The Heart of the Kingdom

by Ed de la Cour on March 15, 2015

March 15, 2015

John 13: 34 – 35                                              



       A kingdom is where a king possesses the authority to rule.  For example, the King of Norway does not rule in Denmark because the Queen of Denmark would highly object!  The Lord Jesus Christ, on the other hand, rules the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God does not know any geographical or even galactic boundaries because wherever God is recognized as Sovereign, wherever Jesus is honored and obeyed as Lord, in that place and in that person the Kingdom of God rules and reigns.  In fact, the Kingdom of God extends even to those who refuse to acknowledge His Lordship, “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”


       Back in 1719, Isaac Watts published a hymn of some fourteen stanzas in length, “Jesus Shall Reign.”  Listen to the first verse: “Jesus shall reign where’er the Sun doth its successive journeys run; His Kingdom stretch from shore to shore till moons shall wax and wane no more.”  Now, that is poetry!  The words are glorious to read, they are wonderful to sing, and their meaning is magnificent to consider.  But, after all, it is poetry.  Think about your life right now, not about poetry.  Does Jesus reign in your life?  Does He possess the right of sovereign direction over you and your possessions?  Does Jesus rule in your heart?  Is Jesus your King?  Does He own your allegiance?  Does His Kingdom stretch from one end of your life to the other? 


       This morning it is our intention to think about the Heart of the Kingdom.  We usually think of the heart as the center of our human life.  It is the seat of our emotions.  The heart carries within it the sum total of our identity. My heart is not so much what I do, but my heart is the picture of who I am.  My heart bears the imprint of the One to whom I belong.  If I belong to Jesus, then Jesus is stamped indelibly on my heart.  If I belong to Jesus, then Jesus is my King.  Jesus is everything to me.  He is my motivation and He is my hope.  Jesus is the goal of my life and He is the essence of all that is important to me.  If Jesus is my King, then He has the sovereign right to direct my life.  He has the authority to lead me to experience inconvenience and even into mortal danger.


       Because of Jesus, my life is wrapped up in the heart of the Kingdom.  The heart of the Kingdom of God is seen clearly in the Word of God.  Today our text is found in two verses contained in John 13.  We cannot dwell long on the first part of that chapter, but for just a moment, let’s revisit what happened there.  The scene is set at the Passover meal, what we know as the Last Supper.  Once the meal was underway and the bread and the cup were set down, Jesus got up.  He took off His outer garments and took up a washbasin and a towel.  Jesus got down on His hands and knees and He began to scrub the filthy and calloused feet of His friends.  So much happened that evening Jesus was arrested that was recorded for us throughout the Gospel record, but John, and only John, was given to describe the foot-washing episode. 


       What does the washing of feet mean?  The act in itself speaks volumes about humility and it has the strange capacity to pierce the heart.  On Holy Thursday when I first began to be a pastor in the 1970s, I invited the other church in the village to join us for a Maundy Thursday service.  I had thought it would be nice to invite the leaders of our two churches to come to the platform and there I planned – not to wash their feet, but just to buff their shoes.  I entered that situation naively because, as it turned out, they were horrified.  Inadvertently, I had embarrassed them in front of their families and their churches.  It was John Wimber who said, “Sometimes God offends our minds to reveal our hearts.”


The next year we did not invite the other church, but we did offer an honest moment for foot washing in our Maundy Thursday worship service.  I remember vividly that it felt much easier for me to wash someone’s feet than it was to have my own feet washed.  Having your own feet washed and dried by another person is exceedingly humbling.  The reason it is so hard on people is the act of washing feet says, “I love you and so I humble myself before you and I place myself lower than you.”  That’s what Jesus did.  Without uttering words, but with this act of tremendous power, Jesus spoke into the hearts of His friends: “You are loved and you are accepted.”  On the cross the very next day, God added, “You are forgiven.” 


You are loved.  You are accepted.  You are forgiven.  That message is the heart of the Kingdom of God spoken to you whose hope and trust is placed in Jesus.  If Jesus had not died on the cross, those words would be nice enough poetry, but they would have lacked any real power.  God wants you to know He accepts you, He loves you, He welcomes you into His family, and He forgives you – all because of Jesus, the Savior who died for you and who rose again – Jesus is the King of the Kingdom of God.


Peter reacted much like those horrified church leaders and said, “No!  You shall never wash my feet!”  Can you guess why Peter said that, why he responded that way?  Peter did not feel worthy of God’s love.  Peter did not feel good enough for God to love him like that.  He clearly did not have his life in order.  He did not have all his ducks in a row.  I know we have said this before, but this truth bears repeating and emphasizing today, so please hear this: you are not worthy of God’s love.  You can do nothing to make yourself worthy of God’s love.  You are not good enough, and you will never be good enough to be loved by God.  That is the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That is the Good News!  Romans 5: 8 says, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were God’s enemies, while we in active and gleeful rebellion against Him and His love, Jesus gave His life for us.  God loves you!  God loves me!  God’s love has nothing to do with my worthiness.  The blood of Jesus shed on that rugged cross is what makes us worthy.  Nothing we have done and nothing we could ever do can make us good enough for God.  Jesus paid it all!  The love and grace of God toward you is unmerited and unearned.  That is the wonder of what God has done in Jesus.  That is the power of the King of the Kingdom of God!


