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Kingdom of God

Knocking on a door

Our Bible reading for today includes a parallel passage from Matthew 7:22-23. In that sad story, Jesus reminds us once again, that not everyone will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, including many who think they have “eternal security”.

In the preaching of cheap grace, preachers often invite their hearers to “ask Jesus into their hearts” or “pray the sinner’s prayer” and/or be baptized and they can be assured they are saved. Yet, only God knows who is and who is not saved!

Our church will be wrapping up a sermon series on the book of Acts in a few weeks. So far, in the first two-thirds of the book, no one has been urged to “invite Jesus into your heart” and no preacher has told anyone to “pray a sinners prayer”. Despite what a preacher or a revivalist told you, those concepts — not just the words — are foreign to the teachings of the New Testament. So what does the teaching of the New Testament say about salvation? That’s a great question!

From Peter’s first sermon (Acts 2) through the conversion of the Samaritans (Acts 8) through the conversion of the Gentiles (Acts 16) through the conversion of John the Baptizer’s disciples (Acts 19), the appeal is always, without exception, “Repent!” And yet, that word — and that concept for that matter — is rarely heard today.

What does it mean to repent? It means to change your mind, to change your way of thinking, to turn from your way to God’s way. Yes, repentance can be expressed in a prayer, but prayer is not necessary for salvation any more than baptism is necessary for salvation (and it isn’t). Unless you repent, you will perish. (Luke 13:5)

The main takeaway from the preaching in Acts to the teaching in Jesus’ ministry and in the epistles, a call to salvation is a call to die. (Luke 9:23) Not everyone will be saved; only those who place their faith in Jesus Christ will be saved. And not everyone who thinks they are saved is saved.

Jesus emphasizes that the Homeowner (God the Father) decides who gets in through the narrow door and that once He closes the door, it’s too late. There are no second chances. As we’ve seen before, salvation isn’t about doing good things and not going bad things. Salvation is about knowing and being known. (Luke 13:25 CSB, John 17:3) It’s about having a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Salvation is about knowing and being known.
It’s about having a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Application

You may think that you’re saved. On what basis? If God were to ask you why you should be allowed into heaven, how would you respond? If your answer begins with, “Because I…”, you need to go back and revisit the message of the Gospel. Salvation is all about what Jesus did, not you. If you’re saved because of something you’ve done or not done that balances out to be good enough, let me remind you that, all you brought to the equation was the sin that made Jesus’ sacrifice necessary.

Spend a few minutes today looking at your salvation. What evidence do you have that you are indeed saved? What fruit demonstrates that your faith is rooted in a relationship with Jesus Christ? The people in Matthew 7:22-23 and Luke 13:25, 27 thought they would be rewarded for their behavior. They were wrong. What about you?

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Sparrow

Jesus says a lot about priorities in today’s Bible reading. Most importantly, He talks about people who are consumed by worry. He says, don’t worry about what you’re going to eat, what you’re going to drink, what you’re going to wear. (Luke 12:29) Instead, rest in the knowledge that God knows everything about you and He will take care of you. So often, we worry simply because we forget this basic truth.

Jesus says that God cares for sparrows and His kids are worth far more than sparrows. He says that God clothes the flowers more elegantly than Solomon clothed himself.

I’m staggered by the reality that, looking at the size of the universe — so big that some of what we think are stars are actually galaxies of thousands of stars — how a God Who spoke all of this into existence, a God who keeps everything in motion, a God who is in control of every atom in the universe could care for such an insignificant piece of His creation. In fact, not only does He know me, He has numbered every hair on my head. (Luke 12:7)

How could that be?

For God to number the hairs on the head of a single individual on the third rock from a small star in the Milky Way Galaxy, how truly awesome is this God? How absolutely mind-blowing is this God? How unlike us is this God? And yet He has done just that!

Application

In light of the awesomeness of God, Jesus tells us to keep our priorities straight: Focus on God and His kingdom instead of worrying about all of those insignificant things that will last an insignificant amount of time on the infinite timeline of eternity. He says that wherever we put our treasures, our heart will be fixed on it.

Where are your treasures? Where do you spend your money? Your time? Your emotional energy? Where are your deepest concerns? How do these things line up with and relate to God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness?

Spend a few minutes today thinking about the vast expanse of the universe. If you’re able to look up at the sky tonight and observe the stars, try counting them. Then again, don’t bother because you can’t! A God who merely spoke everything into being from absolutely nothing has made Himself available … to you.

Call out to Him today. Thank Him for being there. Thank Him that He didn’t just create and then walk away. Thank Him that He is there, that He is not silent, that He is not distant, and that He is only a prayer away.

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep
to gain that which he cannot lose.

— Jim Elliott —

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In yesterday’s Bible reading, we looked at Jesus’ comments on counting the cost and that not everyone who wants to follow Him will.

In today’s Bible reading, Jesus says that God has hidden some things from some people and He has revealed some things to some people. (Luke 10:21-22)

Why would God hide things from some people? There is an element of God hiding things in order that we might seek them out. (Proverbs 25:2) But from yesterday’s reading, not all who want to follow Jesus really want to follow; they have divided loyalties. (Luke 9:59, 61)

Of course, we all have divided loyalties. The Seventy-two Disciples whom Jesus sends out in Luke 10:1ff return amazed at their authority over demons. They were looking at the fruits of their ministry instead of the root of their ministry, i.e., the One who gave them the authority. (Luke 10:19-20)

God occasionally gives us a glimpse of His glory. Yesterday, we read of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Peter made the understatement of the millennium, “It is good for us to be here.” (Luke 9:33) Dr. Luke adds that in Peter’s suggestion to make shrines for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, he didn’t know what he was actually suggesting. I’m glad Dr. Luke recorded the Transfiguration and Peter’s response. I can relate to Peter; I don’t always know what I’m saying!

