


One of these is the concept of the Kingdom, be it Kingdom of heaven or God.

I scratch my head over Matthew’s use of the term (32 times), when everyone else uses “Kingdom of God.”


          This is a obviously a choice Matthew made, because the citations from John and Jesus were originally in Aramaic.


          There are four occasions where even Matthew uses Kingdom of God instead of Heaven.


          The terms seem synonymous.


          So there is nothing in the choice of “heaven” that says anything special.


          That said, I am not at all sure that we have a good grip on the usage of the term.:


          Take for example the first time Matthew uses the expression:

(Matthew 3:1-3 KJV) In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, {2} And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. {3} For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.


          I have long wondered why Matthew speaks of it this way.


                      Heaven is one of those religious words, Jargon, that Christians use.


                      The word is the Greek ouranos, sky. Used much the same as Heaven in English which can also mean the sky.


                      Because of the other Gospel’s use of “Kingdom of God,” we see this as the place where God dwells?


          But that’s not all. John said, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”


          Now in our religious Jargon, the Kingdom of heaven/God means the return of Christ, and the day when the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.


          And it is no good playing around with the meaning of “at hand.” It can’t be applied to something that is hundreds of years away.

Now here is a bad habit that messes us up. We tend to insist on a very specific definition for words, phrases and constructs.----and one that doesn’t change.


          But we should know better than that. The meaning of words and phrases depends on the context.


          Thus, I think John’s application of the phrase “the Kingdom of God” differs from our construct of it.


This is something of a concordance sermon, so we’ll move on to the next occurrence.


(Matthew 4:17 KJV) From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

(Matthew 4:23 KJV) And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.


          Gospel, euaggelion, good message.

(Matthew 5:3 KJV) Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.


          Greek genitive plural, “of them is the Kingdom.”


          Note also the present tense. Not “shall be”

(Matthew 5:10 KJV) Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.


          Righteousness: Greek, dikaiosune, equity: justice according to natural law or right; specifically: freedom from bias or favoritism b : something that is equitable: having or exhibiting equity : dealing fairly and equally with all concerned as in “an equitable settlement of the dispute”


          It seems to suggest character and administration, not just careful obedience to the law.


                      “Theirs is” or “of them” is interesting in this light.


          Righteousness is a religious word, and has lost its original sense, I think. Religious jargon takes so much meaning away from us.

(Matthew 5:19-20 KJV) Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. {20} For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.


          Kingdom, basileia, from basileus, sovereign: Sovereignty. Refers to one with rule over a body politic.


          body politic: a group of persons politically organized under a single governmental authority

Depending on the context, it seems to me that the Kingdom of Heaven can apply to the King, the system, or “the body politic.”


          What is the body politic?

          The church, or Christian folk, or the people of God.

(Matthew 6:9-10 KJV) After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. {10} Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.


          It does seem as if we are praying that something would come that has not yet.


                      At the same time, it is connected “thy will be done, which we want to happen now.


          The word for “come” will drive you a little nutty if all you have is a lexicon. The lexicon says erchomai means “To come” or “to go.”

(Matthew 6:13 KJV) And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.


          Once again, note the present tense.

(Matthew 6:33 KJV) But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

(Matthew 7:21 KJV) Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.


          this one is of interest, because it is usually thought of as salvation: I.e., ruling with Christ in the kingdom.


          But what if the intent is “entering the body politic.”

(Matthew 8:9-12 KJV) For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. {10} When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. {11} And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. {12} But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.


          Certainly used here in the future sense.


          But Kingdom is used in two very different senses. One is the Kingdom of Heaven, the other is the kingdom of Israel.


                      So it is those born into the kingdom and nothing more who are cast out.

(Matthew 10:5-8 KJV) These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: {6} But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. {7} And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. {8} Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.


          One wonders how the people who heard the message took that.

          And the healings, and power over devils implies, that the effect of the kingdom is here and now.

(Matthew 11:11-12 KJV) Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. {12} And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.


          This is a fascinating example, in that the interpretation, and even the translation depends on how you take the terms.


          (Matthew 11:12 NIV) From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.


          But all the versions seem to agree as to the time. It is present at the time the words were spoken.


                      I am inclined toward the KJV, but I still feel unsatisfied.


          It seems clear, though, that the idea of a kingdom that is future and only future, won’t hold up.

(Matthew 12:25-28 KJV) And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: {26} And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? {27} And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. {28} But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.


          At least in the person of Jesus, I suppose, but wait.


