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The Kingdom of God is Like What?!

God's Kingdom is Like What?

How would you answer that question? Many people read Jesus' parables as though they were short stories about God, how to get to heaven, and how to be a good person. And when Jesus talks about "the Kingdom of God" many of us assume that Jesus is talking about heaven as a place we will go to when we die. Many times, when a Christian dies, we say that they "entered the Kingdom." So, when Jesus asks the rhetorical question "What is God's kingdom like?", we expect Him to describe a destination called "Heaven" to us in the next breath, but He does not. Instead, Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is "like a mustard seed that someone took and placed in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the sky made nests in its branches." Luke 13:19. We have to admit that if Jesus was trying to describe heaven, this is a rather shocking description. How in the world could heaven be like a Mustard seed growing into a tree?

The next parable doesn't help us out but rather makes things worse on this account: "What shall we say God's kingdom is like? It's like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour until the whole thing was leavened." Again, if we were to take this parable as being a story describing our presumed final destination in a place called Heaven, we will need to revise a number of our Gospel songs which describes streets of gold and pearly mansions and add a verse or two about yeast rolls. They are after all "heavenly" as I am sure many will concur.

In the third little parable about the Kingdom of God, we run into several very significant problems for those who assume that Jesus is talking about heaven and how to get there. Let's look at the text for a minute.

And He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. And someone said to Him. "Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?" And He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able." Luke 13:22-24

If Jesus is teaching His followers how they are to get to heaven, then here we would find a very strong contradiction to the message of the Reformers who insisted that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Jesus is telling His audience that they need to strive to enter the narrow door. I am not saying that anyone can earn their salvation. What I am saying is that Jesus is not talking about people's souls getting saved from Hell, nor is He talking about how people can get their souls saved for Heaven. All along, Jesus has been talking about the establishment of God's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus is talking about God becoming King on earth. This is what the Jews expected and this is what Jesus proclaimed. The point of contention between Jesus and his audience is the nature of that Kingdom of God. What does it look like when God becomes King? What is the Kingdom of God like? Jesus is giving these parables as a way of explaining what He was doing and how God was establishing His Kingdom through His work. It was not as they expected. It was slow like yeast and small like a mustard seed.

The arrival of the Kingdom God is also drawing to a head the great conflict between God and the powers of darkness. Unless the right side is chosen when the opportunity arises, there will be little that can be done for those who refused once the opportunity passes. What happened with Pilate and the Galileans in the temple, was going to happen on a greater scale to the entire nation. Now was the time for choosing the path of peace instead of the path of war but Israel was largely refusing that path. Once again, Jesus isn't talking about people's souls here. Suppose you were a faithful Jew who wanted God to establish His Kingdom and to drive out those pagan oppressors so that you could worship God in peace and safety. And suppose you perceive that Jesus' vision was too soft and would not bring deliverance. Suppose you rejected Jesus on what you perceived to be Biblical grounds. You listened to Jesus but you decided "No, that can't be God's way." Ultimately, what would happen to Israel would validate the prophetic words of Jesus. The Roman army surrounded Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and smashed it to the ground. If you had been in the city during the siege, you might have recalled the words of Jesus, "Strive to enter the narrow gate...once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, 'Lord, open up for us!' then He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know where you are from.' that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' Maybe at that moment too, you repented. You realized that Jesus was right after all. It would be too late to get out of the city. It would be too late to avoid the destruction. But it would not be too late to be made right with God. Would God be honored and pleased if you dropped your sword at that moment and said: "I am so sorry"? Yes, He would be very pleased. Would God forgive you? Yes, He most certainly would forgive you. Would God rescue you from the coming destruction of Jerusalem? There was no guarantee of that. Life has choices and life has consequences. God is merciful and God is redemptive but our choices are still very real and have very real consequences. So strive to enter the narrow Gate. Jesus is what it looks like when God becomes King, so let us not be stubborn about the ways we imagine God should behave. Let us look long and hard at Jesus and recognize that in Him is the way that God has chosen to fix humanity and to fix the world. Let us not wait until our solutions leave us surrounded by our enemies, hemmed in on every side.

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