God’s kingdom is moving in powerful ways that we far too often miss. Our view of it becomes far too small and we judge the whole kingdom based on what we can see right where we are. The result is that if things don’t seem to be going great for us then the kingdom is in trouble. In my own life this week was supposed to be a huge one. I had plans about several things that I felt were all vital in kingdom business. I had planned to be at a meeting about the church at Rivercity, Silver City and the Rivercity ministries. I made it but with no voice to say much. The next day I had planned a meeting of preachers from the area to discuss the launching of a Campus Ministry at UALR. It is a huge thing in my mind and heart for the preaching of the gospel to the world since so many other countries are represented at the school who will be going back home afterward. The meeting happened but again with very little voice and it is hard to show passion for something when your voice seems like a whisper. This weekend is our Harvest Sunday contribution. I had big plans for things I wanted to say in the sermon on the whole topic. Today it is completely obvious that won’t happen. Not only is the voice gone, the body aches and difficulty breathing make it obvious this isn’t just a voice thing. Thank God there are people who can always step in to take the load and the kingdom moves on.
I suspect that when John the Baptist came peaching the nearness of the kingdom and when all Jerusalem and Judea were coming out to him to be baptized in the Jordan, it must have seemed to him that the future of the kingdom had a great deal to do with his work. When he baptized Jesus it must have seemed he had reached the pinnacle of his ministry. He pointed people to Jesus as the Lamb of God who had come into the world. But Jesus then began to draw bigger crowds than him. People were going to Jesus to be baptized instead of to John, although John the apostle tells us in the beginning of John 4 that Jesus himself didn’t baptize anyone but his disciples baptized them. John the Baptist’s disciples were worried about what was happening. They went to John to report that the people were going to Jesus instead of to him. John made the marvelous statement “He must increase but I must decrease.” Increasing is good. It is fun. It feels like it will never end. But decreasing is tough. When we begin to decrease and things aren’t as easy as they used to be, people aren’t calling you to speak like they once did or your advise isn’t sought as much as it was in the past, you feel that decreasing going on. But imagine how John felt when he was arrested for what he had said to Herod about him not having a right to Herodias as his wife. Day after day in a jail for nothing more than preaching God’s word truthfully, would have been difficult for anyone. Besides that Jesus was performing all kinds of miracles, why couldn’t he come and open these prison doors and get him out. John eventually send disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who should come or do we look for another?” Doubt had moved in and he wondered if Jesus was really who he had thought he was. Surely the real messiah would come to get me out of prison.
A lesson that is hard for us to learn is that the kingdom of God doesn’t depend on us. It will move forward just fine when we aren’t able to be part of the work any longer. Many years ago Brother Gus Nichols was talking to a group of us as preachers and he had a bucket of water sitting on the stage behind him. He said to us all, “If you get to thinking you are important and the kingdom can’t make it without you come up here and put your hand down into the water and pull it out. See how big of a dent you leave in the water.”
But with all of that it must be remembered that John’s place in the kingdom work was vital. It probably meant more than John ever realized. In Luke 16:14-16 it is said, “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. And He said to them. “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached and everyone is forcing his way into it.”
Notice a few things in this passage as it relates to the kingdom of God. First, these religious leaders who thought their place in the kingdom was extremely significant were really people who were justifying themselves, but they were looking at the wrong things. They were looking on the outside and God was looking at the heart. What they considered of great importance which was the ritual, the little things they had made into big things, whether one tithed all he had and washed everything in the right way was significant to them. Jesus didn’t see them as nearly as important as they did. He was determined to change their hearts for God.
The statements in verse 16 are a huge challenge. They have confused me for years and I have tried to avoid the text as a result. Let’s look at the different parts of this verse. First, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John.” The NASV that I’m reading from helps the understanding of this verse with an interpretation by adding the words “were proclaimed” which aren’t in the original text. I think their interpretation is correct. It wasn’t that the Law and the Prophets ended when John came. It was that they stopped being preached with the same fervor at the time John and then Jesus came on the scene.
“Since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been peached.” Again this phrase is a challenge. The Gospel was what Jesus command the apostles to preach to the world in Mark 16:15-16. It is the power of God to salvation according to Paul in Romans 1:16. When Paul gives a synopsis of the gospel in I Corinthians 15:1-5 it was that Christ died acceding to Scripture, was buried and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. So how was the gospel preached by John before the kingdom ever came into being? The gospel is the good news about Jesus to the lost world. John was preaching to the people “Repent and be baptized because the kingdom is drawing near.” It is certainly true that preaching the gospel involved the preaching of what Jesus was doing in the lives of the people in that day as well as our own. They didn’t have the full gospel message at the time. But they had enough for it to be good news of the coming kingdom and the coming king. One doesn’t have to have the whole gospel message to be preaching the gospel of the kingdom. If they did there wouldn’t be a young preacher alive that would be preaching the gospel because any who have a memory know that when they started they didn’t know much but they preached what they did know and grew.
But the most difficult phrase in this verse is this one, “Everyone is forcing his way into it.” John was preaching the gospel of the kingdom. People of all kinds and back ground were pressing their way into the kingdom. How did that work? We certainly read of many who were not pressing their way into the kingdom. But how were they getting into or even near the kingdom that hadn’t fully come into being? It is true that the kingdom in its fullness was not here yet. It was still drawing hear. But the kingdom was coming and it would be built on the foundation of the people who were coming to Christ and his Kingdom now. So they were pressing into it by coming to John and to Jesus to be baptized by them and thus getting into the kingdom. They were submitting to the rule and reign of Jesus in their life. They didn’t know the full gospel. But they were obeying what they knew and God was taking that as sufficient to make them kingdom prospectively.
Around the world today there are still multitudes of people who haven’t heard the full gospel message but are pressing their way into the kingdom of God by accepting the knowledge they have about Jesus obeying it even when they don’t know the rest of what it teaches.
Our job, should we accept it is to live as kingdom members every day in such a way that people notice the difference and ask us about what has happened to us and want to know how we maintain throughout life. When Jesus is our king we can face all the problem and concerns of life.