If you will recall the picture that we drew concerning the Kingdom of God, this present age and the age to come, you’ll remember that we live in what we’re calling “the Time of Mercy”. This period of history started with Jesus. Remember in Luke 4 that Jesus announced by quoting Isaiah 61: 18
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Luke 4:18-19
And then what did he do after preaching that sermon? He went out and literally preached good news to the poor, brought liberty to the demonised, healed the sick, gave rest and peace to the weary, raised the dead and so much more.
He lived among us demonstrating the mercy of God with power, doing everything the Father asked of Him, showing us what it truly means to be human beings, made for relationship with our heavenly Father. Then he gave his life up to destroy the grip of death on your spirit and mine once and for all. After three days, the Father raised him up from the grave, proving that all he said was true and making a way for us also to be raised again to new life. In Adam all died. In Jesus, all are raised to new life. In him.
In the days after his resurrection but before he ascended to heaven (what we understand to be Eden restored) to prepare it for us, he spent time with his disciples. Do you know what he talked to them about in those days? He spoke to them about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:2-3) He then gave them what we have come to call the Great Commission (Matthew 28) which was, in essence, Jesus entrusting his ministry into the hands of this new community, the church. He then poured out his Holy Spirit and then, well, as they say, the rest is history.
Where we fit in
Or is it? No the rest is not history, it is still happening now. Time has moved on since then but the promises of God and his commission for us has not changed. We exist as a continuation of what Jesus began. You and I find ourselves within a much bigger story than what we ever really thought possible. God is working in the world! He is calling all of mankind “out of darkness and into his marvellous light.” Those who have truly seen him, just as Peter, James and John did on that fisherman’s boat we heard about last week, those who have truly seen him, know his voice and follow him no matter what it costs.
We are his people. We are the church. Jesus came proclaiming that the kingdom of God has broken in now. We sing songs like “build your Kingdom here” because we understand, he is doing that now and he is doing that through us.
But what does that actually mean? What does that look like? How do we partner with the Holy Spirit to “build his kingdom here”?
For many of us, we have learned that building God’s kingdom is walking up to our colleagues, family, friends and random people on the street, trying to convince them that they are wrong, we are right, and they need to come to church. We’ve called that evangelism. Oh and what a burden that has been for many of us! And let’s be honest. If that is what building the Kingdom looks like, is that something that we even want to do most of the time?
Now here’s, what we call in English, a “doosy”. Do you know that the phrase “build my kingdom” or “build his kingdom” is not used once in scripture? Go ahead and look for it. The Lord never calls you or I to build his kingdom. He’ll take care of that. That’s why we can sing a prayer like “build your kingdom here” with passion like we do. It’s a prayer for God Himself to break through. But just so we are clear, when God made His plan to fix the relationship between Him and mankind, His plan wasn’t to make a few people happy and bring them all together so they could be His slaves, like the Pharaohs of Egypt, making us do things we hate doing but have to do otherwise we will be judged. When I or Maarten or anyone else speaks of reaching out to Bergen, I know that slave feeling sneaks in. It feels like a burden. Maybe it feels like judgement. Maybe it feels like guilt. Or maybe it just feels like frustration. Like, yes, I want to see people find new life in Jesus too but it’s just not working. I feel sometimes like I’m working for Pharaoh, trying to make bricks but I don’t have all the materials I need to get the job done. The job feels impossible. It feels like a burden.
Oh, we have misunderstood so much about what it means to live in this time of mercy. We have misunderstood so much about why Jesus came, what he did on the earth, what he called us to do and who his Spirit is.
We cannot even begin to imagine a vision or this church until we correct that misunderstanding. To do that, we must recover one of the most foundational pictures the Word of God gives us concerning the Spirit of God. When we see it, it will be like trading in the burden of duty for the garment of praise, and we will understand our place in this world, and more specifically, in Bergen.
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)
Rivers of living water. This isn’t the first time Jesus referred to the Spirit in this way. Earlier he met a woman by a well in Samaria and asked her for a drink. In doing so, Jesus did something that was just “not done” in that culture. A Jewish man spoke to a Samaritan woman. She asked him why he was even talking to her and Jesus responded like this in John 4.
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)
There it is again. Living water. He says, “if you knew the gift of God”. In other words, if you understood what has been promised to you, and who is talking to you right now, you’d realise you’re asking the wrong question. The right question has to do with living water. Jesus goes on in verses 13 and 14.
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
Water that, when we drink, becomes a spring and erupts into eternal life. Life-giving water.
Notice that in John 7 Jesus did not say, “if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and study” or “let him come to me and argue his point.” He said, “let him come to me and drink.” Now belief is essential but belief is just the door. Life-giving water is on the other side.
Knowing Jesus like we do, it won’t surprise us to see he spoke of the Spirit of God in terms of life-giving water on purpose. The prophets also spoke of the Him in the same way.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. (Isaiah 44:3)
But no picture is clearer than in Ezekiel 47.
The prophet Ezekiel had a vision in which the Father showed him details about a new temple that would be built. Some of these things were to be literal instructions. Others, like in chapter 47 seem to be glimpses into what is real but is unseen.
He sees the temple, the dwelling place of God on the earth at that time. Behind the door was the altar, the resting place of His Spirit. From the altar, water was flowing, spilling out into the earth. The water became a deep, rushing river. On the banks of the river, what had been a desert had become what could be described as an oasis. Verse 10 says, “everything will live where the river goes” and in verse 12 , “And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”
Everything will live where the water goes.
Oh I hope you see, the work of Jesus in the time of mercy is not to build a Kingdom. He proclaims the kingdom; that it is already coming, already breaking in now. And what does it look like? It looks like streams of living water flowing and bringing life everywhere it goes. There’s a word that captures this picture beautifully: renewal. In this time of mercy, the water that flows from the sanctuary is the Spirit of God himself, the gift of God, given to you, set inside of you, welling up into eternal life. It is not slavery in Egypt, where you have to make more bricks with less material to build a kingdom for a Lord who commands it of you. It is renewal that happens inside of you, that flows through every part of your personality, your thoughts and dreams, that brings life everywhere that river flows, and that flows out of you into the world around you.
My vision for this church has 3 different aspects to it and this is the first one: that we become a people of renewal. Where we learn to let the life-giving water of the Holy Spirit be poured into us and to flow through us. Renewal is the process through which the Holy Spirit releases the life and the promises and the purposes of God. Sometimes the renewing water of the Holy Spirit just flows. Sometimes we have to clean the debris out of the canals of our hearts and minds to let that life-giving water flow as it should. But everywhere the water flows, everything comes to life. My vision for us is that we become a people who let that river flow in us and through us, releasing the life and the promises and the purposes of God in us and through us. That is what it means to be a people of renewal.
Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of renewal. Broken lives were renewed. Sick bodies were renewed. Thought patterns were renewed. Identities were renewed. Hope was renewed. No one was too broken, too lost or too dead to be renewed by him. The ministry of the apostles was a continuation of that same ministry of renewal. The ministry entrusted to the church is a ministry of renewal.
The ministry of this church will be a ministry of renewal. Because wherever the river flows, life is renewed. And life is what we do.