Not with Observation

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Trinity 25
Luke 17:20-30
November 13, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

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The kingdom of God came late Tuesday evening, according to some people. I saw one person link to a comment by Dr. Michael Brown—a prominent Jewish evangelical—that said, “If Trump wins the election, I will have no doubt that God sovereignly and supernaturally ordained it.” Which leaves one to wonder that had Hillary won, would God have lost His sovereignty? (By the way, you should flee this wolf in sheep’s clothing. Dr. Brown is often shared in social media, and while he is a learned man, he is completely misguided and in error regarding the powers of the human will and the necessity of following the Law to merit God’s grace. He is a modern day Judaizer and opponent of St. Paul. Mark him and avoid).

Although not everyone is in agreement on the outcome of the 2016 election. There are some—and maybe you’re one of them—that see Tuesday evening as the advent of antichrist’s kingdom. But before you simply disregard these people as insecure, whiny snowflakes who are chewing on their sour grapes in their safe places, how did you feel 8 years ago?

It is good today to get some clarity on kingdoms—both external clarity from the Scripture, and internal clarity from the work of the Holy Spirit. And they schedule elections at a good time of year, when the Church turns her attention toward God’s kingdom, His judgment, and the end times.

Despite the almost religious fervor ascribed to it, neither this election, nor any one that has preceded it, has been about the kingdom of God. We Lutherans make a distinction between earthly kingdoms—or democracies or republics—and the kingdom of God. And not because we hold to a particular political philosophy. It’s because of what Jesus says about the kingdom of God.

After a question was put to Him by the Pharisees about when the kingdom of God is coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation, neither will they say, “Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is’” (vv 20-21a).

What does He mean by “observation”? It’s a word also used in the medical field to describe symptoms of an illness. A hidden illness, such as the flu, cannot be seen, but it presents itself with fever, aches, tiredness, among other things. And what’s more, you can usually tell when the flu or a cold is coming on with that little tickle in your throat, and you can take some steps to lessen its severity when it arrives.

This is not true with the kingdom of God. There are no polling data, there are no robo-calls, it won’t be featured on the nightly news. The kingdom of God does not come with observation. Though everyone wants it to. The theological term we use is “realized eschatology.” And that means that people want to see the promises of the new creation in God’s kingdom manifested here on earth.

One way this happens is with false views of the end times. The Jews at the time of Jesus had an expectation of the Messiah coming to restore an earthly reign such as they had in the time of King David. But any student of Israelite history knows that the kingdom era was not a great time. In fact, many of the kings were the ones who introduced pagan idolatries into the Jewish life, and brought God’s judgement on the people.

Many fundamentalist evangelicals expect the same kind of thing, due to a false reading of Revelation. They believe that Jesus will visibly return to set up an earthly kingdom and all evil will be suppressed for a thousand years before the final judgment. And since Jerusalem is essential to their imagination of Jesus’ earthly reign, their politics reflect that. But the kingdom of God does not come with observation.

The left side of the theological spectrum has their own realized eschatology, which is essentially the same as the right. They believe that by political influence they can enact policies that will hasten a spiritual, utopian kingdom. Things like universal healthcare and a radical egalitarianism, where all things are equal for all people in every situation. You know that it’s a religious movement when you can compare the platform of the progressive social movement with the stated doctrines of the liberal mainline churches and find not one difference. Not one. One wonders when the left will begin to take some of their own medicine and keep their religion out of their politics. But the kingdom of God does not come with observation.

So, Jesus said to His disciples, “Days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say, ‘Behold, there it is. Behold, here it is.’ Do not go out or pursue them (vv 22-23). Because the kingdom of God does not come with observable phenomena.

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For just as lightening flashes and lights from one end of the heaves to the other end of the heavens, so shall it be with the Son of Man in His day (v 24). That doesn’t mean that there will be no signs of Jesus’ return. There are many that Jesus and the apostles tell us about. But what Jesus wants the Pharisees, His disciples, and us to know is that the signs cannot adequately prepare you for His return and for His kingdom. It’s not like a cold, where a little tickle in the throat gives you some warning. Rather, it’s like lightening; by the time you see it, it’s already flashed across the sky. So shall it be with the Son of Man.

But first it is necessary that He suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating and drinking, marrying and being married, until the day that Noah went into the ark, and the deluge came and destroyed it all. Similarly, just as it happened in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed everything. It will be according to the same things on the day in which the Son of Man is revealed (vv 25-30).

He certainly does paint a grim picture. It’s like there’s no chance until it’s already too late. But remember that the kingdom of God does not come with observation. Once you see the signs, it’s already too late. When the world saw the first rain drops in Noah’s day, they didn’t have time to build their own arks. Sodom had no warning when Lot left town before the fire came down. But what both Noah and Lot had is the same thing that the Pharisees had, and the disciples had, and what you have right now. You have God’s Word. And that Word tells you that the kingdom of God does not come with the signs, but, Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is among you” (v 21b).

First, let’s deal with the preposition. Sometimes it’s translated that the kingdom of God is within or inside you, such as that the kingdom of God resides internally in hearts. But two counter arguments. First, Jesus directs this statement to the Pharisees before addressing His disciples in the next section. And since the Pharisees were not believers for the most part, it doesn’t make sense that Jesus would say that God’s kingdom resides in the hearts of unbelievers. Second, one interpretive key to the Bible is that Jesus reminds us that the Scriptures are written about Him. Thus, the kingdom of God is among you means that Jesus Himself is among them right now. He is the Son of Man. And before the signs happen (at which point it will be too late), it is first necessary that the Son of Man suffer many things and be rejected by that generation. In other words, it is necessary that He go to the cross.

And this is the Word that you have, just as Noah had God’s Word concerning the flood, and Abraham and Lot had God’s Word concerning the destruction of Sodom. Before the signs come, you have the preaching of the Gospel of Christ, His suffering and death. For you, the kingdom of God does not come sometime in the future, for you to try to predict. The kingdom of God is already among you. And it is among you independent of who is elected every four years, or what system of government we have here on earth. God’s kingdom is among you because Jesus is among you—preaching, forgiving, baptizing, feeding. That’s what God’s kingdom is, after all.

The Kingdom of God Is God’s Gracious Activity for You

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA