Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 26:05 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When the disciples ask, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6), this comes just after Jesus had been with them for forty days, “speaking about the Kingdom of God” (1:3). We have had the words of Jesus for a little bit longer than 40 days, but we’re still asking if He’s going to restore the Kingdom to us. When will it happen? When will all our sorrow and sadness and sighing be done? When will our sin and death be over? When will this mess of a world be cleaned up and set right? Now, Lord? Will You now restore the Kingdom?
There seems to be a slight difference between what Jesus says to them and what they ask: Jesus is speaking about the Kingdom of God, while the disciples want to know when the kingdom will be restored to Israel. To whom does the Kingdom belong? To God or to Israel? Only if Israel belongs to God is the Kingdom given to Israel. And only if we belong to God in Christ will the Kingdom be restored to us. Sometimes we separate Jesus from the gifts He gives. We separate Jesus from heaven and talk about it as simply a “better place,” or a place where people go to continue doing their favorite activities, like cards or golf or fishing. But if there’s no Jesus there, it’s not heaven. If we are not talking about Jesus, then it’s not a better place. It’s better than this creation because we will be free of sin. It’s better than this creation, because we will be in the presence of Jesus, without sin and death to separate us. We might also separate the coming of Jesus from the end of things that are bad. But if the end of sin, death, suffering, and sickness are not tied directly to the resurrection body of Jesus, then we have made Jesus a means to an end, rather than the End in Himself. We like to get things backwards: we say, can we have all these things, and then, sure, we’ll take the Kingdom too? Jesus says, Seek first the Kingdom of God, and then all these things will be added to you. You can have Jesus and every other good thing; or you can try to get all the good things in this world, corrupted by sin and death, and miss out on Jesus’ eternal life.
This, in part, is why Jesus tells the disciples that it is not for them to know times or seasons that the Father has set according to His own authority. He is talking about the time and the Day that is coming when the Kingdom will be revealed to our sight, because we will see Jesus in His resurrected and ascended glory; the Day when He will appear in the same way the disciples saw Him go into heaven. That Day will come no earlier and no later than when God has decided it should come.
But the Kingdom itself has already come. We do not have to wait for that, and in fact we should not be waiting for that. As soon as we think we are waiting for the Kingdom itself, rather than its revelation, then we miss the entire presence of the Gospel now. When Jesus shows up, what does John say? “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near to you” (Matthew 3:2). What does the angel say of Jesus before His birth? That God will give to Mary’s Son “the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). What does Jesus say when He begins to preach? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near to you” (Matthew 4:17). And He goes around preaching the gospel of the Kingdom “and healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (Matthew 4:23).
The Kingdom has come, and Jesus proves it with every demon cast out, every person healed, every person fed, every person believing Him. And then, there it is on His cross: “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38). Crowned, enthroned, dying, Jesus reigns. And the King is raised from the dead, eats and drinks with His disciples, and spends forty days with them. The King raises His hands in blessing and is taken from their sight, but He still reigns. He reigns in the world as He prevents everything from going to complete chaos and anarchy.
But He reigns most importantly in and through His Church, where His Word and Sacraments are given out, used, and believed. Every time someone believes Jesus as Lord, the Kingdom comes. Every time our faith is renewed, the Kingdom comes. Every time the Word of Jesus is preached, the Kingdom comes, because the Holy Spirit is present whenever Jesus’ words are spoken to sinners in need of them. God, “according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:19-23). Jesus is Lord now, by virtue of His resurrection and ascension. Because He is Lord and King of all, He reigns now as Head of His Body, the Church. And He will continue to reign until the day when He delivers the Kingdom entirely to the Father and God is all in all.
Though it is not given to the disciples nor to us to know the Day on which the Kingdom will be revealed to every eye, Jesus says, “to you it has been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom of God” (Luke 8:10). The secret is this: we know that Jesus is still planting the seeds and making them grow. He is still doing His work, even though we cannot yet see it. The Kingdom has come—which really means that the King has come, and He reigns as the crucified, resurrected, ascended one. Jesus, the King, has come to you and gathered you under His gracious, forgiving, and life-giving reign. And because He is ascended, the apostolic Church, as He promised, does greater works than His. Not greater, of course, in the sense of better, but in the sense of being more widespread. While He walked around only in a particular part of the world, now His Church is everywhere, to the ends of the earth. Whereas He healed just a few, relative to the people in the world, today He forgives, heals, and gives eternal life to many, many more through His Church. Here He is, even now, expanding His reign over more and more, as now one, now another, now another are baptized and believe His promises. And so the Kingdom has come, but also the Kingdom will come, and we will see with our eyes what we have tonight only by faith.
So we will always pray, “Thy Kingdom come: “Dear Father, we ask you first to give us your Word, so that the gospel may be properly preached throughout the world and then that it may also be received in faith and may work and dwell in us, so that your kingdom may pervade among us through the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit and the devil’s kingdom may be destroyed so that he may have no right or power over us until finally his kingdom is utterly eradicated and sin, death, and hell wiped out, that we may live in perfect righteousness and blessedness” (Large Catechism, Second Petition [K/W ed], 447:54).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/16/23