February 28, 2021 Who Enters the Kingdom? Part 8

Who Enters the Kingdom?

Part Eight

February 28, 2021

 

 

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. [1]

 

We have been considering our Lord’s famous Sermon on the Mount. In order to properly understand our Lord’s sermon we took note of a few things.

 

First, we saw that this sermon is for his disciples. It is not for the general crowd. 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 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.)

 

Jesus has been explaining God’s law to his disciples. Earlier, he had affirmed the continuing validity of God’s moral law (in verses 17-20). Jesus affirms what some Christians deny - that we are obligated to follow the laws of God as found in the Old Testament. He then goes on to explain what the law actually requires.

 

Already in this sermon he has taught the true meaning of the sixth commandment, the seventh commandment, a passage from Deuteronomy (ch. 24), the ninth commandment, and a verse in Leviticus (24:20). Now, he is going to teach on another passage in Leviticus: 19:18.

 

Do you see that our Lord honored God’s law, lived God’s law, and taught God’s law to his disciples? We ought to do the same. Because he is our example and our pattern.

 

Whereas before, Jesus would cite God’s law, after saying, “You have heard that it was said,” now he is addressing not only the misapplication of God’s law, but a misstatement of it. Here, half of what is stated is God’s law and half is an addition to it.

 

Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am Yahweh. [2]

 

Nowhere in Scripture are we told to hate our enemies. We are to hate God’s enemies. This is quite different. God’s enemies may become our enemies. But not all of our enemies are God’s enemies. Indeed, we are actually commanded to do the opposite in the OT – to treat our enemies well.

 

4 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. 5 If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him. [3]

 

17 Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,

and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, [4]

 

21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,

and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,

22 for you will heap burning coals on his head,

and the Lord will reward you. [5]

 

 

34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. [6]

 

In the verse above, a stranger is not necessarily our enemy. However, one can perceive God’s heart for those who are not part of the covenant community. He desires us to love them. We love not only those in the household of faith (we ought to have a great love for our brothers and sisters in Christ), but we love those who are strangers, too.

 

19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. [7]

 

Can you see God’s heart for those who are not part of God’s people? We sometimes tend to have a siege mentality. That is, we tend to gather with one another because we feel safe. But, we avoid those who are not of the faith. Of course, we must meet together as God’s people (Hebrews 10:25; Mark 10:30). Those who do not meet with the church regularly give evidence that they do not belong to Christ (I John 2:19). Also, we must not participate in any unfruitful works of darkness that the unbelievers tend to run after. But, we can easily do those two things while, at the same time, establish wholesome relationships with our coworkers, schoolmates, and our in-laws who are not Christians.

 

You never know who God is calling to Himself. Indeed, he will surprise you sometimes! When I was in the Air Force there was an airman, whose name was Jim, that had a reputation as a drug user (by his own admission) and had what I would call an attitude. He acted as if he were smarter than everyone else and, at least the way I perceived him, that he was above other people. I was a new Christian and was excited about my faith. I was sharing the gospel with almost everybody in my barracks. One time Jim asked me about what I was telling other people. You see, I never shared the gospel with him because I assumed that he would reject it. I said to him, “I was telling people about the gospel of Christ. It’s not something that you would be interested in.” He replied, “No. I want to hear about it.” I was surprised. But, I shared the gospel with him kind of half-heartedly because I thought that he would mock it. But, he received it! He was baptized shortly thereafter. Unbeknownst to me, God had been working on his heart.

 

God loves “the stranger.” And, we must cultivate a love for them, too.

 

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, [8]

 

Before we give up on this command and consider it impossible to live out, we should remember that love does not always mean warm feelings. It is hard, if not impossible, to have good feelings for someone who abuses you. According to revelation, love is primarily desiring the best interest of the person loved.[9] Thus, we can love those who do not love us and even try to harm us. This is the way God Himself is:

 

45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. [10]

 

We would prefer to enact vengeance upon our enemies. We would prefer to come up with schemes to make them look foolish and to cause them to stumble. This is our natural disposition. But, our natural man must be put to death and we must learn to live by Christ who is within us.

 

46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? [11]

 

Remember the theme of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is teaching his disciples the living and even thinking that is necessary to enter the kingdom. Thus, the reward in verse 46 is the reward that we will receive in the kingdom. There will be different measures of reward for those who enter the kingdom and different degrees of glory.

 

Our tendency and our comfort is to be nice to those we love and to be distant to those we don’t. This is natural. But this is not the life of a disciple. We must live by Christ.

 

And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? [12]

 

We ought not only to greet those who are not Christians, but we should be kind and helpful to as many as we are able so that they will see that there is something different about us.

 

48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. [13]

 

Now we come to a difficult passage. Some people are afraid of difficult verses in the Bible. They become fearful because, often, the difficult verses seem to require something of us that we feel that we are not able to do. There is a danger to “explain away” such verses as not meaning what they seem to mean. We have to be wary of that danger because we do not want to negate a direction from the Lord just because we feel that we cannot do it.

 

I am going to share with you four understandings of this verse that you may come across if you were to look at commentaries. I think that two of these interpretations cannot be adequately supported. Likewise, I think that two can be supported. I am not going to take a position between those two. I am just going to present them to you and allow you to decide.

 

[1.] This is a great demand, is it not? If these words were spoken by anyone else besides our Lord, we might think them out of their mind. Who can be perfect? This command is so grievous to the natural man that some have tried to find ways to lighten the demand. For example, some have said that the word perfect here just means “mature.” Maybe the underlying word can take that meaning in some contexts, but that cannot be the meaning here. The heavenly Father never had to mature and the likeness of our perfection must be as God’s. Therefore, the explanation of this command cannot be to just be mature.