          Didn’t the disciples cast out demons? Yes, they did.


          So when they said the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, they must have been speaking of the “body politic.” and themselves as a part of it.

(Matthew 13:10-11 KJV) And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? {11} He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.


          Why would that have been so?


                      I think, because of their preconceptions. Their jargon.


                      They were the parrots who said the same words over and over again without grasping the meaning of what was coming from their own lips.


          Even the disciples had problems getting square with it.


          And there are things about the Kingdom of heaven that remain mysteries.


                      We need to be careful that we don’t blind ourselves to them by too narrow a view of things.



(Matthew 13:18-19 KJV) Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. {19} When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.


          In this chapter, we start getting the kingdom parables.

(Matthew 13:24-30 KJV) Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: {25} But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. {26} But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. {27} So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? {28} He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? {29} But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. {30} Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.


          This sounds like the kingdom starts with the sowing of seed and continues on to the harvest.


          And the wheat grew up right alongside the tares.


                      This can be taken that both wheat and tares are present in the body politic.


                      And that matches our experience, doesn’t it?

(Matthew 13:31-32 KJV) Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: {32} Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.


          Actually, I think this is a mixed metaphor, because it doesn’t really match a mustard plant.


                      It is amusing to hear the words that have been expended explaining that.


                      But they miss the point.


                      The Kingdom of heaven starts, not merely small, but the smallest, and in the end becomes tree.


          So, wouldn’t that allow for the Kingdom starting when Jesus came and continuing till now?

(Matthew 13:33 KJV) Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.


          It was this short parable that brought this whole subject to mind not long ago.


          In a radio program, I was tracing the blame for where we are back to our leadership.


                      But then, I had to go back to the voters, and then to the schools.


          And when I got there, I realized that the leaven in our society has gone flat.


                      In the words of pogo, we have met the enemy, and he is us.


          We are in this sorry state, because the children of the kingdom have not led.

Earlier, I read from the parable of the tares. It goes on:

(Matthew 13:40-52 KJV) As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. {41} The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; {42} And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

{43} Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.


          But before this, the tares were in the kingdom.

{44} Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.

{45} Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: {46} Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

{47} Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: {48} Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. {

49} So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, {50} And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.


          But the end of the world is not where the Kingdom of heaven began.

{51} Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord. {52} Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.


          And there is the clue, right there.


          It is a mistake to think of everything about the kingdom as a new thing in the future.


                      In fact, it is very, very old, and whenever the Holy Spirit moves in the world, the Kingdom of Heaven is come upon us.

There is another crucial example a little later.

(Matthew 16:18-19 KJV) And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. {19} And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.


          There is not much doubt that in this context the kingdom is the body politic, I.e. the Christian church.


          Peter only? Peter and his successors?


          Moments later, he calls Peter, “Satan”

(Matthew 16:27-28 KJV) For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. {28} Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

(Matthew 18:1-4 KJV) At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? {2} And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, {3} And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. {4} Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.


          There is much more, but a passage a little later sheds some light on it.

(Matthew 18:15-20 KJV) Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. {16} But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. {17} And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. {18} Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. {19} Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. {20} For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.


          So it is not only to Peter, but to the body politic, the church, that the keys were given.

Returning to what Chuck Swindoll remarked about Parrots and Eagles:

“Wh at would help to balance things out would be a lot more keen-eyed, wide-winged creatures willing to soar out and up, exploring the illimitable ranges of the kingdom of God . . . willing to return with a brief report on their findings before they leave the nest again for another fascinating adventure.

“Parrot people are much different than eagle thinkers.

“They like to stay in the same cage, pick over the same pan full of seeds, and listen to the same words over and over again until they can say them with ease. They like company too. Lots of attention, a scratch here, a snuggle there, and they'll stay for years right on the same perch. You and I can't remember the last time we saw one fly. Parrots like the predictable, the secure, the strokes they get from their mutual admiration society.

“Although rare, eagles are not completely extinct in the historic skies of the church. . . .And in our day? We could name some . . . but they are increasingly rarer, as the "Entertain Me" philosophy of the public outshouts those who plead, "Make me think!"

“Have you fallen prey to a similar mind-set? Do you find yourself contentedly sitting on your perch, pecking at dry morsels rather than longing for the skies? Think about it.”




          Too many Christian folk of all persuasions have become Parrot people.


          While the cage forms around us.


          One thing I trust. That God will do whatever it takes to get us to do what we must do.

(John 16:1-2 KJV) These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. {2} They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.


          We just won’t get away with taking the easy way into the future.

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