The other night I had this great idea for a really encouraging, inspirational post. It was all about how great the kingdom of heaven is, and it had a bunch of points that would make anyone want to run into the kingdom of heaven as soon as possible. Here’s how it started out:
The Kingdom of Heaven is like:
How psyched you get when you find something you lost and thought was gone. (Luke 15:8-10)
Coming back home after you ran away, and they throw a party for you. (Matthew 15:20-24)
A field where seeds that are planted bear ridiculous amounts of fruit.
A poor person, getting what he never had. (Luke 6:20)
A big, relaxing meal, after a long journey. (Luke 13:29)
A banquet feast, filled with a bunch of people you’d never expect to see there. (Luke 14:16-24)
A barn full of freshly harvested grain, where everything worthless has been taken away. (Matthew 13:24-30)
A really small seed that shocks you with how big a plant it grows (Mark 4:30)
Of course, these all come from quotes taken from the mouth of Jesus, and they’re all great. It’s all true! But with that second to last point, about the harvest of grain, I had begun to notice a theme in most of his teaching on the kingdom of God: there is this constant, unmistakable emphasis on the fact that the Kingdom of God comes, separates those who are entering from those who are not, and achieves its perfect status as the ultimate family gathering by shutting out all those who, for one reason or another, will not enter.
You want to know something? I actually caught myself avoiding those verses to get to the real positive-sounding pictures like those in the beginning of the list. But then, finally, the evidence overwhelmed me. Something else was up in Jesus’ own teaching about the kingdom–something that couldn’t, and therefor shouldn’t, be ignored. It was this rather shocking theme of exclusion. You just can’t get away from it. For example, Jesus also says the kingdom of heaven is like:
- A field where “bad seed” has been sown next to good seed, and at harvest time, the unwanted plants from the bad seed will be separated out from the good seed, and destroyed. (Matthew 13:30, 41-43)
- A net gathered up into a fishing vessel full of all kinds of things, and the “bad” items are thrown away. (Matthew 13:48)
- A feast where many people originally invited refuse to come, and those without the proper attire are thrown out (Matthew 22:13)
- Ten young women who fall asleep waiting for a wedding, and five don’t have enough oil in their lamps to make it in to the feast. (Matthew 25:10)
- A herd of animals, where the sheep are finally and completely separated from the goats (Matthew 25:32)
You could add to this list these facts which Jesus makes explicit:
People who are only as righteous as the Pharisees don’t get in. (Matthew 5:20)
- It’s hard for rich people to get in. (Matthew 10:23)
- Entering the kingdom requires the willingness to truly hear Jesus’ teaching. (Matthew 13:11-12)
- You can’t get in by just being alive; you need to be reborn. (John 3:3)
And there’s more of those types of teachings you can find in the records of Jesus’ life.
What’s the point of all this? It strikes me that we all have a tendency to focus on the parts of the life and teachings of Christ that make us feel good (this is not a profound insight). Now, if we’re already saved by trusting in Christ, then the first list is the one that has the most application to us in terms of our own experience. But if we want to truly understand Jesus and what he taught, we need to be ready to face it all, letting it search us, challenge us, and bring light to our thoughts.
This is especially crucial when a certain strain of Christ’s teaching contradicts our culture–and this one does, big time. Ours is an age where everyone is engaged in a frantic race to integrate and unify everything, and the chosen method is the erasing of all distinctions between humans, down to distinctions of gender and behavior. We’re obsessed with proving that everything and anything is acceptable, and that humanity is a big blended mix which can be reduced down to common biology.
So when we read Jesus talk about good fish and bad fish, good seed and bad seed, good wheat and weeds, people left out of the house while the door shuts, we get shocked. Doesn’t God love everyone? And the answer of course, is–yes! John 3:16! But how does he love everyone? And what does his love require? And what will God’s love mean for the world, in the end, when some refuse to own Christ as Lord, and persecute those who do?
Or maybe, to bring this post back to the original question, we could say it like this:
When God’s kingdom–this huge, worldwide feast attended forever by perfected, reborn men and women who will never die, this kingdom of people who love God with all their hearts, this kingdom which is right now inviting anyone and everyone (regardless of who they are or what they’ve done) to repent and enter by faith in Christ (freely! by grace!)–when this kingdom finally, fully comes, what will it do to those who oppose it?
That seems to be the questions Jesus is answering in these teachings. If you love God, and love people, and hate what dishonors God and degrades people, you hear this as good news. The world will one day be totally free of everything that ruins everything. Believe it, and enter the kingdom.