A devotional for the saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 8/19/01
"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32, RSV).
There is a lot of confusion about the kingdom of God, what it is, where it is, and who will get into it. I want to start with a passage that has been used to scare folks into a "come to Jesus" meeting at the altar, but which actually, was spoken by the Lord, to the religious people of His day, the Jews (Lk. 13:22), not to "publicans and sinners" (Matt. 9:11; 11:19; Mk. 2:15-16). It may apply to some religious leaders in today's world as well, but that's another story. Here's the verse: "There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last" (Lk. 13:28-30). The Lord shared with me that this verse applies to all who are trying to enter the kingdom of heaven by keeping the law, and in case you hadn't noticed, many Christians today have watered down the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ into two lists. One of these is the "Thou shalt" list and the other is a "Thou shalt not" list. Trying to enter the kingdom by obeying the rules, by trying not to sin every chance you get, will leave you on the outside looking in while the publicans and harlots go into the kingdom ahead of you (Matt. 21:31).
The Jews were very smug about being sons of Abraham. You can imagine how it constipated them when Jesus said, "So what? God can raise up these stones to be sons of Abraham" (Matt. 3:9; Lk. 3:8). He said the truth will set you free (John. 8:21), but it will also get you crucified, as we all know so well. Jesus told us plainly where the kingdom is: "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20,21, NIV). Did you ever wonder what that means exactly? The Lord shed some light on this as a result of a conversation I had this week with a woman friend who was lamenting to me that her daughter was sleeping with her boyfriend. "It's not right." She said. "There are lots of verses that forbid fornication." I murmured something to her about grace prevailing over law, and she replied, "Yes, but if the bible says it, you need to try to do it." When she left, her statements began to gnaw in my craw like a bird hot and heavy after a worm.
In mining the gold out of the scriptures, the Holy Spirit began to draw me higher than the letter of the law, into the Spirit behind the words (II cor. 3:6). And yes, of course, this dear woman is quite correct. Fornication is definitely on the "Thou shalt not" list. There are several of these lists, so beloved by Fundamentalists. Interesting to me is this one in I Cor. 6:9, which begins with the question, "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?" The phrase "inherit the kingdom," jumped out at me when I read it. Notice that Paul does not say, "work your way into the kingdom," or "behave in such a way that you will deserve to go into the kingdom," but rather, he says that we "inherit the kingdom." Jesus often railed on the Pharisees, but not because they were blatant sinners. In fact, most were morally good people, who followed every jot and tittle of the law, and were proud to tell you about it. They were the "good Christians" of their day, busily working for God, and yet, Jesus told them that the publicans and harlots would go into the kingdom ahead of them. The reason why is our topic today.
On one occasion, the Pharisees were criticizing Jesus for allowing his disciples to eat with unwashed hands (definitely on their "thou shalt not list"). He replied, "... the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean'" (Matt. 15:17-20). The law was a matter of keeping the rules; the gospel is actually a heart transplant. The law was written on tablets of stone; the gospel is written on our hearts (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10; 10:16).
All sin comes from man's fallen nature (Gal. 5:19-21). It is fruit off the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Trying to win God's favor or enter the kingdom by keeping the rules, is also off the same tree. There was both good fruit and evil fruit on that tree, which is why God told Adam and Eve not to eat it. Because we are one Spirit with Christ (I Cor. 6:17), and He lives in us and through us, we enjoy the beautiful fruits of the Spirit that Paul enumerates in Gal. 5:22-24. Let's look at the passage: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal. 5:22-24, RSV). Let's think about his statement that "those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh." Some think that means to hold yourself in such a tight reign that you cannot sin. Others believe that you have to mortify the flesh, and deny yourself any comfort or luxury to keep the flesh in line. All those things sound spiritual, but they are really more works of the flesh. Clearly it is impossible for anyone to crucify himself, which means that crucifixion of the flesh is another one of those "God jobs," from start to finish.
There's no mystery here. The Roman letter is very explicit on the subject of the death of our flesh. The Apostle asks, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" (Rom. 6:3, RSV). He elaborates on that in the next verses. He states that we were buried with Him by baptism into His death, and raised up with Christ to walk in newness of life. The glorious truth he shares is this: "We know that our old self (our carnal nature), was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin" (Rom. 6:6,7, RSV). Baptism into Christ is our ticket out of being enslaved by sin. Listen to it again: "...anyone who has died has been freed from sin." Do you get that? Dead men can't sin; they can't keep the law either. In all the "gospel sermons" I have heard, the reason given for being baptized was to avoid hell after we die. The hell Jesus spoke of was right here on earth. "Gehenna" (Matt. 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mk. 9:43,45,47; Lk. 12:5; James 3:6) is the Greek word translated "hell" in our New Testaments. (See link at the end.) It refers to the Valley of Ben Hinnom (II Kings 23:10; II Chron. 28:3; 33:6; Jer. 7:31, 32; 19:2,6; 32:35), located just outside the old city of Jerusalem. There the fires burned continuously in order to destroy the refuse and corruption. All His listeners understood what He meant. Being enslaved by the power of sin (Rom. 3:9; I Cor. 15:56), is hell, right here and now! Not once did those "gospel preachers" of my youth explain that baptism is the symbolic burial of our old man, our carnal nature, with the result that we are freed from the power of sin, delivered from hell in this life! (Rom. 6:2). If it were explained that way, people would beat a path to the baptistry, rather than having to be nagged and beat up with guilt to get them to come down front. We are dead in Christ, crucified with Him, so that the life we now live, is His life. It is no longer our faith keeping us faithful to God, but the faith OF the Son of God, living through us and in us (Gal. 2:20).
