Luke tells us (Luke 16:16, NIV) that, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it.” This verse is among a collection of sayings and parables that Jesus taught in regard to the defective religious understandings of the Pharisees. It does not seem to tell us that the kingdom of God had actually arrived at that time but that the ordinary people were eager for the new religious ideas being proclaimed by Jesus. In fact, “faith” rather than “forcing” seems the right approach to entering the kingdom. Jesus’ words seem to show that not only the Pharisees but the common people had wrong ideas about what was meant by a place in the kingdom.
In another place (Matthew 23:13, NIV), we find among the seven woes that Jesus pronounced regarding the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees these words, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” People’s interest in the kingdom of heaven was being actively opposed by respectable religious groups.
There is another obstacle to entering the kingdom of God—wealth. In Mark 10:23-25 (NIV) we are told, “Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’” The same teaching is recorded in Matthew 19:23-24 and Luke 18:24-25 (NIV). No matter how we interpret the camel and the eye of the needle it is clear that Jesus taught that wealth constituted a difficulty when it came to entering the kingdom of God.
In 1 John 2:16 we are warned against the love of the world and the craving for things that John calls “the lust of the eyes” (NIV). Seemingly this is the explanation for the severe words of Jesus, “And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’” (Mark 9:47-48, NIV)
Paul tells us in three places that various forms of immorality not just create difficulties in regard to entering the kingdom of God they make it impossible for those who practice them to do so. “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Ephesians 5:5, NIV). In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NIV) we have a description of some of the forms of immorality that bar people from the kingdom of God. “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21 (NIV) provides another list of behaviors that keep people out of the kingdom of God. “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
There are people other than the enemies of Jesus who will be excluded from the kingdom of God. The concept of the kingdom of heaven can attract false prophets as Jesus taught his disciples. This warning is recorded in the seventh chapter of Matthew along with other teachings concerning how his followers were to think and do. In regard to those who spoke of him without obeying him Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 7:21, NIV).
Later in Matthew we learn that people who were supposed to be in the kingdom of heaven because they were Jews would not necessarily measure up to the admission requirements but because of their lack of faith in Jesus would be excluded. “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:11-12 and Luke 13:28-29, NIV). In Matthew 21:43 (NIV) we read that Jesus told the chief priests and Pharisees, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”
The first twenty-three verses of the thirteenth chapter of Matthew contain what is called the Parable of the Sower. The parable and Jesus’ explanation of it to the disciples tell us three ways that people who are able to enter the kingdom of heaven because they have received instruction concerning it exclude themselves from it. The first method is from lack of understanding. “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path” (Matthew 13:19, NIV).
The second way people exclude themselves from the kingdom of heaven is to accept the news of the kingdom eagerly but then fall away when trouble or persecution comes. This, in the parable, is the seed that lands on rocky soil. People also exclude themselves when they receive the news of the kingdom but allow worries and the deceit of wealth to keep them from living in it. Or, as the parable puts it, their seed lands among thorny plants and is choked out.
There are also people who will appear to be of the kingdom of heaven until the end of the age. This is how Jesus began telling about it. “Jesus told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field’” (Matthew 13:24, NIV). It is called The Parable of the Weeds in the NIV. Let’s look at how Jesus explained the parable.
“The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Matthew 13:38-43, NIV).
Jesus began another parable by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son” (Matthew 22:2, NIV). As the parable continues, we find that the invitees refuse to come when first told the banquet is ready. Their rejection is even more vigorous when they get the second notice. Some of the invitees ostentatiously follow their own interests, others mistreat and kill the messengers. So an invitation goes out to people in general, both good and bad, so that the wedding hall is filled with people enjoying good food and drink. We would be happy if the parable ended here but it does not. The king finds one guest not wearing wedding clothes. When asked about it, the man has no answer and so is thrown out of the banquet and into the darkness. The parable ends with these difficult words of Jesus, “For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14, NIV).
We are able to be healed of more of our sinful natures by the works of the Holy Spirit than we can improve ourselves by our own efforts. This does not mean that we cannot do better in expressing the temperaments we have been given by exercising our self-control. What it does mean is that we can only go so far on our own.
