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Main Street Community Church, Frodsham

Loving God
Loving Frodsham

Mark chapter 16: Where is The Kingdom of God?

This talk was given by Paul Wintle on .

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Transcript

Opening prayer

[Sue Tust] Can we pray for you?

[Paul Wintle] You can pray for me, Please do.

[Sue Tust] Father God, we lift Paul up to you. We ask, Lord, that you would bless him for all the time he spent preparing. Give him the words to say. Help us to be open to hear your word, Lord, and teach each one of us something new about you today. Speak to us, Lord, please. Thank you. Amen.

[Paul WIntle] Amen.

Mark 16

After six months we come to the end of Mark’s gospel. I’m going to read Mark chapter sixteen and the first eight verses because, apparently, they’re the ones that count. Mark chapter sixteen.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ”

Trembling and bewildered the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

NIV

When I was small I remember enjoying reading. I said to my mum that I wanted to learn to read before I went to school and I remember my mum saying, “Okay, let’s do that.” I sat in the back of the car, and Mum was in the in the front, and somehow I started learning to read, and my brother was sitting next to me as well. And so I loved to read. I loved Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. I loved Roger Hargreaves’ The Mr Men. And I even got into The Famous Five by Enid Blyton. So I could often be found with my head in a book, quietly reading and imagining myself being in that story. And now and again you would get, probably at Christmas or birthdays, new books would appear. Some of them would be those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. I don’t know if you know of them. They were — yeah, people about my age probably think of them — and so you had the first couple of chapters and then it says, “If you want to follow this route go to chapter four, or if you want to follow that route go to chapter seven.” And so you could make up almost your own little story by kind of weaving in and out of these different chapters. After a few alternate chapters you would get to the end of the book, and the end of the book would be the same whichever route you took. Which is kind of interesting. I don’t quite remember whether there was two endings but, with Mark, there seems to be one or two or two and a half different ending. Which is a little bit confusing. I’m not too sure if Mark’s Gospel is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” ending but it’s certainly interesting as we start this morning.

As a bit of a passing comment, the RSV version has just Mark chapter sixteen verses one to eight that we read, but it also has verses nine to twenty as a footnote. The footnote also adds a possible verse nine. With me? This is what verse nine apparently says, “But they briefly reported to Peter and all those with him all that they had been told. And after this, Jesus sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” The NIV, as we’ve just read, has verses one to eight and then a little line under it and some words in brackets that say the most reliable early manuscripts don’t have Mark chapter sixteen verses nine to twenty, and then it goes on to say verses nine twenty. Confusing. I also like the Good News Bible version as well. It has verses one to eight as normal, but then when you get to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” bit it says under one heading, “An old ending to the gospel”, and then we have verses nine to twenty. And then they have the alternate ending as well, which is the RSV verse nine bit.

So there are lots of different kind of computations of the end of Mark chapter sixteen. Very strange. Why this is, we probably will never know the main answer, but of course the main thing is that whether or not we read verses one to eight or verses one to twenty of Mark chapter sixteen, we’re told that Jesus is alive.

After verse eight, the end of Mark feels a bit rushed and confused and it may well be that Mark didn’t actually write those bits at all. But for the original readers, it needed to encourage them that Jesus was alive because the original hearers and readers may have been in Rome and undergoing religious persecution. So they probably didn’t know you need to know that Jesus appeared various times or that the disciples went out. The promise from the man in white at the tomb may have been enough. Those original hearers would have known what it was like to be afraid, afraid of the Romans. They would have known what it was like to have run away in fear and so, maybe, verses one to eight in Mark’s gospel could have been an encouragement that the women ran from the tomb.

Or, of course, it could be that the words that we used and translated into English might have a different meaning. A few months ago, a few weeks ago, we were looking at Mark chapter four and chapter five and we looked at the words that talked about being terrified. That may also be the meaning “in great awe”. So it may not have been, i“Oh, I”m scared!” It might have been, “Wow!”

So today, as we conclude our travels through Mark’s Gospel, I’d like to focus upon our thoughts mainly on the words of the man at the tomb who seems to know an awful lot about that situation. In particular, I want us to look at the at the phrase, “You’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He’s going ahead of you. You will see him, just as he told you.”

Locating the kingdom of God

And so, following a rather marathon forty seven verses of Mark chapter fifteen last week, we’re going to be looking at the first original, reliable resurrection account of Jesus the Son of God, those first eight verses. We’re going to see how this account helps us locate where the kingdom of God is. We’re going to see how it is that the death and resurrection of Jesus is central to the outworking of this kingdom. And we will see what it means to us to have God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.

And I hear you asking, “Why is it that you’re banging on about the kingdom of God? Every time you preach you’re talking about the kingdom of God.” Perhaps it is because sixty eight times in the Bible the kingdom of God is mentioned and fifteen times in Mark’s Gospel alone. And that’s without counting Matthew’s version of the kingdom of God that he calls the kingdom of heaven. But here’s the thing. In my view whenever a Bible writer keeps banging on about something, they mean for us to take extra notice.

