Good News of the Kingdom
…Our apologies for the poor audio quality of this week’s recording…
Turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Luke.
We’ve been talking a lot in this series about the kingdom of God, and I’m sure you’ve thought about this before – we have even talked about this before in previous sermons, but it’s good for us to keep coming back to this. But what do you think of when you hear the word Kingdom? What images flash to your mind? How many, for you it’s something Disney? Magic Kingdom?
Maybe it’s a movie or TV show that has a kingdom in it, like Braveheart, or Gladiator, Lord of the Rings, The Lion King, Princess Diaries, Game of Thrones or whatever.
I did a quick Google search to see what comes up if you search for “pictures of kingdoms” and it wasn’t entirely shocking what pictures came up. 100% of them are castles of some kind. Spires, flags, walls of stone, drawbridges, gates, moats, that sort of thing.
That’s often the first thing that comes to our mind. But every kingdom has other markers that go with it, too? Every nation has a unique flag that marks territory and represents that particular nation or kingdom. Kings have signet rings that are markers of their authority and power. Armies go to battle with a crest on their shield or on their chest, markers on their uniforms, that identifies them as belonging to a certain kingdom or nation. But you also, like the Google search indicates, have some sort of building or structure from which that kingdom is governed. You have castles or palaces with big walls and all that goes with it.
The kingdom refers to any territory that is under the rule and reign of a king or queen, as well as the benefits associated with belonging to that kingdom.
So when Jesus enters the scene in Luke 3, he is identified by John the Baptist as the Messiah; the long-awaited King who would establish his kingdom. You can imagine that even Jewish people living under the Roman Empire would have pictured this coming kingdom to include a lot of the things that come to mind when you think of a kingdom – thrones, armies, shields with crests on them, metal armor, horses, etc.
Everytime the Jews went up to Jerusalem for Passover or any of the other major Jewish festivals, they would see King Herod’s palace on a high hill overlooking the city and long for the day a Jewish King would ascend to that throne. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote 30-40 years after Jesus returned to heaven, that Herod’s palace was literally beyond description. It was so huge, so far beyond it’s time, so incredibly beautiful that he didn’t have words. It had gardens and fountains and greenery, gold and silver covered everything, huge bedrooms, more rooms than you could count, and the stones themselves were a sight to see.
Then in chapter 4, something very striking happens – King Jesus is actually offered Herod’s throne, his palace, his authority, his wealth and he turns it down. The devil offered Jesus a trade, not only for Herod’s kingdom, but all the kingdoms of the world, past and present and future… the devil offered Jesus their authority, their wealth, their influence, their assets, their military power, as long as Jesus would bow and worship him as the king.
Jesus refused. He wasn’t interested in palaces and courtyards and thrones. His kingdom doesn’t need walls – it doesn't have any borders. His kingdom doesn’t need thrones – it already has one. Jesus didn’t need to be handed authority – he already had it! That’s what he was proving as he healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead.
And instead of operating from a centrally located palace, King Jesus is on the move. In chapter 4, at the very end of the chapter, verse 43, after one of the towns he visited tried to get him to stay there with them, Jesus says, “It is necessary for me to proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose.”
Instead of gathering wealth for himself to show his power, Jesus says in Chapter 6:20, “blessed are you who are poor, because the kingdom of God is yours.”
But just like kingdoms have markers, like flags, crests, signet rings, Jesus’ kingdom has markers too. Flip back to chapter 4:18,19, where Jesus tells us what those flags and crests are – what those markers of the kingdom are: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” So anywhere you see captives set free, the blind receiving sight, the good news preached to the poor, you’re seeing markers of the kingdom.
Afterward (after the story we studied last week), he was traveling from one town and village to another proclaiming this good news. The Twelve were with him.
“The Twelve” refers us back to chapter 6 verse 13, where you see the names of the twelve disciples Jesus chose to learn more closely from him. I don’t know how you picture Jesus moving between towns, but we live in a TV and movie saturated culture, so I often picture him on some dirt road maybe with olive trees or wheat fields on either side, in the Flying V formation, Jesus in the front, everyone else following him in lines, flowing robes walking in slow motion surrounded by a bunch of guys who look from side to side, also in slow motion, sandals kicking up a little dust as they hit the ground.
But a closer look at the twelve, and you see a tax collector who worked for Rome – a traitor of the worst kind. You see James and John, Peter and Andrew, blue collar Jewish fisherman. You see Simon the Zealot, which would be like a member of the militia – someone willing to be violently opposed to the Romans, who probably concealed-carried a weapon or two everywhere he went just in case he had the chance to secretly take out a Roman. So if Jesus is establishing a kingdom, aside from Simon, this isn’t exactly the beginnings of a powerful military.
