God's Kingdom Initiative
These notes from Paul Tothill are an extended version of his message preached at Gateway Church on 9/9/18.
For many people, including those who attend church, the language of the Kingdom of God or, as the Gospel of Matthew puts it, the Kingdom of Heaven, is not well understood, and is often imagined as a spiritual reality we enter into after we have died and gone to heaven.
However, Jesus demonstrated that from his deep intimate relationship with God through the person of the Holy Spirit as God’s indwelling presence the Kingdom realm of God was at hand, meaning it was both available and accessible now. This demonstrated that believers in loving relationship with God empowered by God’s indwelling presence would carry and release the future Kingdom realm as their present reality by faith in Jesus into their present life situations as the mission of the church.
The important key of life that Jesus demonstrated to us, as a greater Moses, is that the words He acted upon and spoke out were wisdom directly from the Father in heaven. They are words of eternal love, truth, Kingdom peace and order. He demonstrated that when we receive His words in our heart, give ourselves to them and respond to them empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts the Kingdom of God is formed in us as eternal life. Therefore, Jesus said his words- the eternal words of the Father he spoke- are Spirit and they are life to us.
To make the point, the future eternal Kingdom realm of God, or Kingdom of God is available now in Jesus Christ. It breaks into our everyday situations in ways that we both see and do not yet completely see as we lovingly give ourselves in deep relationship to and union with the risen Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit by faith.
Indeed, Jesus said in his sermon on the Mount that we are to seek first the Kingdom and God’s righteousness, as our priority as people who love God first. This is exactly what Jesus did whilst on earth.
Jesus said the Kingdom of heaven, the rule and reign of God as the government of peace is like leaven or yeast, it often works quietly in the hearts of people. It displaces current unseen spiritual powers and even mindsets through the proclamation and the demonstration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul the apostle told the church at Corinth the Kingdom of God is righteousness, right loving relationship with God and right living from God, peace- God’s governmental peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
So far, from this introduction, we can realise the love of God, and loving God first, the Presence of God and the Kingdom realm of God are inseparable and are given expression to in our hearts and mind by the Holy Spirit. The Kingdom is both now, presently available but not yet in its fullness.
The Bible teaches us very clearly that the Kingdom of God is the central thread that is intertwined with the storyline of God’s loving redemption of the nations from the very beginning and until the end of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. The whole bible carries a story line about the Kingdom of heaven being established on earth, the spiritual reality of the Garden east of Eden if you will, covering the whole earth. This ultimately happens when there is a new heaven and a new earth as described in the book of Revelation. Until then the church as God’s Spirit filled community, as a people carrying the Presence of God into the world is to both proclaim and reveal the future Kingdom revealing the redemptive power of God’s love and God’s peace and divine order to all.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray the way they were to live “let God’s beneficial will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I have inserted the word beneficial. The church through their relationship with Jesus first, from God’s presence in the Holy Spirit is to seek first the Kingdom and bring it forward first in their hearts and mind and then through their actions, by faith. In doing so we are to be absolutely convinced of its spiritual and eternal present reality although we do not yet see it in the natural and even though it defies the pattern of thinking we are used to living from.
Our salvation, what we call being “saved” and “born again”, is the reality of being rescued from the bondage, mastery and destruction of sin that separated us from the love of God and His presence and being reunited with God, brought into eternal life, the life of the future Kingdom. We can experience that reality now in the Holy Spirit.
So, we must understand that the Gospel of grace brings us into the Kingdom realm to embrace and live from a deep Jesus-first relationship and life union with God producing a new way of living into the world. In short, we are rescued by a loving God through Jesus’ work on the Cross for a purpose.
And God has chosen us, those who have faith in Jesus Christ, imperfect in our own ability to respond and understand these things- what Paul the apostle describes as those who are like common clay jars carrying a glorious treasure within- so that an extraordinary overflow of power of God’s presence in the Holy Spirit will be seen as God’s presence and power working in and through our lives. As Paul the apostle revealed, God’s grace is perfected in our weakness.
