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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Who Is Admitted Into the Upside-Down Kingdom?
Text:LD 31 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2022-07-11
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Matthew 5

Lesson: Lord’s Day 31

 

WHO IS ADMITTED INTO THE UPSIDE-DOWN KINGDOM?

  1. Those with Ears to Hear

  2. Those with Hearts that Repent

 

  1. Psalm 68: 1, 2, 3, 7

  2. Psalm 82:1-3

  3. Hymn 70:1-4

  4. Hymn 1

  5. Hymn 46:1-4

 

Words to Listen For: beginning, chance, case, smirk, lost

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What is the Kingdom of God?  When is it?

  2. How is the Kingdom “upside-down” ?

  3. How does the Sermon on the Mount take a sharp left turn?

  4. Who is the second key for?

  5. How are we the same as those who undergo Church Discipline?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved members of Christ’s Kingdom,

There once was a minister who was asked to give a speech at a youth conference.  He was in his later years of the ministry, and well-known, and so, there wasn’t too much panic when he didn’t submit a topic ahead of time.  Whatever he spoke on would be good.  And so, a few minutes before he went up on the stage to give his speech, the man introducing him asked what topic he was speaking on.  The minister responded: “The Kingdom of God.”

And so, the man went up, and introduced the minister, saying a few things about him, and ended off by saying: “And the topic for tonight is the Kingdom of God.  How wonderful that will be when we get there!”

That poor minister.

He had to spend the first part of his speech explaining, not only to the youth, but also to the man who introduced him, that the Kingdom of God was something that already exists here and now!  The Kingdom of God is not just another word for Heaven.  Or another word for the after-life.  It is, very much, the NOW Life of Christians, if I may put it like that.

For what was the message of John the Baptist?

Matthew 3: Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!

And then this message is taken on by our Saviour in Matthew 4: From that time, Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand...the Kingdom of Heaven is near…

Because what is the Kingdom of Heaven?  The Kingdom of Heaven is eternal life.  The life that never ends.

The Kingdom of Heaven is the church.  The true church.  Citizens of the Kingdom are members of the church.  Those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord.

And there are rights and responsibilities to this Kingdom.  There is a sense of belonging.  There are certain characteristics that citizens of the Kingdom have...and they aren’t what you might expect.  They are drastically different from the various kingdoms of this world.  And that is why certain authors and commentators call the Kingdom of Heaven “the Upside-down Kingdom.”  And even though the world views it as Upside-Down, there is no place we should rather be.  So let’s examine together the all important question:

WHO IS ADMITTED INTO THE UPSIDE-DOWN KINGDOM?  We will see that the answer is

  1. Those with Ears to Hear and 

  2. Those with Hearts that Repent

 

Now, it's a bit of a risky business to refer to the Kingdom of Heaven as the Upside-Down Kingdom.

There are those who are insulted by this terminology and prefer hearing that THIS world is the one that is upside-down, and the Kingdom of Christ as the one that is right-side up.  And I can understand that.  But when I refer to the Kingdom of Heaven in this way, it is not meant to show any disrespect, but rather it is meant to give a description of how it naturally appears to us.  A description of what it does to our understanding of how things should be.  Of what is important, and what is not important.

Life in the Kingdom of Heaven flips everything upside-down for us, and when we become citizens of the Kingdom of our Lord, our lives are never the same, ever again.

This was just as true in the 1st century as it is now in the 21st.  Jesus’ words were revolutionary then, as they are now.

Let me give you a brief example of what I mean here.  In our reading, we heard this well-known saying of our Lord:

Matthew 5:43 - You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.  But I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

In this, not only was Jesus overturning the traditional understanding, not only was Jesus acting counter-culturally, he was even acting counter-linguistically.  What this means is that, by saying “love your enemies,” Jesus was turning the Hebrew language upside-down on itself.  Because the word that we translate as “enemies” literally means “hated ones.”  LOVE the hated ones.  Things are being turned upside-down in all kinds of ways.  That is what happens for citizens of the Kingdom.

For us to truly understand how we enter the kingdom, through the keys, we must examine what the keys of the Kingdom are, and how they function.  But first, we need to take a closer look at what the Kingdom of Heaven itself looks like.

The Kingdom of Heaven is built, one could say, on the teachings found in Matthew 5.  The teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount.

