How Does The Gospel Transform People and Society? #207
Hello friends, and a happy and blessed Wednesday to you all! If you are one of our Alaskan listeners, I hope that you are ok today, as your state was hit last night by the strongest earthquake that we’ve had in the world for all of 2020 – a 7.8 trembler that hit about 60 miles south of Perryville. As a resident Californian, I pay much more attention to earthquakes these days than I used to. We had a 3.5 earthquake just tonight in a region about 20 miles from us, though I didn’t feel it. Back when our family lived in Alabama, I paid lots of attention to snow and tornadoes weather-wise, but there aren’t many snowflakes or twisters in North-central California, so I just keep up with the earthquake reporting. Today we are reading Judges 5, Acts 9, Jeremiah 18 and Mark 4, and discussing how the Word of God does not behave like an explosively powerful thing like an earthquake, grenade or missle, but is more organic – bringing transformation from the inside out, rather than impacting from the outside in.
Every now and again, I spend a few bucks to promote a podcast post on Facebook with the goal of maybe picking up some new listeners. I almost always seek to narrow my advertising on FB to just focus on Christians, and usually set it up to try and just focus on serious Christians. You might ask why I don’t focus on atheists, or lost people, or on a broader group, and the answer is that, while I have in the past, of late (with just this show), I try to only advertise to Christians, because the comment-response of many atheists and non-believers is so aggressive and profanity-laced that I end up spending a lot of time just moderating the comments. Sometimes I engage the commentators and try to share good news with them, but doing a daily podcast, parenting 5 kids, pastoring a church and trying to invent a time machine doesn’t leave me a lot of time for that, so I only share with the skeptics when I have the time to fully engage in conversation with them.
Recently, I posted a pod on the resurrection, and discussed the Lithuanian argument, which posits that the way in which Christianity spread so far and so fast, historically speaking, indicates that something significant and profound happened at the outset which propelled the message forward. The Bible’s explanation for that significant and profound event is the resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Whether you believe the Bible or not, if you are a skeptic of the resurrection of Jesus, you need to explain how the message of Jesus was so transformative so quickly in such a broad swath of the world. That was not an argument for the resurrection based on a particular Scripture verse, but based on the historical spread of Christianity. That said, the aggressive skeptics (not reading the article at all) scoffed at it, and said that I was just using the old tactic of saying that I believe Jesus rose from the dead, because the Bible said He rose from the dead. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that the Bible teaches Jesus rose from the dead, and I do believe Jesus did, indeed, rise from the dead. That said, “The Bible says it, I believe it, end of story,” is not the focus of the Lithuanian argument at all, but rather, “history shows Christianity spread this fast and this far, and the resurrection and Pentecost is a good explanation for that unprecedented spread of the good news.
There is also another difficult to explain reason or explanation for the spread of Christianity, and that is that the message itself is alive, active and organic. (Another earthquake in Alaska just hit – around a 6) Here’s how Jesus explains this dynamic in our focus passage today:
26 “The kingdom of God is like this,” he said. “A man scatters seed on the ground.27 He sleeps and rises night and day; the seed sprouts and grows, although he doesn’t know how.28 The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the full grain on the head.29 As soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
The Word of God is living and active – the gospel is like a seed and it spreads and grows and brings transformation supernaturally because it has life in it and it gives life. Let’s listen to Tim Keller’s wisdom here on how the gospel transforms:
The kingdom of God comes by hearing. Therefore, be careful. “Take heed therefore how ye hear …” Let’s look at the two principles or the two sides. First of all, let me just show you what Jesus means when he says, “The kingdom of God comes by hearing.” … Earthly kingdoms always come through coercion and force. They never come through hearing. Earthly leaders almost always are great at getting a hearing, but the kingdom of God comes to people who are good at giving a hearing.
Let me just show you how radically different this is. Listening well, listening deep, listening in understanding is the primary skill of the kingdom of God. Without it, you can’t enter it. The power of the kingdom can’t come into your life. Without it, you can’t proceed. Without it, the kingdom power can’t flow out through other people. Your ability to sit down and listen, your ability to take in what somebody else is saying, your ability to truly listen and hear is the most important ability.
