Sunday, February 28, 2021


Speaker Helen Jenkinson


Do you remember those days when you could go on holiday? On those things called aeroplanes?! 

In order to go anywhere abroad you have to show your passport. Your passport proves that you are a citizen of the country that you belong to. In our case, when we show our British passport it says that we are British citizens. And being a British citizen means that we have certain rights and responsibilities as a citizen of this country. On the front of my passport it says British Passport United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. And we know what that means. But if our passport said ‘Passport of the Kingdom of God’ would we be as clear in our understanding? Would we know what the phrase Kingdom of God really meant? 

Jesus turned the status quo on its head during his ministry by talking a lot about the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God, but what was he really talking about? That’s what we are going to look at today as a way of introducing our teaching series for the next few weeks that is all about The Upside-Down Kingdom.

Our first question today is: 

How can we can gain entry into the kingdom of God?

A few months ago Andrea took a British citizenship exam (which she passed with flying colours!) Passing this exam means that she now has the right to become a British citizen. To have the same rights and responsibilities as a person born in the UK. Because of God’s grace we don’t have to pass any exams to gain entry into the Kingdom of God. 

This is what Nicodemus found difficult to understand in John 3. He was a Pharisee, keeping all the law of Moses (and lots of extra ones too!) He was assuming that this was his equivalent of taking the British citizenship exam. If I keep the law, then I’ll pass God’s exam and I’ll be ok. But what does Jesus tell him?

John 3:3 I tell you the truth, unless you are born again you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven

Jesus is saying - Nicodemus, unless you enter into a new relationship with me you cannot be part of the kingdom of God.

And over 2000 years later, entry requirements haven’t changed. The only way we can be part of the kingdom of God is to have that relationship with Jesus. To be born again. We can’t engineer entry into the kingdom by our own good deeds. It is purely by God’s grace that he invites us into relationship with him through Jesus.

But the kingdom of God is much bigger than just us and God.

Our mission as a church is Jesus at the centre of everything. How does the kingdom of God relate to this? 

In the gospels Jesus is continually talking about the kingdom of God but the way he describes it is could be completely different to the way we, and his disciples, presumed a kingdom should run or what it should be like. What Jesus describes is an UPSIDE-DOWN kingdom. One that is different to the earthly kingdoms but not disconnected to them. 

The kingdom of God is not just another way of describing heaven. It is God’s rule on earth not only in the future but in the here and now. And as kingdom people we have certain rights and responsibilities to demonstrate the values of God’s kingdom to the world. So over the next few weeks we are going to unpack what this upside down kingdom is and what we should be doing to advance it.


I want you to imagine that we are together in church. A local lad gets up to speak. We haven’t seen him for a bit. We heard that he’s been on a gap year but we know his parents and his siblings. We know where he lives. We know he’s a trained carpenter. We think he’s just going to tell us what he’s been doing in his time away or read a psalm for encouragement but as he starts speaking, this young man quotes the old testament as though he wrote it himself. You are perturbed by the nerve of him - who does he think he is? But something in what he says and the way he says it makes the hairs on the back of your head stand up. He speaks differently to the other speakers that have spoken before. That’s what I want you to imagine as we read this passage today.

READ LUKE 4: 16-30

Any Jew worth their salt listening to Jesus would immediately have their ears pricked listening to this passage because Jesus is reading from Isaiah chapter 61. 

Isaiah spoke of God’s servant-messiah restoring and healing the marginalised in society. To proclaim the Lord’s favour or Jubilee. You can read about Jubilee in Leviticus 25 and we’ll learn more about it in a few weeks. But very briefly, the year of jubilee was given by God to the children of Israel as they entered the promise land as a sort of re-set button every 50 years. In that year they were to leave their fields bare so the soil had a rest from producing crops. How were they to survive in that year? The Lord would bless the land in the year prior to it so they would have enough to eat. The children of Israel needed to trust that God would provide for them. In the jubilee year people who had had to sell property due to poverty received it back and slaves could be released and return to their families so the poor or marginalised in society would be treated fairly. 