Paul the apostle also described what he calls the glorious ministry of the Spirit that shines from us brings forward both the love of God and governmental Peace of the Kingdom of heaven into our world. And for Paul the Apostle this is what distinguishes and defines believers and the church from and in the world- the indwelling presence of God- that releases God’s power and potential in our lives of faith even so we can love Jesus first.
So, this morning I want to build upon what we have been speaking about over the last little while and speak into this context. I want to pick up from what I was speaking about last week of putting first things first as the order of our life and being a people that love Jesus as our first love.
In effect, we are a people that are identified and known for our love for Jesus. As the early church would say we are a Jesus people. To that, this morning I want to add we are also a people defined by the work of the Holy Spirit as God’s empowering indwelling Presence working both within us and through us. These two things work together.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SHEMA
Moses was a man who spoke to the unseen God “face to face” in His presence in a place known as the tent of meeting. God did not speak to Moses in dark sayings and with parables and other imagery as He did with His other prophets. Moses had a unique relationship with God. And as unique as it was, and as extraordinary at it seems in our present world, those who are born again in Jesus Christ, living filled with the Holy Spirit having entered into the Kingdom of God by faith can enter into a greater reality of relationship with God to what even Moses enjoyed because of God sending the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
The Holy Spirit is God’s grace promise to us in the New Covenant. I should make clear, a grace promise means a promise that is unmerited by us, completely unearned, and given completely from the goodness and love of God towards us. The indwelling presence of God is given to us by God’s unmerited favour towards us that we may know Him and live in right relationship with Him producing right living before Him. Like any other valuable and esteemed person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit is to highly valued, revered and loved as God himself in our life. He is the indwelling Spirit of God. He is God. He is the very conduit to experiencing the truth of Jesus and the love of the Father.
I should add the term reconciled means to be brought back into God’s presence and deep loving relationship with God so that we may experience His love for us and that we may, in turn, love Him with our whole being.
Paul the apostle says that because of the glorious administration of the Holy Spirit, the empowering presence of God working in our life, with open hearts, the Holy Spirit transforms us in the love and eternal truths of God from the inside out into the image and likeness of Jesus, that we might become like the one we love and behold in heart and action. God renews our heart and mind so that he can transform our life into our true God-potential and purpose not just as a person but as a people. And in this way, the knowledge of God’s glory in Jesus Christ is made known to the world and covers the earth.
Moses was both a commander of the nation of Israel and a prophet. He spoke important things to the people of Israel, that he received from God’s presence in the tent of meeting. The tent of meeting was placed in the centre of the camp of the twelve tribes of Israel. Later it was placed outside of the camp. The mountain of the Lord and the tent of meeting and later the tabernacles and temples of God all carried the same important defining quality- the Presence of God.
The pattern of the camp of Israel meant that the 12 tribes were placed in order and in a pattern, not unlike the Cross that Jesus would ultimately hang upon. Then right in the centre was the tent of meeting, where the Presence of God as a visible cloud was present for all to see. As the cloud of God’s Presence would descend on the tent, Moses and Aaron would remain in God’s presence and God would speak to him from that presence. It was the sign or manifestation of God’s presence that accompanied Israel through their journey into God’s promised land and that distinguished them from the nations around them.
The tent of meeting signified that the unseen God through His presence as a cloud and the presence within meant that the tent of meeting was indeed the meeting place between heaven and earth, between God and man, in much the same way the Mountain of the Lord and the Garden of Eden was. And now, what people find difficult to understand but what the Bible is clear about, is that every born-again believer filled with the Holy Spirit becomes the place where heaven meets earth through the empowering presence of God in the Holy Spirit that dwells in their hearts. Both Jesus and later Paul tell us as much.
In his letters to the churches Paul the apostle drew this comparison as I have done in part when he spoke of the indwelling Holy Spirit and a community that carried God’s presence in their hearts. For Paul, the most profound new understanding that he deeply embraced was the grace gift of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers as the indwelling presence of God. This indwelling Presence of God is the unifying power of God’s people.
