Sermon: Being a Citizen in the Kingdom of God.
“Behold, the days come,” saith the LORD, “that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.” [Jeremiah 23:5]
Today we have three lessons that juxtapose each other in a very special and powerful way. In the Old Testament, we have the proclamation that there will be a Branch raised from the line of David. Through Him, Israel and Judah will be protected and prosper. Yet, in the New Testament lesson, we have the execution of this King. He did NOT free Judah from Rome. He did NOT bring Israel back to the Promised Land. “All” He did was “be martyred.” So, how can these two images be the one and only Messiah? How can these two very different images be the same person?
The answer should be apparent to all Christians – we believe that Christ will come again. When Christ came so many centuries ago, it was for a very specific purpose. He came to be our Pascal Lamb. He came to atone for our sins. And He came to bring in the lost sheep – namely the gentiles. And Jesus accomplished this mission.
But as Christians, we believe this is NOT the end of the story. What we see predicted in Jeremiah is what will take place at Christ’s Second coming. We will see the gathering of the Jewish people in Israel, and we will see Christ coming again to establish God’s Kingdom here on earth. It is what all Christians should be anticipating. And it is the reason for the season – of Advent.
What many good Christians don’t realize is that Advent has very little to do with Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. It has EVERYTHING to do with His Second Coming whenever that may be. In fact, Advent is a period of preparation for the Second Coming of Christ to which we look forward. That is why the season is in penitential purple. We are preparing ourselves for the arrival of the Bridegroom. And like the ten wise virgins, this is our time to make ready so that, when He comes, we are not caught unaware.
But there is more. In all three lessons, there are references to the Messiah’s Kingdom. In Jeremiah, we have:
“Behold, the days come,” saith the LORD, “that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.”
In the Gospel lesson, we have the account of the two criminals being executed with Christ. One derides Jesus, whereas the other comes to believe that this Man being executed with them is, in fact, the promised Messiah. When this criminal comes to this conclusion, the man asks:
“Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.”
This is a fascinating and perceptive statement. It is as if this common criminal that has done something so heinous that he is being executed by the Roman authorities can see what the Jewish religious leaders failed to see. This criminal sees that this IS the Messiah, and that His present life on earth is only part one. He also seems to know that the second part is when Christ will come into His Kingdom. This is truly amazing.
But finally, we have this statement from Saint Paul:
Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
In these three lessons, we have an image of the Kingdom of God and what it means for us Christians. And the pivotal event where everything comes into focus is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Kingdom of God has two components. The first is what will be the Kingdom on Earth when Christ comes again. It will fulfill all that Jeremiah has prophesied. Justice and peace will reign.
But, there is a Kingdom of God that exists here and now. This is the Kingdom about which Saint Paul writes; but, this is the Kingdom that many of us miss. It is not visible; it does not have boarders or a flag. It is not something to which we can readily point, but it DOES exist. This kingdom is the spiritual Kingdom of Christ to which all believers belong. And its form of governance is the Church.
The Church of Christ is made up of ALL the faiths that adhere to the Nicene Creed and that believe the orthodox doctrines of the Christian faith. It is the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Church and a host of other protestant denominations. Although the Church of Christ is currently fragmented, it still is all within the Kingdom of God. And it adheres to only one supreme ruler – Jesus Christ Himself.
This is why the Sacraments become so important. Through Baptism, we become citizens of God’s Kingdom. And through Holy Communion, we become participants in that Kingdom.
In Holy Communion, not only are we strengthened spiritually, but we also enter into the real presence of this spiritual Kingdom.
Because our Kingdom is invisible, we can only experience it spiritually. Holy Communion brings us into this Kingdom so that we can feel its presence in our soul. It is so important and so essential that many churches insist on celebrating Holy Communion each and every Sunday.
This is also why today is so special. Here we have three or four new participants in the Kingdom of God. They have been citizens since their baptism. But now they can exercise one of the most important and fundamental elements of this citizenship. They can now be in Christ as He is in them. What a glorious and wonderful day. And for this reason alone we should celebrate.
But we all have the additional joy of knowing that, as they eat the bread and drink the wine that mysteriously has become the Body and Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ, they WILL be strengthened spiritually to withstand the onslaught that they may experience coming from the world, the flesh, and the devil.
So let us celebrate. Let us remember who is King; let us remember who our Sovereign is. Let us let go of all our fears and trepidations. And let us take to heart the great lesson contained in our Psalm for today:
Be still then, and know that I am God.