Citizens of Two Kingdoms

Page through the New Testament and you will find that some of the most interesting chapters are Jesus’ conversations with leaders of His day.

Do you remember Nicodemus? He was a leader of the Jewish people who was getting more and more interested in Jesus. He came to Jesus one night to get some of his questions answered without being seen by his colleagues. He begins the conversation by paying Jesus a nice compliment. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs you do apart from the presence of God.”

He was amazed at Jesus’ miracles, but our Lord was not overwhelmed by Nicodemus’ praise. He replies, “No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

Like millions of others, Nicodemus asked, “What does it mean to be born again? Sounds rather weird to me. Are you saying we can entering our mother’s womb and be born again?”

Jesus gave a clear answer, “What is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of the spirit is spirit.” Nicodemus nibbled on that answer for a long time and only began to have some understanding of what Jesus was teaching after Christ’s crucifixion. We learn later that he was one of the men who anointed Jesus’ body in preparation for His burial.

Christ had introduced a new teaching which is at the center of our Christian faith. Humans have a physical birth and so we celebrate the day we entered this world. We live as citizens of this world participating in all of its joys and sorrows. This citizenship is very important. But we are more than a body. We are a soul or a spirit. According to the Bible, your spirit is the real you that is clothed in a body referred to by Paul as a tent which lasts for a few years, and then falls apart.

In contrast to the body, the spirit is eternal. If our spirit is to live in a personal relationship with God during our earthly journey for all eternity, there must be a spiritual birth where we receive Christ as our Savior and Lord.

Here, in one of these conversations with a Jewish leader, Jesus challenges us to think of ourselves as citizens of two kingdoms. Martin Luther wrote a great treatise on “The Two Kingdoms.”

Being born in this country automatically makes us citizens of the United States. Through receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, we are born spiritually and become a part of God’s Kingdom.

Because Jesus had come to establish His Kingdom in the hearts of people, his enemies accused Him of claiming to be a king, and this leads us into another interesting story where Jesus stands in the presence of a political leader, Pontius Pilate. Unlike Nicodemus, Pilate had no interest in Jesus nor had he come to Him. It was Jesus’ enemies who brought Him to the governor asking for His crucifixion.

Pilate was not much interested in the case, but it was necessary for him to keep order among the Jews, which was no easy task. He asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world.”

“So you are a king?” Pilate asked.

Jesus replied, “You are right in saying I am a King. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” Pilate answered. He was convinced that Jesus was just one more religious fanatic who was trying to make His place in history. The governor was not much concerned but simply wanted to get rid of the case. However, Pilate must have had some conscience, because he tried in different ways not to crucify a man whom he felt was innocent of any crime deserving death.

But the Jewish leaders would not have it that way. Jesus must die. Once again, Christ had talked about the two kingdoms, and the Church in all ages has confessed that Jesus is our Lord and King. Peter describes the Church in this way, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation belonging to God.”

This concept of belonging to two Kingdoms presents some interesting questions for Christians who have lived in all ages, not least today. Let’s look at three of these questions, especially addressed to those of us who live in a democracy.

1. Are there responsibilities to both the state and God’s kingdom?

The answer, “Yes.” Paul, in the 13th chapter of Romans, presents the Christian’s duty to the state. He refers to the authorities as God’s servants appointed to keep order, and concludes with these words: “Pay to all what is due them taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.” (Romans 13:7)

It is in the spirit of this verse that we, who live in a democracy, should add that it is our responsibility to be a part of the government and to offer our talent and time in serving, whether in the local, state, or national government. It is sad when we see gifted people unwilling to serve in government because working in the private sector offers better salaries and less grief.

We all know, after living through this last presidential election, how distasteful the political life can be, but government is of God and the people are called to serve.

I was at the polling booth early on Election Day. It was cold, but I was impressed when an elderly woman said, “It would have been much easier to stay home than to come here and vote, but this is my Christian duty.” For her, it was not only the duty of every citizen to vote, but it was a part of her Christian faith, and that is the way our Lord wanted us to think according to His Word.

Is it important to assume our responsibilities in God’s Kingdom? Every Christian understands that serving our Lord is a fruit of the Christian faith. We are God’s redeemed children and, out of love, we are called to serve Him

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2. Might there be conflicts between the State and God’s Kingdom; and if there are, how does the Christian respond?

