The Kingdom of Hope: The Scattererd Kingdom

The Kingdom of Hope  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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How are we to live as God's Kingdom scattered among earthly kingdoms? We're not to blend in, to fight, or to withdraw - but to faithfully engage. This will take courage but restrain evil. As Christians, our hope is beyond this world and its kingdoms: for a final welcome into God's Kingdom fulfilled.

Intro me.

The Story into Exile

Last week Tom showed us how the kingdom rises and falls with the heart of the king.
The story onwards from great king David who we met last week follows that same pattern - the kingdom rises and falls with the heart of each successive king - and though there are some other high points, David, the “man after God’s own heart”, will prove to be the highest, the nearest approach ancient Israel ever makes to what God’s Kingdom could and should be.
If even the best king fails, and his heart wavers, it’s no surprise as we follow the succession of kings, that it is falling rather than rising which comes to dominate. In the end, God calls time: ancient Israel is judged decisively.
In 722BC God uses the ancient kingdom of Assyria to crush the northern part. Then in 587BC God uses the mighty kingdom of Babylon to crush the southern part. That era of a physical kingdom under a human king in a specific place comes to an end. God’s people are exiled, scattered among other nations, subject to their kings.

The end of the Kingdom?

So is this the end of the Kingdom? It might seem like it; many of the people of that day would have thought so. But no - remember the definition we’ve been working with: God’s rule over his people in his creation by his plan and in his time.
God still rules. He still has a people. In his physical creation. They’re just not in one place. His plan is still unfolding in time.
As we keep thinking through this idea of the Kingdom of God, zooming out to the big picture for a few weeks before we dive back in to Matthew’s Gospel and Jesus’ parables focused on this Kingdom, today we’ll examine God’s Kingdom when his people are scattered, and subject to other kings. We’re going to explore just a couple of stories from this era to see what we can learn.

How then shall we live?

Is it possible to live under God’s rule, yet in someone else’s Kingdom? When the law of your land is not the law of your true King? When the design of your land is not the design of your King?
Before we jump into stories from this scattered Kingdom, I think it’s useful for us to consider what options there really are - and I think there are four, broadly.
Perhaps the easiest option is simply to blend in. To forget God and bow to a new king. Maybe that’s a deliberate and clear choice: “no more, God. I have a new king.” More likely that’s a gradual drift over time in response to pressure - perhaps gentle and subtle, perhaps fierce and direct - pressure to conform, to be like everyone else.
There’s another obvious option at the other end of the spectrum: to fight. To entirely reject these other kings, to refuse their laws, their ways. To deliberately stick out, look different, speak different, act different. “I have another King; I am from another Kingdom; and don’t you forget it! I am not here to blend in or fit in.”
That feels courageous; confrontational; strong. It’s simple to know what to do. And you don’t need to change or adapt. Maybe there are some kingdoms where that’d be tolerated - perhaps particularly in some of our modern, progressive, liberal kingdoms - but in many others, and in most historical kingdoms, this is going to see you crushed.
A third way would be to withdraw. Yes, live in another kingdom, but just touch it as little as possible. Keep separate; keep to your own bubble, your own people. Perhaps we’ve seen this sometimes in the UK and other places: arriving national groups living in their own cultural enclaves. Keeping their language, their food, their traditions, their faith, their customs, their patterns of family life. Minimising their contact with the ‘kingdom outside’.
Certainly there are Christian movements which have adopted this pattern - think of the monastic movement, for example. And this response may be to escape what’s wrong or what feels wrong here. Or maybe just to treasure what’s right that’s worth holding onto, to try and preserve it.
A final option would be what I’ll call to faithfully engage. To hold on to your true King, but lean into your host kingdom where you can, where that’s not in conflict with your true King’s way and design. To engage in hope and in faith. To engage thinking perhaps you can bring your King’s good into this host kingdom, contribute something that might bless not just yourself but others too. To think perhaps you might even ultimately transform it.
So, four big categories: blend in, fight, withdraw, faithfully engage. As we think about this chapter from the history of God’s people, the time of exile, I am sure there are people among the exiles representing each. Let’s look at two great stories from this chapter of the history of God’s people, watch two individuals respond, and see what we can learn. These two stories have similarities, but as we dig in, we’ll see there are radical differences too.