In Col. 3:9-10, Paul says that we "...have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator." Notice that the old nature is gone, and the new nature, which God has given us in Christ is "being renewed...after the image of its creator." We were created in the image and likeness of God, but sin ruined the mirror in which we saw ourselves. All sin comes from man's darkened mind, the broken mirror, which caused us to be, "separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). That is BLEAK! Into that hopeless blackness and spiritual blindness caused by the god of this world, the Day Star (II Pet. 1:10), shined in our hearts "to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (II Cor. 6:6).
There is no life, no glory, and no peace anywhere but in relationship with Christ. Jesus said it so beautifully in this passage, "Abide in me, and I in you... I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:4,5, RSV). It is the abiding in Him that produces the fruit of the kingdom, which is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law" (Gal. 5:22-23).
As I was meditating on this topic, the Lord led me again to the gospel depicted in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The wealthy man in this story had two sons. The youngest one came to his father and asked for his share of the estate, right then, which the father gave him. There is no indication that he begrudged the boy the money. I think this is a lovely picture of our Heavenly Father, who liberally gives His gifts to us, with no strings attached. "Too big for his britches" is what they would say around here about a brash kid like this. He squandered his inheritance on "drugs, sex and rock and roll," or whatever else they had in those days to part a foolish young rich man from his wealth. We don't know how long it took him to run through the cash, but eventually, he found himself working for a pig farmer, who not only did not pay well, but offered no benefits either.
What the prosperity preachers today apparently don't understand is the benefits of doing without. Left with nothing to eat but the husks which he was feeding to the pigs, the boy "came to himself," or "came to his senses" (Lk. 15:16-17). He was foolish, but not stupid. He reasoned, "'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men'" (Lk. 15:18-19, NIV). So, he picked himself up out of the muck and mire of a corrupted life and went home to his father, who not only did NOT rebuke him for his sinfulness, but ran out to greet him when he was a long way off, another picture of our loving Heavenly Father. Filled with compassion for his wayward son, the father greeted him with a hug and a kiss. The son apologized and said he was not worthy to be anything but a servant, but the father, in love's grand manner said to the servants, "'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate" (Lk. 15:22-24, NIV).
The Lord showed me that this parable is a picture in miniature of man's relationship with God from before the foundation of the world. We were created in His image and likeness, heirs to all He is and has. We did not walk in that gift, but instead, believed Satan's greatest lie (See link at the end), which is that God needs our help to accomplish His purposes in our lives. We ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in order to be like God, not knowing that we already WERE like God. (See link at the end). Like the prodigal in Jesus' story, we asked for our inheritance and He freely gave it to us. We squandered it in sin and selfishness, hate and idolatry and ended up in the pigpen, where He left us until we "came to ourselves, came to our senses." When we came home to the Father, we were "born from above," "born again," restored to the pristine state from which we had wandered. The elder brother in the story didn't get it, but I hope all of us here today, do get the truth of what this father said, "'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours" (Lk. 15:31, NIV). This is what Jesus meant when He said, ""Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32, RSV). There is a lot of fear among many Christians about whether or not they will get into the kingdom. Some of them project the kingdom out to some future time, and miss its glory today. Still others think they have to do something to make themselves worthy of entering. Jesus does not tell us that the prodigal had to clean up before coming home. He just went where his heart took him, and the father welcomed him with open arms. The law deals in conditions to be met, but the gospel is the outpouring of God's unconditional love to the world (Jn. 3:16-17; Gal. 3:8).
The only one who lost out in Jesus' parable was the elder brother, who was so focused on the "Thou shalt not" list of behaviors, which his kid brother had very grievously violated, that he missed out on the "You are my son and everything I have is yours" part. This was really what Jesus was saying to the Pharisees, and to the self righteous folks today, as well. The kingdom is a gift to be inherited. It cannot be won, nor earned, nor deserved by anything man can do. Dwelling on the sins of others robs you of your own reward. Focusing on sin, which comes out of the old carnal nature, is like hanging out with a corpse. It stinks. Bury it, because, "Old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new" (II Cor. 5:17). The Bible is a journal of God's immutable concern for the lost, His zeal in pursuing them until He brings them back into the fold. His passion to recover and restore all that is His, is summed up in the Father's final statement to the elder brother, "We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found'" (Luke 15:32, NIV). Because our heavenly Father has made provision through Christ Jesus our Lord, His grace "has appeared for the salvation of ALL men" (Tit. 2:11, RSV). His promise is that He will bring ALL the prodigal sons and daughters back home again where He waits with an embrace, a kiss, a robe and a crown. At that time, Isaiah's prophecy will be fulfilled: "EVERY valley shall be filled, and EVERY mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and ALL flesh shall see the salvation of God"" (Luke 3:5,6, RSV). Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"Primrose Path to Gehenna"
"Hell is a four letter word"
"Satan's greatest lie"
"Trying to be what we already are"
"The Promise: Trying to be what we already are, Part II"
"The Glory Road"
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 8/17/01
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and lasted edited on 11/04/08.