February 14, 2021 Who Enters the Kingdom? Part 6

Who Enters the Kingdom?

Part Six

February 14, 2021

 

 

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. [1]

 

Our Lord is preaching his famous Sermon on the Mount. At the risk of being repetitive, I think it is important to review four truths about this sermon that help us greatly to understand it.

 

First, we saw that this sermon is for his disciples. It is not for the general crowd, although they will follow the disciples up the mountain and they will hear what he has to say. Because it is for his disciples, it is for us. Because we are also the Lord’s disciples.

 

Second, we saw that the theme of the sermon is entering the kingdom. Our Lord’s great message is how we need to think and live in order to enter the kingdom.

 

Third, we learned that the “kingdom of heaven” is not heaven. Rather, it is the earthly kingdom that the Lord will establish when he returns to the earth.

 

Fourth, we learned that not all genuine Christians will enter the kingdom that is coming. Only those who are poor in spirit will enter. And, only those who live by God’s will as revealed in this sermon, will enter. (Those followers of the Lord who fail to live by Christ’s words will be excluded from the kingdom and must wait until the New Heavens and the New Earth to be united with the Lord.)

 

If we keep these four truths in mind, we will better understand this marvelous and glorious sermon of our Lord.

 

In our passage this morning, Jesus affirms what many Christian teachers deny: that the laws of God found in the Old Testament are still to be obeyed.

 

The subject of God’s law is important and we must be clear about it. In this passage, Jesus affirms that our fulfillment of God’s law, or lack thereof, will determine whether we will enter the kingdom. In context, the “righteousness” that we must have is not the imputed righteousness of Christ (that all genuine believers receive as a gift), but our own practical righteousness as determined by conformity to God’s laws.

 

The law was never meant to make us acceptable to God but, on the contrary, to show us our sinfulness and bring us to Christ. Evangelist Ray Comfort was interviewing people at random on the streets in Southern California. After asking them if they believed there was a heaven – most did – he asked them if they thought they were going there. Almost all said “yes.” Then he asked them why they thought that. The vast majority answered that they were basically good people and would then give examples of good things that they have done as evidence of that. This is the thinking of the average person. They are under the impression that, if they do good things, if they are moral, if they follow God’s laws, then they will be accepted by God.

 

The law was never intended to do this and neither can it make a person right before the eyes of God. The problem is not with the law. As the New Testament declares, the law is “holy, righteous and good.” The problem is with us. We are unholy, unrighteous and, contrary to what we think of ourselves, we are bad. We say bad things about people behind their back. That is called gossip. We violate God’s laws on sexual purity, if not outright, in our thoughts and in our hearts. We do not always speak the truth. To put it mildly, we are a mess!

 

Although some violate God’s laws to a greater extent than others, we all do it because we are corrupt. This is the biblical witness. Therefore, the law can never make us right before God. Paul sums this up in his letter to the Romans:

 

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

(Romans 3:20 ESV)

 

Rather, the law was meant to bring us to the end of ourselves and to our only hope, Jesus Christ.

 

Sociology professor Anthony Campolo recalls a deeply moving incident that happened in a Christian junior high camp where he served. One of the campers, a boy with spastic paralysis, was the object of heartless ridicule. When he would ask a question, the boys would deliberately answer in a halting, mimicking way. One night his cabin group chose him to lead the devotions before the entire camp. It was one more effort to have some "fun" at his expense. Unashamedly the spastic boy stood up, and in his strained, slurred manner -- each word coming with enormous effort -- he said simple, "Jesus loves me -- and I love Jesus!" That was all. Conviction fell upon those junior-highers. Many began to cry. Revival gripped the camp. Years afterward, Campolo still meets men in the ministry who came to Christ because of that testimony.

 

What brought conviction to those junior high boys was the realization of their sins in the light of the simple and pure response of the handicapped boy. The law of God functions in that way. It is the light above the mirror that is so bright that we see all our imperfections and wrinkles that we did not see when the light was dim.

 

When we see what we are really like, we flee to our only hope, the Lord Jesus.

 

The first function of the law, then, is to show us our sinfulness and bring us to Christ.

 

Secondly, the law restrains evil in society when it is backed up by sanctions. It is the basis for a just and well-ordered society.

 

Josie and I were pen pals for 4 ½ years before I decided to travel to the Philippines to meet her. In 1994 I flew to Manila and transferred to a flight to the second largest city in the PI, Cebu. On the flight over from the U.S., my seat-mate was a Filipina woman who was from Cebu. When she learned that I would be staying overnight in Cebu in order to catch another flight the next day, she offered to show me around the city. I checked into the hotel and she soon came by with some of her relatives in a car. We started driving around the city and I thought I would die that night because they either have no traffic laws there or they are unenforced. It was complete pandemonium! It is a very large city, so many of the streets are three and four lanes wide, but there are no lanes! Cars were zigzagging back and forth at 40 and 50 miles per hour, nearly crashing into each other, missing each other, which seemed like inches. Many intersections had no stoplights AND no stop signs. Cars, motorcycles, and trucks would barely even slow down and make it through the intersection, through cross-traffic, somehow, miraculously, without crashing.