That brings us to the point.  Try hard to receive this because this is the heart of the Kingdom: In Jesus Christ, you are loved by God, you are accepted by God, and you are forgiven by God.  When you hear that whisper in the back of your head saying you are no good, that is the devil speaking a half-truth.  On the one hand, you are unworthy and you are not good enough, but… God loves you just as you are.  By the power of God’s great love and grace, we are welcomed into His Kingdom.  Now the changes begin.


Although the text we are considering is just two verses in length, these words are both power-packed and life altering.  Please listen to Jesus, John 13: 34 - 35A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 


It is only because of the impact and the everlasting change God makes when Jesus comes into our lives that we are now enabled and empowered to love one another.  At its core, the Kingdom of God is about two great relationships.  The Kingdom of God is about our vertical relationship with God that we receive when we trust in Jesus, and it’s also about the horizontal nature of the relationship we have with each other.  We don’t get to choose one and not the other.  We cannot get away with thinking we love God but we can’t stand people!  It’s only because of the love we show each other that anyone else will be able to know that we belong to Jesus.  We can talk and talk and talk, but it is love that proves whose we are.  Jesus said that here, but He also prayed that great truth in His prayer in John 17: 23.  People know we belong to God when our actions match our theology.


We have so much to learn about love.  We think we have to be good enough to be loved by God, or good enough even to be loved by our wives and husbands.  We think we need to clean up our act and get our life straight before we can come close to God.  If we have lived in a lot of sin, we think we are too far away for God.


But if the love of God is imbedded within us, God’s love will change us.  The presence of Jesus and the reality of His love in our hearts will transform the way we live.  If we’ve been living in sin, God will draw us away from that sin.  We will begin to desire the presence of God more than the sin that so easily besets us.  When you are loved, you are changed.  You are not the same.  If the love of a good woman will change a man, imagine what the love of a great Savior will do for you!  God’s love is a healing love.  The brokenness of your past will be healed in the love of God. 


Some of us think love is transactional.  That means what we believe about love is, if I do for you, then you will do for me.  For us, love is a series of transactions.  That might be the kind of love that exists on the street, but that is not God’s love.  The heart of the Kingdom is selfless love.  The love of God – even though we may not use language like this often – the love of God is sweet.  It’s like honey to our souls.  If God loves you, God changes you.  If you have been coming to church for a while and you have stayed the same, it means you haven’t yet received the love of God.


Transactional love is selfish because that kind of love only thinks of what you are going to do for me. That kind of love is performance driven.  It’s a “give and take” kind of love.  Instead, the love of God is selfless and unconditional.  1 Corinthians 13: 5 says that love“keeps no record of wrongs.”  If your love is transactional, then you’re keeping track of everything!


We also have been taught to think that love is sexual.  This is another lie that contains a half-truth but is also half false.  Yes, there is a sexual component to married love.  When you get into bed with your wife or your husband and there is love, acceptance and forgiveness in your relationship, then sex is simply acting out that faithful and healing love.  The love of God and the love exemplified in marriage is accepting, forgiving, and without fear of rejection.  The heart of the Kingdom of God is unconditional love.


Jesus got up from washing feet, and near the end of the conversation that followed the washing of His disciples’ feet, Jesus offered a new and fresh perspective on living life.  “Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  The key to the heart of Kingdom of God kind of love is right here: “As I have loved you.”  There is a very good reason why we have all these other definitions of love and all these other ways of understanding love.  There’s a reason why we would prefer love to be just about sex, or about you do for me and I’ll do for you.  It would be so much easier that way!  Kingdom love is hard and there is no getting around that.


Jesus says we are to love just as He has loved us.  How has Jesus loved you?  He washed your feet.  He carried your cross.  He took the nails that were meant for you.  He died your death.  He was buried in your tomb.  Kingdom love is hard.  You and I cannot love the way Jesus loved unless… unless Jesus were to fill us with His love, unless Jesus were to come to live right here inside of you and me and if He were to live His life through us. 


The love of Jesus is the love that comes your way when you are in relationship with Him.  Trying to live with the love of God, the heart of the Kingdom of God, is impossible apart from Him. 


Not long ago, the news was filled with stories about twenty-one Egyptian Coptic Christians who were beheaded by Isis in Libya.  The Bible Society of Egypt created a Gospel tract on the subject because the families of those murdered Christians have said consistently, “We forgive the killers.”  Imagine that!  Kingdom love really is hard.


Listen to this from the Bible Society of Egypt website, A Christian teacher in Upper Egypt wrote to say: "I was given this tract by a Muslim colleague (with whom I had never spoken before), who said, “Have you seen this? You can read it, but please give it back, because I only have one and am sharing it with all my friends.  I’ve never read such beautiful verses, and need it back because I am trying to memorize it!” 


My sisters and brothers – there is the heart of the Kingdom!  Certainly there is power in the spoken word and in the preached word.  But the real power is in godly, self-sacrificing, unconditional love expressed in real life and through real people.  Love is what powers the presentation of the Gospel.  The Kingdom of God rules where the sacrificial and unconditional love of Jesus is expressed faithfully and personally.


Edmund C. de la Cour, Jr.
First Baptist Church of Pocasset
298 Barlows Landing Road
Post Office Box 1080
Pocasset, MA 02559