Advancing the Conversation of Jesus
As Jesus moved into his famous teaching method of parables or story telling, he refers to the knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom of heaven. Secrets is translated from the term "mysteries" or "the secret plan of God", which Jesus says, have been given to these early followers. By the way, only God can reveal these secrets through His Spirit. Those who are hungry for this knowledge will, as the disciples did, seek it out. The others, who don't have a particular spiritual hunger, will not.
Let's listen in on what Jesus said about secrets: "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them." This is why he spoke to them in parables: "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand."
The essence of the secrets of the Kingdom is to be found in those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. At the end of Matthew 7 Jesus says this well in illustrating those who are doing the will of the Father, when he teaches about two foundations. "Those who hear my words and practice them" build on a rock foundation and "those who hear my words and don't practice them" build on a sand foundation. NOTE Jesus isn't speaking of the secrets of the Church, but the secrets of the Kingdom.
The differences between the Church and the Kingdom are many! You enter the Church by attendance and membership classes. You enter the Kingdom by following Jesus. The Church is limited in its local scope and reach; the Kingdom is unlimited and universal. The Church is visible; the Kingdom is invisible. You go to Church; the Kingdom goes wherever you go. The Church tends be an organization; the Kingdom tends to be a movement.
The Church is earthly; the Kingdom is more of a heaven-to-earth connection. Jesus never proclaimed the Church; Jesus continually proclaimed the Kingdom. He even called the Kingdom "the gospel of the Kingdom", but never referred to the Church in this way.
The Church gathers and scatters; the Kingdom is always present with you. The Church may or may not grow, however the Kingdom is continually growing. Churches may shut down; the Kingdom cannot be shut down. The Church may or may not have God present; the Kingdom is God's presence in us.
If you want to know the secrets of the Church, ask a Church growth expert or Church planter. If you want to know the secrets of the Kingdom, ask Jesus. He’ll say: Seek first the Kingdom of God with all your heart! If you’re not seeking, do THE 180!
After Jesus was baptized by John, faced and successfully resisted the Evil one in the wilderness, Jesus was ready to begin his public ministry. His first words were: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." Jesus could have started with any subject, yet he chose to introduce the Kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven is not out there somewhere other than here; it’s here! Jesus says it’s near, here, and within your reach!
An exceptional teacher of the Scriptures, David Guzik, observes: Repent was the first word of John the Baptist's message (Matthew 3:1-2). Repent was the first word of Jesus' message (Matthew 4:14 and Mark 1:14-15). Repent was the first word in the preaching ministry of the twelve disciples (Mark 6:12). Repent was the first word in the preaching instructions Jesus gave to his disciples after his resurrection (Luke 24:46-47). Repent was the first word of exhortation in Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:38). Repent was the first word in the mouth of Paul through his ministry (Acts 26:19-20).
So, Jesus says: "Repent or change your mind about what you're doing—wake up—for the Kingdom of heaven has come near, is here, and is within your reach." His first word is “Repent”, which is so misunderstood! Repentance isn’t a word of feelings, to feel sorry about your sins. No! Repentance is about action—the action of changing your mind about the direction of your life. It has the added benefit of being a “wake-up call”! It’s too easy to be rocking along on planet earth, going along with the herd, embracing the earthly, physical, self-centered values that may be lofty, but temporary. WAKE UP! The Kingdom of God is now here among you and requires a drastic change of mind—a change of direction—in order to experience it! The Kingdom has a revolutionary, spiritual, set of principles and values that will make a positive difference in you and those you touch!
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. (Matthew 4) Jesus’ primary activity to demonstrate this "good news" of the Kingdom was to meet the various needs of the people. Jesus’ message of the good news of the Kingdom was so attractive. They weren't looking for a new Rabbi to come along and plant new synagogues in their villages. It’s still true today!
Why is it that our "gospel" (good news) message usually doesn't include the Kingdom at all? If we want to walk, talk, think and love like Jesus, then we must pay attention to Jesus—his message and his methodology. How could we ever think that our ways might be better and more effective than his? So, let's carefully and meaningfully respond to Jesus’ first word: REPENT! Change your mind, the direction and purpose of your life to embrace the Kingdom.
One of the observations that blew my mind, when we were motivated to refocus on the life and teachings of Jesus, is that Jesus only mentioned the “church” on two occasions. On the other hand, Jesus taught about the Kingdom and its principles most often. Then, when you realize how Jesus opened his public teaching with specific reference to the Kingdom and that he ended his final teaching of his early disciples with an emphasis on the Kingdom, it’s clear what Jesus is all about. The conclusion that I came to was that Jesus is so much more about Kingdom living than I have ever taught or imagined.
