Tag Archives: Kingdom of Heaven

What’s Your Excuse?

You probably remember being summoned (or sent) to the principal’s office, that is, unless you were like those goody-two-shoes girls that always who were so annoying…  oops, that’s a different story.  But remember the feeling of dread as you dragged your feet toward that huge oak door with the frosted glass, wondering what terrible consequences lurked on the other side?  For a lot of people, including myself not so long ago, when you hear people telling you to “get right with God,” it feels much the same way.  God is the terrible “Principal” in the sky, waiting behind His desk with scowling, bushy eyebrows and a switch.  Who wants to go through that door?

And yet, Jesus referred to that whole deal as being invited by God to a celebration and a party! 

And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. – (Matthew 22:1-3 ESV)

In those days there was no better party than a wedding party – lavish food and drink, happy times that lasted for days. And this do is being thrown by a king Who sent personally delivered invitations! So why wouldn’t the people come? They were busy doing their own thing.

Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business,…

And others were angry about being invited:

…while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.

Jesus’ story takes a pretty intense turn there – shocking – and yet He wanted to confront people with the heartbreaking contrast between a gracious invitation to the party and the indifference or outright hostility of those who were invited.

People today also decline this invitation because business calls or because they are too busy with life. Some don’t want to go because they don’t understand it is an invite to a party. Others have decided the whole thing is a hoax! They say, “There’s no King and who would want to go to that kind of a party if He did exist?” When those delivering the invitation persist, sometimes they are belittled, roughed up or killed.

If you haven’t read through the rest of this parable in awhile, I encourage you to do so. It raises a number of intriguing questions. Here’s just two: Are you going to the party? If not, what’s your excuse?

Deep Yearning

Need something to smile about?  Check this out:

The reason that makes us smile from deep inside is because we have a knowledge, deep inside, that there is a deep rightness to this kind of peace.  The Bible word for rightness is righteousness.  I take the “eous” out of that word and it feels more natural: rightness.   Yes indeedy, the way things ought to be!

Deep inside each of us there is a place where we yearn for rightness.  We yearn for that kind of peace to be spread out across the world.  That thirst is there because God put it there.  He put it there and He will eventually satisfy it.  Here are some excerpts of what He foretold through the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, about the coming Kingdom of Jesus:

“Righteousness [rightness] will be his [The Messiah, Jesus] belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.” (Isaiah 11:5-7 with my explanations in brackets)

More remarkable than vegetarian lions and bears, people from all nations, even Israel’s former arch enemies, will come to her Messiah and unite with her in true peace!

Imagine,

“In that day the Root of Jesse [The Messiah, Jesus] will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations [other nations, not just Israel] will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea.” (Isaiah 11:10-11)

That might sound like “pie in the sky, by and by” except that Isaiah nailed his prophecies over the several hundred year period before Christ, and those about Jesus, His purpose in coming, His death and resurrection.  Isaiah is batting 1000.  When he looks into the future, to envision the Kingdom of Jesus, pay attention.  Especially as he tells of that deep knowledge, that deep yearning being fulfilled.

“They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9)

The folks will not simply be peaceful, but thankful, too:

” In that day you will say: “I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”” (Isaiah 12:1-2)

Oh, and by the way…   If you look up the word Isaiah used for “salvation” in Hebrew you will discover it is “Yeshua,” the Name of Jesus…

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

 

Finding the Holy Grail

Victor Borge used to hold out his wrist watch and say, “You like this watch?  My father gave it to me on his deathbed. (Then a perfectly timed pause…) Twenty five bucks!”  Hilarious, because who would try to weasel money from his son when he is just about to die?  Just as incomprehensible to us is the question James and John asked Jesus after He told them He was just about to die.  No, wait a minute… they didn’t ask Him, they got their Mother to do it!  Probably thought she could manipulate Jesus better…

” Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:20-21)

Are you kidding me?  Jesus had just told them He would be flogged and crucified and they are angling for the best seats?  It doesn’t make sense.  As Jesus points out, they really didn’t understand  what He had just told them.  They must have thought He was using symbolic terms when He said those things about being tortured and killed.  Jesus doesn’t criticize them for asking, but turns their insensitivity and ambition into an important lesson:

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”” (Matthew 20:22-23)

Jesus is going to be King, He is going to rule over a “Kingdom.”  But His path to that position for Him leads through the “cup” of suffering and sacrifice.  And absolute submission to the will of His Father.  Those who follow Jesus must understand that path and be prepared for that dynamic.  It’s not that all Christians will be crucified, or even all of the apostles (although most of them were tortured to death).  It is that following Jesus flips the idea of what it means to be influential.  

It’s not prestige and privilege, it’s humility and service.  That is the “cup,” the real Holy Grail of Jesus.  It is ironic how many stories have been written about how people, obsessed by greed, expended such effort to find the Holy Grail.  But the real “cup” of Jesus is right here to be taken up by anyone.  That is, anyone who first turns away from his own greed and ambition.

Chew on that…  More to come…

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

You are Precious

The pushing and shoving has already begun.  Now that the nastiness of the political campaign process is over, the winners are now jockeying and maneuvering to be the greatest in the new government, to have the most power and prestige possible.  That’s the way we do it here on earth.

But not in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus said the greatest in His Kingdom would be those with the simplest, humblest faith.  He said that each believer in His Kingdom would be personally loved and treasured by God, so much so that He would take it personally when anyone caused harm to any of them.  He spoke in the strongest terms about how horrible it would be if we hurt ourselves by getting stuck in sin.  In other words, Each of us who join His Kingdom by faith is precious.  Our importance and significance is measured by this:  we are important and loved by Him.

