Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: kingdom of God

Our opportunity is larger than you think

After giving several serious warning throughout his letter, the author of Hebrews refreshes us with examples of regular people who have actually lived the kind of life he is urging his readers to choose – a life that is marked by actions that show we trust the Greater Messenger; that we are living for participation in a future kingdom.

We have now arrived at what is commonly referred to as the “Hall of Faith” or the “Faith Hall of Fame”.  Hebrews 11 contains Old Testament examples of those who by faith trusted God with the message He gave them – and then they made life choices with that end in mind.

One thing to keep in mind here is that the words translated faith and believe are the same word in Greek, and are best defined as – to trust, with implications that the one who is trusted will do actions because of that trust placed in them

And in this context, the action to follow is the expectation that God will fulfill His promise of participation in a future kingdom.

Hebrews 11:1-2, 6
Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.  For by it our ancestors won God’s approval…Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.


If we do not believe the importance of the message, we won’t draw near to God.  All the faith heroes listed in this chapter are being commended for the actions in their individual lives that corresponded to their belief in the coming future that was promised by God.

Hebrews 11:13, 32-33, 39
These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised.  But they saw them from a distance…And what more can I say?  Time is too short for me to tell about [all of those] who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises…All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised


Wait.  What?

What do you mean, they didn’t receive it?  God promised it, so why didn’t they get it?

However, the author did says they obtained promises.  He continues:

Hebrews 11:40
God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.


Made perfect can also be translated to reach a goal, be fulfilled, or completed.

Let verse 40 sink in…read it a second time…and a fourth time…

God has decided to allow us (you and me!) participation in bringing about what Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Samuel, and all the OT heroes were longing to see, the fulfillment of their faith in God’s promises.

You are invited to participate in the greatest story ever told.  Will you?

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

A question of forgiveness

Ever wish that you just had someone to talk to?  You need advice, and you would love to run your ideas and concerns past another experienced, trustworthy person.  That’s exactly what a mentor is for, and we have a perfect example of this with Peter and Jesus.

The disciples had been arguing, yet again, about which one of them was going to be the greatest in Jesus’ coming kingdom.  They brought their argument to Jesus, who told them

Matthew 18:4-5
Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child – this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And who ever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me.

Keep in mind that children were of little value in ancient society, so Jesus’ direction here would have been especially hard for 12 adults to accept.  However, Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to give them three more difficult lessons:

·        Drastic measures should be taken to avoid leading others into sin
·        A single, stray brother is worth searching out and there is great rejoicing when the one returns to the many
·        How to approach a brother who sins against you – first privately, then with a few others, and lastly, if necessary, involve church leadership

These lessons were counter-cultural for how the disciples had been raised and taught.  When giving their arguments about which one of them was going to have a bigger kingdom title, I doubt that these areas of their lives were part of their resume.

After hearing these teachings with the rest of the disciples, Peter had a question and wanted clarification.  He didn’t need to have any of the lessons repeated, instead Peter was wrestling with how to apply Jesus’ teaching when his brother repeatedly sins against him.

Matthew 18:21-22
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?”

“I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven.”

While the phrase seventy time seven may feel familiar to us, keep in mind that the conventional rabbi teaching of Peter’s day recommended to extend forgiveness only three times.  So Peter likely felt he was also being counter-cultural and generous by offering to forgive twice as many times, plus one extra.  However, Jesus pushed Peter even further and instructed him to give his brother significant, not limited, forgiveness.  Jesus then told Peter another parable to illustrate His point.

This is one of the times in life where having a mentor is beneficial.  Peter thought he had progressed sufficiently in his thinking, so he brought his new understanding to Jesus for verification.  Although Peter was growing in the correct direction, he was directed to go even further – to forgive generously, and be great in Jesus’ kingdom.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Completely rescued

Earlier this year, hundreds of fishermen were rescued from a life of slavery on Thai fishing boats.  These men had been trafficked and sold to work on these boats for up to 20 hours a day.  Some were kidnapped, others were lured there with promises of money or work prospects.  Yet instead of these lies, they were paid with beatings, torture, and sexual abuse. 

