Good News of the Kingdom of God

Pilgrims of a City Whose Builder and Maker is God

pilgrimsA story…

During the thirteenth century Europe, a young Italian mother bore a son and named him “Mark” after the gospel writer in the hope that one day, he would grow up to tell truths just like his namesake.

It is however ironic that later, when Mark wrote his bestselling book on world travels, many skeptics labeled it “Il Milione” - “The Book of a Million Lies”. Instead of becoming a truth bearer, Mark was called Marco Milione or “Marco the Man with a Million Lies.”

Many Europeans found it impossible to believe Mark’s story of a faraway land. His claim was considered preposterous and even heretical in a 13th century Europe that believed the world was flat, that they were the center of the universe. But as Mark claimed, he was seventeen when he started an epic journey of his life that took him across the plains of Russia, the rough and rugged mountains of Afghanistan, the deserts of Persia (Iran), the desolate land of Mongolia and had seen the top of the world through the Himalayas mountains.

Mark was the first person to travel the world by foot from West to East. He was the first European man to enter (or discover) a city in the east called Cathay. Through an amazing set of circumstances, he became a favorite envoy of the most powerful ruler named Kublai Khan whose vast empire eclipsed that of the ancient Roman Empire. Mark saw cities that made European capitals look like roadside villages. The ‘great’ Khan palaces dwarfed the largest castles and cathedrals in Europe.  His court was so massive that its banquet room alone could seat 6,000 diners at one time, each eating on a plate of gold. Mark became the first Italian to taste that Chinese culinary innovation called “pasta”. As an officer of the court, he was able to travel and catalogue places no European would see for another 500 years.

After serving for 17 years in Khan’s court, Mark began his journey back home to Venice. Khan had sent with him gold, silk, and spices along with his recipe for making pasta! Mark was also guarded with 1,000 soldiers. But by the time he reached the Indian ocean, 600 of his men had drowned or died of disease.  After a harrowing two-year journey, a ragged Mark barely limped home, most of his riches were lost along the way.

When Mark began to tell his story, many people dismissed it as mythical. Coming from a family of priests did not help him, he was even rebuked for spinning lies.  When further troubles landed Mark on prison, he dictated his chronicles to another prisoner who happened to be a writer. His book became famous and was known in English as The Travels of Marco Polo.  But the cynical public dismissed it as Il Milione: The Book of a Million Lies.  He would never shake his nickname: Marco, the man of a million lies. At his deathbed, his family, friends, and parish priest begged him to recant his tales of China lest he rot in hell for his lies. Setting his jaw and gasping for breath, Mark breathed out his final words: “I have not even told you half of what I saw.”

Though 13th century Europeans dismissed his stories as the tall tales of an unrepentant liar or lunatic, history has proven the truthfulness of “The Travels of Marco Polo”. Today no one will ever deny the existence of China, and the reign of its famous emperor Kublai Khan, whose empire reached from the the Black Sea to the Pacific, from Russia, Mongolia, Korea, to modern day Afghanistan and India—one fifth of the world’s inhabited land area.

“Write the things which you have seen”

But do you know that thirteen-hundred years before Marco Polo, another journey—a vision was revealed to a man—but this time, this man’s journey took him to another realm or kingdom? He saw and penned it in a book we can call the “travels of John” in the book of Revelation. Apostle John opened the book of Revelation with his direct testimony as follows:

"I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, 11 saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea..

19 Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after thisRevelation 1:9-11,19

“Write the things which you have seen...”  the angel told John and this he did and so we have today an amazing vision—a journey to a great and “holy city”—the new Jerusalem in God’s kingdom! Will you believe what John wrote?

In the last chapter of the book, John wrote confidently about this as he declared,

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Revelation 21: 1-5.

John said that God will be setting up His “tabernacle” with us!  Can you believe that? Will you believe what John wrote?

What is remarkable about this vision, it is not only John who saw and testified about this city. Five hundred years before him, another man was given a glimpse of this kingdom. The gospel of John even took note about this man’s testimony:

37 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him,38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke:

“Lord, who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:

40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,
Lest they should see with their eyes,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.”