In Isaiah 61 Isaiah makes the connection between the year of jubilee, the Lord’s favour and the servant-messiah. In verse 1 it uses the expression ‘proclaim freedom’ which is the same command used in Leviticus to proclaim liberty in the jubilee. So what Isaiah is saying is that the servant–messiah will usher in a time of grace, a time of release. 

Fast forward 700 years and we see a young girl who has just been told by an angel that the power of the holy spirit will come upon her and she will conceive a child who will be called Son of the most high. His kingdom will never end. After she gets over the shock, this is what Mary says:  

Luke 1:52. He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.

Said in another way - through this child conceived in me, God is pressing the re-set button.

Fast forward another 30 years to the synagogue in Nazareth.  By quoting Isaiah Jesus is saying that what Isaiah prophesied is here! I am the fulfilment of it. The servant’s mission is my mission. I am the servant Isaiah spoke about. I am the one who will usher in the year of the Lord’s favour.  I am the one who will push the re-set button because I invented the year of jubilee. What you think of as the norm does not have to stay like that. I am going to show you a new way of doing things. What your present kingdom thinks of as normal, acceptable or just the way things are I’m going to turn on its head.

At first the synagogue worshippers were excited about what Jesus was saying. Yes, that’s what we want. We want Jubilee - freedom from Rome, freedom from oppressive regimes. We want our society to be fairer. We are God’s chosen people - freedom is what we deserve. But then we read that the congregation’s attitude towards Jesus changes. They become angry. Why? Because as Jesus read from Isaiah 61 the people thought they knew what he was going to say. However, Jesus stops just before the punchline. It’s like the end of a film or tv programme ending on a cliff hanger. It’s like the times when you think your spouse or your child will say one thing or react in one way and they don’t. You think you can predict what’s going to happen but you’re surprised. So they get furious because of what Jesus misses out of Isaiah 61. Verse 2 of Isaiah 61 says

He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favour has come, and with it the day of God’s anger against their enemies.

Have you noticed the difference between that and Luke 4? The last statement is missed out -

 and with it the day of God’s anger against their enemies.

What? They’re thinking - Jesus, are you not going to set us free from Rome? Aren’t you about liberating us from oppressive regimes?  But to top it all off in verses 25-27 Jesus dares to bring Gentiles into the discussion. Let’s read what he says.

Verses 25-27.

Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. And many in Israel had leprosy in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.

Their reaction? Verses 28-30.

When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way

The Jews assumed that the year of the Lord’s favour was their right, their inheritance. The thought that Gentiles could also receive the same favour enraged them. But that was Jesus’ mission - to declare the good news of God’s kingdom is for everyone - the rich and the poor. The in-crowd and those on the edge. Male and female. Jew and Gentile. 

Here’s a question for us. Do we sometimes think like the Jews in that synagogue? We rejoice in the fact that we can enjoy the Lord’s favour, but what about people who we don’t like? People who are different to us? People who are not the same age as us? People who we clash with? People who ridicule our faith? People of other faiths? People who have committed crime? People who we consider less moral or less spiritual than us? Are we a bit reluctant or outright indignant to think that the good news of Jesus, the good news of the kingdom is for them too?

So as I said, over the next few weeks we’re going to look at how Jesus was revolutionary in the way he viewed people. In the way he viewed society. In the way he viewed religion. Be prepared to be challenged!

Question 2: What is the Kingdom of God?

As we’ve said already, Jesus talks a lot about the kingdom of God. But what is it? Is it a place or a thing? Or just a state of mind? 

Put simply, the kingdom of God means the rule or reign of God. It represents God’s government, authority and ruling power. It’s dynamic. Always spreading and growing. The kingdom is present wherever people submit their lives to God’s authority. Jesus at the centre of their lives. Sound familiar?! 

But kingdom living is not just a personal thing - between me and King Jesus. It involves being in relationship with others in the kingdom and others outside of the kingdom. Jesus at the centre of our church, our community and our world. Sound familiar? 

When we learnt about Jesus being at the centre of our church we learnt that we are new creations (Ka-hee-nos) and our role as new creations in the kingdom of God is to demonstrate the values of the kingdom in the world we find ourselves in. Why? So people around us can experience Jubilee. The Lord’s favour. So they see another way of living. So they want to be part of God’s kingdom because it’s so different to the worldly kingdoms that they are used to. So their hearts are changed.

