December 27, 2020 Who Enters the Kingdom?

Who Enters the Kingdom?

December 27, 2020

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [1]

 

These are the first words of our Lord in his famous sermon on the mount – the most famous sermon ever preached. This one sentence helps us to understand the theme of the whole sermon. If we understand this statement, we will better understand what follows.

 

What does our Lord mean when he says, “poor in spirit?” The first few years that I was a Christian I didn’t understand his meaning. Jesus was a student – the best student ever – of the Old Testament. He knew the Scriptures. So, if there were a passage in the OT that used this phrase then we would have a clue as to what Jesus meant, for he would have used it in the same way. There is:

 

For all those things My hand has made,

And all those things exist,”

Says the Lord.

“But on this one will I look:

On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit,

And who trembles at My word.[2]

 

See that the words poor and contrite are used in parallel. This means that their meanings are similar. Contrite means to have remorse over one’s sin. Hence, the word poor has a similar meaning. The ESV translates this word as humble. To have a poor spirit is to have a humble spirit because of one’s sin.

 

A poor spirit is well exemplified by our Lord’s parable of the two men praying.

 

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” [3]

 

To be poor in spirit means that our sins burden us and humble us so that we fear God. Remember what the Lord said through Isaiah:

 

“But on this one will I look:

On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit,

And who trembles at My word.[4]

 

Our own sin causes us to tremble. Oh! What a terrifying thing it is to commit sin and have no remorse! God will not even look at you!

 

Even though Jesus is teaching his disciples in his sermon, and the main application is for them, there is also an application for those who have not yet come to Christ. This is seen most readily in the parable that we just read. When our Lord concludes it he said,

 

14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” [5]

 

The man with the contrite spirit was justified. To be justified means to be declared “not guilty” by God. This is the great need of every person because our sins separate us from God. Until a person recognizes their lost condition, they will not come to Christ for salvation. Without remorse for sin there is no justification. Elsewhere, Jesus said, “You will die in your sins.”[6]

 

Allow me to briefly share the gospel. God is perfect, holy, and just. He does not live with sin, which is rebellion against his goodness and holiness. As RC Sproul has said, “Sin is cosmic treason.” The appropriate penalty for treason is death. God is perfectly just in condemning rebels. Yet, he has made a way for us to be reconciled to him. He sent his Son to this earth to die in our place upon the cross. Those who will place their faith in him – trust him as their Lord and Savior – receive the forgiveness of their sins. They are justified. Then they follow Christ from that point on. Christ rose from the dead so that his life is made available as the life-giving Spirit in order that his followers would have the power and enjoyment to live for him.

 

This is the gospel. If you have not yet believed it, do so now! Do not die in your sins!

 

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus is primarily teaching his disciples (5:2). Those who have already made peace with God must keep their poorness of spirit. All genuine Christians begin with such a spirit. But the deception of either worldliness or the flesh can make us callous to the wickedness of sin and oblivious to its consequences. Brothers and sisters, we must be vigilant against sin! First and foremost, we must be aware of sin in our own lives. If there is a sin of which we are aware then we must confess it and repent. It is not a small thing to belong to Christ, sin, and then have no remorse. We must deal with our sin! He has given us the power to overcome sin, but we still must resolve to mortify it!

 

If we do not deal with our sin, if we do not have a poor spirit, then we will not possess the kingdom.

 

This brings us to the next phrase in our Lord’s statement. What is the kingdom of heaven? The kingdom of heaven is not heaven. The phrase “kingdom of heaven” is not a descriptive genitive (“I’m giving you the gift of corn.”). It is a possessive genitive (“That scepter is the scepter of the king.”). The “kingdom of heaven” either means the kingdom that comes from heaven or the kingdom that is characterized by heaven.

 

When Jesus returns to the earth he will establish his visible kingdom. This next age in God’s plan is sometimes called the Millennium because it is identified as lasting for 1000 years in the book of Revelation.

 

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also, I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.[7]

 

From this passage we see that the devil will be bound for a thousand years and that some followers of Christ will reign with him during that thousand years. It may be that the coming kingdom will last a literal thousand years. However, since the book of Revelation is filled with symbolism, it is just as likely that it will not be a literal thousand years but that the thousand years symbolizes a long and complete period of time. We can say that the coming kingdom will last at least a thousand years, maybe several thousand years.

 

A passage from the Old Testament that also reveals the future kingdom – both future to the original readers and future to us – is found in Isaiah.