Application

Have you ever been shocked by God’s activity? In praying for friends, family (and strangers), have you ever been amazed at God’s power to heal? Have you ever been amazed at God’s ability to orchestrate things so perfectly, that “miraculous” is the only word that aptly fits?

Recently, someone close to me has needed medical help. God has given her a job where she has contacts with some of the best doctors in the country. Rather than a multi-month wait, God orchestrated one of the best of the best doctors to see her in a matter of weeks. If God chooses to heal her through this doctor’s hands (as opposed to a miraculous way, which we would also welcome!), she will have surgery next month to repair a repetitive stress injury.

I’m glad that God has shown me a glimpse of His glory through this situation, to see His hand move as He plays the Master Conductor bringing everything into alignment in perfect timing. We will rejoice regardless of how God chooses to bring healing, but we must keep our eyes on the Healer rather than the healing. We must keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfected of our faith (Hebrews 12:2)

God cares for His kids more than we could think or ask (Ephesians 3:20). But more than the things He does for us, the most remarkable thing is that He adopted us in the first place. We sure didn’t deserve it! In fact we were rebels against His authority. We were strangers and enemies. But God, in His infinite wisdom — something that I cannot get my head wrapped around — saved me. I know that even a blind squirrel can occasionally find a nut, but there’s no way I could have found God unless He had revealed Himself. (John 6:44)

If you’re one of His, spend a few minutes today reveling in the remarkable, stunning reality that you were adopted, too! If you aren’t one of His, or if you aren’t sure if you’re one of His, please reach out to me today!

All that thrills my soul is Jesus 
He is more than life to me.
And the fairest of ten thousand
In my blessed Lord I see

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Despite what some preachers may tell you these days, you cannot unhitch the New Testament from the Old Testament. Today’s Bible reading demonstrates this fact.

John the Baptizer was Jesus’ cousin. Luke recorded Jesus’ baptism in Luke 3:21-22. But just before baptizing Jesus, Dr. Luke referred to Isaiah’s prophecy, saying that someone would come, announcing the Messiah’s birth (Isaiah 40:3-5). I don’t know if John realized he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy or not. I don’t know how aware he was of his situation, but he did make mention of Jesus being the Lamb of God Who takes away the world’s sins. (John 1:29)

Anyway… when John’s disciples come to Jesus asking if He is the One they’re waiting for, Jesus refers back to Isaiah 61 — the very passage He had read from when the synagogue officials handed Isaiah’s scroll to Him in Luke 4!

“The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn.” Isaiah 61:1–2 (CSB)

Jesus responds, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news,” Luke 7:22 (CSB)

Reading Isaiah’s prophecy and Jesus’ response to John’s disciples side-by-side, you cannot deny that Jesus is applying Isaiah to Himself: good news, healing, and liberty.

After John’s disciples leave, Jesus refers back to Isaiah 40, telling the crowd that John’s was the voice that cried out in the wilderness:

A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be leveled; the uneven ground will become smooth and the rough places, a plain. And the glory of the Lord will appear, and all humanity together will see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 40:3–5 (CSB)

Yes, John’s was the voice that Isaiah said would cry out in the desert, urging everyone to prepare for the Messiah’s arrival. And Jesus was the Messiah!

Application

Have you had trouble understanding the Old Testament? Have you struggled to figure out how the two Testaments fit together, if at all?

I can tell you that I’ve been there and I’ve done that. I have questioned why Christians even need to read the Old Testament. But not anymore! The more I read the New Testament, the more of the Old Testament I see in it.

Listen to Jesus. Listen to Peter. Listen to Paul and the other New Testament writers. The words of the Prophets and the words of the Psalmists roll off their lips. They knew their Bible. And their Bible was what we call the Old Testament.

As you read through the New Testament this year, don’t gloss over the references back to the Old Testament. When you read the Old Testament, ask yourself, “Where is Jesus in this passage?” If you look a little closer, you’ll see Jesus on every page of the Old Testament. And you’ll find the Old Testament quoted or alluded to over and over again in the New Testament. It’s as if God planned it all along!

The Old Testament. The New Testament. It’s all part of One Big Story: The relentless pursuit of God for His people in a covenant relationship.

Don’t read the Bible, trying to unhitch it from its overall context. It wasn’t written that way! If your Bible has cross-references, use them to see how God interweaves His Word with His Word. You’ll be amazed to see how awesome God is!

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mystery now revealed

In today’s Bible reading, Paul says that a mystery hidden through the ages has been revealed in Jesus Christ: The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Ephesians 3:6 (CSB)

The Gentiles are included! And not just included, but they’re co-heirs to God’s promise! God’s plans for His people weren’t limited to the Jewish people!

If you look back through the history of mankind, however, this mystery was hinted at in several places. Look at Rahab, the prostitute who concealed the Hebrew spies; she and her family were saved when God destroyed the city of Jericho (Joshua 6:23, 25) In his genealogy of Jesus, Matthew records three other women, all of whom are Gentiles: Tamar, Ruth, and Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. The mystery, however, was that God’s plan — from before the foundation of the world — was that God would include the Gentiles, not just a few incidental individuals.

God has given us the ability to imagine some pretty spectacular things. And Paul concludes the chapter praising God for His ability to more than anyone can ask or even imagine. Including the Gentiles in God’s plans were outside the realm of most people’s imagination. But God did it.

Application

You may have some big “asks”. Did you know that God can come through, not only according to your ask, but above and beyond what you could ask or imagine? We have a really big God. Seek Him today.

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