Luke 17:11-21; 18: 9-24
I desire by the help of the Lord, to bring before you a very important subject-an elementary subject, but an important one, "The Kingdom of God." I am desirous to show you the practical import of the subject.
The expression "the kingdom of God" is found several times in the passages we have read. Indeed, in this gospel you find the expression frequently. It is also found in other parts of scripture-in Paul’s writings, and in the Acts of the Apostles. Let me put this question to you: when you read a passage which speaks of the kingdom of God, or as your minds are now directed to the expression, what does it convey to you? Give some account of it; not merely a theological account, or something you have read in pamphlets, but a spiritual account, as one who has tested what is involved in the expression.
In the first chapter of Acts the Lord spoke of these things during His forty days sojourn on the earth; He spoke of the kingdom of God. And at the close of the Acts, where you find the apostle Paul a prisoner at Rome, he preached to them the kingdom of God.
I desire to show you, beloved friends, from the history of the leper in Luke 17, how the kingdom of God is discovered. It is, I think, the mind of the Spirit in this well-known incident, to present to you, in figure, how the kingdom of God is discovered, and the result of the discovery.
I divide the subject into three parts:
1. The discovery of the kingdom of God, and its results.
2. What the hindrances are to our entering into God’s kingdom.
3. The elements which compose it.
In the passage referred to, there are ten men who are lepers. Leprosy is a type of that awful moral disease with which men are afflicted, "the disease of sin." These lepers are sensible to their condition, and they cry for mercy. Jesus is there, and they cry to him, "Jesus, have mercy on us." He is always ready to hear a cry. That is very comforting. He is always ready to answer a cry, and always does. Now mark the passage, "Go show yourselves to the priests." Go show yourselves was the command, and off they go, and as they went they were healed. Not when they got there.
One man was on the eve of a grand discovery. One man out of ten stops-he is arrested-he is about to discover the kingdom of God. They were on the way to a system represented by the priests, a system marked by demand, but which never revealed God. Now, this one man having stopped can say, as it were, "What is the good of going to the priests?" he would the rather go into a system marked by that sweet and precious word, "grace." He goes back to the Deliverer-to the Healer, and falls at His feet. Dear Christians, the Lord "does what He does, and gives what He gives, in order that we may know what He is."
The influence produced upon this man sets forth very beautifully the results of entering God’s kingdom. He glorifies God, he falls at the Lord’s feet, and he gives thanks.
In God’s kingdom God is glorified, man is effaced, and your heart is thankful. The leper has discovered the kingdom of God. Immediately the Spirit of God tells us (and all is put together in moral order) that the Pharisees ask the question, "When shall the kingdom of God come?" The Lord replies, "The kingdom of God does not come with outward show." And He also says, "The kingdom of God is in your midst." Where was it? In His blessed Person. Although God had come out in Christ in this wonderful way, yet they were unacquainted with Him.
The Lord is showing what the leper has discovered. The leper was cleansed to discover the kingdom of God. Oh! the self-righteous people of that day! they missed it. They did not get low enough to find it. It is when we are subjects of sovereign mercy and grace that we come to the kingdom of God.
If you are to be a happy Christian you must know the kingdom of God. There are very few happy Christians. Christians have a right to be happy, but it is a rare thing to find one. You cannot sing yourself into happiness. Scripture tells us to sing when we are happy. I want you to get rid of what I call "evangelical sentiment." I love to sing, but scripture says, "If any be merry, let him sing." Not "let him sing to be merry." God’s way for you and me to be happy is found in His kingdom.
I will now give you a definition of the kingdom of God: "It is the moral apprehension which you have by the Spirit of what is suitable to God known in grace which governs you"; being governed by what is suitable to God, you are a happy Christian. Do you know what mars our lives? It is self-consciousness. Do you know what will brighten your lives? It is God-consciousness. Do you know what would deliver us from the influence of what people think of us-from sensitiveness? It is what God thinks of us.
"To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." That is God’s kingdom. The whole subject is gone into in detail in the epistle to the Romans.
Let me try to give you an idea of Romans in three sentences: "I am a justified man, set up in the power of the Spirit to walk in God-consciousness." "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
I would greatly desire for every young Christian to walk in God-consciousness. That will save you from being merely religious. You love to hear the gospel, because it assures you all is right. You love to sing about Jesus on Sundays, but what about the rest of the week? No touch with God? No touch with Him in your business? No touch with Him when you are walking on the street, in your goings out and your coming in? I am speaking now of what is individual, of the elementary part of Christianity. What is the result of God-consciousness? You disappear, you cease to be big. You are blotted out practically.
"O keep us, love divine, near Thee,
That we our nothingness may know,
And ever to Thy glory be
Walking in faith while here below."
This sets forth the kingdom of God.
Now we come to the hindrances. From verse 22 of chapter 17 to verse 9 of chapter 18 is a dispensational parenthesis. The Lord returns to the subject in verse 9 of chapter 18. The Pharisee says, "God, I thank Thee." That sounds like the leper, when he gave God thanks. Now, continue: "God, I thank Thee that I." That is self-consciousness. That "I" sticks to us like pitch. The self-righteous have no place in God’s kingdom. Now look at the narrative. Children are brought to Jesus. The disciples are too big for children. The Lord says, "Bring them to Me and I will teach you, Unless you become like a little child you can in no wise enter the kingdom." In natural things you must understand to believe; in divine things you must believe to understand. The mental I has no place in God’s kingdom. You must become as a little child. A simple child! there is nothing more charming! Mentally we have no place in God’s kingdom. The self-righteous I, the mental I, are excluded.