Indeed, Paul believed a community of believers who loved Jesus first and carried the spiritual Presence of God in their hearts were to be compared with God’s temple. Not only that Paul believed the community as God’s expression of the temple on earth was placed in a particular geography for the benefit of the whole region. Unfortunately, the church has not always seen the emphasis of Paul’s teaching in that way, especially in our modern world. But the letters to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation most certainly does.
God’s people as God’s spiritual community are not to live first from the external influences of the world as they once did, but as a Spirit filled people they are to live from the indwelling Presence of God revealed in the Holy Spirit in their hearts.
For Paul, this is central to God’s community. They are to be a people who live from the indwelling Spirit of God. And this of course requires a new awareness and consciousness in addition to a renewed way of thinking and living from every believer as they grow into spiritual maturity. This is part of what it means to seek first the Kingdom of God.
This new way of living means we have God’s ability to love Him first. Common ordinary imperfect people carrying as Paul says the glorious indwelling Spirit of God radiating through our imperfection and weaknesses empowering us to love Jesus first.
In this pattern of intimacy and heaven and earth coming together, the unseen spiritual realm connecting with the natural realm, the Shema as a prayer, not only can be fulfilled as a command or teaching of God for life, it becomes our order for life.
As I said last week this prayer was to be prayed at least two times a day and up to four times a day. Let’s remind ourselves of the Shema prayer that becomes the most important teaching that Jesus followed and repeated and being the very foundation of which all the Law and prophets of the Old Testament hang.
Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-7
Israel was to remind themselves both morning and night that their very priority for life was to love the Lord their God with all their heart, with all their soul and all their strength. Clearly God is a God of relationship first. Their obedience through faith was to come from their love first for God. Indeed, Jesus changed things up slightly and what he taught marks a shift in the New Testament when He said loving me empowers you to obey my words.
In fact, the highest expression of loving Jesus first, is to receive His words in our hearts and then give our will to them as God’s will for our life.
Jesus said that he nourished himself in the love of the Father. Then he said I love each of you with the same love that the Father loves me. You must continually let my love nourish your hearts. If you keep my commands (teachings) you will live in my love, just as I have kept my father’s commands for I continually live nourished and empowered by his love. John 15:9
When asked “what was the greatest command” of the Torah Jesus stated a revised Shema. He removed the word “strength” and replaced it with the word “mind”. Both versions mean with your whole being. We are to love God with all of who we are.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. Matthew 22:37
(The Greek word for mind is Dianoia and means your deep thoughts or imagination)
To draw on the point I made last week, when we love Jesus first, drawing upon and being empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit, our mission becomes motivated by God’s love and our love for Jesus, not fear, or religious duty. Our love for Jesus empowered by the Holy Spirit overcomes our own sense of inability and even fear of others and our own sense of potential failure. We are always co-labouring with Jesus through the Holy Spirit and in life union with Him, never apart from Him. This is why Paul we can say we have not been given a spirit of fear, but of sound mind and boldness.
We even pray differently and with a new faith confidence. Look what Jesus promised:
But if you live in life-union with me and if my words live powerfully within you- then you can ask whatever you desire and it will be done. John 15:7
Let me bring this into context. When we are saved, actually rescued by the love of God for us from the spiritual world system and all its effects of sin creating separation from God’s presence and His love, God the Father sends the Holy Spirit into our heart. It is the simultaneous work of the Holy Spirit and the hearing of the truth about Jesus, that comes alive within us. Salvation is not a head response but a heart response to the work of the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of God breaking in past our bondage and spiritual poverty and brokenness.
A part of our heart is awakened to a truth we had previously rejected; and a love and sense of belonging we have never experienced but in fact secretly deeply longed for is activated. At that time when the Holy Spirit reveals God’s truth in Jesus to us and we receive it and place our faith and trust in that truth, a significant spiritual event or renewal takes place.
As we receive the words of the Gospel we are joined into a life union with Jesus, both into His death and His resurrection by faith. This dual work of faith in Christ brings us individually and as a people into God’s Spiritual Kingdom realm and into relationship and oneness with the Father in heaven.