When the Indonesian government stepped in and rescued them, the world cheered.  Others had done for them what these fishermen could not do for themselves.  However, once they had been freed, they had nowhere to go and no one to help them cope with adjusting into being part of the real world.

There is a spiritual parallel to this story.  Christ has done for sinners what they are unable to do for themselves – He took the punishment for our sin, because we could not pay that debt.  Since the Father accepted Christ’s payment, those who trust in Christ for eternal life have been rescued from the domain of darkness.  Fortunately, though, we are not left to ourselves.  Our story doesn’t end there. 

As Paul began his letter to the Colossian believers, he reminded them that not only were they rescued from sin’s domain, but they were also rescued to a new domain.  Read the verses below and look for where believers have been transferred to:

Colossians 1:11-14
May you be strengthened with all power according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.  He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

God the Father transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves.  While we were removed from sin’s jurisdiction, we also get a complete change of citizenship.  Only those in authority of a country can determine who gets to be a citizen; no other country’s declaration, decision, or complaint can affect a given citizenship.  As such, God can add anyone – from any background, region, or nationality – to the kingdom of the Son He loves.  Those He has chosen to transfer into Jesus’ kingdom are the ones who trust Jesus’ payment on the cross and trust Him for eternal life.

And it’s not like God has rescued us and then placed us into some other far-off area where life is just little better than it was before.  The Father doesn’t just send us on our merry way.  We aren’t left to figure out the question of “What do I do now?” or “How do I deal with the leftovers from my past?”  On the contrary, we have been transferred into the kingdom of the Son He loves.  Given how much the Father loves the Son, then the benefits of that relationship will spill over to those who identify with the Son! 

During His last night on earth, Jesus told His disciples:

John 16:27
For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God.

We have redemption, we have the forgiveness of sins, but we are not left behind as orphans without a country.  Instead, we become part of the one Who is dearly loved by the Father!  We now have both a place and a purpose.  We have a new life as citizens in Jesus’ kingdom.

Never forget where we were rescued from, and always remember where we have been rescued to.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Unfulfilled promises (part 2)

After being asked when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus informed His disciples that life would go on for some time before days of the Son of Man would arrive.  He used several examples of what life would be like in the meantime, with an emphasis on the suddenness of the Son of Man’s arrival:

Luke 17:26-30 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man: people went on eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day Noah boarded the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.

It will be the same as it was in the days of Lot: people went on eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building.  But on the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all.  It will be like that on the day the Son of Man is revealed.

The Jews were anticipating the Kingdom of God within their lifetime.  Jesus knew that this new information would be disappointing for his disciples to hear.

Luke 18:1 He then told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not become discouraged.

After telling the disciples the parable, Jesus concluded with a couple of questions:

Luke 18:7-8 “Will not God grant justice to His elect who cry out to Him day and night?  Will He delay to help them?  I tell you that He will swiftly grant them justice. 

Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find that faith on earth?”

When Jesus returns, will He find those that are expectantly praying and living in preparation for His arrival?  Since Jesus pointed out that His return will come suddenly, are we preparing ourselves for the possibility that our generation will be the one He returns to?

Our instructions for preparation are the same that Jesus gave to His disciples – that no matter how normal, mundane, or disheartening the circumstances around us become, we need to pray always and not become discouraged.  God will follow through on His promises…but do our choices show that we believe Him when He says that Christ will return?

Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find that faith on earth?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Unfulfilled promises (part 1)

Since Jesus was constantly teaching about the kingdom of God, people in his audience were naturally curious as to when the kingdom was going to be established.

Luke 17:20-21 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God will come, He answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with something observable; no one will say ‘Look here!’ or ‘There!’  For you see, the kingdom of God is among you.”

Jesus then turned to his disciples to give them additional details, but he did not specifically give a start date for the kingdom.  Instead, Jesus told them that life would go on for a while, and when everything seemed to be ‘normal’ for quite some time, then the kingdom would arrive.

