THE GROWTH AND INFLUENCE OF GOD’S KINGDOM
In Matthew 13 Jesus gave us 9 parables that describe what form the Kingdom of God would take between His first and second coming.
In the parable of the wheat and weeds we saw that at present the Kingdom of God on earth is a situation where the followers of Jesus and those who are still under the power of the evil one co-exist, living alongside one another until the day Jesus returns and the great sort out will take place.
As I said the other week, God is the rightful owner and ruler of this world and His kingdom is still operating, but at present the world is occupied by enemy forces under the leadership of Satan. And those forces are working out their godless, evil purposes largely through unbelieving people and their authority structures and systems. Media.
In the next 2 parables that we will look at this morning we will see that although it seems the godless occupying forces of Satan are in control in this world, God’s Kingdom is like underground movement growing and exercising a powerful influence.
THE PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED v31-32
In this parable Jesus told how the Kingdom of God is like a tiny little mustard seed that was planted in the ground and yet grew into a tree big enough to provide shade and roosting places for the birds.
The mustard seed Jesus was talking about was not the seed of the mustard plant we know but the seed of the mustard tree or Salvadora which is quite a big tree with mustard tasting leaves.
The emphasis Jesus was making here was that the Kingdom of God in its present form would start from small beginnings but grow into something huge.
When you think about it, the Kingdom of God in its present form began with a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to school or university. He never travelled 300 kms from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself…
While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him, another betrayed Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He leads the greatest movement in all history and more and more people are joining the ranks of His followers every day.
Today almost 2 billion people identify themselves with Jesus Christ. Every day 166,000 people hear the Good News about Jesus for the first time. Every year 27 million people become followers of Jesus and it is estimated that in the next 18 years there will be 600 million more believers.
Within 70 years after Jesus death there were 360 non Christians to every Christian in the world. Today there are less than 7 non Christians to every believer.
One of the most amazing things that has taken place over the last 40 odd years has been the huge growth of the church in China, Sth Korea, Africa, India and South America. Every day around 20,000 Africans come to Christ, In Asia around 50,000. The Jesus video has been translated into 1000 languages and over 200 million people have committed their lives to Christ through watching it.
Today there are an estimated 75 million Bible believing Christians in the western nations, but 325 million in the developing nations.
In the next 20 years it is forecast that there will be 1 billion Christians in Africa, 135 million in China and 125 million in India.
Korea has 10,646 Christian missionaries serving overseas, Brazil has sent out 1,080 missionaries in the last 10 years. Today the developing nations in Africa, South America and Asia are sending church planters into Europe. A few years ago in Sao Paulo, Brazil there was the largest Jesus march ever held with 3 million believers participating.
Today in Iran, which has a terrible record for persecuting Xs, 500 Muslims come to Christ every month. In fact the Iranian church is one of the fastest growing churches in the world. And in Europe there is an exciting work of God going on among Muslim immigrants with a result that in Holland new Iranian Xs are training to return to Iran and plant churches there.
Ill. Kevin Greeson, an American Baptist missionary went to a Muslim country 20 years ago, can’t be named. A country where there are almost no Xs. Kevin set up a manufacturing company employing Muslim women. He sought to share the Gospel with these women but they weren’t interested. In 1996 Kevin met Abdul, a Muslim who had become a X and had suffered for his faith, even attempted murder. In 1990 Abdul started a movement of house churches in that country that saw 20,000 Muslims come to Christ and be baptised over the next 6 years. Kevin asked Abdul to let him meet the believers and Abdul said, No, we don’t want western Christians coming in and spoiling what God is doing.” Muslims believe that everyone in the West are Xs and from what they see on TV and videos they are all drunken womanisers. Kevin kept badgering Abdul for 2 years to let him meet the new believers and finally Abdul took him around the villages where the believers were. By then 1998 the number of believers had grown to 50,000. Kevin asked Abdul how they brought them to faith in Jesus and Abdul told Kevin that they simply followed Jesus teaching in the Gospels. “We sent the believers out 2 by 2 to preach and pray for the sick. They don’t call themselves Xs but “Isahe” – followers of Jesus. Xs are Westerners. Worship on Friday using Muslim prayer forms and their house church leaders were called Imams.
Kevin returned to his women employees and invited them to bring their husbands to a meeting and began teaching them from the Koran about Jesus [Isa] – The Koran teaches that Jesus was sinless, that he healed people, had power over death, He knows the way to heaven and is now in heaven with Allah. Whereas Mohammed wasn’t even sure he would go to heaven. They were excited because they didn’t realise the Koran taught this and were angry with their Mullahs for not teaching them about Isa. Kevin then showed them the Jesus film and taught them from the NT for the next 4 days. At the end of the 4 days all of them became followers of Jesus. He formed 6 house churches out of 50 people and a movement was begun – They got Islamic friendly versions of the Bible. They sent out believers distributing the Bibles and sharing with those who were open. Within 6 months they were baptising 5 people a week and within 2 years the movement started by Kevin had seen 4500 Muslims converted and baptised and over 300 house churches started. By 2003 they had baptised 15000 Muslims and started 800 house churches. Meanwhile Abduls movement had baptised over 250,000 Muslims by the end of 2003 in a country that had hardly seen a X convert in 1000 years.
Jesus said, “I will build my church and the powers of hell will not be able to conquer it.” Communism, Islam, Buddhism, Secular humanism.
THE PARABLE OF THE YEAST v33-35
The next parable Jesus used to describe the Kingdom of God during this period of time was that of a little bit of yeast that was mixed into a large amount of flour until it had affected the whole lump of dough.
