Entering the Kingdom Of Heaven…
Matthew 7:21-23 (please click HERE): Our main passage in this post; part of Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount,” Matthew chapters 5—7. Read those three chapters—POWERFUL! Jesus paints a picture of what He wants to transform us to be like.
Let’s look at the context first, though, the verses leading up to 21–23…
Matthew 7:13-14 (please click HERE): Jesus talks about heaven, about real life, and about the road to it being “narrow”…we don’t like the word “narrow” either in terms of narrow-mindedness or have a narrow house—we like BIGness, wideness, broadness, openness—this is FREEDOM for us Americans! But Jesus says His way is not THAT way—His way isn’t narrow-minded, but it is narrow.
- No one would pay a ticket to watch someone walk a tight rope that is 15 feet wide! “I can do that MYSELF,” we would shout, and so we wouldn’t give someone time and money if they do something that is easy enough for us to do on our own!
- But we might pay a ticket to a circus and give our time to watch someone walk over a tightrope that is a half-inch wide—THAT is truly remarkable, THAT is unusual, THAT is extraordinary. And so as Jesus transforms us to walk His NARROW path, THAT will amaze (or disgust!) non-Christians watching us follow Jesus and live as He lives, in ways that we could NEVER do on our own strength.
- The highway that runs down the coast of California—one of the most BEAUTIFUL and breathtaking and amazing roads to travel on…is NARROW! It is one lane on each side, not an 8 lane superhighway like the Auto-bahn in Germany! And yet it is a STURDY and GORGEOUS highway—carved out of sturdy rock and mountains and providing views that you cannot get anywhere else. The narrowness doesn’t keep people from driving on it but actually serves to help attract them to it!
THIS is the narrowness of Jesus’ way—it is sturdy on the rock of God’s Word, a bit dangerous since we travel it carrying a cross, and breathtaking because it draws us closer and closer to Jesus Himself!
Matthew 7:15-20 (please click HERE): Jesus continues by talking about the need to spot false prophets, false teachers of the Bible who seem great on the outside but are imposters and deceptive on the inside. “How can we determine who these dangerous false teachers are? How do we know that m.j. isn’t one of them!!!???”
- Are they also walking the Savior’s narrow way, are they following the cultural Jesus or the Biblical Christ? Are they teaching the Bible, which often cuts our conscience, or are they teaching that which only tickles our taste buds?
- Are they displaying the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives, NOT just when they preach or when they are in the public eye, but are they becoming closer to Jesus and more like Him, are you smelling & seeing Jesus in them more and more? If not, pray for them, talk to them, and if they won’t listen, RUN from such pastors/teachers/authors etc. RUN RUN RUN.
This is the context that leads us to our main verses this post, the verses that can be quite haunting to us but are SO IMPORTANT for helping us to awaken for the first time or re-awaken for the hundredth time!
Matthew 7:21-23: Jesus continues by discussing false Christians.
Wow. There will be some people on the day of Judgment who did great things using the name of Jesus but who were not true believers, were not true Christians. Staggering…sobering. There will be some people on the day of Judgment who
- wore the Jesus uniform, who cheered, who painted their faces, who knew some of the lingo and many of the stats, but who never actually agreed to be on the team,
- there will be some who tailgated Christ every Sunday but never actually invited Him in to sit down and eat with them personally…
- there will be some who attended church and Bible studies and potlucks but who never attended to their deepest need: receiving Jesus as Savior & King…
What is Jesus saying here?
How do we know if we REALLY are Christians, if we truly are one of His and not simply imposters?
In these verses, Jesus gives a description of those who are true, those who WILL enter the Kingdom of heaven:
“Only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
Now this is NOT teaching that our good deeds/works get us into heaven—not at all! But those who have received Jesus as Savior and Lord will have healthy good deeds/works/fruit in their character and in their actions as a result. But the good deeds actions will FLOW OUT OF our resurrected-relationship with Jesus, out of our forgiven-friendship with Him, out of knowing Him. Being with Jesus MUST come before doing for Jesus…that why Jesus says to those who only did things in His name, “Depart—I never KNEW you.”
