Jesus had been crucified, and the disciples were being persecuted. James had been put to death. Now Paul and Silas had been arrested, severely flogged and put in prison. As they sat in the jail, they cheered themselves with songs about Jesus and his kingdom. The king, who was crucified, lives! His enemies could not stop his Word from being preached—not if they would put his servants in prison, and not even if they would kill them. Paul and Silas saw the eternal kingdom that God had promised long before to King David. Today, when nearly everything we see seems to crumble, we need to understand what God was really promising. It was this that gave Paul and Silas joy while in prison. It is this that will give us stable peace and joy even though our whole world may be falling apart, even though our family may fall apart, even though our beloved Wisconsin synod may fall apart.
Today we give thanks for the group that we are a part of—the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, or WELS. It is a gathering of Lutheran churches who together appreciate the literal meaning of the Word of God as the absolute truth. We give thanks for the blessings that God has given us as a part of this synod, but we also recognize that God’s greatest blessing is not the synod itself. A far greater blessing is that God has used this church and the synod that we are a part of to bring us into his heavenly kingdom and to do his work. The true glory is that we are united in Christ’s everlasting kingdom.
Hear God’s words promising that everlasting kingdom to David:
“ ‘I declare to you that the Lord will build a house for you: 11 When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. 14 I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.’ ”
1 Chronicles 17:10b-14
1. Not our kingdom
2. God’s kingdom
1. God set up David’s kingdom and intended it to be a blessing for his people Israel. He promised them a temple, where he would visibly dwell among his people and assure them of his forgiveness and blessing. He promised them peace under David’s sons, for as long as they would obey him. He promised that one of David’s sons would set up an everlasting kingdom. The earthly kingdom of David and his sons would not last forever, though. David’s sons and grandsons turned away from God and worshiped idols. God tried to bring them back, but, as his prophet described it in the book of Chronicles, “they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.” God sent the Babylonians to destroy David’s kingdom. The Babylonian army surrounded Jerusalem for a year and a half, cutting off all food from the city. When the people in the city could bear it no longer, the army broke through the wall and tried to escape to the south. The Babylonians captured them, and then returned to plunder and burn the city. They took most of the people away to live in Babylon. The most crushing part was that they destroyed the temple that Solomon had built. In effect, God was telling them that he was not dwelling among them anymore. In the end, the temple was no different than the tower of Babel.
Apparently David’s kingdom, too, turned out no differently than every other government we see today. God sets up governments to bless us. We have religious freedom in this country. We live in relative peace and justice. Criminals and terrorists are held at bay. Yet it all crumbles—terrorists attack us on our own soil. Psychopath killers make the headlines. Our government fails to protect the helpless unborn child whose mother doesn’t want him or her. Our government sanctions perversions of God’s gift of sexuality. It is clear that our government no longer represents God’s will as it should, if it ever did. Because of that, it will one day fall. It has been the same sad story throughout history, in every country.
You may take refuge in your family. God has set up the family as a place where we can expect love and security, a sense of belonging, and unfailing support. You’ve heard the German proverb, “Blood is thicker than water.” It means that you can always count on your family, more than any friend. But even families crumble. Families can become a place of abuse or neglect. A spouse may cheat, the feeling of love fades, selfish ambition tears family members apart, and the family crumbles into divorce. If the family does stay together, eventually family members die. Whatever God sets up, if we have our hands in it, it will not last.
Even our beloved church will not last forever. Jesus said that in these last days the love of most will grow cold—and we see that happening before our very eyes. Many of you have seen that your children have not cared for the truth like you have, and have fallen away from church.
It isn’t just our church that shows signs of crumbling. It’s happening across our synod too. The WELS is a blessing. As part of this synod, God has blessed us with the ability to train pastors. How many of you can train a pastor? As a synod we finish training about 30-40 new pastors every year. We send out missionaries into foreign countries—Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and to the Apache lands in Arizona. We couldn’t do any of that on our own. As a synod we operate a publishing house. Northwestern Publishing House published quality Christian books, far better than any that you find at your average Christian bookstore. The synod is a blessing to us, but it will not last forever. There have been seeds of dissention and controversy for as long as we have existed—dissention that would quickly destroy us if we let our guard down. This is why we have circuit meetings, conferences, and conventions—to preserve our unity in the truth. Yet, for all our meetings, the devil will likely some day destroy our beloved St. Andrew and the WELS, unless the Lord returns first.
