The Kingdom is Real: Understanding the Promises of Jesus

Even the youngest of souls grasps the difference between making a promise and the fulfilling of that promise. Any parent can promise their toddler a trip to Disney World or to Lego Land. But only those with the means and ability to take their child to a theme park and to pay the price of admission can make their children’s dreams come true. Ability is found not in words but in action.

Do Jesus’s Dreams Come True?

The writer of the gospel of Matthew grasps this reality. He anticipates the concerns of both his ancient and modern readers who observe the great beauty the Sermon on the Mount. While all people long for a world in which hate is overcome by love, most assume that it cannot be achieved by the fickle and relationally clumsy souls that make up our cultures and churches. In one sense, the writer of Matthew shares in the readers pessimism, noting that human religion falls short of Jesus’s grand vision. Jesus repeatedly says, “You have heard it said…but I say to you (Matt 5:21-22; 27-28; 31-32; 33-34; 38-39; 43-44).” But unlike Matthew’s many readers who wonder how the next generation of religious ne’er-do-wells can do any better, Matthew directs the reader’s attention not towards humanity but towards Christ. If the kingdom of God is to arrive and if selfish, hateful, and malicious people are to become selfless, peaceful, and kind, Jesus must do it.

The question remains: can he? Can Jesus turn his words into actions? Can he get us to the amazing world of the kingdom of God?

While ever pessimistic about the human condition, Matthew remains ever hopeful in the abilities of Jesus (Matt 5:18-19). According to the Gospel writer, Jesus can and will establish the kingdom of God for he makes the unclean clean. In short, the answer is an emphatic “yes!”

Making the Unclean Clean

To prove that the Sermon on the Mount is not just another somewhat inspirational and yet totally unfeasible mandate for souls exhausted by a lifetime of failed promises, Matthew recounts how Jesus miraculously healed a leper.   

In Jesus’s day, the term leprosy covered a wide range of skin diseases that could cause everything from the discoloration of the skin to the losing of fingers and toes (Lev. 13-14). If a person did not recover from their disease by the end of seven days, they would be exiled from their community and from the temple. Leviticus 13:45-46 prescribed the following:

The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean. He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.

Though the possibility of healing existed, the law and the priestly system could only diagnosis and condemn. Such actions prevented others from contracting the disease but essentially condemned the leper to a humiliating death shrouded in uncleanness. As an old Israelite king noted when the Syrian general Naaman asked from permission to visit Israel in the hopes of finding a cure for his leprosy, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy (2 Kg 5:7)?” Men and women could not make the unclean clean. Leprosy proved fatal.

But, Jesus can. When the leper approaches Jesus in Matthew 8:1-2, modern readers can grasp the shock value of this moment having lived through the COVID-19 pandemic. Where the text to be updated into today’s context, the leper’s actions could be equated to a man profusely sweating, coughing, and stumbling about with all the demonstrative signs of the coronavirus raging through his body. Undoubtedly many in the crowd would openly question the leper’s actions for he has put all kinds of people at risk. But unlike the crowds of his day and those of us afraid of diseases, Jesus does not recoil from the leper. When the leper says, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean,” the text reports that “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleaned.” Jesus triumphs over uncleanness. When sickness touches Jesus, he does not become unclean, the uncleanness becomes whole. He restores that which is broken.

Jesus is Better

In that moment, Jesus does something that no other human being can do. Even the youngest of children know that when you pour dirty water into clean, the clean does not purify the dirty. For this reason, Paul reminds Christians that, “Bad company ruins good morals (1 Cor. 15:33).” When Christians embrace and touch abuse, sexual immorality, gossip, greed, or any other number of sins in their midst, the sinners do not become pure, the healthy Christians become sick. The human condition remains as it was when that when the old Israelite king encountered Naaman’s request. We cannot make the unclean clean.

Only Jesus can. His ability to heal the sick reveals that he is the Messiah. Matthew notes in 8:17 that this miracle and the others that follow were done “to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illness and bore our diseases.” Jesus can bring the kingdom of God to bear. He can promise greatness and achieve it.

Jesus can heal the sick and overcome both physical and spiritual uncleanness for he has dealt with the world’s fundamental problem: sin. The apostle Peter following the lead of Matthew and Isaiah concludes that Jesus, “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wound you have been healed (1 Pt 2:24).” In other words, the healings that Jesus accomplished in Matthew 8 point to his death and resurrection in Matthew 27-28. Because Jesus makes the unclean clean, the reader knows that Jesus can truly absolve us from all sin and guilt and empower us to live the ethic of the Kingdom of heaven both today on earth and tomorrow in the new heavens and the new earth. Jesus can do it.

Final Thoughts

The knowledge of Jesus’s ability to make the unclean clean should cause hope to burst forth in every soul. No soul proves too dirty for the saving grace of God. No stain of sin proves permanent. If we will but ask Jesus to heal us, he will make our spots as white as snow.