History is full of examples showing the conflicts that have existed between Church and State. Christians died by the thousands in the first century for the cause of Christ. The Roman Government was going to blot out the Christian faith. We hear much about the Holocaust and the killing of six million Jewish people.

Not to take anything away from the tragedy, but we must not forget that thousands of Christians also died for their faith in Germany and Russia. Thousands continue to die today. The conflict came when there must be a choice between God or Caesar.

When the decision must be made to follow Christ or the commands of government, the Christian is called upon to answer, “We have no choice. Jesus is Lord. We will follow Him.”

3. Can the Church and State live side by side with each serving the other?

The answer is, “Yes, and life in these United States is our proof.” In America, the government has seen the blessings God has brought to the nation through the faithfulness of Christian men and women. We have been free to worship our Lord. Committed people have served this land well.

George Washington, at Valley Forge, turned to God for guidance. Abraham Lincoln, on bended knees in the Oval Office, asked God for strength during the Civil War. Jimmy Carter picked up his Bible on a Sunday morning and went to his church to teach a Bible class emphasizing the words of Jesus, “You must be born again.”

Since our nation was established, we have enjoyed the right of religious freedom under the doctrine of separation of Church and State. Will this freedom to express our Christian convictions in public continue, or will the day of pluralism limit our Christian expression? We have seen some of our Christian freedom taken from us in the public schools.

No longer do we have Christmas programs with our children singing the carols. Rather, we have a winter program with Santa taking Jesus’ place. We still have the right to evangelize others seeking to bring people to Christ. It is important for us to face the question, “Where will our nation stand on these questions in another generation?” If Christians must choose between Christ and the State, on whose side will they stand?

Pilate discounted Jesus as just another religious idealist whose influence was no threat to the Roman government. Pilate was wrong. Pilate was soon gone. The Roman empire finally fell, but the Kingdom of God remains forever. Honor your government, but let Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, capture your spirit.

When Stewardship Is Fun

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

The Church has always called on believers to share their possessions in building God’s Kingdom. That’s why the giving of time, talent, and money is a fruit of our faith and a part of the Christian life. To help us grow in our stewardship, the Word of God has a lot to say about giving.

The Old Testament taught that God’s people should return to the Lord one tenth of their earnings. This was called the tithe, and a part of Jewish law. Jesus affirmed the tithe but for Him it was not an end in itself.

He said to the Pharisees, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23)

Without criticizing the tithe, Jesus placed greater emphasis on love for the Kingdom as the motivation for our giving. One day He pointed His disciples to people leaving their gifts at the place of worship. Luke records this conversation, “Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.

He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.'”

Our Lord was not teaching that we should give away all that we have, but He was teaching that when our love for God is strong, it will move us beyond giving out of our abundance.

Stewardship is more than fulfilling a law, it is being constrained to give out of love for Christ. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, pursued this same thought that our giving was an expression of our love for the Lord Jesus. He used the Macedonians as examples of what true stewardship is. They themselves had many trials and lived in poverty, but when they heard the Christians in Jerusalem were suffering from a famine, they were anxious to share their possessions with these brothers and sisters in Christ.

Using the Macedonian churches as role models, Paul says, “They gave themselves first to the Lord.” (II Corinthians 8:5) This is the first step in Christian stewardship and one that is sometimes overlooked by congregations in talking to the members about the giving of their time, talent, and money.

Imagine that it is Stewardship Sunday in a given congregation. The people are urged to give liberally that God’s work may flourish. However, a percentage of the people in the congregation have little or no relationship with the Lord. They have belonged to the church for some years and have been regular in their attendance. Going to church is just the right thing to do, but that doesn’t mean to these friends that they have to become involved with Jesus Christ to the degree that they give themselves to Him.

Their giving to the church is no different than paying dues to other organizations to which they belong. Now the preacher is getting radical and even goes beyond the tithe to suggest that their love for Christ will lead them to give sacrificially.

When these friends are told that giving is a part of the Christian life, they are not able to comprehend the meaning of the statement. Giving has nothing to do with their relationship with the Lord. To them, giving is meeting the expenses of the congregation and what is left over should be given for some good cause.

