The Red Words #12 March 5, 2019

Twice in the list of Beatitudes Jesus made the statement: Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3,10.  It’s particularly interesting that this is the reward He assigned to the first and the last Beatitude.

Jesus actually repeats the words ‘the kingdom of heaven’ six times in the Sermon on the Mount.

Despite theological arguments about ‘the kingdom of heaven’ versus ‘the kingdom of God’, let’s make it quite simple.  They are the same.

The term has been defined in a number of ways but this is my favorite: it is the realm of the unhindered Holy Spirit within us.  We experience the ‘kingdom of heaven’ when the Holy Spirit rules over our life; when He is at home in us.

HS2

Now the Holy Spirit is always with us once we are born again for Jesus said: I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.  John 14:16-17 . What a fantastic promise!

We learn from these verses that the Kingdom of heaven is invisible, inhabitable, internal and inherited.

Invisible: the Jewish people at the time were looking for a visible, tangible kingdom to be established with political power to overthrow the Romans.  Even the disciples thought that way. But Jesus said: ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed…’  Luke 17:20

Inhabitable: we can actually ‘live in’ the kingdom of heaven for He promised the poor in spirit that ‘theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’  When the Holy Spirit inhabits your spirit, heaven has come to you.  As Paul put it: Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Colossians 1:27

Internal: as Jesus described it, the kingdom of heaven would dwell in the hearts of those who followed Him and His presence is experienced as we learn to hear His voice and follow His leading.

Inherited: you receive an inheritance when someone dies. Therefore, no one could inherit the kingdom of heaven until Jesus died. Because He did, and rose again triumphant, everything changed for mankind.  By embracing what He did on our behalf and becoming born again, we are now able to inherit – internalize and experience – all the benefits of Redemption.  We become, as it were, the living, breathing, walking and talking kingdom of God on this earth.

Jesus also explained that this inheritance could only come to those who righteousness exceeded that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).  The only way that is possible is by the work of the Holy Spirit within the born again believer.  Elsewhere in the gospels, we are shown that the righteousness of the Pharisees consisted of external ‘works’ apart from a changed and transformed heart and mind.  Religion majors in externals – the Holy Spirit majors in the attitudes of our hearts, changing us to become more like Jesus, which opens the way for us to enjoy the ‘kingdom of heaven’ while here on earth and guarantees us eternal life with God in heaven.

The ‘kingdom of heaven’ also presupposes that there is a King!  Without a King there is no kingdom!  Jesus said: ‘No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ Matthew 11:27 . Furthermore He said, ‘For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom He is pleased to give it.’  John 5:21

That means that no one enters the Kingdom by accident but by invitation.  We choose to follow the Lord, not because our parents or our grandparents did.  It’s not a matter of human nationality – I’m Irish because my parents and grandparents were Irish.  Becoming a subject in the Kingdom of heaven is a choice, a life and death decision each of us is invited to make.

Without the Holy Spirit, none of us can grasp the depth of meaning in the words ‘the kingdom of heaven.’  It is only by being born again through the work of the Holy Spirit within us that we begin to learn how powerful this is.  Salvation does not come through performance of a list of good works but as the gift of God. It is not about what we do but what God does in us when we submit ourselves to Him.

To enjoy the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in our ongoing journey through life, Paul gave us two commands: Do not grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) and Do not quench the Holy Spirit. (I Thess. 5:19)

To grieve the Holy Spirit is to refuse to allow Him to do through you what He wants to do.

To quench the Holy Spirit is to refuse to allow Him to be all He wants to be through you.

May we never do either one!

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The Red Words #3 12/11/2018

In Mark 2:14, Jesus passed by the tax booth and called Levi to follow Him.  Levi (later known as Matthew) got up immediately and went after Jesus.  Later that day, Jesus entered Levi’s house for a meal.  Many of the tax collectors – Levi’s friends, no doubt, and others identified simply as ‘sinners’ – had gathered and joined in the meal.

Never far away from where Jesus was, the Pharisees and the scribes looked on with disdain and sneered, ‘Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?’