We now come to the next incident. Here we have the wealthy I-the I of acquisition, and this, also, has no place in God’s kingdom. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God." Man loves riches because it gives him a place, but riches are a positive hindrance to entering the kingdom. It is quite possible, however, for a man to have a large amount of money and to be quite clear of its influence-to walk in the Spirit, and others may have only a small sum and think a lot of that. It is the I of acquisition, it is the principle, the disease-the desire to acquire, which is the hindrance. "I speak as to wise men." Does it touch you?
The mental I, the wealthy I, the self-righteous I are the three great hindrances.
Now we come to the elements which go to compose the kingdom of God.There are five great elements.
The first is relief, then revelation, resurrection, realization, and lastly, relationship.
Relief: There must be relief first. Relief and revelation are seen in the death of Christ. That which relieves me, reveals God. I ask, "Has the Lord Jesus Christ relieved you? What is the nature of the relief? My sins and iniquities are remembered no more." There could not have been relief had not Christ died. But the relief is not merely that my sins are gone. It is myself. I know what it is to be justified, but the next question is far more terrible, the discovery of the "Me." Mark it well! There must be an experimental journey to appropriate the second point in relief. The "Me" is gone. Let me refer to Psalm 139: "Lord, Thou hast searched me, and known me." I cherish that verse. The place where I was searched out; the place where I was exposed, is the place where I was disposed of. The death of Christ is God’s own absolute answer to the "Me". He has judged it. He has effaced it from the root up.
Peter said, "Lord, look at the fig tree that Thou cursedst." But the Lord looked there yesterday; He will never look that way again. God never looks that way. In the yesterday of the death of Christ He looked that way. The "Me" is withered, in the sight of God, from the root right up. Thank God! That is your title to turn away from it all, and never to expect any good from it.
Revelation: There are three ways in which you can learn your bad nature:
1. In the practice of sin.
2. In the effort to be good.
3. In the presence of goodness. There it is without a bit of anguish.
The first way is the most superficial way. People have an idea that the man who has led a foul life has consequently a deeper sense of sin than others. I do not believe it. I do not think a man picked up out of the gutter has a deeper sense of sin than a child brought up in a godly household, for the child will have the deeper sense of sin in the effort to be good and in the discovery of the impossibility of being what it ought to be. The third point is that sin can be learned in the presence of Jesus without a bit of anguish. As our hearts take in His glory, His beauty, His moral excellency, we begin to learn that no other man would do for God. Now we begin to prove in a deeper way the death of Christ that has relieved us. We can sit and bask in the sunlight of His moral glories and beauties, and that is the deepest way in which to learn our own badness. It is in the presence of perfect goodness. The death of Christ has revealed God in the place where I lost the "Me." I have found God.
Christ has lit up all that dark and distant spot with the brightness of the glory of God, and He has gone up on high. There He is, and there in His blessed face shines the glory of God. And gazing there we can say, "Thou art there"-God is. There is the revelation in His own blessed face of what He secured in death as the Mediator of the new covenant. What He secured in death He livingly presents. He has revealed Himself, and I am relieved of myself and my sins in the death of Christ. It is His own perfect answer to everything that would hinder my enjoyment of the revelation of Himself.
When the apostle was writing to the early converts at Thessalonica, he sums up the effects of his preaching, "They turned to God from idols." He did not say they had their sins forgiven, which of course they had, he did not say they had peace with God, that is detail. He did did not say "you are justified." No! What then does he say? "Ye turned to God from idols." In the gospel the apostle so presented God to them in the fullness of His grace and love that they turned to Him from idols. And what to do? "To serve the living and true God." That is God’s kingdom. They were so living in God’s kingdom and in the power of it that they looked out for its public display. It was no sentimental thing with them. They were living in God’s kingdom; they were serving the living and true God, and looking for His Son from heaven. No one can be in the hope of the Lord’s return if he is not in the kingdom of God. How could you be looking for the Lord if you are living a life of self-will! You are not morally suitable.
A man once asked me this question: "Is it well with you?" I said to myself, "Is it well with Christ?" If it is well with Him it is well with me, because He is my Head. If it is well with the Head it is well with me. That is resurrection. Remember this, "He took your place in death that you might have His place in life." You are on the same footing as Christ is, and you receive the Spirit that you may live of His life. The result of receiving the Spirit is that you are taught to love God. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts. You are upon the resurrection platform. You have the power of the Spirit to enable you to enjoy the revelation. You are endowed with that marvelous capacity from Christ, your Head, having received the Spirit that you may live of His life, and bask in the sunshine of the revelation which He has made of God, and this becomes life to you. I know God and love Him.
Realization: We now come to realization. Love is in the Spirit. You have received the Spirit from Christ, and you love God. There is your happiness. I do not now desire gold. I know now my happiness, my heart is responding to His love. Let Him, dear Christian, love you into loving Him.
Relationship:I pass on to the relationship. It is this: we are children with the Father, in God’s kingdom. We are translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love. This is the climax, you are there, loved by the Father. You are loved as Christ is loved. It very closely touches the family, but yet we are children in the kingdom. As you walk down here with your heart responding to the love of God, you bear the character of Christ in this world. To be Christlike is to love God. I often say, would to God we were more charmed by what is Christlike than by doctrine merely. Not simply to be a lecturer but to be a liver. If your heart is under the influence of the love of God, it will exclude the influences of evil, the very feelings, and this is holiness.
May God bless this subject to you, and may each of us desire a larger entry into the kingdom of God! The reason people are unhappy is on account of the working of their own wills, but the only thing that can conquer our will is the love of God. I do not take so much account of what a man says; it is the spirit of the man which shows what he is and where he is. "Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty; neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, like a child that is weaned of his mother; my soul is even like a child weaned" (Psalm 131:1-2).
That is God’s kingdom, and the first great mark of a man being in that kingdom, is that he is broken in spirit.