In other words, giving beyond this does not make any sense to the church member until he or she has met and given themselves to Christ. Sermons on giving become irritating, and the church is accused of always asking for money and putting unrealistic demands on the members’ time.

To relieve some of the ill feelings towards the church, I used to tell those members who had not yet met the Lord that they did not need to give anything, for they were not a part of the missionary force of the church. They were a part of the church’s mission. When they had met the Lord, giving would become fun for them.

It is a demonstrated truth that the person who knows the Lord has great fun in giving of himself or herself and that includes the giving of time, talent, and money. It is the way they demonstrate their love for the Lord who first loved them.

St. Paul has another teaching on stewardship which is important for us to hear. He writes, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (II Corinthians 9:7)

In other words, no one is to use pressure in telling another person how much of his time and money he or she should give to the Lord. This is between the Christian and the Lord with whom he has a personal relationship.

I sometimes wonder about the practice used by some fundraisers who serve our congregation, especially when large sums of money are to be raised to construct a building or do some other major project. Many of them use the “advanced givers list.” Those on the list are the people who are more affluent than other members.

A committee tries to determine what these people should be willing to give in the light of their financial circumstances. So you visit Mrs. Jones and suggest she give $100,000 for this worthy cause. One cannot argue that this approach has been quite effective and Mrs. Jones was willing and anxious to give. In fact, she was blessed by giving this large amount of money.

She now claimed ownership to the project. The congregation also benefited for a lot of money was needed to complete the large project. The other side of the coin is to answer the question, “Is this Christian stewardship or downright plain fundraising?”

Were the Macedonian churches having a fund-raiser for the poor people in Jerusalem or were they giving out of love to Christ?

It was not until I had been in the ministry for nearly ten years that I learned what Biblical stewardship was all about. One day I met a layman by the name of Sam Edwins who taught me that Christian stewardship could be summarized with the words, “We give out of love to Christ in relationship to our faith.” We give out of love. We give to Christ and not to some particular cause, though we might know how the money will be used. As our faith grows, our giving will grow.

My experience has convinced me that this is God’s plan for Christian giving, and if this teaching is followed over the years, believers in Christ will respond with their gifts. The more we follow these Biblical teachings on giving, the more fun we had watching giving grow in our congregation. But more than that, we saw the excitement on the part of the giver for he or she, in a tangible way, was showing love for the Savior. Giving was no longer an obligation but an opportunity to have a small part in building God’s Kingdom.

In the Christian Church we celebrate three holidays Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. On these Sundays we celebrate God’s gifts to us. I suggest we add a fourth holiday on our church calendars and call it Stewardship Sunday. It will never be equal to the other three, but it will be a day set apart when the Christian congregation can come with its gifts to the Lord as a thank offering.

Think it might be a good idea? This fourth holiday will never be accepted on the Church’s calendar, but it could be a part of your congregation’s program. Stewardship was fun in parts of the early Church. It is still fun in today’s Church when believers come offering their gifts to the Lord.

Growing Up Spiritually

f you had been Joe’s classmate in high school, you would have described him this way:

Joe was a good-looking kid with a nice personality most of the time.ÊOn occasion he could have trouble getting along with people, but this was not a serious problem. He was a good student, but could have been better if he would have worked harder. Joe was a better than

average athlete, but was always getting chewed out by the coach because he was lazy. He had the potential to become an outstanding

leader, but would he live up to his potential?

You didn’t see Joe after high school, but then you met him at yourÊ50th class reunion. In conversation you learned Joe had not done

too well in life. He had been married twice and seldom saw his children from the first marriage. He had not completed his education. Though he had been enrolled in two colleges, he did not graduate from either one. Though he was employed, it was evident Joe preferred to play than work.

When discussing Joe with a friend who had been in contact with him from high school days, the friend said, “Joe never grew up.”Ê That’s what our text is talking about today. There are many

Christians who never grow up.

Paul knew some of these immature Christians and addressed them in his letter to the Corinthians with these words: “I gave you milk,Ê

not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready for it.” Paul described them as mere infants in the Christian faith. There was jealousy and quarreling among them, and they talked about being followers of Paul or Apollos.Ê

They were concerned about the insignificant things in the Kingdom. All of this was a sign of immaturity in the faith.