Where are we to find the everlasting kingdom that God promised to David, which gave Paul and Silas peace and stability while they were in prison? David’s family stopped ruling Israel long ago, but God has not failed. There is one more son of David who brings peace and stability to all of us. He is the one who said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
2. God’s kingdom
It is a kingdom ruled by Christ, and founded on his death and resurrection. Summarizing everything that the Bible says about Jesus’ and his kingdom, Martin Luther wrote,
“I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. All this he did that I should be his own, and live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he has risen from death and lives and rules eternally.
The King lives and rules, and because it is founded on his death and resurrection, it will last forever.
Because it is founded on his death and resurrection, unlike every other kingdom, our sin will not be able to ruin this kingdom. Even though sin brings our society towards ruin, Christ remains in control. He will bring justice. He will avenge the deaths of the unborn. Even if we ourselves have been part of the problem by the way we have voted, or the way we have raised our children, Jesus brings forgiveness. Even if you or someone you know had an abortion, Jesus brings forgiveness so that we can still be part of his kingdom.
Even though you may contribute to the fall of the family, because of selfishness and unrestrained anger, alcohol abuse, or a consuming interest in the computer, TV, or video games, Jesus brings forgiveness so that we can still be part of his kingdom.
If you have contributed to the fall of our church by failing to train your children to love God’s Word, if you have at times lost your love for the truth or crumbled to the pressures of society, Jesus brings forgiveness so that we can still be part of his kingdom.
Because it is founded on Jesus’ death and resurrection, the devil will not be able to destroy it Jesus’ kingdom. The devil will accuse us of being lazy unfaithful citizens, being poor parents and disobedient children, he will accuse us of letting the pastor or the elders be the ones who care about the truth of God’s Word enough to study it and guard the church against the devil’s lies. But for every accusation, when the devil says, “They need to be punished,” Jesus says, “I already was. I died for that.” When the devil accuses and says, “They need to do the things God requires,” Jesus says, “I already did, and I did it for them.” He was the perfect citizen, and the perfect child. He acted as the perfect parent as he taught us to know the Father. We see him acting as the perfect church member when he sat at the feet of the teachers in Jerusalem as a boy, learning about the Bible. He was the perfect pastor as he tirelessly cared for God’s people, perfectly teaching, and perfectly exposing the devil’s lies. He did all of that in our place, as our perfect substitute, so that we can be part of his kingdom.
Because this kingdom is founded on Christ’s death and resurrection, even death will not bring Jesus’ kingdom to an end. Family members die, church leaders die, and even Christ died, but he did not stay dead. He rose from the dead on the third day, just as he said, because he had destroyed death’s power. The Bible says, “The sting of death is sin,” and Christ took away our sin on the cross. There is no sting left in death for those who believe in him. He took our sins on himself and suffered God’s punishment, and when every sin had been paid for and there was nothing left to suffer, he rose from the dead. There was no reason left for death to hold him, and there will be no reason for death to hold us either when we look to him for our hope. Death is not the end of his kingdom, because with Jesus as your Lord, after death comes resurrection and eternal life.
It is great to be a part of this Wisconsin Synod, where God’s Word is taught in its truth and purity. You find churches like ours in the WELS, because we are serious about snuffing out the devil’s false teachings. But the Wisconsin synod is an earthly organization, and so it can’t last forever. It is much better that we are also a part of the kingdom that is “not of this world”—the eternal kingdom God promised to David, the kingdom that Christ established by his death and resurrection, and which he rules from his throne in heaven. The trouble is that we can’t see it now, and might forget that he is ruling all things for his people and the good of his kingdom. For this reason God has given you a sign and a seal that you belong there in your Baptism, and a pledge that you belong there in the Lord’s Supper. Your Baptism joins you to Christ and the punishment he suffered, and also to his perfection. It marks you as someone who belongs in God’s kingdom. And now, maybe it has been years since you have been baptized—Christ gives you this pledge that he is still serious about having you with him. In the Lord’s Supper he gives you a pledge that you belong with him, because he shares a piece of heaven with you. In the Lord’s Supper we all receive Christ and his forgiveness and eternal life. It is the eternal, heavenly food of God’s kingdom, and he gives it to us here and now. God has kept his promise. Whatever crumbles, you can sing with Paul and Silas, because we are part of an everlasting kingdom with Christ as Lord. Amen.