Therefore,

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:10-14)

When you accept Jesus by faith, you are more than accepted by God.  He receives you into His family.  You are precious to Him, so much so, He will pursue you if you wander away.  God is not willing that _____________________ (put your name in the space) ever be lost!

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Hand in Hand

You have seen him: He’s just caught the game-winning touchdown pass and now he stands in the end zone, his arms raised and his hands lifted up to receive the adulation of the crowd.  His face says, “That’s right, I’m the greatest!”  Picture him.  Now compare ???????????????????????????????him with this little boy, also with his arm extended, but this time with his hand holding tight to the hand of his father because the waves are so high.  (http://annmareebeaman.com/)

You’ve seen him, too, perhaps as he goes into the schoolyard for the first time, or approaches the lions’ cage at the circus, holding onto Dad’s hand.  Two boys with their arms held high: Who is the greatest?

” At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4)

In our world, we think that the greatest is the strongest, the most gifted, the richest, the coolest, the most famous, the most powerful, the guy with his arm raised up in the end zone.  Jesus said that guy doesn’t even make the cut for the Kingdom of Heaven – that is, unless he changes and becomes like a little child!  But like a little child in what respect?  In humbling himself.  

A child knows he needs help, that he can’t succeed on his own, so he reaches up and takes the hand of his father.  When it comes to entering the Kingdom of Heaven, becoming a child of God and attaining eternal life, we need to begin by realizing we cannot do this on our own. To do so on our own would require absolute perfection, from the moment of our birth until we die.  Impossible.  We need to reach up and take hold of the Hand of the Only One Who can accomplish it, Who can open the door to the Kingdom of Heaven.  When we reach out for His hand, we change from the world’s “can-do,” arrogant attitude, and adopt the humility of a child – trust and dependence.  In that position of weakness and trust, we hold on to His strength and competence.

Like Elvis sang:

Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who stilled the water
Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who calmed the sea
Take a look at yourself
And you can look at others differently
Put your hand in the hand of the man
From Galilee

(Put Your Hand in the Hand – by Gene MacLellan)
Bible quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

God Tax

Should a church charge admission?  Why not?  It costs money to run the air conditioner and keep toilet paper in stock.  They have to pay the light bill and the custodian; why not charge people a small fee?  Rubs you the wrong way, doesn’t it?  But why?  In Old Testament times, God set up a fee system for the tabernacle expenses, that in Jesus’ day, was called “the temple tax.”

Here’s what Jesus said about it.  If you fully understand what is going on with this, then you are the first one…

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”  (Matthew 17:24-27)

When commentators write about this passage, their favorite word is “perhaps.”  No doubt there are some intriguing, puzzling aspects of this story.  The deal with the fish sounds like a David Blaine routine.  I don’t understand it fully, but here are a few “take-away’s.”

  • When we accept Jesus’ invitation into His Kingdom by faith, we become children of God – “sons” in His words.

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—” (John 1:12)

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! …” (1 John 3:1a)

  • The relationship we have with God  radically changes when we are received into His family.  He does not require a payment from us but, rather, provides for our needs as Our Father.  That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in Heaven…  Give us today our daily bread…”
  • As God’s children, to some extent we are exempt from many of the world’s rules and requirements.  Our citizenship is in Heaven.  Nevertheless, as we live on earth, it is right for us to peacefully submit to its taxes and rules, so as not to cause offense.  Jesus said that we are no longer “of the world” but that He sends us “into the world” to be “salt and light” in the world.  We are not obligated by the world’s rules, but submit to them voluntarily as a witness of our love for God.

Jesus frequently acted out His lessons to the disciples, and I think the coin in the fish’s mouth was an example of that.  I  don’t fully understand it, but like to “chew on it.”

 

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

 

Close Encounter

When it comes to alien space creatures landing on earth, Steven Spielberg does it the best.  Compared to the jittery, puppet-like, bubble-eyed “aliens” in the sci-fi films of my youth, lurching about in with ray guns and saying “Greetings, Earth people,” Spielberg knocks it out of the park.  Go YouTubing and check out the end of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”  The response of the clueless government officials and scientific experts (with their skinny black ties and pocket protectors) is hilarious.  In contrast, Richard Dreyfuss and the little kid are swept up in a rapturous sense of amazement and awe.  Spielberg makes us want to be there, and gives us the sense that we would “get it,” we would not be blinded by the computers and oscilloscopes.  We’d be like the little kid, gazing in wonder and awe but taking it in with openness and acceptance.

But Spielberg doesn’t know the half of it.  The scenes he has imagined will look stilted and silly compared to the glorious, mind-blowing return of Christ!

“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:27)

Try to imagine what “His Father’s glory” means.  “The Father” is the One Who created the blaze of a supernova, the brilliance of a desert sunset, and the sparkle in a drop of dew.  When His “glory” is revealed, it’s going to be astonishing.  Jesus gave a brief preview to a few of His disciples (see: Matthew 16:28 – 17:9) and it terrified them.  Talk about “close encounters…”

But as powerful as that will be, you don’t need to be terrified by what Jesus said next: “…and then He will reward each person according to what he has done.”  Jesus wasn’t saying He will get out the heavenly yardstick to see if you measure up, to see if you have done enough.  The words “what he has done” literally mean your “practice,” the essence and sum of your life as a whole.

But the idea of being judged by what we have done caused the people to ask Jesus,

“…“What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”” (John 6:28b-29)

When Jesus returns in His Father’s glory and with angels, He will reward those whose life and practice were marked by a wholehearted belief in Him.  He will welcome them into His eternal kingdom.  And what will that be like?  Spielberg, himself, couldn’t imagine it.  But when that day comes, you will want to be there.  Some will miss it, blinded by their religious presuppositions.  But if you put your faith in Jesus, you will be one of those who “get it.”

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.