The writer of the book of Hebrews also talks about ChristianÊimmaturity when he writes, “By this time you ought to be teachers of the faith, but you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s Word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!Ê

Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teachings about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:11-14).

The sentence, “You should have been teachers, but you need someone to train you,” does not need to be taken literally. They did not have to stand in a class expounding the great truths of the Christian faith. Rather, the writer is saying they had not grasped the truth of what it was to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

Let’s consider some signs of spiritual immaturity.

This couple are faithful members of First Lutheran Church. Unless they are out of town, which is seldom, they are at worship. They

both teach Sunday school, have served on important boards of the congregation, and are concerned about the spiritual lives of their children. They confess Christ as their Savior, and live a Christian life. But there is one problem. When their parents’ estate was settled, they received less money than their sibling. This caused a division between the two families, and from that day to this, they have not spoken to each other.

This is spiritual immaturity. The teachings of our Lord on wealth and being at odds with another person are very clear. To love money more than your brother or sister is not acceptable to God, and the person who is growing in his or her faith must deal with this sin. Here is another example of spiritual immaturity.

Bob has lived a “fast life.” He has had big problems with alcohol,Êshown interest in other women than his wife, never darkened the

doors of a church except to attend the children’s Christmas programs, and left the responsibility of raising the family to his wife. One evening he and his wife went with their neighbors to a rally

where a nationally-known evangelist was speaking. Great things happened that night in Bob’s life. He answered the altar call and

received Christ as his Savior. The next Sunday morning, he was up bright and early to attend church with his family.Ê

The family rejoiced over Bob’s conversion during the months that he took his new relationship with God seriously. But then Bob got busy with his work, spent Sunday mornings on the golf course, and didn’t take time to read his Bible regularly. It wasn’t long before the old Bob was back. He had experienced two great beginnings with

Christ. He was baptized as a child and raised in a Christian home.ÊBut after high school he didn’t need the church any longer. He drifted away from the Lord. Then as an adult he had a conversion experience, but when the newness wore off, Bob returned to his old style of living. What happened?

What would have happened if, after his birth, Bob’s mother didn’t feed him? You’re right. He would have died. He was a babe in the faith who did not feed on God’s Word and pretty soon Bob, the spiritual infant, died. This is a severe case of spiritual immaturity that happens all too often. Let’s take a look at one more family.

This family lived for pleasure. They accepted the philosophy that what counts in this life is that you have lots of fun, and they expected the same out of the Christian faith. Their understanding of faith was having an emotional high each time they worshiped. If the sermon

called for a little thought on the part of the listener and the hymns were teaching some great Biblical truth, but lacked the emotional beat, they became critical of what was happening at the worship service.Ê

Church, to them, meant getting a spiritual high that made you feel good. Words of Jesus like, “Take up your cross and follow me,” were not to their liking. They objected to the Biblical teaching that Jesus Christ was the Savior of the world and in Him alone could one be saved.

When tragedy came to their lives, the great promises of God had little meaning. They had never taken the time to feed on these great truths, such as, “my grace is sufficient for you.” They had not come to an appreciation of God’s grace. For them, such a term was too theological.Ê

They were spiritually immature Christians.

In our daily lives, we accept the word of our friends when they assure us we can count on them whenever we have a need. This is the

message we are being challenged with today. Think of the promises that Jesus has given to us. Promises like these:Ê

“Come unto me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give unto you. Let not your hearts be troubled.”

It is not enough to only read these comforting words and leave them. We must put these words to the test to see if they lack meaning.ÊIt is through these years of living with God’s Word that we experience what is it to mature in the faith.

If you are a Christian, haven’t you experienced His faithfulness?ÊHas He ever failed you? Last week I visited with a dad whose little boy died suddenly. When I expressed my sympathy to him, he thanked me and said, “We are people of faith, and our Lord has not let us down. He is with us now.” This is the statement of one who has a mature faith.

We began by talking about Joe, who never grew up. It is a sad story, but it is even more tragic when Christian men and women are content to live as infants in the faith. Live with Him in His Word and He will work within you a mature faith in the Lord who will never leave nor forsake you.Ê

Our Heavenly Home

Death is inevitable, and yet it is hard to comprehend that this includes us until our health begins to fail and the obituaries printed in the newspaper list more people younger than we are. Because the thought of death is not pleasant, the subject is often not discussed. We sometimes live in denial of death. But this was not so with the Biblical writers. To help us deal with our death, the Bible talks clearly and often about the temporariness of our earthly stay. Let’s take a look at some of these Biblical passages.