Daniel: faithfully engaged and powerful

The story of Daniel begins just before the end of the long line of kings following on from great king David, as things are falling apart. The Babylonian empire is the current world power, crushing everything and everyone in its path - and Jerusalem, the lead city in God’s Kingdom, is in their sights. It’s an epic story - a fantastic read - but we can’t cover it all this morning. Have some time this afternoon? Give Daniel a go!
Here’s how it begins - Ruth is reading for us this morning from Daniel chapter 1, page 884:
Daniel 1:1–7 NIV
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service. Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
Thanks Ruth. Daniel is among the captives taken from Jerusalem at its first defeat, a few years before the ruthless destruction which will ultimately follow their futile rebellion. He doesn’t choose to leave his land, his people; to enter a new kingdom, to come under a new king. He’s a captive - but his captors have big plans for him. After three years of training, he’s brought into the Babylonian king’s government.
As his story unfolds, we find God enabling him to meet the king’s seemingly impossible demand after a disturbing dream: don’t just tell me the meaning of that dream, wise men - tell me my dream - or die! Daniel is the only one who can. So he rises to the very top of the ranks - and brings his friends up with him: Dan 2:48-49
Daniel 2:48–49 NIV
Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.
Think about those four categories we talked about: where is Daniel? He can’t simply withdraw. He doesn’t blend in, forget God, and become one of them. But he isn’t picking a fight, either - I’d say he’s a good model of what it means to be faithfully engaged. And I think that’s particularly clear here in this last move: getting his fellow Israelites into positions of power in Babylon rather than sending them home - or into early retirement for that matter. Why would Daniel do that? He is choosing to engage - yet he’s faithful to God, too.
Let me give you one window into his faithfulness - where it’s clear Daniel hasn’t simply bowed to a new king. The king has another dream - and now knows Daniel is the man for dreams. Daniel understands this dream too - but he’s terrified by it: Dan 4:19 - terrified because it is a message of judgement on the king from God the true King.
Daniel 4:19 NIV
Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.” Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!
Rather than hiding the message, or disowning it, Daniel is a faithful messenger. He even dares to label the king’s actions sin and wickedness, and call him to change: Dan 4:27. Can you imagine how awkward palace meals would have been for the next twelve months? Because twelve months pass before the dream’s judgement comes to pass. You called out the king himself, yet nothing you warned him of has happened - everything seems fine. Daniel must have paid a price for his faithfulness.
Daniel 4:27 NIV
Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

Esther: forcefully engaged and powerless

Let’s take a look at a second story of God’s scattered kingdom, set a little later, and under a later world power, the Persians. In the Persian empire, God’s scattered people seem to be opting for a measure of withdraw, not integrating into the kingdom where they live Est 3:8
Esther 3:8 NIV
Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them.
But just as Daniel is forced into service, forced to engage with his new host kingdom, So also one young woman named Esther is forced out of withdraw. She is caught up in a terrible scheme to appease an all-powerful king in his anger and foolishness, and finds herself captive in his harem alongside many others, to be prepared for a year for just one night with the king.
We’re not told how she conducts herself beyond keeping her nationality secret as the story begins - she can no longer withdraw; she’s clearly not fighting - but will she blend in or faithfully engage?
After the year of preparation, on her night with the king, she finds favour - and is chosen as queen. You might think that would make her powerful like Daniel but you’d be wrong. It seems she cannot leave the palace. Even as queen, it is against the law for her to speak to, or even approach the king without being invited - the penalty: death. When the king looses interest in her, she has no voice or power at all. Est 4:11
Esther 4:11 NIV
“All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”
Then comes a crisis for God’s people: an enemy lays plans for their destruction across the whole Persian empire - with the king’s knowledge and consent. Almost totally powerless, she dares to speak for the scattered Kingdom - and it is delivered rather than destroyed as a result. It’s a graphic and gripping story - and a short read.
But what I want us to focus on today is how Esther plots a course between her king - and God her King; how she lives as a subject of both a heavenly and an earthly kingdom.
Which of our four categories would we put her in? She’s forced out of withdraw. She doesn’t pick a fight, hiding her nationality. But when the moment comes, and she could seemingly choose to just blend in, a secretly Jewish queen safe in the palace as her fellow Jews are destroyed, she dares to faithfully engage - despite the risk.
Esther’s guardian, her uncle Mordecai, sends her a warning in this moment of testing - and a famous question too:
Esther 4:13–14 NIV
he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Perhaps there really was no way forward through just blending in - but here we also have one of the great motives for faithful engagement: “for such a time as this.” What follows is gory and messy and mixed up with lots of violence and revenge and impaling people on poles. For all her courage, it’s not clear Esther is a perfect role model when she gets the upper hand.