Right at the start of Mark’s gospel, Jesus says in his manifesto that the kingdom of God is at hand. It is as I mentioned six months ago today. Yesterday is my six-month anniversary of being at Main Street. I thank you.

The kingdom of God is Jesus saying, “This is how we do things. This is how we do things around here,” The culture of the way of Jesus is the kingdom of God and it includes miracles, and it includes teaching, and it includes joining in, and it includes loving your neighbour, not just keeping the rules. It’s a kingdom that includes the weak and helpless, and the powerless, and the ones that nobody else wants. This kingdom promotes peace and love and forgiveness. This kingdom promotes life in all its fullness. It is no good announcing peace and love, if you make war to achieve it.

And so the Jesus way, the kingdom of God, has to involve people, and it has to involve, and it needs to involve, a different way of doing and being a kingdom. Because it’s not about empires. It’s not about structure. it’s not about being told what to do by the authorities. But it is a place of space and order and love.

People followed Jesus as they saw that kingdom as very more attractive than the kingdom that they were under by the Romans, because the Romans kept you under the thumb. They told you that you needed to pay your taxes. They told you that you needed to do this and not that. Jesus came to bring in a new kingdom. A new creation.

Tom Wright in his book Simply Jesus writes, “What we are witnessing in the resurrection stories … is the birth of new creation” the old creation has been overthrown it’s been broken it’s been defeated.

Jesus is central

God’s kingdom is now launched and launched in power and in glory, on earth as it is in heaven. And Jesus is the prototype of this new creation. Prototypes, as I’m sure the scientists among you will tell you, and I hope I’m right in this, prototypes are forerunners, they are things that have perhaps been tried and tested to the extent that they’re workable, but they’re not yet on the open market. Now imagine that the job of prototype Jesus — because there’s never been one before — is to connect heaven and earth together. Jesus had to both die and rise to renew creation. Romans chapters six, seven and eight talk about Jesus being the second Adam because the first Adam in Genesis messed things up in the whole world suffered as a result.

God always intended for humans to be image-bearers, image-bearers of God. In Genesis chapter, one right at the beginning of creation, God says, “Let’s make mankind in our own image.” We, you and I and everybody in this room and those in our family in even those who hate God, all of us are designed to reflect God’s sovereign rule to this world. It was always the case that we bear the image of God. It was always the purpose of Jesus to restore the image of God in humanity.

And so, following the resurrection, the old creation is disappearing. The new creation ushers in a new life full of the kingdom of God, where life trumps death where pride and retribution caves in.

And there’s a completely new way of doing life. And this is what Jesus was saying all along. That’s what he wanted his followers to see, and then for them to put into practice.

The man at the tomb says to the women, “Are you looking for Jesus?” The disciples were looking for Jesus and were terrified, or they were awestruck, and amazed with what he said he was and what he did. He didn’t look or act like a normal King.

You’re looking for Jesus who was crucified. He has risen. And that’s the crux, that’s the crux: he has risen.

Welcome to Jesus’ new world. The resurrection is the catalyst to bringing in the full kingdom of God.

The resurrection appears in all four Gospel accounts but they are not the end. They’re actually about a beginning, the beginning of God’s new world. The beginning of God’s new world, because God is in charge on earth, as in heaven.

The resurrection isn’t about us now being able to go to heaven. The thing about the resurrection is that the life of heaven, Jesus, has been born on this earth, and so heaven and earth are not a long, long way apart, they’re meant to overlap and interlock and, finally, be joined together.

But there is a fly in the spiritual ointment. I hear you say, well the world isn’t free of sin and hatred and loss and retribution. And Jesus has risen, but it doesn’t feel like it’s all hunky dory. Because that’s not my experience of the world right now. And I guess, in response, I would remark that it’s partly because perhaps we aren’t all as our image of God suggests we are. We know that we’re limited. We know our failures only too well. We recognize, along with Jesus, that all sorts of things go wrong, both big and small. And if you know anything of the New Testament, it’s not a hunky dory story. There is still sin, there are still arguments, there is still loss. There is still suffering and violence and execution and shipwrecks.

As Tom Wright comments,

… suffering not as something merely to be bravely borne for Jesus’ sake, but as something that is mysteriously taken up into the redemptive suffering of Jesus himself. He has won the victory through suffering; his followers win theirs through sharing in his.

Tom Wright, Simply Jesus: Who he was, what he did, why it matters, SPCK, 2011.

We share in his suffering. Jesus’ death and his followers’ suffering are the means by which peace and freedom and justice and those kingdom characteristics come to birth on earth, as in heaven, and that’s how the kingdom comes. It’s the crucified Lord, it’s the crucified Jesus, who is Lord. That’s what the man at the tomb said. It is the crucifixion, the death and the resurrection that ushers in the kingdom of God.

Image bearers

I want to return for a moment what I was saying a little while ago about us being image-bearers, because this is really important. We were image-bearers of God right from the beginning. This was God’s plan. We read in Genesis chapter one that God made mankind, humankind, in his own image. We were originally designed to reflect his glory. Another way of putting it is that God always planned to rule his kingdom through and with humans.