But the next verse tells us maybe this picture of Jesus and his crew isn’t all that accurate of a picture. The Twelve are with Jesus, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses…who were supporting them from their possessions.
So when you picture the scene of Jesus walking down a dusty road from one small village to another, it’s not just men with him. There are quite a few women in the entourage. This would have raised some eyebrows.
In the Old Testament, “women participated in every aspect of community life except in the Temple priesthood. They freely engaged in commerce and real estate, as well as manual labor. They were part of Temple worship, playing instruments, praying, singing, and dancing with men in religious processions and weddings…some even exercised leadership over Israel, like Deborah, who was a judge and a prophetess as well as a wife and mother.”
But by the time we get to the New Testament, times had changed quite a bit. Under Greco-Roman influence, women were sometimes treated like property, rather than as a person with thoughts, ideas, creativity, and wisdom. They were very likely illiterate, and no longer involved in commerce unless they were desperately poor. Women’s roles were almost exclusively in the privacy of the home. If they were ever in the streets, they were heavily veiled and could not speak with men. In fact the terminology for a prostitute was “one who goes abroad.”
Elyse Fitzpatrick writes in her book “Worthy” that some of those cultural practices made their way into the religious rules taught by rabbis in those days: “rabbis discouraged men… from engaging in lengthy conversations with women. ‘He who prolongs conversation with a woman brings evil upon himself, ceases from the words of the law, and at the last inherits Gehenna.’”
She continues that “some rabbis went so far as to suggest that to provide their daughters with a knowledge of the Torah was as inappropriate as to… sell them into prostitution.”
So no extended conversations with men, don’t leave the home, don’t teach them to read because they won’t be learning the Torah anyway. In addition to that, the Temple courts had been rearranged from their original design so that the outer court was as far as Gentiles could go, the third section was as far as Jewish women could go, the second court was only for Jewish men, and then only priests in the inner court. The women weren’t allowed to make sacrifices or worship with their own husbands, their testimony was no longer valid in court, they were no longer counted in the census, and males had the power to overrule their wives or daughters vows, enslave or enact capital punishment on their own families.
So for multiple women to be not only seen in conversation with Jesus, but traveling with him, listening as he taught, being valued and considered part of the kingdom, Jesus is unconcerned with how he is perceived by the culture at large or the religious elite. He is making a very public statement as he goes from town to town, and that is that there are no outcasts, no lesser people in his kingdom. It is available to anyone who will come.
Jesus is restoring his people back to Genesis 1:27 where both male and female are made in the image of God; both male and female necessary to see the image of God most clearly.
What’s crazy is that these few verses in Luke 8 could have been left out of the story and no one would think twice about it. We already know he’s going from town to town. We already know he’s proclaiming the kingdom. But again, Luke is writing this so we learn something about Jesus. Luke is writing so we learn something about the kingdom, about the gospel, about the good news preached by Jesus.
So Luke includes a few sentences at this point in the story to say, many women were traveling with Jesus from town to town, listening to his preaching, and not only listening, but receiving the good news. But not only receiving the good news and finding freedom from demonic oppression and physical sicknesses – they are actively responding to what Jesus had done for them by following him, helping him, contributing to his ministry out of their own pockets. They are hearing the word, and they are living the word, in faith.
And what’s more: Just like the Twelve, they aren’t nameless faces. Three of them are mentioned by name, which often in ancient times was the author’s way of saying, “you know who they are – you can go ask them yourselves.” If that’s the case here, it’s likely that these three women were some of the eyewitnesses that Luke got his information about Jesus from. And why wouldn’t he? They were with Jesus, supporting him, learning from him! Let’s meet these women:
- Mary, called Magdalene – there were a lot of people called Mary in those days, so she had to have a nickname… possibly to make sure people didn’t get confused with the mother of Jesus. “Magdalene” refers to a small town where Mary would have lived. So to call her Mary Magdalene is like if we had two Rodneys here, that you would call me the Kalona Rodney. She’s the Magdalene Mary. But the most descriptive part is not where she’s from, it’s the fact that she had seven demons come out of her. Another pastor I was listening to pointed out that for the Hebrew people, the number seven was the number of completion. It pointed to 7 days of creation, 7 days in a week… it referred to fullness. So to say Mary had seven demons is to say she was fully or completely under the captivity and control of a satanic and supernatural power, and it had all been overcome by the power and authority of Jesus. He had completely and fully restored her. Set her free. Released her from her captivity. She is a living breathing marker of the kingdom.