And this particular sermon of our Lord is an interesting one by all accounts.  When you think He is going to veer right, He veers left.  At the beginning of the sermon, it would seem that Jesus is breaking wide open that door that the Pharisees had slammed shut with all their human rules and regulations.

The Pharisees preyed on the poor in spirit.  They had no pity on those who mourned, and they themselves were the ones who persecuted the righteous.  But Jesus has kind and welcoming words for these people.

After a few of these beatitudes, you begin to get used to the pattern.  Those who are weak and despised in this world are loved by Jesus Christ.  They have not disqualified themselves from His Kingdom.

But there are surprises too.  In verse 17, this wonderful, comforting sermon takes a sharp left turn.

Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets…

And then our Saviour goes on to explain that the Kingdom of Heaven is not a Kingdom where the rules are slack.  Where there are no rules.  But instead, in His Kingdom,

Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees.

In His Kingdom, not only is MURDER forbidden, but so is anger.

Not only is ADULTERY forbidden, but so is lust.

Not only is love something for neighbours, but also for enemies.

Indeed...you must be PERFECT, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.

An upside-down Kingdom indeed!  Verses 2 through 12 open the doors wide...and the rest of the chapter seems to slam them back shut.

This kingdom, that, on the one hand, seems to have lower standards than the rest of society...the kingdom that welcomes in those who are rejected by the rest...the poor, the weak, and the meek...this Kingdom has, at the same time, standards that are much higher than the rest of society.  This is a Kingdom that demands...PERFECTION!

So how can we actually earn our way into this Kingdom?  We have to be PERFECT?  But nobody other than Jesus Christ Himself is perfect!

And this is exactly the point.  Nobody other than Jesus Christ Himself is perfect.  This is exactly the lesson that Jesus is teaching the people.

Our sins and weaknesses do not disqualify us from entry...there is nothing we can do to make ourselves less worthy than we already are...but there is also nothing that we can do to make ourselves MORE WORTHY.

It isn’t about us at all...this Kingdom.  It is, just as the upside-down GOSPEL...all about Jesus Christ.

  • The gospel where the Prince of Peace was born into a world drowning in violence

  • The gospel where the Saviour was put to death by earthly forces in order to conquer the spiritual forces of evil.

  • The gospel where death brought life.

  • The gospel where the Innocent One was punished, so that the guilty might go free.

It isn’t about earning our way into the Kingdom.  This is the wrong question.  But rather, the Keys of the Kingdom show us the MANNER in which we ENTER the Kingdom that God has prepared for us.

We can see, with the first key, the preaching of the Word, that those who enter the Kingdom are those who have ears to hear.

According to the command of Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven is opened when it is proclaimed and publicly testified to each and every believer that God has really forgiven all their sins for the sake of Christ’s merits.

We see examples of this all throughout Scripture - examples of those who were welcomed into the Kingdom by way of preaching.

  • Lydia...when Paul was preaching about the gospel...the Lord opened her heart.  She believed, and was baptized.
  • The Philippian Jailer...when the earthquake happened, the jailer was in deep distress, about to end his life.  But then Paul and Silas, through speaking the Word of the Lord, explained how he could have true life.  He believed, and he and his family were baptized.

God has given the wonderful gift of the gospel, and the awesome and humbling gift of the method of preaching.  This is something that all ministers take very seriously.

As a leader in the church of Jesus Christ, the keys of the Kingdom have been given TO MINISTERS and to the other office-bearers.  The second key is for all of us to use...church discipline is not the work of the pastor only...but that first key?  The preaching?

Of course, it is guarded by the other elders.

Preaching is regularly discussed at consistory meetings, and if it is found to be unfaithful, the minister must be reprimanded and corrected.  But this key is mostly in the hands of the minister, and his hands alone.

There's something that I do, each time that I ascend the pulpit.  Each time I mumble something to myself.  A little prayer to God: God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  Being on the pulpit is THAT important.

It is a powerful weapon to wield, and it is one that weighs heavily on those who preach...AS IT SHOULD.  Through the words of the preacher, the Holy Spirit works to open and close the doors of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The doors are opened when the gospel cuts to the heart.  When it cuts the hearer unto repentance and into life in Christ.

 

Are you poor in spirit?

    THE KINGDOM IS FOR YOU!

Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness...longing for the day when you will experience them in their fullness?

