"The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is forcefully urged into it." Lk.16:16
Have you entered the Kingdom of God?
There are always some people who listen to what Jesus taught and then who react very negatively. Jesus had just told a parable with a very clear message: "You can’t serve two masters" he said. You’d think it was a no-brainer really but there were folk there who didn’t like the implications of what he had said and so they did what so many do when clear thinking fails them they resort to mockery and to ridicule.
You’d have thought that the Pharisees who took great pride in their religious stance would have readily agreed with Jesus’ declaration concerning the radical choice that must be made: to serve God or to serve mammon. But no, they mocked what Jesus had to say and the reason was that they very much wanted to serve two masters for while they were religious they were also "lovers of money" v.14.
How could this be? How could the most religious group amongst the Jews at the time be found trying to serve two masters? After all, Jesus was not really teaching anything new at this point as the OT Scriptures called again for whole-hearted worship to be offered:
Deut.6:5 "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might."
Deut.6:13-15 "It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you, for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God, lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth."
The human heart is however adept at finding and justifying ways of doing what it wants to do and the Pharisees were loathe to give up their love of money even for God.
So, in effect the Pharisees divided up their lives up into a series of compartments and they thought that was good enough. Religion was one such compartment and for them it was a big one. But they didn’t think that it had to spill over and affect the whole of life. They were sure that God would be pleased with what they did religiously and then they tried to convince themselves that that would leave them free to do just what they wanted in all the other boxes that made up their lives. They would be free to pursue the goals they liked in the box marked finances.
Men and women the world over think they can behave in just the same sort of way. You may be tempted to think like that too. Religion is fine in its proper place; it is acceptable just so long as it doesn’t start to make too many claims on the rest of life!
You’ll find such people in church on a Sunday morning. They sing with as much gusto as anyone else and, to all intents and purposes, they look like fine upstanding members of the religious community. But then Monday comes and what a change takes place! Suddenly they are indistinguishable from those around them who would never dream of darkening the doors of a church. On Monday morning (and for the rest of the week too) it becomes clear that their religion is not the dominant factor in their lives.
And this is of course just the way the godless unbelieving world wants believers/professors to behave. If belief and religion can’t be entirely eradicated then let its influence be curtailed as much as possible. We hear this sort of thing constantly: religious belief and practice is a private matter; keep religion out of politics, keep it out of the public domain, after all religion is simply a matter of personal preference.
We’re not immune from these subtle and not-so-subtle pressures. Most of us would probably prefer to live quiet lives and at times we can easily be persuaded to take the line of least resistance and avoid any word, any activity that might disturb the peace.
The unbelieving world does not find itself threatened or challenged by a religion that can be privatised, internalised and compartmentalised but let a man or a woman determine to live consistently and wholeheartedly for God and it is a different ball game.
Self-righteous sinners were called into question by Jesus and his teaching and the reaction was mockery followed by violent hatred. Similarly the life of a serious disciple will also call unbelieving complacency into question, will challenge godless value systems and will prick desensitised consciences. None of these things will be welcomed with open arms by the world hence their desire to stifle authentic Christian witness.
The Christian is not however perfect and is susceptible to the temptation to compromise, to not be too committed, to be reasonable... And before we know it we can be keeping such a tight rein on our religion that we’ve put it into a little box in our lives too!
Whose approval do you really value?
Jesus described the Pharisees as being among those people who seek to justify themselves before men. They made a pretence of serving God but really craved the approval of men as they pursued the values not of the next world but of this.
This is of course very tempting and we should be careful before throwing stones at others! After all, which of us wants to be regarded as a hair brained fanatic?
The world of men is basically an anti-god system. It can cope with the idea of some adding a little religion into the mix of life but it certainly doesn’t approve when men and women begin to allow it affect their whole lives. This world of men is even prepared to esteem those who demonstrate greater devotion than they do – just as long as it is not allowed to become too great a factor in a person’s life. The world can live happily with a man whose religion is little more than his hobby. But when a man’s religion affects his entire life the difference is visible and challenging.
Is our religion that of wholehearted devotion to God in Christ or is it more of a hobby that we have decided to take up in later life?
The Pharisees were happy to play the world’s game – they wanted others to look at them and say nice things about them but they didn’t want it to cost them too much – they were lovers of money after all and they thought they could serve God and mammon.
But as they looked for the approval of men they conveniently forgot the fact that God did not agree with them and never had! The world of unbelieving men is at odds with God – the things such men value highly are in fact an abomination to God. The world will frequently assess a person’s worth by the money he has or earns, by the type of houses he lives in, by the power he has and the influence he exerts, by his fame and the number of column inches he has each month or by the numbers of fans or facebook friends he has. But these are not the things that impress God.
Jesus impressed the Father and it is Jesus-likeness that he still looks for. And let me remind you Jesus had no bank account, no place of his own to lay his head, he hadn’t come to be a powerful political figure and after his life ended with his crucifixion after three years of ministry he had only gathered some 500 followers. (The current record for Facebook friends is in excess of 6,000 and Facebook likes are numbered in tens of millions.)
Whose approval do you want? If it’s the world’s then by all means keep your religion under control in one little compartment of your life, don’t let it influence the rest of your life and then you’ll be free to pursue all those worldly plaudits. But know this - you will not know the approval of God.
Jesus was thoroughly opposed to this compartmentalised view of life and he didn’t hesitate to say so. While the Pharisees might make a good fist of justifying themselves in the sight of men he knew that they failed dismally when it came to God.
The question boils down to a simple one for us: do we want men’s approval or God’s?