Hearing them, Jesus replied, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”  Mark 2:17

Have you ever thought to yourself, ‘Why would God ever use me? I’ve messed up so much.’  But what if God’s interest in using you in His kingdom is not based on your performance but on His sovereign choice?  What if, despite your mistakes in life, God still believes in you and calls you to a close relationship with Him?  What if you didn’t have to be “good enough” for God? What if God took care of that for you? What if God called ordinary sinners to Himself rather than perfect people?

That is precisely what this passage in Mark 2 is all about. Jesus called into His inner circle an ‘outcast’ in the eyes of the religious folks. And that is good news!

In those days, tax collectors were deeply despised by the Israelites. Even today, most of us are not fond of bill collectors or the IRS.  Back then, it was worse. Tax collectors had power to extract money from the people for the Roman government, and they were allowed to keep a percentage for themselves.  Corruption was rampant.

Furthermore, Levi was a Jew which made it even worse! His fellow Israelites looked upon any Jew who worked for the Romans as a traitor, especially the tax collectors. They were excommunicated from the synagogues along with their entire families.

So for Jesus to call a tax collector was not only unexpected by unthinkable in the minds of the religious crowd.

Jesus addressed their attitude directly and without apology.  “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Levi was a sinner.  Jesus called him, and Levi got up and followed him.  Understand that this was no small thing.  If things didn’t go well for Peter and Andrew or for James and John they could always go back to fishing.

Not so for Levi.  A tax collector’s job was hard to come by and if you lost that job, you’d never get it back. Besides that, just having ‘tax collector’ in your resume would disqualify you for almost any job thereafter!

When Levi got up from his tax booth, it was a one way ticket.  He knew what he was doing. That’s why Luke reports this event by saying, ‘Levi left everything to follow Christ. (Luke 5:28)

LeviTax

It was the Pharisees who weren’t too happy with this. They pulled the disciples aside and asked them, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” This was not an innocent question but an outright accusation.  They went nuts. This was a scandal worthy of the gossip columns! This broke all their rules.  You didn’t eat with Gentiles. You didn’t associate with sinners. This was as big a scandal to them as your pastor hanging out at the local bar.

The opening chapters of Mark expose a growing escalation of hostility towards Jesus on the part of the Jewish religious leaders.  In verse 6 of this chapter the teachers of the law simply thought accusing thoughts about Jesus in their minds. (Mark 2:6) Now here in verse 16 they speak out, but just to Jesus’ disciples. (Mark 2:16) In verse 24 they address Jesus directly (Mark 2:24), and by the time you get to chapter 3 they begin plotting to kill him (Mark 3:6). That’s quite a progression in a very short time!

Jesus welcomed sinners, and the Pharisees were disgusted by them.  Jesus accepted those whom the Pharisees deemed unacceptable. In fact, He declared those were the ones He came for!

Don’t you love the way sinners flocked to Jesus in the gospels? They obviously felt comfortable with Him;. they felt loved and accepted. They were attracted to His teachings and Jesus was obviously glad to be with them.

What about us? Do we have the attitude of Jesus?  Are we as concerned as He was about  ‘sinners’? About those who don’t know about Him, about the good news of His salvation?

Most people’s lives revolve around three places. Work, home, and what I call ‘third places’ – places we go outside of work and home. For many Christians, the church and church activities become their only ‘third’ place.

But our non-believing friends in the community have different third places. And if we never intersect with them in their third places, how will we ever communicate Christ to them?

We need to meet the people of our community where they are – at work and in our homes and in their ‘third’ places and share Christ’s love with them through friendship. Jesus is a friend of sinners.  A doctor who avoids the sick isn’t much of a doctor.

In no way am I advocating that you go to the local bar.  But there are plenty of acceptable places to interact with our neighbors, our co-workers and the general public.  As we go about our daily life, let’s not be so busy that we don’t even notice the people around us.

Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to make us sensitive and aware of others; to make us sensitive to His inner prompting to smile at this one, or speak to that one. Sometimes all it takes to open a door for the Gospel is to have a cup of coffee with a neighbor.

“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Jesus called sinners to follow him. He called sinners to fellowship with him. Jesus called sinners to repentance.

Freely have you received His gift of salvation; freely give it away.

And what better time than right now.