FLIPPED – THE UPSIDE-DOWN KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
SESSION 1: OVERVIEW – JESUS CAME TO FLIP THE WORLD THE RIGHT WAY UP
(Note on terminology: throughout this series the terms “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Kingdom of God” shall be seen as inter-changeable)
We have spent most of the last two years crying out for God to “revive, restore and rebuild” us. We look back to the direction of Jesus and the pattern of the Early Church – the time of the Book of Acts – to become a renewed church who are living in a Post-Christian culture in the Power and the Spirit of Christ.
We would do well, then, to reflect on the charge made by the society of the time against those disciples who we want to be like:
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also” (Acts 17: 1-6)
How had this small band of Jesus- followers “turned the world upside down”?
- They taught that the gods of this world – not just deities but also the gods of money, power, fame and success – were no gods at all; that there was only one God – JHWH – who had come to earth in the physical form of Jesus and who had sent His Spirit to be with us forever.
- They proved the truth of this through miracles, healings and powerful words.
- They said that they were citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven rather than of Rome or any earthly kingdom.
- They sought after love, peace and truth rather than money, power and sex.
But it is the contention of this series that they had NOT turned the world upside down. Rather they were turning the world the right way up.
- When God created the heavens and the earth, He made a wonderful place where mankind was to be the wise ruler over creation, under the authority of God. After the “Fall” (when mankind rebelled against the wise and loving commands of God as to how to live), mankind turned the world upside down – abusing creation and abusing one another – a charge that continues today for mankind apart from God – destroying the earth’s surface, polluting the waters, belching muck into the sky, cutting down swathes of forest, killing whole species of animals, killing one another in wars and man-made famines and the spread of diseases.
The disciples were turning the world the right way up – returning to a role of wise stewardship over creation – the world in which we live and all the creatures (both beasts and people) who live in the world. The disciples were practicing love of others before themselves, service to others before themselves, care of others before themselves.
- When God created the heavens and the earth, He made a wonderful place where mankind was to be in intimate, loving, relationship with God Himself and with one another. After the “Fall” (when mankind hid himself away from God, rejected God’s sovereignty and placed himself as most important), mankind turned the world upside down – living selfishly (all was about what “I” want and doing whatever it takes to get it) and following man-made gods that reflected what man wanted – a charge that continues to today for mankind apart from God.
The disciples were turning the world the right way up – returning to a right and wonderful relationship with their Father in Heaven – living for Him and with Him – and loving one another – putting others’ needs before their own needs.
- When God created the heavens and the earth, He made a wonderful place where mankind were citizens in His Kingdom. After the “Fall” mankind made himself king – rejecting God’s sovereignty and imposing rule over one another – kings and empires sprang up, exalting themselves – Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans – and continues to do so today – Nazis, Fascists, Communists, Dictators, Russians, Americans.
The disciples were turning the world the right way up – returning to God as their Sovereign – declaring that they were citizens of Heaven.
It is high time that the world began to say of us “these are the people who are turning our world upside down!”
It is high time that we turned the world – flip the world – back its right way!
And how do we do this?
It is going to be the theme of this series – “Flipped – the upside-down Kingdom of Heaven” – that Jesus came with His manifesto on what Kingdom life should look like. It is our contention that He declared this manifesto in, what we call, the Sermon on the Mount – as found in Matthew chapters 5 to 7. His teaching to His disciples at this time – publicly declared to all those there who would listen – tells us what the Kingdom of Heaven is like and what it means to be a part of this Kingdom. It is His declaration of the flipped nature of the Kingdom – one that is totally opposite to the Kingdom of the world. In His teaching He declares: who is in the Kingdom, how we live in the Kingdom, and how we show the Kingdom to the world. In this teaching Jesus is calling for His followers to reframe their vision – to see life and the world from a totally flipped perspective. It is His “blueprint” for how life should be. N T Wright say that “it is not good advice, it is good news”.
Our example of how the Kingdom of Heaven should look is based on Jesus Himself. When you look at His life, at His example…no wonder the powers of the world shook with fear! Jesus came as the Son of God. Jesus came as God made flesh. Jesus came to be God with us. Jesus was the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Yet Jesus’ life was radically different – the total opposite (flipped, in fact) of what the world saw as “king”:
He announced His coming not to the rich and famous and powerful but to poor shepherds.