This answer would have both disappointed and discouraged His disciples.  The Jews were looking forward to a Messiah that would liberate them from Roman rule and immediately setup the long-awaiting kingdom of God.  Continued waiting or an apparent delay to the kingdom was not what they were looking for.  Recognizing this, Jesus continued:

Luke 18:1-8 He then told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not become discouraged:

“There was a judge in a certain town who didn’t fear God or respect man.  And a widow in that town kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’  For a while he was unwilling, but later he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or respect man, yet because this widow keeps pestering me, I will give her justice, so she doesn’t wear me out by her persistent coming’”

Then the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.  Will not God grant justice to His elect who cry out to Him day and night?  Will He delay to help them?  I tell you that He will swiftly grant them justice. 

Typical modern-day teaching from this parable tends to focus on the persistence of the widow and then uses her badgering as evidence that we should likewise wear God out with our requests.  However, that aspect of the story is not Jesus’ focal point.

The main idea of the parable is given in verse 1:

Luke 18:1 He then told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not become discouraged

So, what discouragement does Jesus want them to avoid?

Within the parable, we see that the widow is seeking justice from her adversary – just like the nation of Israel was seeking justice and relief from their Roman oppressors.  The Old Testament was full of prophecies where God tells Israel that they will one day shake off their oppressors and the kingdom of God would be established; however, those predictions had not yet come true.

This type of parable uses a lesser-to-greater argument.  Jesus’ point is this – if the lesser, unjust judge gives justice to those who ask, how much more reliable will the greater, just God in heaven be to give the justice that He promised?

With this parable, Jesus is encouraging His disciples to continue to seek God in prayer and to continue to expect that He will fulfill His promise of justice for the nation.  Even when their circumstances seem to indicate that God has forgotten them – Jesus is reminding them that all God’s prophecies are reliable, and that they should not give up talking to God about any of His promises.

That’s something we can rely on as well.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Priorities and prayer

If we were to list our priorities in life, we would likely say that we want to have our basic needs met, we want to have a little bit ‘extra’ in reserve, and then we think that we’re in a good place to find out what God would have in store for us.  However, Jesus desires for us to have our objectives in life properly organized.  What he says should have top priority usually isn’t first in line for us.

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, and clothing] will be provided for you.

Matthew 7:7-8 Keep asking, and it will be given to you.  Keep searching, and you will find.  Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

See how Jesus flips the order on us?  He actually claims that pursuing a life that lines up with God’s priorities is more important than our basic sustenance…so much so that he makes two promises – that our basic needs will be met AND that when we aim for God’s kingdom, we’ll obtain it.

In order to drive home the point that our heavenly Father will actually reveal his kingdom and his righteousness to us, Jesus uses a comparison that we’re all familiar with – a father providing for the needs of his son.

Matthew 7:9-10 What man among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?

We read this and immediately think ‘Of course the father wouldn’t fulfill a good request with something useless (a stone) or something dangerous (a snake)’.

Anticipating this reaction, Jesus gives a comparison to demonstrate his application point:

Matthew 7:11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!

Whenever a speaker wants his audience to understand something, he will make sure to drive the point by repeating himself in several different forms.  So don’t miss out on what Jesus is saying in this passage. 

Our pursuit of living as part of God’s kingdom and purposes is the most important aim for us in this life.  It’s even more important that what we would consider to be the basic necessities – food, drink, and clothing.  Jesus promises that the Father will fulfill our pursuit of kingdom living, even claiming that the Father is better at granting this request than we are at taking care of those closest to us.

Now that I’m convinced of the priority of seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness, I just need to answer the question ‘how’.  How do we do this?  How is the kingdom possible to obtain?

Jesus said keep asking…keep searching…keep knocking…keep pursuing it by talking to God about it.  Ask God about his kingdom, search for ways to live rightly in God’s eyes, knock when we have questions about what to do next.  In a word, we need to

Pray.

Keep Pressing,
Ken