Each one of us, despite our marred image, are still created by God. In spite of our sin, we continue to bear that image of God in us and that’s why it’s really important to see the image of God in each of us.

Taking this a step further, Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.”

We’ve seen today that Jesus” destination was always earth. At the creation of the world God said, “Let us make humans in our own image.” It was always destination earth. At his birth, Jesus became Emmanuel, God with us, on earth. At his death, that point where heaven and earth meet, Jesus rescues and redeems not just humanity, not just us, but the whole of creation. At his resurrection, that new creation is made whole and, as we read a couple of weeks ago in Revelation twenty one, that coming again of Jesus will be on earth, a new earth coming out of heaven — perfection.

And so my understanding is that Jesus doesn’t just rescue us from the world. He rescues us in order that he may rule his world in the way that he always planned to, with us. Wow!

In John chapter seventeen, Jesus prays that his followers may be one, as he and his father are one. Again, this is Jesus, and only Jesus, joining heaven and earth together. On earth, as it is in heaven.

And here’s the thing. None of us could be part of this kingdom unless Jesus lives in us. That’s right. The Holy Spirit, which anointed and equipped Jesus for this kingdom work, comes pouring on to his followers. Where we are, heaven and earth are joined together. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is with us. His life is at work in and through us. Whether this is Galilee or Jerusalem or Frodsham or anywhere else, we are now the place where the living God, the God who is reclaiming the world for his own, is alive and active and establishing that kingdom. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” He said, “You are the salt of the world.” Now there’s a lot of salt in and under Cheshire. And so he invites us to join him in making this kingdom come.

“How?” is a good question. Well, there are millions of things. And most, probably, don’t involve what we do perhaps on a Sunday morning in church. It doesn’t mean that meeting together isn’t important, because it is, and we will continue to do so. But the kingdom of God isn’t actually about a program of church activities. It’s about the kingdom of God, living in the kingdom of God and God living in us and through us, by His Holy Spirit. It’s being the best of who we were created to be, where we are. The kingdom of God is where God’s people, filled with His Spirit, are.

Entrance sign: Loving God. Loving Frodsham.

Our new sign here, which you can see most of — and by the entrance. It doesn’t say “Loving God, loving Frodsham” for nothing — right at the bottom. Where we are in our everyday lives here in Frodsham, is where the kingdom of God happens. Where we, as followers of Jesus, are filled with his Spirit, that’s where God’s kingdom is, that’s where God is and that’s why he chooses use our hands, our mouths, our feet, our minds, to work to his praise and glory.

Filled with the spirit of Jesus. The same power that raised the crucified Jesus from the dead is now alive and at work in us. That’s what the kingdom of God looks like. And so where Sue, and Martin and Sue and Rick are going when they leave our congregation here they’re still going to be part of the kingdom of God.

When you make a meal for Sue, or do the dishes for someone, or care about somebody, or offer them a lift into church, when you serve coffee, or water the plants, or give your grandchild a cuddle. This is where the kingdom of God is, because you bear the image of God in you. Where you are, and when you are filled with the spirit of Jesus, that’s where God is, that’s the kingdom of God. On earth, as it is in heaven. That is, quite simply, what it looks like when Jesus is enthroned.

And so, as we draw our studies of Mark’s gospel to a close, the same thing that I said six months ago remains true. The kingdom of God is the way that Jesus does things. It might look different at Main Street compared to other churches, and that’s because you and me and our gifts and our skills and the image of God in you is different to anywhere else. But God is still here. And as we continue to pray for the future direction of the church here, the kingdom of God is not actually about the building or its activities: the kingdom of God is here. It’s here, it’s here, it’s here. The kingdom of God is where you as a follower of Jesus are right now.

The man at the tomb was right, he’s not there, he has risen. He has risen so that His kingdom might be born in this recreated earth, which includes and involves us. His kingdom isn’t in Galilee or Jerusalem. It’s where we are. Who we are in Christ brings the kingdom of God into the present. Our presence brings Jesus into the lives of those that we meet.

And so he has gone ahead of us, not so that we can have a place in heaven but so that his Holy Spirit can dwell in us. Every one of us bears the image of God, and so the kingdom of God is here.

Closing prayer

Let’s pray.

Lord God, thank you so much for Mark’s obedience in writing his experiences, his account of you. Thank you that, for Mark, the most important thing was this kingdom of God. Where it all comes together. Where in fact the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus is key in moving this world on.

Father God, would you please fill us with your Holy Spirit. Would you please live in us as followers of Jesus so that the kingdom of God might be here on earth as it is in heaven. Would you please fill us, and refill us, by your Holy Spirit today, to live and to work and to witness to your praise and glory. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Closing hymn

We are going to close our service this morning by singing another fantastic hymn through the ages, it is number three seven seven, “Love Divine, all loves excelling.” We’re going to stand and sing.

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit,
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit;
Let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its Beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
Suddenly return and never,
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

Charles Wesley (1707–1788)

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Scripture quotations marked NIV on this page and within the talk are taken from the Holy Bible, New International VersionĀ® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.