In Matthew chapters 5—7, Jesus gives a powerful and in some ways overwhelming revelation of the ways that He wants us to learn to be and live—so in our passage this morning, is Jesus saying we need to perfectly live out the Sermon on the Mount in order to enter the Kingdom of heaven? The Gospel of John records Jesus as addressing this specifically—what IS the will of the Father that we are to do?
John 6:27-29 (NIV)
27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
Now this isn’t ONLY an intellectual belief—James records that even demons BELIEVE in Jesus in the sense that they recognize that He is in fact God in the flesh—but they don’t SURRENDER to Jesus, they haven’t agreed to their need for a Savior and certainly haven’t asked for Jesus and His Cross to meet that need. That is the difference between Biblical/saving belief in Jesus and demonic false belief in Jesus.
Does Jesus want us to be transformed by Him so as to learn how to live out the Sermon on the Mount (and ALL the Bible, for that matter!) in His strength each day? YES! That’s one of the goals!
But He also reveals that the FOUNDATION for such extraordinary transformation is being reborn, is believing in the One sent by the Father—Jesus. THAT is what gets us into heaven, and THAT is exactly what the people in Matthew 7:21-23 HAVE NOT DONE.
- They have signed up for Christian activities without surrendering their lives to Christ.
- They have gotten busy with calculus before they’ve learned how to count to ten.
- They have started an intense exercise program to help them tone their muscles without dealing for a moment with the stage four cancer that is ravaging their pancreas.
- They are running on treadmills in the womb BEFORE they are re-born as Christians through faith alone in Jesus!
And this is one of the main dangers of serving at a church before you are a Christian—it is easy to think that the serving MAKES you a Christian when it absolutely does not…It is not being a servant that makes you a Christian, but being a Christian that makes you a servant. Again, Jesus came not to make bad people good but to make dead people alive—THAT is the main issue that Jesus addresses, that is the main decision that we must make, with the Holy Spirit’s help, that will determine what we hear from Jesus at the Judgment—either “well done, good and faithful servant!” or “depart from Me, I never knew you…”
My friends, some who hear/read a passage like this will disregard it, thinking,
“Doesn’t apply to me…I can’t wait for football later!”
Others will hear/read a passage like this and think that God is telling them to PROVE they are a Christian
by running out and signing up for every church activity that is available.
Both of these responses are unwise!
The best response to a haunting passage like this is neither to do NOTHING nor to do EVERYTHING but rather to kneel before Jesus and ask Him,
- “Have I actually become one of Your children?
- Have I accepted Your offer of adoption?
- Have I realized that without You, Jesus, I am in daily rebellion against You, that I am dead in my sins and under the wrath of God the Father?
- Have You, Holy Spirit, ever brought me to the deep realization that I am not just a sinner in the sense of “hey, nobody’s perfect!” but that I am a sinner in the sense that apart from Your cross I am against You, Jesus, that I want to overthrow You from being in charge of my life so I can live to please myself?”
But you would say, “Oh come now—I am not AGAINST God!”
Really? The Bible says we are, that without receiving Jesus as our Savior we are enemies of God, that without Jesus as our Savior & King we are spiritual orphans, born angry at God and separated from the deep/intimate friendship that He created us for, a determination to be our own god. Though we often don’t realize it, we interact with God each day similar to going into the Oval Office and either gently or aggressively try to move the President so that we can sit in the chair behind the desk. We want that kind of control of our lives, and if doing that literally would get us arrested by the Secret Service, how much more serious is it to do so to God every day?
Colossians 1:21-23: Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[a] your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Romans 5:9-11: Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
- Jesus wants to set us FREE from the chains we don’t even realize that we have…
- Jesus wants to heal us from the wounds we don’t even realize we have…
- Jesus wants to adopt us though we don’t even realize we are orphans…
- Jesus wants to make His home with us though we don’t even realize we are homeless and living in the cardboard boxes of sin and self-worship…
This is neither easy for us to accept nor possible for us to realize without the Holy Spirit opening our eyes—though most humans will admit to being imperfect, and maybe even being a “sinner,” none of us on our own strength even realize how bad we are/how wretched we are apart from Jesus…
- Like a fish…it has no concept of wetness—all it has ever known is water, and the brief moments that it leaps out of the water it experiences a choking inability to breathe and thus gets back INTO the water as quickly as possible. A fish also cannot begin to even understand “dryness” or land because all it has ever known is the sea, a lake or a pond…
Similarly, since we humans were conceived in sin, it is all we have ever known (Psalm 58:3; Psalm 51:5)—the spiritual bondage of being controlled by our desires to worship self or people/things rather than God, the spiritual prison of wanting to be the god of our lives and move God off the throne either by force, unbelief, or simply ignoring Him, the spiritual slavery of trying to find peace our own way apart from God or to convince ourselves that there is no God. Jesus wants to set us free from all that…if we will allow Him to unlock the shackles and remove the heavy chains…to transform us from swimming in sin to soaring with the Savior, to dry us off from the wetness of self-worship and clothe us with the garments of Christ-worship, to take away our gills that breathe sin every moment and give us lungs that breathe the Holy Spirit every moment.