Recently I read of an encounter between Charles Spurgeon, a famous English preacher, and a man who claimed to have achieved perfection. Spurgeon then stepped on the man’s toe and found that his perfection was incomplete.
What healing of our human natures we produce on our own will always be precarious. What we need is healing by the Holy Spirit that not only removes the wrong behaviors but eliminates our wrong desires. Our need is particularly strong in the area of addictions.
Addiction may be defined as a desire that overcomes our ability to control it. Addictions come in many varieties and in the degree of dysfunction they produce in us. While we may be able to achieve some control over the addiction by daily struggle, this is not living in the freedom promised believers by Jesus Christ.
To be freed from addiction we need the deeper healing of the Holy Spirit which sanctifies our natures and changes them in a process that brings us freedom from those aspects of our being that are contrary to the nature of our Lord and Savior.
For some of us freedom from addiction has been an actual matter of life and death. I think it takes a serious transaction between us and God the Father to bring us the freedom we desire from whatever is spoiling our life of faith. I know of no formula for this covenant between God and us. It is a matter, I think, of the desperate appeal of our spirit to God for the Holy Spirit to do what we can never do on our own.
The Christian Church, as were the Tabernacle and Temple, is intended to exist for a time to fulfill God’s purposes on earth. At the Second Coming, I believe, it will cease to exist, having served its purposes on earth and it will no longer be needed in heaven because believers will have direct access to the persons of the Trinity.
Jesus Christ is in charge of the Christian church as it is the extension of the work he came to do on earth. There is powerful symbolism in the New Testament portraying Christ as the bridegroom and the church as his bride. The meaning of this is, I think, that the Christian church must be prepared, eager, watchful, energetic, pure, and so forth to be ready to give itself to its Lord when he returns. This will not be as an organization or other human entity but as it will have birthed and been the mother of the people of the universal church.
The universal church is the totality of all believers, past, present and future that have been brought into the kingdom of God through the effectual work of Jesus Christ. There is, therefore, one church that is the body of Christ in the world. This is the holy catholic church of the Nicene Creed.
We might think of the Holy Spirit as the all-present person of the Trinity. He, using the traditional pronoun, exists in heaven communicating to the Father and Son the prayers of believers, sometimes even when the believers do not know what to say. He also continually passes over the earth to do what he has been given to do in our physical realm.
The person of the Holy Spirit is able to relate to our spirits so as to bring them to new life, make them stronger by maturing them in the knowledge and will of the Trinity, and produce in them the fruit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that brings God’s power and blessings to our Christian endeavors.
The Holy Spirit deserves the same respect as the other persons of the Trinity. Also, since the Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity that brings awareness of sin to individuals. I believe a rejection of the Holy Spirit by an individual leaves no other path to faith in Jesus Christ and acceptance by God the Father.
Jesus had about thirty years to be prepared and prepare himself for the work he would do during his last three years on earth. In fact, it is not until the last week of his pre-crucifixion life on earth that he gets to the really heavy lifting. It is in that week he enters Jerusalem fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies concerning the arrival of the Messiah, finalizes his conflict with all the different sects of Jewish religious and political leadership, teaches and heals amongst the crowds, institutes the Lord’s Supper and is betrayed, manages and endures his trial and crucifixion, and rises from the dead, and then on that Sunday he begins wrapping up with his followers the loose ends he had left hanging.
What is to be noted about his last week is that it was probably only slightly more busy and dramatic than the other weeks of his active ministry. We, of course, do not have his calendar for that time but John assures us that if all Jesus did were written down there would not be room on the whole earth to hold the books (John 21:25).
So far I have presented you with just the earthly works Jesus did. What is difficult for me is to know how to tell you of the spiritual work he did in his ministry. I know that he did what was necessary to remove from us, and all others who believe in him, the inherent and evident sin of our natures through his obedience to the Father even unto death. And it was not an easy death. But it is not possible for me to understand how the death of a single person was sufficient to do all that had to be done to satisfy our guilt before God. There must have been something agreed between the Father and the Son that allowed all to be accomplished by Christ’s death that was needed. I do know I do not have anything I can add to the transaction.