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Thy Kingdom Come

Thy Kingdom Come

Luke 20:9-19


Over Christmas break I took the time to read a book that I’d been wanting to read for quite some time. The book is titled “The Feuds of Eastern Kentucky.” Sounds like a weird book to be reading, I know. A weird topic to be interested in. But it’s important to me because my family, through my maternal grandmother, is in that book. My mom’s mom was from “Bloody Breathitt” County, Kentucky. When you think about feuds, you think about the Hatfields and the McCoys, right? And that was a real feud. They’re in the book. But the Littles? We made them look tame. We were involved in three feuds, two on the side of another family and one directly opposed to another family.


But as I read, I started to get interested in the sociology of the whole thing. Most of the feuding in Eastern Kentucky started after the end of the Civil War, and were often fought between families that were on the same side during the war. Now, sometimes a perceived slight played a role, but it was usually something deeper: a desire for control. Political control. Control of business and commerce. A lot of the people involved were actually well educated businessmen and lawyers. Not all of them, but many. And nobody trusted the law enforcement and criminal justice systems. You could kill someone illegally, be sentenced to life in prison, serve a few years and then be pardoned by the next governor and out and back home. So people tended to take matters into their own hands. So in the counties of Eastern Kentucky, families often became little kingdoms, authorities to themselves, each doling out their own justice and seeking revenge as they saw fit. And depending on which side the sheriff or prosecutor was on, they just might look the other way, or refuse to serve the indictments. Some families chose to live under the laws of their county, the state, and the nation. Many wanted peace and less bloodshed. Others did not. They chose to walk their own path, by their own set of rules. Most weren’t always lawless. But when it came to getting the control they wanted, they lived by their own law.


Think about your life as a kingdom, and the extent of that kingdom is that place where you have a deciding voice. It is that area over which you have legitimate control, in which you have legitimate authority. Some try to extend their control and become controlling of others. But that control is usually not legitimate. The only place where you have legitimate control is over yourself, your life. Your children for a while maybe, but over time their life, their kingdom separates from yours and you hand over the scepter of their lives to them. I often tell people in counseling, “you cannot control what happens to you.” In other words, you usually cannot control others. But you do have control over your response. That’s your life. Your kingdom. The area where your will reigns.


This spring we’ve been walking through the parables of Luke. A parable is simply a story that has a deeper application. In Jesus’ case, his parables are stories about the Kingdom of God, using events and things from our experience to illustrate what the kingdom of God is like. And today we close that series by looking at one of the last parables Jesus told before his crucifixion. He has entered Jerusalem victoriously on the back of a donkey as they people shouted his praise and laid palm branches in the ground in front of him. He has driven those who sought to take advantage of others out of the temple, turning over the tables of the moneychangers, and he is now teaching with authority in the temple. Jesus has now drawn the attention of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious authority in Jerusalem, made up of the chief priests, the scribes who taught the Law of God, and the elders among the people. And as he teaches in the temple, they approach him and ask, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who is it that gave you this authority?” (Lk. 20:2). Who in the heck do you think you are? That’s what they’re asking. By whose authority did you march into Jerusalem like a king? By whose authority did you upset the booths here in the Temple? And by whose authority are you teaching? You see, unlike the other rabbis, Jesus wasn’t quoting someone else, basing his teaching on the authority of someone else. He wasn’t saying “R. Akiba says … , but R. Judah says … and R. Simeon also permits …” He wasn’t citing anyone else. He was teaching as someone who actually HAD authority in himself. That’s what stunned the people and raised the ire of the religious leaders. Who has given you the authority to do these things, to speak this way?


But Jesus wasn’t about to get drawn in to their game. So he backed them into a corner, by asking them, “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” (Lk. 20:4). If you answer my question, I’ll answer yours. And they were stuck. They were stuck because they hadn’t responded to the teaching of John the Baptist the way many of the common people had. They hadn’t allowed John to baptize them. If they said, “It was from God” they’d have to answer as to why they hadn’t responded to his call themselves. But if they said, “It was from man” the people would get upset with them because they saw John as a prophet. So they said, “We don’t know.” And Jesus refused to answer their question. But then he told them this parable. Look at Luke 20:9-19.


Of all of the national and religious symbols used by the Jews throughout history, the vine was perhaps the most significant. It was stamped on their coins. The image of the vine was at the core of their psyche and their identity as a nation. Throughout the Old Testament, the nation of Israel had been depicted as a vineyard lovingly planted and tended by God. That image runs throughout the Old Testament, but nowhere is it more powerful than in Isaiah 5:1-7. Read text. This was a powerful symbol, similar to our own “Stars and Stripes,” or the Statue of Liberty, or the Bald Eagle, deeply imbedded in their national history. In the temple at Jerusalem, above and round the gate, roughly 115 feet high there was a richly carved vine extended as a border and decoration. The branches, tendrils and leaves were of finest gold; the stalks of the bunches were of the length of a human body, and the bunches hanging upon them were of costly jewels. Herod first placed it there; rich and patriotic Jews from time to time added to it, one contributed a new grape, another a leaf, and a third even a bunch of grapes … this vine had an uncommon importance and a sacred meaning in the eyes of the Jews. At night, illuminated by torches and candles, it was a spectacular sigh. And that image was right there as Jesus told this story. The people could see it. And their national and religious identities were completely intertwined. As a people, they were the people of God, called to shine God’s light into the darkness of the world. That was who they were as a people.


And everyone knew who the characters in the parable were. It was right out of Isaiah 5. The man who planted the vineyard was God. And being an absentee landowner who farmed the land through tenant farmers was a common enough practice. Just as it is today. I have a friend here in Traverse City who owns and farms his own cherry orchards in Williamsburg but also owns a corn farm in Iowa that someone else works. In Jesus’ day, the landowner could expect one fourth to one half of the crop in exchange for allowing the tenant farmers to work the land. That would have been his share. The tenant farmers were the people of Israel, specifically the leaders, but the nation is in view here.