Wise men found Him in a stable and NOT in a palace.
He came not as a warrior but as a baby.
He rules with peace, love and compassion and not through fear.
He sat not on a throne but lay in a manger, not on a throne but on a carpenter’s stool.
He was the King who died for His subjects and not His subjects for Him.
He came to benefit us and not to benefit Himself:
He became empty so that we might become full.
He took on sin so that we might become righteous.
He was broken so that we might be made whole.
He died so that we might live.
He was rejected so that we might be accepted.
So, over the next 10 weeks we are going to be studying the “Sermon on the Mount” in order to understand what the flipped Kingdom of Heaven looks like, and to judge whether we are living by Kingdom standards or by the upside down standards of the world, and to decide whether we are going to commit ourselves to live like the disciples of the Early Church lived…and stand proudly accused of “turning the world upside down”.
Let us begin with the bookends of the Sermon on the Mount.
THE AUDIENCE: MATTHEW 4: 23 – 5: 2
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and illness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralysed; and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
Who was Jesus speaking to when He taught about what the Kingdom of Heaven looked like?
Maybe there were some rich and famous and powerful in the crowd listening to Him that day. But we are not told that there were. Instead we are told that He was ministering to the sick and diseased, the demon-possessed, the crowds, people from all around. Ordinary folk, marginalised folk, common folk, uneducated folk – the poor, the weak, the unlovely, the abused, the orphaned, men and women, boys and girls. And He was talking to them not in a university or a Synagogue or a palace or a Parliament building…but on a mountainside that was accessible to all.
He was the teacher of you and of me, in the ordinariness of life, in the places that we live, in the real world of life and struggle.
We are His audience. He is not calling the rich and famous and powerful to turn the world upside down (or rather, the right way up). He is calling you and me to turn the world upside down. If bad things happen when good people do nothing, then, in the same way, the world will not be flipped right ways up unless we ordinary people do something.
And what is the something that we need to do?
Follow Jesus. And how do we follow Him? Live by the life propounded in the Sermon on the Mount.
And what will the effect of that be for us?
Well, to find that out we need to travel to the end of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus Himself gives us His conclusion of the importance of turning our lives upside down to live the Kingdom way:
THE OUTCOME: MATTHEW 7: 15-29
15 ‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them.
21 ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” 23 Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”
24 ‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.’
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
There are a number of significant outcomes that we need to be aware of – a few negative but most positive – that we need to be aware of when we begin to live by Jesus’ Kingdom manifesto:
- There will be those who try to hi-jack our desire to “flip” the world the right way up. Jesus calls these “false prophets”. These are people (and cultures) that will offer another way to change the world. They will lie by saying that man can make the world a better place – through humanism, philosophy, toleration, post-modernism, climate control, mind control, people control. Like the devil, they will appear as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11: 14-15). Do not be deceived by them! Be filled with the Spirit. Pray without ceasing. Be guided by the Word of God.
- Be in right relationship with God. Many in the world will do “good things”. But it is only when we are in relationship with God that we shall turn the world “upside down” and enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And how do we ensure that we are in right relationship with God? Be filled with the Spirit. Pray without ceasing. Be guided by the Word of God.
- Build your house upon the rock. Now we all know what this means. Jesus is speaking of our lives being like a house that we build over the years. Each new experience, each new decision, each new lifestyle choice, will shape what our life (“house”) looks like. But what shall be our foundations? If they are simply hope, or relationships with other people, our health, our knowledge or intelligence, our work, our finances – then the moment that these things fail (when troubles or the “storms” of life come) our lives will collapse. So Jesus advises us – commands us really (out of love for us) – to build our lives upon Him and His words – everything that He has just outlined in His Kingdom manifesto. If we do this, then not only will we be those who “turn the world upside down” but we will remain secure and safe in Him when those inevitable “storms” hit our lives – when we lose our loved ones, and our jobs, and our health, and our money. And how do we build our lives on Jesus? Be filled with the Spirit. Pray without ceasing. Be guided by the Word of God.
Let us be known as those who turn the world upside down – though we know that we are really those who are turning the world the right way up!