What do we learn?

But what can we learn about living as God’s scattered Kingdom in the midst of other kingdoms?
First, there is space for what I called faithful engagement: for a path between withdraw and blending in. Daniel and Esther and others live under earthly powers - powers we see are very mixed, not good, righteous and just. More than this, they live within these power structures - they even seek positions of power for their fellow Jews (Dan 2:49, Est 8:2).
There is space for faithful engagement. Some Christians see the only faithful path as withdraw - through history, today too. Particularly when it comes to getting entangled in the power structures of a far-from-perfect kingdom.
Second, faithful engagement will often require serious courage, require us to take career-limiting - potentially career-ending risks. When faithfulness demands Daniel call his king to repent; when faithfulness demands Esther dare approach her king. Faithfulness is a risk, whether you’re powerful or nearly powerless - it can and probably will cost us if we’ve truly engaged with our host kingdom.
Third, faithful engagement restrains evil. Daniel and his friends administer Babylon with justice and without corruption (Dan 6:4) - an anomaly in government back then just like in many places today. I have no doubt they influenced policy and delivered it with integrity. Esther’s courage halts a terrible injustice that would have otherwise ravaged a whole people-group. Evil flourishes when good people stay silent.
Finally, and perhaps more surprisingly, faithful engagement doesn’t turn the world upside down. What I mean by that is, although there are moments when it looks like everything will be transformed, neither Daniel nor Esther turn a kingdom upside down. Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel’s king, sends letters giving glory to God - but he never truly bows to God as King; his kingdom never becomes God’s Kingdom. Xerxes, Esther’s king, delivers the Jewish people scattered across his kingdom from the death he’d decreed for them - but he never bows to God as King; his kingdom never becomes God’s Kingdom.

Is their story our story?

But it’s always important as we read the Bible to be aware of the setting for the stories, the prophecies, the wisdom. We can’t just read their story as if it should also be exactly our story. At the same time, we have to see they are not so distant from us that there’s nothing we can carry over, nothing for us in what was definitely for them. We need to build a bridge from there to here - and a helpful way I’ve been taught to do that is to think through, to list out, what we share with the people we’re reading about - and what’s different. Guards against junking everything on the one hand, and thoughtlessly transporting it on the other.
So as we think of God’s ancient people in this time of exile - defeated, humiliated, scattered to live under other kings in other kingdoms - what do we share with them?
Just like those ancient exiles, Christians, too, have a heavenly King, our ultimate authority, yet we live under other kings, subject to them, in other earthly kingdoms. And just like those ancient exiles, the earthly kingdoms we live in are a long way from our King’s design - sometimes even diametrically opposed.
But unlike those ancient exiles, we don’t have an earthly kingdom to look back on like ancient Israel; we don’t have the truth hanging over us, spelled out by the prophets, that it was God’s judgement on successive generations of failure, brokenness and wickedness that ended it. Nor the encouragement the prophets brought that there was hope for restoration, a hope for a return from exile.
That said, perhaps we do have a little more in common with them if we zoom out further still: If you were with us a few weeks back as we began our series on the Kingdom of God, perhaps you’ll remember we talked about that moment right back at the beginning of the bible, in the Garden of Eden where God our King walked with us? So maybe we do have something to look back to.
And maybe we do have a story of judgement and exile which is our own: Adam’s sin led to judgement, left us exiled, separated from our King and his Kingdom. And we too had a hope for restoration, a hope for a return to be with him. In fact this is very much how Peter, one of Jesus’ first key followers describes us in his letter to the early church: 1 Pet 1:1-2
1 Peter 1:1–2 NIV
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
Our situation is different - but not totally different. We live on the other side of Jesus: the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection. We live in the age of grace, knowing that mercy can triumph over judgement, that Jesus’ death in our place can wash away all our sins. We live in the age of the Spirit, God himself dwelling with us, within us, with all His transforming power.
So we’re not them - but we are like them. How does this help?