 

There was no order. It was traffic evil. When we got to our first stop, a bowling alley, my heart was pounding and I was glad to get out of the car!

 

Without law, God’s law, society becomes like those streets in Cebu: moral order collapses. Moral chaos ensues. Society becomes evil because evil is already in men’s hearts and it is restrained by civil government. This is what we see in the West today. God’s law has been rejected and moral chaos is the result.

 

As Christians, we have a duty to be involved in the election process and, not only vote, but work on behalf of candidates who will support and reinstitute laws that reflect God’s laws.

 

The second use of the law is so that we may live in peace when evil is restrained.

 

The third function of the law is found in John’s first letter:

 

3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. [2]

 

Verse 3 provides a test. You must know that there are many who claim to be Christians and even think they belong to Christ, but they do not. The law functions as a test, both for ourselves (to make us see whether we have saving faith as opposed to just believing some facts about Jesus) and as a test to determine whether others are what they say they are.

 

If we keep his commandments we can know that we know him. What commandments would those be? When John wrote this letter, the New Testament had not yet been compiled. Thus, the commandments that he refers to would primarily be those of the Old Testament.[3] Do you see that? He is writing to Christians under the new covenant, but he is telling them that they must obey God’s commands in the Old Testament!

 

We should see that the Scriptures reveal two kinds of law or two kinds of commandments. There is moral law, which reflects the character of God Himself, It lives in perpetuity. There is also ceremonial law, which was meant to communicate God’s gracious salvation to his people. The ceremonies pointed forward to Christ, such as animal sacrifices, or taught that God’s people must be holy, that is, different from the nations around them. As such, the ceremonial law was temporary. Whereas, the moral law is eternal.

 

Thus, the follower of Christ is to follow the moral laws found in the OT and all the commands of the NT.

 

This brings us to the fourth and last purpose of God’s moral law. It is the guide for our life and the means to our sanctification. The word sanctification means to be set apart in our thought and conduct so that we are more like our Lord. It means to be changed for the better. We need changing, don’t we? When Genevieve was very young, I dropped her off early in the morning at daycare here where Josie was working in the nursery. As soon as I walked in I knew that one of the little ones needed changing. I knew which one it was because I walked right by him in his playpen. I don’t think he knew he needed changing, but we did. That is the way we are. Sometimes we don’t even know we need changing. The law helps us see how stinky we are.

 

The law does not have the power to sanctify. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. But the Holy Spirit uses the law. As we read it and understand it he applies it to our hearts. He creates a love for it and a joyful desire to embrace it.

 

That is the great difference between those who have been born again and those who have not. Those whose hearts have not been transformed by the Spirit bristle against God’s law.

 

  • It seems burdensome to them.
  • They dislike it.
  • They don’t want to hear it.
  • They even hate it.

 

But once God breathes life into us we can say with David,

 

Oh how I love your law!

It is my meditation all the day.

(Psalm 119:97 ESV)

 

With respect to God’s law, Jesus said our conformity to it - our righteousness – determines whether we will enter the kingdom. Do you see that it is necessary for us to know God’s law and live it?

 

20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. [4]

 

What can we do? We must live according to the words of God. In order to live by the words of God, we must know the words of God. Isn’t this obvious? We must know what God has spoken in both the Old and New Testaments. We must be those who know our whole Bibles, not just a fourth of our Bibles.

 

In order to live the commands of God, we must know the commands of God. Therefore, set aside a time each day to read and study God’s word.

 

Then, seek to do what it enjoins upon you. Flee those actions and thoughts that are contrary to his will. If you walk in the spirit, these things will be enjoyable to you. If you find God’s laws burdensome then this means you are in the flesh and not in the spirit.

 

How important is it to have a practical righteousness? It is exceedingly important! About 35 years after he preached this sermon, the risen Lord Jesus said this to one of the churches in Asia Minor:

 

17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. [5]

 

One of the things he tells them to do is buy “white garments” so they won’t appear naked. Their nakedness is the shame that is associated with one’s failure to live what the Lord commands (Gen. 3:7). The white garments symbolize not the righteousness of Christ, which we must have to stand at the final judgment, but our own righteousness (Rev. 19:8).

 

You see, we must pay the price to gain our fine linen, our white garments. That is, we must live a certain way, taking time to know his word and to exercise self-discipline in our decision-making. Oh! Brothers and sisters! Have done with lesser things! It is time to prepare for the kingdom!

 

Who will enter the kingdom? Only those who have a practical righteousness according to God’s law.

 

“Lord, make us those who have set their eyes upon your kingdom that is coming soon. Let us be done with lesser things. Give us a hunger for your righteousness, and then satisfy our hunger, so that we may be with you in your kingdom! Amen.”

 

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:17–20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 2:3–6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] Some of the gospels would already have been circulated. So, the commands of the Lord found therein would be included in the designation “his commandments.” For us, in the latter part of the new covenant era, the commands found in both testaments are to be followed.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Re 3:17–18). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.