The servants of the landowner were the prophets. Throughout Israel’s history, God had sent his prophets to speak his Word to the people. But their message was consistently rejected. In fact, in some ways, being called to be a true prophet of God was a death sentence. Elijah was driven into the wilderness by the monarchy. They didn’t want to hear what Elijah had to say. Isaiah was sawn in half. Zechariah was stoned to death in the temple near the altar. In Jesus’ day, John the Baptist was beheaded. But it wasn’t really the prophets themselves who were being rejected. Had they not spoken the Word of God, they would have been fine. It was the Word of God, the truth of God, that the people didn’t like and were rejecting.


So the owner sent his own son. If they don’t respect my servants, maybe they’ll respect my son. This is Jesus himself. And when they saw him coming, they said, “This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.” He was explaining what was about to happen in Jerusalem, his own death, but his disciples missed it. In that day, if the landlord had been gone for 3 successive years, it was assumed that he had either lost interest or was dead and the tenants could claim the land. The appearance of the son might have given them the idea that their landlord was dead. So, kill the heir, and the land becomes yours, right? So what were they really rebelling against? The authority of the landowner. They wanted to submit to no one’s authority but their own. They were denying the owner his claim to the vineyard.


They wanted to be known as the people of God. They wanted the blessings. They wanted the benefits. But they didn’t want him to exert his authority over them. And whenever he did, through the prophets, even through his own son, they beat up or killed the messengers. And now they were about to commit not homicide, but deicide. They were about to kill the Son of God himself. They wanted to be the people of God. But they didn’t want anything to do with the real rule and reign of God.


I think that’s where a lot of us are. Everyone wants a God who blesses, who accepts, who forgives, who strengthens, who provides hope and healing and comfort. Some are willing to admit that they need a savior. Some are willing to admit that they are filled with sin and need to be forgiven. But no one wants a lord.


God has allowed you to have your kingdom. That’s what it means to have free will. Just like the citizens of Eastern Kentucky, you can do what you want. But life is best when what you want falls in line with what God wants. To live in the kingdom of God is to bring your kingdom into God’s kingdom, to submit your life to God as the ultimate sovereign. It is to acknowledge a higher, loving, grace-filled authority. It is to say, “I am free to do what I want. I can choose to recognize no other authority than my own if I wish. That is my right as a being with free will. But I choose to submit to God’s rule in my life, because God’s way is best.


The door to that kingdom is a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. The great golden vine in the temple covered the entrance to the Holy Place from the porch. It was the entrance to the presence of God in the Holy Place. When Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches,” (Jn. 15:5), he was saying, “I am the way into the presence of God, and when you are connected to me, my life will flow into you and transform you from the inside out. As we live in the kingdom of God, over time, we begin to do by nature those things that please God. We grow into our citizenship in that kingdom. And we don’t need a list of laws to guide us because Jesus is living through us, transforming us.


Now, remember that I said your kingdom is that area over which you have legitimate control. You are responsible for every area of your life, your kingdom. But you may not be aware of some things about your kingdom. You are only free to respond when you are paying attention and aware of what motivates your actions. But one of the things Jesus does is bring those dark areas of our kingdoms, those motivations we aren’t aware of, under his authority and rule as well. He brings the dark areas into the light. That’s the full extent of his transformation in you. He begins with the things you’re aware of, and then he begins making you aware of things you weren’t, so that those areas of your kingdom come under his authority as well. Sometimes he does that through life experiences. Something happens that exposes an area of darkness and sin in our lives. Maybe it’s something that someone, or several someones, says to you. A recurring theme. Maybe something comes to your attention as you practice the spiritual disciplines. We’re already forgiven, but that area or those areas still need to be transformed. God shines his light on them, and we begin to open those areas of our lives to him, and he begins to transform them. One of the spiritual disciplines we practice in the Apprentice series is fasting … from gossip. Many of us can easily go without a meal. Or on a media fast. Or a social media fast. But trying to go without gossip? That’ll shine a light on some darkness in your life in a hurry.


Craig is a zoo architect, a job that requires him to travel a lot. One day he and a colleague were flying back to the States from Germany when they got stuck in the Atlanta airport and were told their flight home would be delayed for several hours. Ever been there? How did you handle it? Those hours passed, and a few more, and they were finally told the flight had been cancelled. The delay meant there were no more options to get home that night, and they’d have to spend the night in Atlanta. The anger level on the concourse was growing quickly. All of the passengers were forced into a long line to rebook their flights. Craig and his colleague stood in line and watched as each person spoke harshly to the young woman who was trying to help them. When it was Craig’s turn, he looked at the young woman and said, “I promise I am not going to be mean to you.” Her face immediately softened and she said softly, “Thank you.” Their exchange was pleasant, and he got their flights booked for the next day. As they walked down the concourse, Craig was smiling despite his disappointment. He missed his wife and kids. His colleague had been watching him, and said, “Craig, I’ve known you for a long time. A year ago you would have been enraged by what we went through today, and you would have lit into that woman at the counter. Craig said, “You know what, you’re right. But I have changed. I know who I am, and I know where I am. I am a person in whom Christ dwells, and I live in the kingdom of a God who loves me and is caring for me. I’m frustrated, but I’m still at peace. We’ll get home tomorrow.”


The kingdom of God is present now for you, insofar as your kingdom has been brought under the authority of the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ. And we will live fully in that kingdom when Christ returns and establishes his kingdom in its fullness. So where are you in the parable? Are you under the authority of the landlord, willingly doing his work, looking for and longing for his return? Have you given up hope? Or have you refused his leadership from the beginning?