Question 3: Why an Upside Down Kingdom?

Earlier I mentioned that the kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom. What does that actually mean? 

Throughout all Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God, Jesus took what was considered the norm and turned it on its head. He inverted it. Like we’ve already said, he pressed the jubilee re-set button.  We can think of this like 2 ladders stood side by side. Something highly valued on one ladder ranks near the bottom of the other. 

The gospel portrays the kingdom of God as inverted or upside down in comparison with ancient Palestine but it is also upside-down in comparison to our modern day life. However, Jesus doesn’t see the kingdom as geographically or socially isolated from society. Nor does he see there being 2 separate worlds, the spiritual and the secular. 

For Jesus, kingdom action takes place in the middle of society’s playing field but it’s a different game. Kingdom players follow new rules. They listen to another coach. Kingdom values challenge patterns and attitudes in modern day life that are taken for granted to be the norm. Kingdom habits don’t mesh smoothly with what the media or our culture might say. In fact, they might look a bit foolish to the world.

Let’s look at a few examples of how things high up on the ladder of the world’s kingdom compare to the ladder of the upside-down kingdom of God.

Does this sound familiar in our society today? You are master or mistress of your own destiny. Be whoever and whatever you want to be. As long as it makes you happy. We hear it so much in all sorts of guises that we can agree. Yes, it is my right to be who I want to be. To be true to myself. But in the upside-down kingdom Jesus says,

Luke 14: 26-27. If you want to be my disciple you must hate everyone else by comparison- your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters- yes even your own life. Otherwise you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me you cannot be my disciple

That doesn’t sound very much like the Whitney Houston song the Greatest Love of All which says ‘Learning to love yourself it is the greatest love of all’ does it? Don’t get me wrong. To have self -esteem is right but our self -esteem needs to be rooted in the fact that we are precious in God’s sight. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Not that we are masters of our own destiny. In the kingdom of God, Jesus is the one who calls the shots. Not us. Not what Instagram or snapchat or you tube says we must be like either. Obedience to him, not our own desires or other people’s opinions is what is high on the ladder

Let’s look at something else high on the ladder of worldly kingdoms. Don’t get mad- get even. Take revenge when someone hurts you- you have every right to retaliate. But in the upside down kingdom Jesus says in Matthew 5: 44

Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.

How does this play out in practice? A person really hurts your feelings. You are tempted to use facebook or twitter to have a thinly disguised rant at them but your kingdom values dictate that it is better to go to that person in love to try and restore your relationship.

What about this on the world’s ladder? The more financially secure you are the better. The bigger the promotion, the better it will be for your kids as you can give them the type of life they want and you’ll be set up with a good pension so you can enjoy your retirement.

The kingdom of God’s response? Matthew 6: 25

 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

Verse 31

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’  These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Don’t misunderstand me here. I am not saying that promotions or pensions are wrong. What Jesus is saying here is that it’s a heart issue. Who or what are we trusting in to supply our needs and that of our family? Ourselves? (being masters of our own destiny like I mentioned earlier) or trusting our heavenly father to supply what we need?

Or what about this that rates highly on the world’s ladder: ‘Push yourself as hard as you can. Your body is a machine. Rest is for wimps!’ Guess what you’re really saying here- I am in charge of my body. Who says I need rest? I’m so important, with so many important things to do, the world will stop working properly if I slow down. And people are admired for it! When did workaholic-ism become normal or even desired? Jesus’ kingdom response:

Matthew 11: 28-30

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”


Trust me enough to keep the world turning while you have rest. I control the world not you.


Do you see the connection between all these situations? An acknowledgement of the lordship of Christ in every part of our lives. Jesus is the king of the kingdom of God. Remember we are called and chosen like I spoke about a few weeks ago when we looked at Christ at the centre of our service. We don’t call the shots. Have you ever heard the phrase Jesus is either Lord of all or not at all? Let us repent of the desire to be kings or queens of our own kingdoms. Or situations where we don’t want Jesus to call the shots. And let us proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour- the values of Jesus’ upside down kingdom to our families, friends, work places, community, our world.

Let’s pray




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