Has the Holy Spirit and the Bible helped you realize THAT?
If you don’t realize that, or don’t agree with that…ask, beg, DEMAND that the Holy Spirit help you to realize your NEED for Jesus alone to free you, forgive you, re-birth you, adopt you and transform you. Don’t worry so much about whether you WANT or LIKE Jesus—that will come later! Ask the Holy Spirit to help you realize clearly that you NEED Jesus, not to make you “a better person” but to make you a living person! No one will agree to undergo a heart transplant surgery if they think they simply have indigestion! They would need to be convinced of the seriousness of their sickness in order for them to agree to the seriousness of the cure…
Jesus did not come to make bad people good but to make dead people alive…He doesn’t just want to IMPROVE us…He wants to SAVE us, to RANSOM us back from the prison of sin…
If He just wanted to make us more polite, He wouldn’t have needed to suffer & be tortured & die on a cross…If our manners were all that He was concerned with, His death was a bit much, like using dynamite and blowing up a house to get rid of some ants!
No, He suffered and died so that we could LIVE—He took our sin on His shoulders and was crushed by them (Isaiah 53), by His messy WOUNDS we are healed (not by His magical wand). I know many of us won’t watch the Passion of the Christ a second time but we should all watch it once—Isaiah 52:13-15 says the Messiah’s body was “disfigured beyond recognition” because of our sin, and we need to SEE what it cost for us to be offered forgiveness, we need to see the terribleness of the cure in order to agree with the terribleness of the disease of sin…Jesus took our “F” so that we could have His “A+” so we wouldn’t be expelled from God forever but could receive the glorious diploma, as a scholarship (not as a loan) given not because of our goodness but because of Christ’s goodness, the diploma of being sons and daughters of God Himself…that is what is needed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven—admitting and agreeing with that diagnosis, and receiving Christ and His cross as the only cure…
It is quite possible to perfect the social graces of culture (behavior!)
without receiving the spiritual grace of Christ which makes us perfect (surrender).
We always want to focus on God’s love for us—AND WE SHOULD! But we don’t want to focus on God’s wrath, which is actually an extension of His love! We cannot understand the beauty of God’s love for us without understanding the power of God’s wrath against Jesus on the cross—God loves us so much that He CRUSHED His Son with the weight of our nasty and heinous sins…God’s love and wrath are intertwined…we cannot fully understand and appreciate one without the other.
It is relatively easy and simple to come to church to improve our behavior, to listen for a self-help tip or two from the Bible and then be on our way living as we always have, to have Jesus be the ethical-consultant that we hire to help improve a section of our lives like a business. But this doesn’t bring us into the Kingdom of Heaven, into God’s family…
What is difficult, and what is absolutely NECESSARY in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, is dying to self—Jesus talks about receiving Him as Savior as a sort-of DEATH—
- a death to our false beliefs that we are basically good and just in need of a little polishing up here and there,
- a death to our insistence that WE are in charge of our lives and that WE know best because we 21st century Americans are so capable and smart with our technology and intelligence and finances,
- a death to our desire for officials that we elect (we are in charge!) when Jesus wants to be our KING Who lays claim to every corner of our soul and every moment of our lives and who chooses us before we can even think of choosing Him.
In order to become a Christian and receive Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life there is a sort of DEATH that we must experience, and THIS is why many do not become Christians, this is why many church-attenders just want church to be fun and entertaining and comfortable and easy, this is why we might casually allow Jesus’ principles to refine us but are wary of allowing His power to resurrect us.