 

What does Jesus mean by perfect? He does mean without flaws, without mistakes, without sin, but in what way?

 

He is not referring to errors and mistakes we make in reasoning, or in math, or in social expectations, or at our jobs, or in sports, or in any endeavor. Our minds and bodies are both fallen and we will make mistakes. From the context, Jesus is referring to moral perfection, that is, living according to God’s will.

 

[2.] Some still try to lighten this command by saying that we should only strive for moral perfection and that we will never arrive there. Indeed, this is the common and vastly predominant understanding of this verse, especially among Reformed Christians. But this is not what Jesus said, is it? He didn’t say, “You must strive to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” He said, “you must be perfect.”

 

As tempting as this option is, I think it has to be rejected because it is not what Jesus said.

 

[3.] The third interpretation is that the perfection that Jesus speaks of here is not an all-encompassing moral perfection, rather, based upon the immediate context, it is a perfection only with respect to loving one’s neighbor as well as loving your enemies. We are commanded to be perfect in the way we love. That is not easy either, is it? Many among the believers cannot even love their husband or wife perfectly, let alone our enemies. Still, it seems to at least be possible. “Maybe I can’t do it. But, Sally, now she has so much love. She can do it.”

 

This interpretation of the verse is appealing because it both lightens the requirement (We don’t have to be morally perfect in every moral endeavor of life.) and it fits the context. I think it is a legitimate and reasonable understanding of the verse.

 

[4.] The last interpretation is that Jesus is commanding us to be perfect in living out God’s will in every area of life. This still fits the immediate context. With this understanding, Jesus would be encouraging his disciples to love their enemies because they are to be morally perfect, period.

 

It also fits what we might call the context of this portion of Scripture. That is, the entire Sermon on the Mount up to this point. Remember, Jesus is teaching his disciples the kind of living and even thinking that is necessary for them to enter the kingdom, for them to possess the earth. This living has, so far, covered many different aspects of how we live. As he continues to preach, it will cover more.

 

Finally, it fits the whole context of Scripture. This requirement, to be perfect or complete in our obedience, was not new with Jesus. It is found in the Old Testament. Loving our enemies is a new teaching from our Lord. At least, it goes beyond merely treating them well which the OT demanded. But, the command to be perfect was given in Deuteronomy and it covered all of God’s laws, not just loving.

 

Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God. 14 For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.[14]

 

ESV has:

 

You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, 14 for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this. [15]

 

The word “blameless” in the ESV is the same word in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT which Jesus and the apostles quoted from) as Jesus used here in Matthew 5:48 – telios.

 

The difficulty with this understanding is that it seems so impossible to carry out. It seems both impossible from our own experience and from other passages of Scripture.

 

We know that we continue to sin. If perfection means not sinning, then most all Christians confess that they are not perfect in that sense. There are some Christians (not very many) who claim not to sin any longer. But, the vast majority recognize their continual struggle with sin and their occasional succumbing to it. I am willing to confess that, if perfection means not sinning at all, then I have not arrived at such a state.

 

Yet, someone as highly respected as John Wesley, who was mightily used by the Lord during the Great Awakening, taught that this is what Jesus commanded and that it was possible for a Christian not to sin.[16]

 

I do not know which of these last two interpretations is the proper understanding. This is what I do know, though. All of us, including me, can do better in walking in the way of the Master than we do. Not only that, but I believe it is also true that most of us can live more faithfully than we think we can!

 

I had a dream a few nights ago that I would like to share with you because I am confident that it was from the Lord.

 

I was walking up to a house that had an attractive porch. As I was walking through the front yard, I noticed two people, a man and a lady, laying in the front yard. They were not on a blanket, but just laying on the grass face down with their heads turned to the side. They were awake but immobile. I don’t know how I knew, but I knew that they were brother and sister. I also knew that there was nothing wrong with them.

 

As I walked past them I said, “You need to get up and come to the porch.” I got to the porch and I noticed that they had not moved. Then I said, “Unless you come to the porch, you will die.” When they heard this, they crawled to the porch. I observed them crawling and I noted that it wasn’t that difficult for them. They reached the porch and laid there. There was a cat, the lady’s cat, on top of her and when I said, “See, I told you that you could do it.” The cat bit my hand. I picked it up and effortlessly threw it down.

 

Here is the meaning of that dream: The porch is the church. The brother and sister are the members. My stern warning is the very teaching we are now engaged in – the study of the Sermon on the Mount. The cat is the devil. He is not happy about the members of Christ’s body actually serving. He wants them laying on the grass doing nothing. The message is that most members here (not all) are just laying on the grass, thinking that they cannot do what the Lord has called them to do. But they can! You can!

 

The time is now to stop laying around! You can actually serve the Lord rather than doing nothing. And to live for him is not as difficult as you surmise. It only takes two things: First, your resolution to live faithfully. You make a recommitment. And, you walk in the spirit. If we walk in the spirit we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.

 

Who will enter the kingdom? Those who love their neighbors. Those who love their enemies. Those who love their spouse.

 

Who will enter the kingdom? Those who live before the face of God in a perfect way. Do you think that is too difficult? Crawl to the porch. Stay on the porch until you receive the strength that you need. You will find that it is not as difficult as you thought.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:43–48). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: Holman Christian standard version. (2009). (Le 19:18). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ex 23:4–5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Pr 24:17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Pr 25:21–22). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Le 19:34). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Dt 10:19). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:44). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[9] See I Cor 13:5 -it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,” [New American Bible]. Philippians 2:3 sums up biblical love: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” [ESV]

 

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:45). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:46). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:47). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:48). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[14] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Dt 18:13–14). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Dt 18:13–14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[16] By the Lord’s grace, I hope to do a study on Wesley’s teaching on this subject in the very near future.