We examined his first words yesterday. Now, let’s take a look at Jesus’ last words with his early disciples.
After the resurrection, Jesus gathered his early disciples together in Jerusalem. He had a three-fold purpose in mind. First—He presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days. Jesus felt the need to make certain that his disciples believed and were convinced that he was truly resurrected from the dead. NOTE he set aside 40 days to prove this to them.
Second—He also spent the 40 days speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. Jesus felt the Kingdom was so important that he wanted to spend that last several days with his disciples teaching them more about it.
Third—Along with convincing his disciples about who he is and teaching them as much as he could about the Kingdom, Jesus had one more purpose in mind for his last meeting with his disciples. He wanted to be sure to make the handoff from his personal care of the disciples over to the care and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Here’s how it is written by Luke: Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
The new comforter or helper, the Holy Spirit, had been promised by the Father and explained by Jesus. Jesus expanded on this promise and teaching they had already been given by saying, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:3-8)
Follow the King and you’ll discover the Kingdom; embrace the Kingdom lifestyle and you’ll discover the King. Once you embrace the person of Jesus and Kingdom, you’ll be given the empowerment to take the message of Jesus and the Kingdom to the world!
Jesus’ emphasis on proving himself genuine and teaching on the Kingdom catches on after Jesus ascended into Heaven. The book of the Acts of Jesus opens with this twofold message, when Jesus spent 40 days with his disciples in Acts 1. There are two more powerful expressions of this same dual theme in the Acts of Jesus.
Look at the work and teaching of Philip in Acts 8. Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming the Messiah to them. When they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus, the Messiah, they were being baptized, men and women alike. (Acts 8:4-5, 12)
Now, look at Paul, who lived in Rome toward the end of his life: When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. And again Luke says Paul was preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus, the Messiah with all openness, unhindered. (Acts 28:23, 31)
There are 28 chapters in the Acts of Jesus. Many times I’ve asked audiences to turn in their bibles to Acts 29 and, of course, they can’t find it. The book of the Acts of Jesus is so useful in illustrating how we as followers of Jesus can relate to him without his being right in front of us. It’s very practical and it’s clear that we can continue to experience the presence of Jesus through the indwelling Spirit. In my opinion, Acts 29 is a positive reality for us today! Acts 29 is our opportunity to continue practicing the presence of Jesus today and for the rest of our lives!
This is why I ask Jesus a question every morning. I say, “Jesus, what do you have for me to do today?” And several times throughout the day, I say, “OK, thanks for being with me so far and getting me through another day, so ‘What’s next?’”
My life purpose is shaped by the twofold message of the Acts of Jesus. I want to advance the conversation of Jesus and the Kingdom to those who have ears to hear and eyes to see in order to bring about transformation and reconciliation to our world.
There is no better topic for conversation than Jesus and the Kingdom of God. So, what are you talking about?
Although Christians have boiled everything down to believe and you'll go to heaven and don't believe and you'll go to hell, Jesus' concern seems to revolve more around entering or not entering the Kingdom of heaven. And, entering the Kingdom seems to be an immediate experience, since the presence of the Kingdom is a present reality according to Jesus.
This week I want to cover all of the times Jesus refers to what we must do to enter or not enter into the Kingdom. To enter the Kingdom of heaven or the Kingdom of God may be the closest thing Jesus ever says about "getting into heaven". Each of these references provides significant insight into what Jesus counts as most important in order to get into the Kingdom.
The first reference is found in Jesus' first seminar: For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20) The requirement here seems really tough. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were known for their religious displays of righteousness. Their emphasis was to look good—to look and act religious and holy—to be seen by others as righteous.
Instead of going the ways of the external, legalistic lists of the Pharisees, Jesus clearly says there must be an internal work in a person’s heart. Later Jesus says that no flesh and blood can bring about this kind of revelation and internal change of the heart, but God, Himself. This kind of heart surgery surpasses all other religious representations of righteousness.
God looks on the heart; man looks on the outward appearance. So, if you want to please God, then pay attention to your heart's response to him. Jesus wants us to first be people of the heart where we are allowing him to relate to us in a most personal and private way. All external actions should naturally flow out of that transformed heart. To Jesus, nothing else matters—nothing is more important.