 

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,

and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,

and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;

and a little child shall lead them.

7 The cow and the bear shall graze;

their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,

and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.

9 They shall not hurt or destroy

in all my holy mountain;

for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea.

10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. [8]

 

Clearly, none of these things have happened yet. If you put a leopard and a goat together now, there will only be one animal left after a short period of time and it won’t be the goat. I remember visiting a place called Cat Tales Zoological Park in Spokane when we lived in Washington State. It is a zoo that has large cats. Our children were very young. Kai was 7, Coulter was 6, Clark was 4 or 5; Christian even younger. It was either Clark or Christian who was running past the leopard cage and you could see the look in the leopard’s eyes as he began to stalk our boy. He wanted to make a meal of him! If steel bars were not between them he would have. How much more a goat than a human!

 

If a lion and a calf are together, there will only be one animal left after a short time. Bears eat cows and lions do not eat hay. This passage is about an age that has not yet come. But it is not speaking of the eternal state yet. For, there is another passage in Isaiah that refers to the same age and it reveals that death is still around:

 

I will rejoice in Jerusalem

and be glad in my people;

no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping

and the cry of distress.

20 No more shall there be in it

an infant who lives but a few days,

or an old man who does not fill out his days,

for the young man shall die a hundred years old,

and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. [9]

 

Death will still be present, but if someone were to die at a hundred years old they would still be a young man! Hence, the few passages that we just read describe not the present age nor the eternal state when death is done away, but an age in-between. It is an age that will be glorious and marvelous – an age better than any the earth has ever seen since Eden was closed to us.

 

This is the kingdom that is coming. This is the Millennium.

 

We must prepare for the age to come because not all followers of Jesus will inherit the kingdom. Many Christians are under the grossly mistaken impression that all believers will enter the kingdom, regardless of how they live. They may make an exception for false professors – those who have made a mere profession of faith but who have not been born again. Of course, if a profession of faith is empty, if no change of heart or life has taken place, then all agree that not only will that person not enter the kingdom, but neither will they ever see God. Their destiny is the lake of fire.

 

Yet, it is also true that not all genuine believers will inherit the kingdom. In Ephesians 5 we read:

 

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. [10]

 

Those who are sexually immoral (that means any sort of sexual activity outside of marriage) will not inherit the kingdom. But neither will the impure – this reaches even into our hearts. It is not just sinful activity that excludes. Even our thought life must be pure. Now, before everyone loses all hope, it is not the errant thought here and there that makes one impure. We still possess a sinful nature and occasional thoughts will enter our minds that are not godly. It is when we choose to dwell on them or nurture them that we become impure. We are commanded to guard our thought life.[11]

 

 

But the apostle even says that the covetous will not inherit the kingdom. We must be changed now or we will be changed later, that is, during the kingdom age if we are excluded!

 

Of course, Paul is writing to the “saints” (Eph 5:3), not the lost. Not all saints (that just means Christians) will inherit the kingdom.

 

This is the theme of the sermon on the mount! Entering the kingdom! Jesus uses these phrases synonymously: Possessing the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:3,10), inheriting the earth (vs. 5), and entering the kingdom (vs. 20). Who will enter the kingdom? Only those who are poor in spirit! Those who are not will be excluded. They will have to wait a thousand years or more for the New Heavens and the New Earth.

 

Let me ask you, do you wish to be excluded or do you wish to be included? I want to be included! If you wish to be included, then there is a price to be paid. That price is putting your self-life to death. You seek first the kingdom of God, not your comfort, your desires, nor your happiness. If you obey God then you will discover that happiness follows in its proper time (when your will becomes conformed to his). We all experience some discontent as we wrestle with our own selfishness. It is only temporary.

 

The kingdom is a prize to be won (I Cor 9:24). Strive to receive this prize!

 

Cultivate a poor spirit and win the prize! How do we cultivate it? By taking sin seriously and not ignoring it. Don’t live in a pretend world! Unbelievers live in a pretend world, by pretending that God winks at their sin. But, I tell you, there are some Christians like that also.

 

Face your sin. Tremble at his word. Enter the kingdom!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The New King James Version. (1982). (Is 66:2). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 18:9–14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] The New King James Version. (1982). (Is 66:2). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 18:9–14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] John 8:24.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Re 20:1–5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Is 11:6–10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Is 65:19–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 5:3–6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[11] Prov 4:23; Romans 8:6; 12:2; Phil 4:7; Col 3:2.