- (TFC STORY)
- Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward. Joanna is a Hebrew name, Chuza is not. So she knows the Jewish culture, the prophecies, etc, but would also have participated in Roman culture as one of the elite. The ESV says her husband was Herod’s “household manager.” This guy was very high up in the ranks under Herod, the Roman regional king. We don’t know much more than that, but we could say Joanna probably wasn’t very welcome in Jewish circles. She had married the enemy, so no doubt she was not allowed in the Temple. Religious people would have pulled in their robes when they passed her on the street so as to not accidentally brush against her and become unclean, and yet Jesus invites her in. When it says she was traveling with Jesus, we don’t know exactly what that looked like, but on the foundational level, she has traded the kingdom of this world for the kingdom of heaven. She has counted following Jesus to be of more value than all the wealth and parties of Rome. There’s a good chance she is one of the primary supporters of the ministry. And when we finally get to the end of Luke, we’ll see Mary and Joanna never left Jesus’ side. They are at the cross even though all the guys had scattered, and they are the first ones to witness the empty tomb.
- Suzanna. We don’t know a single thing about her, but she has a name. She’s one step above “and many others” whose names aren’t recorded. But Jesus said in chapter 6 that the least in the kingdom of God are greater than John the Baptist, the greatest prophet of them all.
Whether you are a Mary, who was living the kingdom of Hell itself, or you are a Joanna, someone who had abandoned your faith to marry yourself into the kingdoms and pleasures of this world, or you were Suzanna or the others, who feel insignificant and nameless in this world, Jesus shows he has authority and power over hell and over Rome. He has authority and power over the United States, over China, over Russia, and everything in between.
He said no to the powers of this world for himself, no to the castles and armies and powers that we picture, no to the power structures and systems of men who suppressed and silenced their sisters, and instead, spent his time between cities and small towns like Riverside, and in the full authority of God, setting free captives to sin by transferring their sin to himself, calling us out of our lesser kingdoms and flinging wide open the door to the kingdom of God.
The good news of these verses is that the gospel of Jesus isn’t just for rich city people with a lot of resources. It’s for small town ordinary people like you and me. The good news is that the gospel isn’t just for men who God calls to specific ministry. It is available to men and women and children who are willing to humble themselves, and leave all other kingdoms to follow Jesus. These women are with Jesus and the Twelve, and providing for them out of their own resources because Jesus has provided for them out of his.
This is the same God who rained bread from the sky back in Exodus. This is the same God who can make water come out of a rock. This is the same Jesus who can turn stones into bread, and make money appear in the mouth of a fish that had just been caught. He doesn’t need anyone’s money. Though he is human and needs to eat, this is the same Jesus who can take 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread and feed 10,000 people with it. He doesn't need anyone to provide food for him.
He doesn’t need these women or you or me to support him, but he welcomed them and he welcomes us, inviting ordinary people to participate in the kingdom. Another pastor said it like this: “The kingdom of heaven doesn't depend on the strength of those in the kingdom. The king is strong enough on his own. His kingdom is not of this world, and He has heavenly soldiers much, much stronger and much more committed than we are, but he has invited us…” to be ordinary teachers, farmers, truck-drivers, auto mechanics, homeschool moms, nurses, accountants, electricians, plumbers, salesmen/women, musicians, students, not working FOR the King, as if he needs our help, but working WITH him to advance the kingdom of heaven by praying that his kingdom would come and his will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. We only see that kingdom in part now, but one day we will see it in full.
Two things are important as we head into communion today –
- Jesus is King. He has the final authority over all things – even Hell itself is not outside of the realm of his authority and control.
- Some of you are still trying to live your own life for your own kingdom. You haven’t submitted your life to his authority. You accuse him when things don’t go your way, you don’t give him the time of day Monday through Saturday, but you sure demand that he give you relief immediately when you suffer.
- If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Admit that he is God and you are not, and receive his forgiveness for your sin!
- You’ll either bow to him now, voluntarily in worship, or you’ll bow to him later right before he says he doesn’t know you.
- He calls ordinary people to follow him. One speaker I listened to this week, Dr Talika McCoy was right when she said, Jesus specializes in the torn up, messed up, jacked up.
- Today is not the day of vengeance. It’s the day of salvation, the day of grace.
- You are invited to come as you are.
- He can offer us this because of his life, death and resurrection.
Jews for Jesus, The Role of Women in the Bible (https://Jews for Jesus.org/learn/the-role-of-women-in-the-bible)
Bock, Darrell L. 1994. Luke: 1:1–9:50. Vol. 1. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Fitzpatrick, Elyse and Schumacher, Eric Worthy: Celebrating the Value of Women. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2020.
Green, Joel 1997. The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co