That’s not true in earthly kingdoms. If I look at most leaders I know (and a lot of them you know … you work under them or you follow them) they are great at getting a hearing. They are great at sound bites. They are great at lobbying, at picketing, at getting the message out and advertising. They’re great at coming into a room and into a meeting and getting people to do what they want.
In other words, the best leaders in earthly kingdoms are bad listeners. If they listened too well, they wouldn’t be dynamic enough. They wouldn’t be decisive enough. They’d be pushed aside by somebody else who is a worse listener than they are, because that’s where you get your power in earthly kingdoms: by talking rather than listening, by putting forth, by getting a hearing rather than giving a hearing.
Let me tell you something. I have been unusually convicted this month in studying this particular truth. Ministers in particular, you see, are just so easily conformed to the pattern of the world. The kingdom of God comes by listening, by hearing, by receiving, by taking in, by understanding. Every other kingdom I know moves forward by coercion and by people who do not listen and don’t want to listen, don’t know how to listen and are good at making other people listen.
Now here’s the reason why. The reason why is because the secret of the kingdom of God is the seed, and the seed, Jesus has told us, is teaching. It’s the word of the kingdom. It’s the Christian message. It’s the Bible. It’s information. The kingdom of God moves forward on the basis of hearing the truth, whereas human kingdoms and earthly kingdoms always move forward on the basis of coercion and force.
Look, when Alexander the Great brought his kingdom to a town, everybody knew it was there. There were only two kinds of people left in a town after Alexander got his kingdom there: people in his kingdom and people who were dead. That was it. You either died fighting, or you were in the kingdom. It was overwhelming. That’s even true in democracies, though, you know? If 51 percent of the population votes for one person for president, 49 percent for another person for president, what happens is the 49 percent who voted against the person have to serve. They have to submit to him, because even democracy is a coercion of the majority.
The kingdom of God, though, is different. It’s like a seed and not like a boulder. When the boulder comes to hit the ground, it smashes the ground, but the seed comes in very quietly. The boulder transforms the ground, revolutionizes it externally. The seed revolutionizes it internally. The boulder comes in and does it suddenly and coercively. The seed comes and does it organically, gradually, and gently.
The boulder actually just breaks the land, but the seed transforms the soil into a garden or a forest. It transforms it by reorienting and rechanneling its energies, its nutrients, and its minerals into life-giving processes. The boulder ultimately doesn’t really change the land. It just breaks it with sheer external power. The seed transforms it completely and ultimately transforms it more completely. It’s not superficial the way a boulder does it.
In the same way, human kingdoms, whether it’s an Alexander the Great bloody kingdom or whether it’s a democratic process, only superficially can affect you. It’s done through coercion. The kingdom of God comes by getting the truth and having it penetrate the heart….
The weakest little thing like a seed that enters in and doesn’t seem to make any difference at first at all … You plant a seed, and eventually it will change, though, the entire field. Dynamite can’t change it the way a seed can. A boulder can’t change it the way a seed can. Kingdoms of the earth happen through force.
Jesus Christ says, “Don’t you understand my kingdom is going to triumph through love, not force? It’s going to create loving obedience, not slaves.” That’s the reason why it says the soil that is really transformed is the man, the woman, who has a heart that takes the truth in and understands it. Understands it!
Jesus says, “I’m not out for slaves. Animals don’t understand. Slaves don’t understand. Computers don’t understand. I’m out to change you from the inside out. Eventually that crazy, weak, little thing, the message of the kingdom, will eventually cover the entire world and wipe away all tears and every single bit of evil. Therefore, for you to hear it and to re-hear it and to re-hear it and to understand it and take it in, for you to study the Word of God and to take it in and hold onto it and talk to yourself about it… that is the kingdom of God. It comes in a way that looks really strange, but eventually it will change everything.”
Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).