We are born again, meaning we are born from above, we are born of the Holy Spirit with a new divine nature in our spirit and the old nature has gone, dead and buried with Jesus by faith. Then something else happens by the work of the Holy Spirit. We are not only reconciled, brought back into deep relationship with God the Father in Jesus Christ, but also God sends His love into our heart by the work of the Holy Spirit.
This is an extravagant love, that has no earthly comparison apart from in the life of Jesus. It is a love even greater than between a mother or father and a child and husband and wife. This is a love that overcomes every obstacle and removes every barrier. It is the agape love that motivated Jesus through his deep suffering for our sake. A love that produced perfect free will obedience in Jesus as His expression of deep love to His Father, who is also now our Father.
Because of God’s love the personal will of Jesus was completely yielded, surrendered in His love for God and His eternal purposes empowered by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, the very same indwelling Holy Spirit we have now received by God’s grace.
Jesus did all these things freely in love for God, not because He had to in fear of punishment or religious duty. He wanted to because of love for His Father and for us. God’s love preserves free will, but excites our will in freedom not fear or religious duty to love God with all our heart and receive His words as life and take up His mission of bringing forward the Kingdom realm from His rest. Literally resting in His love and Presence in the Holy Spirit.
When we love God by responding to His love that He pours into our hearts through the grace gift of the Holy Spirit our motivation of faith is the same motivation of Christ’s faith. – Love for God first. We do everything from the place of our first love for Him. This is why the Shema was and remains such an important prayer today and is expressed as the most crucial first command reiterated by Jesus that all the Law and Prophets hang upon.
God loves Himself perfectly and loves us perfectly. God’s love for us is not conditional upon our own ability to love Him or our performance towards Him. Because we love God we want to please God. But even should we mess up God does not stop loving us in a way that continually restores us. When we put our trust in Jesus Christ and we are born again we are also brought into the family of God.
The mature children of God are those who are moved by the impulses of the Holy Spirit. And you did not receive the spirit of religious duty, leading you back into the fear of never being good enough. But you have received the Spirit of full acceptance (or the Spirit of Adoption) enfolding you into the family of God. And you will never feel orphaned, for as he rises up within us, our spirits join him in saying the words of tender affection, ”Beloved Father”. For the Holy Spirit makes God’s fatherhood real to us as he whispers into our innermost being, “you are God’s beloved child”. Romans 8:14
God works individually and then brings us as an individual into His family. Family life is different from living an individual life. So, through the unifying power of the Holy Spirit we learn how to live as a people, as God’s family, not just as individuals. This spiritual family is joined together and identified by their love for Jesus and defined by God’s indwelling presence as a work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts and in the community. It is the indwelling Holy Spirit that brings us into unity as we all live by the Spirit. This is why Paul warns us not to grieve or quench, putting out the empowering “fire” of the Holy Spirit.
This family empowered by the indwelling Presence of God is known as the local church. No longer a person joining with others living just as an individual in their own ability but a people living by God’s grace as His internal empowering presence as a unifying presence. A people joined together in their love for Jesus and defined as God’s community by God’s indwelling presence revealed in the work of the Holy Spirit.
In that the Holy Spirit in constantly working to reveal that life-connection and bear witness to our hearts that we are no longer strangers, no longer outsiders, no longer in exile to God’s presence, no longer orphans but highly valued and extravagantly loved and restored back to His presence from which humanity fell and were once separated by their sin of choosing themselves first over God first.
As Paul make plain God’s presence now dwells in our hearts, just like He did by His presence in the tent of meeting and the temple. In writing to the Roman church Paul tells us:
Now Christ lives in you! And even though your body may be dead because of the effects of sin, his life-giving Spirit imparts life to you because you are fully accepted by God. Yes, God raised Jesus to life! And since God’s Spirit of Resurrection lives in you, he will also raise your dying body to life by the same Spirit that breathes life into you!
With these spiritual realities and eternal truths working together as present spiritual realities, we are brought into the Kingdom of God to reveal the Kingdom of God from our relationship with God as dearly loved, completely approved sons and daughters. We start our new life from this reality. Our salvation causes us to seek first the Kingdom in all things.
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