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Sermon for January 21, Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Mark 1:14-15 (Third Sunday after the Epiphany—Series B)

“Jesus Brings the Kingdom”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

January 21, 2018

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is from the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark 1:

After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God and saying, “The due time stands fulfilled and the reign and rule of God has drawn near and is now here; repent and believe in the Gospel—now!”

 

          In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Thy kingdom come.” If I were to then ask, “What does this mean?” you’d be ready to recite from The Small Catechism, “The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.” God’s kingdom, as the Bible describes it to us, is something that is not a static or a stationary realm. It comes! It comes to us! God’s kingdom is a dynamic concept, His reign and rule over His creation, His people, His Church. What is God’s kingdom, His reign and rule? Martin Luther nails it in his Large Catechism. God’s reign and rule is “nothing other than what we [learn] in the Creed: God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver us from the devil’s power [1 John 3:8]. He sent Him to bring us to Himself and to govern us as a King of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death, and an evil conscience. For this reason He has also given His Holy Spirit, who is to bring these things home to us by His holy Word and to illumine and strengthen us in the faith by His power.”[1]

To use the language of St. Mark’s Gospel, Jesus Christ is the God-Man who has come, bringing the reign and rule of God in His person to humanity. Seminary professor Dr. James Voelz says it like this, “There is no more waiting; God is on the scene and is staring you in the face!”[2]

We need to let this really sink into our hearts and minds for a moment. God Himself visited His people in human flesh. He brought His dynamic rule and reign right there among the people. “The reign and rule of God has drawn near and is now here!” If you want to see the Lord’s reign over His people, if you want to see God’s active rule over those He has chosen, one needs to look no further than to Jesus Christ.

Throughout salvation history, when things went from bad to worse—the people of Israel engaging in wickedness and idolatry—God promised through His prophets to come to His people in judgment and then in grace. He punished His people for their sins with destruction as in Amos 5:1-2, “Hear this word that I take up over you in lamentation, O house of Israel:Fallen, no more to rise, is the virgin Israel; forsaken on her land, with none to raise her up.’” God punished the people with exile, “Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the LORD, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me. Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor” (Jer. 16:11-13 ESV). According to His Word of promise, God then brought Israel salvation by leaving a remnant in their land and by returning the exiles to their land.

Behind this “visiting” of God in history was the promise of a greater visitation, more far-reaching and awesome. This would be the Lord’s final coming, in which final judgement would be rendered on both the earth and sinful mankind and ultimate salvation—including the very presence of God Himself, the renewal of creation, victory over death, the forgiveness of sins, and the outpouring of the Spirit—would be brought about.[3] The announcement by Jesus that the due time stands fulfilled and completed and that the reign and rule of God has come near and is now here announces this very visitation of God. The final day of the Lord was dawning even as Jesus was speaking! God’s Kingdom, His reign and rule, had come to His creation in the person and work of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man. 

Now, a person can be blown away by the awesomeness of this fact, that God has visited His people in human flesh to bring the blessings of God to all people. Jesus’ coming brought the very reign and rule of God at the end of days and the blessings of the age to come when God would be present, when the Spirit would be poured out, when the eyes of the blind would be opened, the dead would be raised, and so on. But not all the blind received their sight. Not all the lame were restored; not all the lepers were cleansed, nor were all the dead raised. How do we understand this?

Jesus’ incarnation truly brought God’s reign and rule bursting into this world, but God’s rule and reign has not yet come in its fullness. The blind were healed. They lame did walk. The dead did rise. These are features of the reign and rule of God that are present in Christ, but they are not so complete that the features of the old age, the features of the old reign of Satan and the fallen creation, are no longer present.[4] Through your Baptism into Christ, you have eternal life. It is a present possession—now! But it is not yet yours in its fullness the way it will be when you enter life eternal in a new creation without sin and death and their effects. There remains that tension between the “Now” and the “Not Yet.” So it is with the reign and rule of Christ. In His coming among us as the Son of God and the Son of Man in His Incarnation, He brought the reign and rule of God among us. We receive a “foretaste” of the complete feast that we will surely enjoy when Jesus comes again to bring about the consummation of all things on the Last Day.

So Jesus has come in the flesh and He has brought the reign and rule of God and the blessings of the age to come to us. He redeemed fallen humanity from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. He gives us by grace, because of His sacrifice on the cross, forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. He has poured out His Holy Spirit upon us by means of the water and the Word in Baptism. He has given us His Gospel to hear so that we might believe in Him as our Lord and Savior. His Word strengthens us in the one, true Christian faith until that day He comes again to complete all things.

Now what? You are ready. The reign and rule of God in Christ has come to you in Gospel Word and Sacrament. Your sins are forgiven. You have eternal life. You are ready and waiting for His reign and rule to come in its fullness, for it to be completed with a new creation where you will be with God forever. So what do we do now?

By the power and grace of God the Holy Spirit, we continue to live lives of repentance and faith in the Gospel. Jesus said, “The due time stands fulfilled and the reign and rule of God has drawn near and is now here; repent and believe in the Gospel—now!” Thanks be to God that the cross of Jesus has set us free from the power of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh so that we are able to repent and to believe in the Gospel. Because the reign and rule of God in Christ has come to you through the Word and the Sacraments of Christ, your hearts have been turned from sin to obedience to His Word. You have been changed from enemy of God to child of God, heir of life and salvation. Your sins are cleansed by the blood of Jesus so that you stand before God “not guilty,” the punishment having been paid in full for you by the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

Because the reign and rule of God has come to you in Christ through the Word, you are able to recognize sin for what it is. You are empowered by the Spirit to confess and acknowledge your sin, to be truly sorrow for sin, and to repent of that sin even as you trust in the gracious forgiveness that Jesus purchased and won for you. Having received Absolution, you are empowered and encouraged by the Spirit to change your life, to amend what was sinful, and to live in the power of your Baptism as a new person in Jesus. This is now your life as a Christian because the reign and rule of God in Jesus has come to you and brought you the blessings of the Kingdom—forgiveness, new life, salvation, the power over sin, death, and the devil.

As you and I wait for the consummation of all things when our Lord Jesus comes again, we pray that His reign and rule would continually come among us through the Gospel Word. We pray that we may daily remain in and grow in His Word. We ask that we would be kept faithful in living Christian lives of repentance and faith to His praise, honor, and glory. Amen.

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 414.

[2] James Voelz, Mark 1:1-8:26, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2013), 146.

[3] Voelz, 147.

[4] Voelz, 151.


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