    THE KINGDOM IS FOR YOU!

Do you mourn?  Are you burdened and heavy laden?

    THE KINGDOM IS FOR YOU!

 

And how?

Through the cross of Jesus Christ!

Through His suffering, through His death, through His resurrection and ascension into heaven...you are brought with Him.

He is the head, we are the body.  He ascended...with US in His train behind Him.  That is what we sang earlier, in Psalm 68.  When you, O Lord, went up again, you led your captives in your train.  For the children who are thinking of a train that travels along the tracks...this isn’t that.  This is a robe, sweeping behind our King.  We are in His royal robe.

This is the message of the gospel.  For those who repent, for those who humble themselves, and bow before King Jesus...our sins are forgiven us.  They have been punished on the cross through His suffering and death.  Our sins were nailed to the cross, and we bear them no more!  This is the wonderful cosmic, upside-down trade.  Everything bad, everything evil and sinful in us has been given to Jesus Christ, that He might give us everything good, and holy, and pure.  That it was DEATH that bought us LIFE.

Those with ears to hear the gospel reap the benefits of Christ.

 

And what are these benefits of Christ?

The benefits of Christ are the benefits of living in the Kingdom of God.  As sinners transformed into saints.

Transformed, not by our hard work, transformed, not by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, but transformed through Christ Himself.  He is the One who makes us perfect as He is perfect.  He is the one who fulfilled the righteous requirements of God that were unattainable for us to fulfill on our own.

And now, with those requirements fulfilled on our behalf, we must continue to strive with all the strength we have been given, to live as citizens of the Kingdom.  To live righteous lives before the face of God.  When we hear the gospel message of salvation, week after week, the words must not only reach our ears and stop there.  But they must spur us on to greater righteousness and greater holiness.

But those who refuse to hear the gospel of salvation...those who reject it, or use it to unrepentantly continue in sin...those who think that they can live in the Kingdom of heaven with a loose morality, because they are already in the kingdom of heaven...those who think that now it doesn’t matter what they do or say...for them, the preached gospel slams the door shut.

The Kingdom of Heaven is closed when it is proclaimed and testified to all unbelievers and hypocrites that the wrath of God and eternal condemnation rest on them as long as they do not repent.

It is for these people that the message of Christ in the second part of our reading should strike fear.

Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.

You must be perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect

It is this message that is hard to preach, but it must be proclaimed.  For the sword of the Word of God cuts, not only unto life, but also unto death.  When the way to God is trampled underfoot, when Christ’s death on the cross is not honored but rejected, there is nothing but fearful judgement in store.

Those who trust in themselves, in their own inherent goodness, imagining that, on the last day, if God tries to send them to Hell, they could argue their way into Heaven...for them, the gospel stands as a message of condemnation.

In proclaiming Christ as the only way into the Kingdom of Heaven, this NECESSARILY condemns each and every other way that we could imagine to open the doors.

And for the hypocrites, for those trusting in themselves instead of Christ, for those living in unrepentant sin, thinking that they can go on sinning that grace may abound...or else waiting for a death-bed conversion where they make everything right...there is another key for them.  A key that cuts, first to death, but then to life.  A key that first closes, but then opens the gates to the Kingdom.  Our second point.

It is important for us to note the difference in order between these two keys.  If you notice, the catechism phrases the questions slightly differently

The Kingdom of Heaven is opened and closed by the preaching of the gospel

But the Kingdom of Heaven is closed and opened by church discipline.

It doesn’t seem like a big difference...opened and then closed, closed and then opened...but there is a difference, this is important.  Because, where the gospel cuts to life and then to death, first, life to those who accept its truth, and then to death, those who do not…

Church discipline cuts, first to death, and then, to those who repent, life.

And in this second key, we continue to see how the Kingdom of God is truly upside-down from our natural way of thinking.

Because Church Discipline does not function in a way as to remove the weak.  This is what any normal earth kingdom would do, wouldn’t it?

Seek out the weak, and destroy them.  This is how you are strong.  This is how you are successful.  The survival of the fittest.

But not the Kingdom of our Lord.

Those who are weak are not removed.

Remember?

Blessed are… who?  The strong?  Those who have their lives together?  NO!

Blessed are the poor in spirit

Blessed are the meek

Blessed are those who mourn

Blessed are those who are persecuted

And the wonderful promise we heard in our call to worship about the King: a bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench.