And in case we need any further incentive Jesus reminds us that God knows our hearts. He can and does see through any facade we might put up and he’ll know how to judge us appropriately.
Of course this truth that God knows us inside out was a truth that the Pharisees should have known but they don’t seem to have taken it on board:
1Sam.16:7 "But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart."
And yet it was truth often repeated:
1Chron.28:9 "And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought."
Every true believer, knowing that God looks on the heart seeking for a wholehearted commitment, will cry out with the Psalmist:
Ps.86:11 "Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name."
The Pharisees didn’t pray like that. Do you?
The Preaching of Good News
In OT times God had used the Law and the Prophets to teach his people important truths he wanted them to learn. His specifically wanted to make himself and his purposes known to his people. He taught his people too how he expected them to live and he wanted them to understand that they had failed. The law and the prophets could not help men deal definitively with the consequences of their failure but they did announce the coming of a time when God’s servant would come and save his people from their sins.
John the Baptist was the last representative of the old order having the privilege of being able to declare "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" as he pointed two of his own followers to the Lord Jesus Christ.
With the coming of Jesus into the world the Kingdom of God had drawn near, so near that men and women could now enter it. And this good news of the Kingdom of God began to be preached and has gone on down through the centuries being preached.
This good news not only tells about the Kingdom of God but how men and women are to enter it. Do you know how to enter? Not everyone does – the Pharisees thought they knew but they got it completely wrong. The whole matter is bound up with preaching or proclamation.
Gospel preaching tells what God has done in Jesus Christ to provide the salvation failing sinners need
Gospel preaching invites such sinners to believe and receive
The salvation God offers us is thoroughly undeserved by us but fully paid for us by Jesus! This is what the Bible means by grace and explains why it is such a popular word with Christians.
Have you believed, received and entered in? Oh do come, receive what you need but can never get any other way than by simply taking God at his word!
This good news has been preached for centuries now and still it calls for a response of personal faith and trust.
Jesus then employed a phrase that has caused Bible translators and interpreters considerable difficulty over the years and various explanations have been given to his words found at the end of v.16. Following the preaching of the Kingdom of God according to many translations Jesus said something like:
"and everyone is pressing (or forcing) their way into it."
On one hand this is patently untrue. In our day we don’t see absolutely everyone responding positively to the gracious invitations of the gospel. It was also untrue then – the Pharisees who heard the preaching certainly did no eagerly press into the kingdom. So the words would have to be understood to mean "many". The idea of pressing or forcing their way in suggests the idea of violence or stern concentrated effort and yes, it is true that we are encouraged elsewhere in Scripture to do all we can to ensure we enter. This is certainly in harmony with
Lk.13:24 ""Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able."
There is truth in this.
The Amplified Version offers an entirely different explanation. With the preaching about the Kingdom men have striven violently to try to go in. That is having heard of the Kingdom they try to force their own way in rather than accepting God’s way in.
And there is truth in this too.
When men and women have their thoughts turned to spiritual matters they may indeed react but then men and women are usually pretty sure that they know how to get into God’s Kingdom – it’s by doing their best and of course they also tend to think that that is exactly what they have always done!
A third and in my opinion better solution is the translation found in a number of more recent translations. This is how the Holman Christian Standard Bible puts it: (you find a similar understanding in a footnote to the text of the ESV, but also in CEB and the Message)
v.16 "the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is strongly urged to enter it."
This underlines just how the gospel invitation is issued and is to be issued. It is not to be treated as a take-it-or-leave-it matter but rather it is to be proclaiming with compelling and urgent invitations.
And you really must take this invitation seriously because God will not change his law, he will not water down its requirements. As Jesus went on to say:
v.17 "But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void."
This being the case it follows that we should want to know just what it is that God requires of us by his law.
It is worth noting that a good deal of Jesus interaction with the Pharisees and scribes was over precisely this: what did the law really teach. You find this for example in the Sermon on the Mount where the true meaning of the law had been twisted and Jesus corrected such falsifications. There is more of that here.
We are confronted with similar challenges in our own day when folk want to reinterpret the Bible. We shouldn’t be afraid of re-examining our Bibles to make sure that our beliefs are actually taught there (the church after all hasn’t always got its interpretation of the Bible right in the past as for example when the church drew some false conclusions from certain biblical texts and officially taught that the sun went round the earth and not the other way round). But we must resist any attempt that tries to alter the Bible’s teaching so that it fits in with what we (or someone else) might want it to say.
Jesus did just this as he alluded to the ways in which people like the Pharisees did try to alter the unalterable law of God. And he did so by referring to the matter of divorce and remarriage. What Jesus said is found in v.18:
"Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery."
This statement is in complete harmony with Scripture’s high view of heterosexual marriage between one man and one woman as a lifelong union. And yet the Pharisees were well-known for treating divorce lightly with some of their important figures declaring that when a wife burnt her husband’s toast he had sufficient grounds for seeking a divorce. You can’t trivialise divorce like this without undermining the divine pattern for marriage.
Beware of those who glibly poke fun at the teachings of the Bible. Beware when you find yourself beginning to join them as you try to find ways or getting round the demands of God on your life. God’s law won’t change to suit you. Rather face up to the truth as it really is and if it shows you failure and inability in your life don’t run away and try to hide, but run instead to Jesus for his forgiveness and for his grace.
Removing a danger sign from the road may encourage a driver to keep his foot to the floor and to speed happily along. But the removal of the sign is not the same thing as the removal of the danger!
God’s danger signs in the Bible are there for a purpose – there is danger ahead but there is a Saviour to whom we can and must turn. Don’t press on and on until it’s simply too late – believe in the Lord Jesus Christ today.