The Sermon on the Mount proves not to be a philosophical daydream of what could be. It is what is. Jesus possesses the ability to fulfill his promises. Lepers are healed. Sinners are saved and sanctified. The kingdom of God is real.

How Serious Are Our Sin Problems?

doctorI once heard of a man who went to his doctor  because his side was hurting. After a brief examination, his doctor informed the man that he needed to have an appendectomy right then. The patient was not convinced. And politely told his doctor, “I think I’ll get a second opinion and let you know what I decide.”

To this, his doctor replied, “No you won’t. If you leave here today, you will die. You will be dead within 24 hrs. if you don’t have the surgery.”

Often when it comes to our sin, we take the same exact view as patient. When we are confronted about our gossip, or about your infidelity, or my greed, we tend to minimize the other person’s concerns. We blow off our spouse; we ignore the pleas from our kids; and, we discount the concerns of our small group leader. Our sin is not that big of a deal. Christ died for it. We are done here. Move on, please. I’m do not need surgery. I am fine.

Although this is often the approach we take when coming face to face with sin, this is not Jesus’ approach to sin. In Mark 9:43-50 Jesus says these shocking words,

And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell,[a] to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

Sin is not small matter to Jesus. He tells us to flee it at all cost. Even if we have to cut off a hand or a foot or pluck out an eye to be free from sin, the cost is worth it. Sin is death and all who love, minimize, and ignore their sin are on the path to death both physically and spiritually. Those who love Jesus will not coddle or ignore their anger, their porn addiction, or their frequently lies. They will confess them. They will seek out help from their pastor or from another mature man or women in the faith. They will do everything and anything they can to be free from sin.

Now a quick aside, I do not think Jesus is telling us to physically mane ourselves to achieve victory over our sins. Think about it for a minute. Jesus did not tell Peter to cut out his tongue because he denied Christ three times during the crucifixion narrative. And Jesus does not want us to cut off our hands because we steal, to cut off our feet because we speed through stop signs, or to pluck out our eyes because we look at porn. We do not sin because of our body. We sin because of our hearts. Our hearts and our thinking direct the actions of the body. Jesus clearly states this truth back in Mark 8:21-23,

For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride,

We sin because our souls are corrupted and not because our bodies are fallen. Rather than encouraging us to hack apart our bodies, Jesus is calling us to sacrifice all for righteousness. He is calling the angry man to work fewer hours so that he can sleep more and spend more time with his family, creating a home of peace. He is calling the porn addict to give up his smart phone and to burn his computer. He is calling the drug addict to surrender his stash and to turn himself into the police. He is calling the liar to confess his sins to his wife, pastor, and friends. Jesus is saying we must being willing to lose all, including our good reputation, our friends, our family, our wealth, and every worldly thing to enter the kingdom of heaven. If we do not, we cannot reach heaven.

At some point, all of us will be tested. Everyone will face the pressure of divine inspection. The lies that masked our want of faith will be ripped away, revealing all the deeds that we have done in secret (both good and bad). The reality of whether or not we trust in ourselves or in the great physicians for salvation will be made known.

Those who refuse to flee from their sin will die. They will be cast into the fires of hell. Don’t mistake this. We may not take our sin seriously. We may not think, we have an illness leading to death. But God does. He is not fooled. He will judge us for our sins. All who love sin will die. And all who flee from sin will find eternal life.

And it is not enough for us to be around Christians. It is not enough for us to come from Christian families. It is not enough for us to flee secular friendships and to come to church. We must have true life within our very souls. Notice what Christ says in verse 50.

“Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves and be a peace with one another.”

If we embrace sin, if we view sin as insignificant, and if we love lawlessness, we are not the children of God. I once heard an old-time preacher tell a family that they had good genes and that he expected a lot of them spiritually because they were descended from a godly lineage. It was a nice sentiment. But, it is not true. Grandma’s righteousness does not mean you will be righteous. Your parents faithful church attendance does not mean you are a going to heaven even though you are always mean. Walking the aisle, talking to your pastor, getting baptized, and memorizing Bible verses does not compensate for your constant lying. The man, woman, and child whose life is characterized by disobedience cannot be redeemed or fixed by his or her surroundings. Salt that has lost its saltiness is worthless. Faith that clings to sin is worthless. Do not be deceived.

But that is not the end of the story. If you love sin, you can stop today. You can repent of your sin. You can confess that your are evil and in need of God’s righteousness bought for you by Jesus’ death on the cross. And then you can confess Jesus as Lord. If you do, he will liberate you from your sin. He will make you salty again. He will save you. He will fix your broken relationships; he will give you peace on earth and in heaven.

Guys and gals, God is good loving and full of glory. Anything we give up including wealth, prestige, power, and earthly satisfaction will be more than made up for in Christ. As John Piper often says, “We are most satisfied when he is most glorified.”

Our patient from before had an option, surgery or death. He choose surgery. He cut out part of his body so that he might live. He listened to the doctor and found life.