In the Upside-Down Kingdom, the weak who know themselves to be weak…

The weak who admit that they are weak

The weak who can’t make it on their own and depend on others for their strength…

They BELONG.  They BELONG.

There is a wonderful example of this that I experienced not too long ago.

In the Fraser Valley, there is a yearly conference up at the Timberline Ranch Camp called Men of Integrity, and I had the pleasure of attending recently.  Among the great speeches, and the chance to buy great books, there’s one thing that really stuck with me.

It was on the last day, and the speaker encouraged us to do something a little outside of our comfort zones.

We were to gather in groups of 3, groups made of up of men we didn’t know, and confess our weaknesses to each other.  We were to spend time being vulnerable with our brothers in Christ, and then praying for each other.  This was a time where there was to be no judgement...for sins that are confessed before God and repented for...these sins are forgiven in His sight.

And there was something so freeing, so wonderful about being open and honest.  About giving up the stereotypical manly posturing of having it all together, and being real with each other.

And that is what the church is meant to be.  Church Discipline is not something to fear for those who are truly repentant for their sins.  If this is the case...if you are stuck in a sin, but you are truly sorry for it, and want help in fighting it...then that first key is for you...not the second.

The promises of the gospel, the promises of forgiveness and grace, of mercy and love...they wash over you, and the church will come around you in loving support.

But for those who are not repentant for their sins...those whose pride doesn’t let them come clean…

People who call themselves Christians, but show themselves to be un-christian in doctrine of life 

This second key is for them.

It doesn’t matter how much they might seem to add to the church...it doesn’t matter if they are the best singer, or a financial whiz...if they can lead a meeting where everyone is heard, and we’re out of there by 9 o’clock.  These things are not what matters in the Kingdom of our Lord.  Their worldly skills are not why they are in the church, and their worldly skills will not keep them in it, if they prove, with words or actions, that the gospel has not found a place in their heart.

Those who are repeatedly and unrepentantly judgemental and cruel, those who take advantage of others, those who are selfish, and smirk at those in pain instead of reaching out...they have no part in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

And while they persist in these sins, they shall not be members of His body.

This is how the gates of the Kingdom are SHUT by the second key...but they are also opened.  And this is something truly wonderful to behold.

They are again received as members of Christ and of the church when they promise and show real amendment.

Ultimately, beloved, THIS is the purpose of Church Discipline.  It is NOT ultimately about exclusion, but it is about TRUE INCLUSION.

Church Discipline is not a boot to the pants, saying: YOU CAN’T WORSHIP WITH US ANYMORE!

But rather, it is a wake-up call.  It is a spiritual shock, meant to jolt the unrepentant sinner back to life.

Church discipline is exactly how it sounds.  It is DISCIPLINE, not REVENGE.  It’s not a PUNISHMENT, taking your lump of flesh from the other person.  Discipline is not done out of frustration when the elders don’t feel like reaching out to the person anymore.  But it is always done in love.  Because you have a sincere desire for that person to repent.

The second key closes, but also opens again.  Discipline is meant to lead to repentance.  And lest we become prideful ourselves when we see another member disciplined, we are warned in our form: Let us fear the Lord and be cautious, for he who thinks he stands must take heed lest he fall.

For there was a time when we were all apart from God.  Each and every one of us, lost and hopeless.  But God’s grace found us in that place.  God’s love and mercy reached down into the muck and the mire and brought us into His family.  And if God did it once, He can do it again.

For the cross of Christ is not “one use only” as though the mercy train only comes once for us, and if you missed it, you missed it.

But rather, each and every day, each and every hour, each and every SECOND, we need our God.  We need Him to uphold each and every one of us.  It is only through HIM that we can stand firm in our faith.  It is only through HIM that we can achieve a deeper and truer relationship with Jesus Christ, and with His church.

It is those with hearts that repent that truly show evidence of God’s Kingdom working in their lives.

The Kingdom of eternal life...

     that is established by the death of the King

The Kingdom of holiness...

    Where sinners are citizens

The Kingdom of power and glory...

    That was established in humility and weakness

This is the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.  A Kingdom that already exists now.  A Kingdom that will one day exist in its fullness, when the Day of Judgement is a Day of Grace.  A Day of Rejoicing.  A Day of Wonders.

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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