Focus your heart on a personal relationship with Jesus and make it your business to follow after him. And, don't allow yourself to be caught up in the religiosity of following a list or system of do's and don'ts, thinking that you are impressing God while you are impressing others. Jesus makes it clear here that he is not impressed with this kind of thing, so don't you be!
If I have a choice as to whose word I'm going to accept as the ultimate truth—some bible teacher or Jesus, I'm going to choose Jesus' word every time. How about you?
The second reference Jesus makes concerning entering the Kingdom is most powerful. It's found at the close of his first seminar: Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)
The context is fascinating! In the next paragraph it's clear what's going on. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' Jesus is referring to a group of apparent leaders or ministers who would naturally view themselves as believers, because of their actions. These "believers" are known for speaking in the name of Jesus, casting out demons in the name of Jesus and performing many miracles in Jesus' name. NOTE that Jesus rejects these so-called "believers" and says he doesn't even know them.
There is another group of "believers" mentioned in the New Testament who are not warmly known by Jesus either. These are the demons that believe and shudder. So, these false teachers, demons and those of us who call ourselves believers all have the same thing in common-belief. This shows us that it's not enough to just be a believer. There is something more. What makes the difference between these three groups of believers?
Jesus clarifies it here by saying "only those who do the will of my Father" will enter the Kingdom of heaven. No matter what you say or do in the name of Jesus, the most critical issue is whether or not you are doing the will of the Father. What does he mean by "doing the will of the Father"? NOTE Jesus isn't focusing on something to believe, but to do the will of the Father.
In the next paragraph Jesus illustrates exactly what he means by "doing the will of My Father", when he says: Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.
It's clear that Jesus is saying "doing the will of the Father" is hearing Jesus' words and practicing them. This is simply following Jesus! So, there is something more important and vital than being simply a "believer" in Jesus.
There is a belief factor in following Jesus. You must believe in Jesus enough to follow him—to hear his words and practice them.
So, do you want to enter the Kingdom? Then, do the will of the Father—FOLLOW JESUS. Whatever Jesus does and says to do, just do it!
All four Gospel writers record the third reference Jesus uses to show the way to be able to enter the Kingdom of heaven. In Matthew 18:3: And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Then, again in Mark 10:15 Jesus says: "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Luke repeats Jesus' words from Mark: "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
Then, in the Gospel of John, in a very familiar interaction with Nicodemus, Jesus uses a little different metaphor to say the same thing. He says in John 3:5: "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit." He goes on to say: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit." Jesus is referring to being "born again" and means something different than what is normally believed. Being born again is not a salvation experience—a special faith event where a person passes from death to life. Being born again is just what it says. You are born all over again, so that you are like a little child again with all of the purity and simplicity of being this childlike person.
What does that mean to be childlike? A little child naturally trusts, knows very little, and is eager to mimic what he or she sees. In a very real sense, for an adult to become childlike is to be willing to unlearn and start over again with respect to what it means to follow Jesus and not remain dependent upon the religious system from which he or she originally came.
So, in the case of Nicodemus, who was probably the head of a rabbinical school, Jesus was challenging him to rethink his entire spiritual education—to start over and learn the ABC's of what it means to grow up spiritually into a personal relationship with God through His Messiah Jesus. Once a person turns from his ways and begins to act as a little child, then he is being born again.
Becoming as a little child with Jesus means the following: 1. You don't know everything. 2. All that you have been taught needs to be stripped away.
- You want to learn all you can about this new life with Jesus. 4. In order to learn more about the ABC's of walking with Jesus, it's most helpful to watch him carefully and mimic what you hear and see. 5. Learn to simply trust Jesus for your life—your strength, direction and future.
Adults think they know everything and have the ugly habit of trusting themselves. Children know they don't know everything and therefore gladly develop the beautiful habit of simply trusting.
Do you want to enter the Kingdom of heaven? Become like a little child!
The fourth reference Jesus made concerning what it takes to enter or not enter the Kingdom of God has a couple of dimensions. Both of these dimensions here contain direct warnings toward the religious. The first dimension is in Matthew 21:32: Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him."
Beware of being so religious and self-righteous. Jesus became most disturbed and angry with those who didn't see their need for God—those who thought they were right and righteous because of their beliefs and practices. In this dimension Jesus points out that those who see their need most are the ones who are actually entering the Kingdom right now ahead of the religious and the righteous. In fact, he is not just saying that the most despised tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the Kingdom someday, but that they are entering right now!