Look at the language Jesus uses in the Bible—this is NOT behavior-modification that He is primarily after; it is re-birth, a complete resurrection and transformation of mind, body, soul and spirit!
Matthew 20:28 NIV: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
Ephesians 2:1-5: “You were once dead in your transgressions and sins, by nature we deserved God’s wrath, but now you are alive in Christ—by grace you have been saved!”
John 3:3-7: “Jesus said, ‘To enter the Kingdom of heaven, you must be re-born of water and the Spirit! Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
Our souls don’t just have a little dust & rust, they are infested with roaches, termites, rats, black mold and flesh-eating bacteria. We don’t need a few sprays from the Orkin man or a fresh coat of paint but a total knock-down/rebuild by Jesus Himself.
John 10:10: Jesus said, “I came that they would have LIFE,” which implicitly states that without Christ we aren’t just bad…we aren’t even really alive…
The Cross says: “THIS is how bad you really are—only the death of God’s Son can help you.”
The Cross also says: “THIS is how loved you really are—only the death of God’s Son can prove that to you, can show that to you. You don’t need to be POLISHED, you need to be PARDONED, for our problem isn’t mistakes or shortcomings but treason against God Himself.” Has the Holy Spirit helped you to agree with THAT?
Has the Holy Spirit and the Bible helped you realize that NOTHING/NO ONE else but Jesus can truly satisfy you,
- no amount of money
- no amount of fame
- no amount of earthly pleasure
- no level of physical beauty
- no amount of behavior-modification and self-help/improvement
NOTHING can satisfy your soul’s hunger and thirst for Jesus……do you realize and believe this?
Isaiah 55: Invitation to the Thirsty
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
3 Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live…
6 Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”
John 4:10-14: Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. Everyone who drinks this [well] water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Have you asked Jesus to forgive you, nourish you and quench you?
Have you entered the Kingdom of God by choosing to defect from the rebel kingdom of self?
Do you see why these verses in Matthew are a bit haunting? But in a good way—they wake us up to see the real need—not for better manners but for us to surrender to the perfect God-Man Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, for re-birth, and then for a glorious transformation…
I have one last statement before I close: this surrender is not just for non-Christians. If you have asked Jesus to be both your Savior and King at one point in your lives, have you asked Him lately to forgive, nourish and quench you, to restore to you the JOY of your salvation (Psalm 51:12–please click HERE), to bring you back to your first love—knowing Jesus intimately?
Do you realize that no matter how much God grows you, we still need Jesus’ righteousness and cross and forgiveness as much as we did the first moment we believed, we still need Jesus’ robes to cover our nakedness and wretchedness, that without Him we too are lifeless?
Many of us in the family of God, in the Kingdom of heaven, have lately been “staying in our rooms with the door closed and our headphones in,” eating meals not with the Father and the family but on our beds by ourselves. Many of us have drifted in our relationship with our Savior in such a way that we aren’t divorced but are separated, living apart and joyless, our friendship has become merely a business transaction and the co-habitation of partners, not the joyful intimacy of friends and spouses…
Not that the Christian life is all about feelings/goosebumps—not at all! But if you can’t remember the last time you were filled with awe and wonder over Jesus’ sacrifice for you, over His perfect love for you displayed through the Cross, if you can’t seem to see the Savior’s loving nail-scarred hands through the fog of your current trials, through the pain of your present predicament, if you can’t remember what it is like to go to Jesus Personally to receive rest and encouragement and peace and joy, confess that to Him, admit that to Him and ask Him to refresh you, not as an abstract concept but as your actual Counselor…
…re-surrender to Christ and allow His Holy Spirit to give you what Paul prays for in Ephesians 3: power so that Jesus will Personally live in your heart through faith and so that you will more fully grasp (mind, soul and spirit) how wide and high and long and deep is the love of Jesus Christ, so that you will get back to the eternal blessing of KNOWING Jesus and not just the earthly business of serving Him—Jesus, the only flower that never withers, the only Bread that never grows stale or moldy, the only key that unlocks our chains and truly sets us free…as we sing our final song, let’s surrender or resurrender to Jesus, for behold—He walks among us, even here, even now…His invitation to His Kingdom and family is awaiting your RSVP…