What Jesus was saying here is that, like the yeast, the kingdom of God would be implanted into the world and work away impacting and transforming people’s lives and society from within.
And that is exactly what has and is happening. That one solitary figure who entered history 2000 years ago, has, like yeast in a lump of dough influenced and impacted our world far, far more than we realise.
Every positive, benevolent change that has been brought about in our culture for the betterment of mankind has come from people who were inspired by and dedicated to Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.
So many of the humanitarian institutions that we take for granted today were brought into being by the followers of Jesus, often at great cost to themselves.
Schools, Universities, hospitals, prison reforms, nursing, Red Cross, Trade Unions, Anti-slavery, women’s rights, human rights, Religious freedom, Care for Elderly, Orphans, Widows and poor, Social welfare, our justice system, the police force, to name a few.
We take these things for granted today, but these movements and institutions were begun by people who were motivated by the compassion of Jesus and many of these people suffered greatly and some even gave their lives so that we could benefit from these.
You only have to live in a country that has not been influenced by the Christian faith to really appreciate what we have in the west.
Ill. I am reminded of Ian McCormack when he had been fatally bitten by a poisonous jelly fish in an Asian country and was desperate to get to hospital. He hailed down a taxi and managed to crawl into the back seat begging the driver to take him to the hospital. When the driver discovered Ian had no money on him he dragged out of the taxi and dumped him in the side of the road leaving him to die. I cannot imagine that happening in NZ.
The passage I quoted from before ends with this. “I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.”
God’s Kingdom is operating in the world today. It is growing, expanding, bringing transformation, change, and influencing people’s lives and communities all over the world.
Wherever people submit to the leadership of Jesus Christ and embrace His message and His will, they enter God’s Kingdom and the life of the Kingdom is expressed through them individually and corporately.
History has proven time and time again that the life and power of the Kingdom of God is expressed wherever the followers of Jesus take Him serious, obey His teaching and allow Him to rule as king over their lives and X communities.
Ill. Recently, a English missionary and his wife visited Brazil. “Ruth and I were overwhelmed with what God is doing there, and by the baptism of love that characterizes the church. The commitment of the Christians is staggering. They are not only sharing the gospel with the people but putting into practice the teaching of Jesus in the most practical ways. In one area we visited, the believers run Schools for the children of the poor, they feed them 2 cooked meals a day, look after pre-schoolers, providing them with basic hygiene, doing Bible studies with them, playing sport and teaching them craft skills. We asked, “How many of your church members are involved in your community minsitry?” “All of them”, came the immediate reply! They hold prayer meetings 6 am, 12 noon and 6 pm – EVERY DAY! A House of prayer in one city provided a network of prayer for the area, the nation and the nations of the world. They have a round the clock prayer meeting going. 10 years ago the believers in Brazil organized themselves to pray for their nation. After 3 years revival broke out. One prayer movement has 13,000 parents praying that their children will become missionaries to take the Good News of Jesus to the world.
One night Ruth and I were moved to tears at an agricultural show. From 6 pm to 6 am nightly for 15 nights, local Christians mounted an all-night outreach, with different church groups providing drama, creative dance group and mostly young preachers. They were leading people to Christ at the rate of one per minute! That’s over 700 a night!
Ill. In 2007 Lois and I were in Singapore and we were so encouraged to see the vitality, the commitment and the growth of the church even there. The church we attended had a membership of 3000 and they were planting another one. One Evangelical Methodist church has 10,000 members.
Ill. A friend of mine went to a North Indian State with a team to speak at a Christian youth leaders conventions. 2,500 Christian Youth leaders turned up. The church in that State is growing so fast that they don’t have enough pastors to look after the churches. He told me that most t pastors who have to go to 6 or 7 churches on a Sunday to preach and baptise new believers.
Sadly this kind of church growth is not taking place in the western nations except among ethnic groups. It almost seems as if the West has had its opportunity. Even among believers there is little desire to see people come to Christ.
Ill. John Osborne was once asked why he needed to go to Bangladesh to share the Gospel when there were so many unbelievers in NZ. He said that in NZ if someone wants to know about Jesus there are churches in every community, but in Bangladesh people if someone wants to know about Jesus they would be hard pressed to find a Christian let alone a church.
Why is the Western church in decline while the church in these other nations is thriving? Like the church in Laodicea we have largely cooled off and become more engrossed in the things of this world. The evidence is seen in our prayer life, lack of concern for those who don’t know Christ, it is seen in our church attendance. I told a group of Asian Xs in Singapore that NZ Xs are considered committed if they attend church 1 in every 3 Sundays. They just couldn’t understand that.
So here is the challenge to all of us. When we pray the Lord’s prayer, “Your Kingdom come” – do we really desire that? Are we really prepared to take the words of Jesus seriously and make our first priority in life “God’s Kingdom and His righteousness”? I really believe that when Kiwi Xs begin to place the concerns of God’s Kingdom and obedience to His Word first in their lives we will see the manifestation of the Kingdom of God in all its power and influence.
God still wants to grow His Kingdom in this country and He wants you and me to be like yeast in the dough. To make a serious commitment to be that permeating influence as we interact with the people around us. I have put 2 suggestions in the newsletter as to how we can do this.
I believe there are believers here this morning who really want to be like yeast and influence others for Christ, but you don’t know where to begin. Some of you may not even know how to start a conversation with others.
I have put an insert into your newsletter today to show you how you can start and develop a conversation. Most people like talking about themselves and they don’t care what you know until they know that you care about them.