The second dimension is in Matthew 23:13: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." Note the specifics of what Jesus is saying here. He is clearly saying that these religious leaders in positions of authority are not entering the Kingdom. He has made several observations at other times about the reasons why they will not enter the Kingdom, primarily the leading one is their religious pride—that they know it all and know they are right.
Now Jesus points out that these religious leaders who are not entering the Kingdom are also stopping others to enter by shutting the door of the Kingdom of heaven in their faces. How is this done? I think it's done by continually setting up certain restrictions and limitations on who can get in and who will not.
It boils down to this: 1. Those who don't have it together will enter the Kingdom first. 2. Those who think they have it together through what they know/believe and what they do, may not enter the Kingdom at all. 3. And these religious "know-it-alls" tend to shut others out of the Kingdom, too.
Two things to beware of: FIRST: Don't deceive yourself into thinking that your belief system or your behavior will get you into the Kingdom.
SECOND: Don't divert others away from Jesus, because of your dogmatic belief system.
Be careful to follow Jesus and put your trust in him and him alone. He is the only way you'll ever get out of this world alive! That's why he said: "I am the way, the truth and the life."
The fifth reference Jesus makes concerning what it takes to enter the Kingdom of heaven has to do with the rich. Three of the Gospels record this one. The context for this Kingdom entrance principle is in relationship to a conversation Jesus had with a young, rich man. Let's listen in to this conversation:
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments." "Which ones?" he inquired. Jesus replied, " 'You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'"
(NOTE that Jesus equates eternal life with entering life and then later in this passage he speaks of entering the Kingdom of God.)
The young man shockingly states: "All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?" Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." By "perfect", Jesus means to be complete and whole in your search for life.
Then, note the man's final response to Jesus' words: When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus knew the man's heart and that he was holding on to his riches—his stuff—very tightly. In other words, his stuff had become his security, maybe even his god. For sure, his stuff had distracted this rich, young man away from filling up his heart with the ultimate desire to give it all up and follow Jesus.
Then, Jesus makes the following observation recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke. In Matthew 19:23-24: Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Mark 10; Luke 18)
Whether the image here truly is a camel or a rope going through the eye of a needle, the essence of what Jesus is saying is still the same. IT IS DIFFICULT FOR A RICH MAN TO ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD! The difficulty for the rich person is that he tends to trust in his riches for security and tends to think that people, places and things can make him happy or whole and complete.
Do you want to enter the Kingdom of God? If you are rich and have a lot of stuff, then hold on to that stuff "loosely", so that you are not trusting in your riches, but in God for a complete and full, eternal life.
Jesus spends most of his time teaching about the Kingdom. But despite his emphasis, we spend most of our time talking about the Church and almost no time talking about the Kingdom. It's not that the Kingdom has been rejected, but reduced by what is typically taught. My good friend, Fran Patt, shared with me an insight here: "I think one answer to your question about why we are all about church and Jesus wasn't, is that "church" is all about our culture and Jesus is not. We reinvent God to be like us and to validate our culture. We unwittingly want to make him one of us, when he is trying to make us into citizens of his Kingdom. He wants to remake us into one of his citizens and we want to remake him into a tribal deity."
The way Jesus teaches the Kingdom, it is greater than anything that has ever existed on earth. Jesus makes it clear that the Kingdom is near—within reach—here and among us right now, and there seems to be a time in the future when the Kingdom will be more fully experienced on earth. Once you embrace the fact that the presence of the Kingdom is right here, right now, you can begin enjoying yourself as you live in the Kingdom right here, right now. Jesus calls it following him or doing the will of the Father or hearing his words and practicing them.
By hearing Jesus’ words and practicing them, you will find yourself caught up in the flow of the movement of the Kingdom of God or better yet, you will be caught up in the 21st Century Jesus movement. It's a revolutionary movement, and Jesus is the one who leads it. So, see where Jesus is at work and get there as soon as possible. Walk with him. Watch him. Work with him. No matter your circumstances, you can practice the presence of the Kingdom and enjoy the presence of the King—Jesus—right here on planet earth, right now.
I think what Jesus is saying is that he has brought the Kingdom—the presence of God to earth. You see, where the King is, there is the Kingdom.
So, Jesus isn't about the Church and Jesus isn't about Christianity; Jesus is all about the Kingdom being among us right here today!
Jesus says his followers will do: “The works that I do and greater works than these he will do.” (John 14:12) How is this possible? Here it is! As you follow Jesus, he will urge you to pursue the Kingdom lifestyle and to practice the presence of Jesus through God’s indwelling Spirit. You can do that right now, today!