41 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.

What Isaiah saw and testified in his writings is that same vision of the “Son of Man” who is Jesus Christ in all His glory—in the Kingdom of God. Prophet Isaiah spoke about this kingdom continually through the prophecies given to him, and made many recorded observations as follows:

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

2 Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the Lord’s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And all nations shall flow to it.
3 Many people shall come and say,
“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
And rebuke many people;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore. Isaiah 2:1-4

Prophet Isaiah not only prophesied about the priestly ministry of Jesus Christ in his first coming, but also wrote down the vision of His return in power and glory:

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. Isaiah 9:6-7

In another chapter of his book, Isaiah also proclaimed the same vision apostle John saw about this glorious city:

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing,
And her people a joy.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
And joy in My people;
The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her,
Nor the voice of crying. Isaiah 65:17-19

Physical sickness and infirmities will be gone:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
6 Then the lame shall leap like a deer,
And the tongue of the dumb sing.
For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness,
And streams in the desert.  Isaiah 35: 5-6

Yes, there will be complete healing for all! Hence, this is why we need to be in expectant rejoicing during the Feast—because we proclaim that all these things to be true and coming. Of even greater importance, will be the spiritual healing and salvation of nations that will be sure to come. Again, as Isaiah declared:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
3 To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1-3

(Notice that this was the same verse Jesus quoted one Sabbath when he began his public ministry, proclaiming that same message—Luke  4:18-19)

Isaiah was not the only prophet who testified about these things, what he saw was later confirmed by other visionaries and prophets in the Bible—Ezekiel  40; Daniel 7:14,27; Joel 3:18-21;Micah 4:3-7; Amos 9:11-15; Zephaniah 3:14-17;Haggai 2:22; Malachi 3:1-3,16-18.

The prophet Zechariah’s vision is even more emphatic as he declared:

“And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. 17 And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, on them there will be no rain. 18 If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain; they shall receive the plague with which the Lord strikes the nations who do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. 19 This shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.” Zechariah 14:16-19

This is one of the reasons why we are here for the Feast of Tabernacles! As pilgrims and fellow-travelers with the apostle John, and prophet Isaiah—we are here rejoicing, to affirm and constantly proclaim that what they saw are indeed true and faithful!

The Feast of Tabernacles or “booths” reinforces this understanding—Leviticus 23:34,41-43. Just like the nomadic life of ancient Israel in the wilderness, we left our houses and travel up here in Baguio, dwell in our “temporary” lodges, cottages—in a camp, literally—so that we can rejoice and be continually be reminded of our temporal estate. As with “booths” or temporary dwellings, our physical life is just transitory.

Groaning for Permanence

The apostle Paul, reflecting this truth also wrote:

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. 4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” 2 Corinthians 5:1-5

Therefore, as he confidently said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (I Cor. 15:19) This life is not all there is to it!

As we physically groan for permanence, looking for that future “city of God”—what are we to do then? Apart from our rejoicing, what is that thing that God seeks from us? Apostle Peter gave us this fitting admonition:

“Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” 1 Peter 2:11-12

Abounding in the Work of the Lord

Lest anyone of us will be blinded and be easily swayed by the world’s trappings, there is a need therefore to be separated “out” of this world, and to live a life in fruitful sanctification for God.

“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”

17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” 1 Peter 1:13-21

This is how we abound, as Paul affirmed this calling of ours in 1 Corinthians 15:58:

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

It is quite fitting therefore that our theme for this year’s feast proclaim this future certainty:

“Always Abounding in the Work of the Lord. Awaiting the City Whose Builder and Maker is God”

Like Marco Polo—in whose testimony was only for the city in the east which is called China today, we as pilgrims and travelers have more reason to rejoice because we are testifying as we look forward to that great city which has sure foundations—whose Builder and Maker is God Himself!

“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. 15 And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 11:13-16

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