Faithful Engagement for Christians

First, I think there’s comfort for us when we’ve not chosen this path of faithful engagement - because the truth is that you and I have often failed to both engage with our world and remain faithful in it.
Perhaps all that faithfulness to your true King required was daring to speak up for others in front of your school friends. Perhaps you stayed silent when faithfulness demanded you call out your boss’ plans which would harm others. Perhaps you went along with something gently or even radically anti-God rather than faithfully choosing to stand up - and stand out.
We have all been there. Here’s the comfort: although we’ve all proven unfaithful, all fallen short of God’s Kingdom, because of Jesus and his grace, Christian, you are still securely part of it. This is the good news of the gospel: our place in God’s Kingdom doesn’t rest on our performance - it rests on Jesus.
So comfort when we’ve been faithless - but also encouragement when we struggle with faithfulness: we have a new power through God’s Spirit alive within us to do what is right, to boldly stand when we should, to boldly speak when we should. When you know you’re in one of those moments calling for daring faithfulness, pray and ask for the Spirit’s help. Teach yourself the habit of calling out to God in the moment.
And I think there’s a real challenge for us here to get engaged - and to notice where we are in fact engaged with this earthly kingdom we live in - because many of us have regular opportunities for significant faithful engagement. Many of us shape and influence this kingdom: Entrepreneurs and business owners creating and shaping organisations; policy makers in government, in big business, in school, whether staff or pupil; parents, carers and teachers who shape children; coders, architects, designers who shape systems and places; workers in charities striving for change. This all matters. God’s Kingdom influences and bleeds out into this kingdom we live in through you.
Faithful engagement matters when we have positions of power in this world - but it also matters when we feel powerless, when we are powerless. Like Esther, a moment might suddenly come where you are key. Where you and you alone are perfectly placed “for such a time as this”; it may require serious risk, require great courage - still, be ready with the Spirit’s help to faithfully engage. Don’t miss it.
Finally, I think we have a reason for hope even when our faithful engagement doesn’t turn the world upside down. Daring Daniel didn’t see Babylon transformed. Daring Esther didn’t see Persia reformed. Even Jesus didn’t see the corrupt Jewish authorities transformed - or the mighty Roman empire. So what hope is there?
Our hope is not that this kingdom will ultimately be so transformed, so improved by our faithful engagement that it becomes God’s Kingdom; our hope is that king Jesus will build his church, God’s true Kingdom, scattered through the kingdoms of this world. Our hope is that king Jesus will one day return to wipe away every tear, to finally and fully establish his Kingdom. And our hope is, on that day, that we will receive a rich welcome into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. 2 Pet 1:11. That’s our reason for hope.
2 Peter 1:11 NIV
and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Q+R Prep Passages

Faithful engagement - living good lives
Matthew 5:13–16 NIV
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
1 Peter 2:11–12 NIV
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Engagement within another (mixed) kingdom - Submission to authorities; If you think our nations and powers are mixed, think of Rome that Peter and Paul both write about!
1 Peter 2:13–17 NIV
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
Romans 13:1–7 NIV
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Faithful engagement as Praying for those in authority
1 Timothy 2:1–2 NIV
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
Faithfully waiting for God:
2 Peter 3:4–9 NIV
They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
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