The Apostle Paul asks, You want an explanation of your health problems, why you hurt more now than you did ten years ago? I’ll tell you why. The old tent that you live in is wearing out. It’s not going to be around forever. But take heart. When the old tent wears out, you will get a new body, if you trust Christ as your Savior, and this body will be eternal. No more of this wearing out business (II Corinthians 5:11).

The Apostle Paul could ask, Do you like living out of a suitcase? Then he would answer his own question by saying, “Living out of a suitcase describes temporary living quarters. Well, that is the way it is while we are living on earth. Don’t get too comfortable. You might think this place is your permanent address, but it isn’t. Tomorrow you are moving on to the heavenly home prepared for you by Jesus Christ for all of His children who trust Him” (I Peter 2:11).

The writer of the book of Hebrews asks, Are you looking for the perfect place to live — climate, beauty, plenty to do, and a nice place to raise your family? Forget it. This is a sin-infested world that has affected the whole creation. Here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is yet to come. Believe me, that will be perfect (Hebrews 11:13).

Truths such as these affect our lives if we take them seriously. It shows how precious these years are and that they should not be wasted. It also tells us not to set our roots too deep because this world is not our permanent home. I was reminded of that yesterday. My wife and I visited a large business establishment. Talking with the receptionist, I mentioned the man who was the president of the company twenty-five years ago, and the person who really made it a very profitable organization. I told her about this man, and later she thanked me for the information. She said, “I never heard of this person.” How quickly we are forgotten.

While the biblical message emphasized the temporariness of our earthly journey, it also points to the heavenly home, which is eternal. To keep this truth before us, the Church has set aside a Sunday each year called “All Saints Sunday.” One way we celebrate this festival is to remember those who now dwell in the heavenly mansion. The writer of Revelation gives us a peek into heaven. Here are four revelations that can make us excited about where believers in Christ will go when the last breath has been taken in this life.

Heaven’s population is so great it cannot be counted. On earth Christians have always been a minority group. Those in heaven will have come from every nation. There will be no segregation there. Perhaps we will be surprised who is there.

These people have come out of the great tribulation. While we who live in middle-class America enjoy this life immensely, there are still those difficult moments for us. I have just visited a beautiful woman in her 40s who has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. These are tough days for her and the family. That’s a part of the tribulation. I have sat many times holding the hand of a dying person, assuring them that it would not be long before the Lord Jesus would come. Their eyes opened and they smiled with only one thought: “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”

Then think of the millions who live in extreme poverty and without medical care. Our missionaries tell us about the thousands of people who are dying today of AIDS in Africa. Many of them are innocent victims and not a part of the immoral lifestyle often related to this disease. They live in the great tribulation. What a blessing it will be when they can live in the heavenly home where there is no suffering or death.

But how did all of these millions of people enter the heavenly home? The text tells us. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb. Christ has atoned for the sins of the world. All is now ready. Salvation is free. However, this statement tells us that those who hear the Gospel must receive Christ to be cleansed from their sin. We have to appropriate this gift which Christ offers us.

While on earth, we live in a broken world. We work hard to make this a utopia, but it shall not be, for sin has invaded this world with all of its consequences. The Bible tells us that only in the heavenly home will we come to know the meaning of perfection. “Those who live in the heavenly home will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (16-17).

There will no more questions about why this happens to people. Our neighbors, whose beautiful little girl is suffering from a brain tumor, will not have to wonder why she should be afflicted in this way for there will be no disease and imperfections that we live with while here on earth.

We will not see bodies dying of malnutrition, and no more tears will be shed. How freely they have flowed here on earth when the bad news was given to us telling how a loved one has met with disaster or pain.

Is it no wonder that St. Paul, knowing the heavenly home awaited him, said, “For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain.”

God has given us a peek into heaven. This limited information raises many questions that will not be answered until we stand before our Lord and see Him face to face. Did the early Church talk about heaven?

Yes, they did, and so should we.