Friends, lets listen to our heavenly doctor. Let’s take sin seriously and cut it out of our lives so that we too might live.

When Things Go Bad

SalvationSeries_WhenThingsGoBad_7With sincerity deeply set inside his eyes, Alex bubbled with excitement as he described God calling him to minister to the internationals our youth group had been serving the past ten days. As we reflected upon our time spent in VBS and building projects, Alex seemed to be only a brief four year stint in college away from becoming a sold out missionary. As we all came down from our spiritual high, Alex took off for college. He never returned to church. Instead of missions, he embraced a life of sexual exploits and familial chaos.

Up to this moment, our discussion of salvation, baptism, and parental responsibility has assumed a positive outcome. Namely, all of our discussions assume that our children will get saved. And though salvation is the goal of godly parenting, it’s not the guaranteed outcome. We don’t simply push ABC and get S. Regardless of how hard we try, we cannot manipulate God into saving our children or friends via our good works. God must save.

And often God does not. Study after study has shown that Alex’s story is increasingly representative of the Millennial Generation. More than half of the children born during the 1980’s and early 1990’s to Christian parents have left the church (Ham, Beemer, & Hillard, p. 25). Now, we are asking, “What do we do when things go wrong?”

 Admittedly, I have only recently been granted full access into the parenting club. I cannot speak to this issue as a parent. Rather, I address the topic as a fellow believer who has been given several opportunities to minister to those who have rejected the gospel for sin. If you are looking for wisdom from those who have ministered to a rebellious child, I highly recommend the book, When Good Kids Make Bad Choices, by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jim Newheiser. Without further ado, let’s look at how to handle the realities of unbelief.

Don’t Ignore Reality  

Perhaps the hardest thing for families and friends of unbelievers to do is to admit these lost souls are lost. Perhaps to avoid this heavy burden of misplaced shame or to excuse our need to loving confront sin, many of us walk around saying that the marijuana crazed son, or the daughter with the live-in boyfriend are still good, God loving people. After all, they used to go to church and they did get baptized. We don’t know what happened. Most likely, they are just a little confused.

Friends, the Bible does not say these souls are confused. It declares them to be unregenerate; they are lost. The apostle John clearly lets us know that “they went out from us, because they were not of us” (I John 2:19) Our children and friends did not leave the church and embrace sin because they are confused Christians. They had a form of religion for a time.  But they left because they never experienced the power of salvation. They may know the Bible but they do not know Christ. The clearest sign of unbelief is open abandonment of the church and the doctrines of grace. The apostle James writes, “Friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (4:4). If your loved one cherishes the sins and philosophies of this  world, they are not saved. There is no faith without obedience.

If we want to see our children and friends embrace Christ, we must clearly, compassionately, and consistently call them sinners. If we do not call them to repentance, we may avoid conflicts and blunt their rejection. But, we will blind them the hope and mercy of God.

Although I know there are many contributing factors to the numbers listed below, I believe Christians who excuse and/or ignore their loved ones sins have unwittingly destroyed the integrity of the Christian faith. Today, 65% of young adults identify themselves Christians. But only 6% of them actually believe in the God of the Bible (Rainer, pp. 232-33). Let’s not excuse a person’s lack of faith and make them a son of hell twice over. Let’s remind our sons, daughters, and friends that they are sinners in need of real, life transformational repentance.

Cling To The Hope of Christ

               I also understand calling your children or friends “sinners” is a heart wrenching task. And watching a loved one reject the faith is discouraging. Yet, we all have hope. Our suffering at the hands of disrespectful teens is not the end of the story. The harsh conversations, the sleepless nights spent questioning our ministry strategies, and the unanswered texts are being used by God to make us into a stronger Christian. I know that no Christian longs for suffering, but the pain caused by our children or friends is for our good. Paul says that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:4-5). If our children or friends have or are in the process of walking away from the faith, take heart.

Hopefully the situation will be for the benefit of our loved one. God often bring us low so that we can see our need to embrace Christ as savior. Think of the parable of the prodigal son. But the family drama is ultimately for our benefit. We will come out a stronger and more complete believer. And yes, it will be difficult, and yes, you may feel like you’ve been pushed to the breaking point. A few pencils may snap and a cell phone maybe thrown against the couch before it’s all said and done. But we will achieve victory through the power of Christ. You and I will survive this hardship because God does not fail! He upholds us; he is the basis of our hope. God has done all of the hard work. Believe on the Lord Jesus. God the Father will be glorified as you daily become more like Christ.

 Get Inspired By God

Remember to love. When God saved us, we were his enemies, destined to be judged forever and condemned to hell. We were completely unlovable. Nothing made us seem attractive to God. Truthfully, we really don’t find each other all that attractive. I doubt any of you would sacrifice your son or daughter so that I could life. And I’m not offended. I would never think of letting either of my two sons die to save you.  Yet, God in his mercy saved us by covering our sins with the blood of his son. This is a radical life altering love that is so huge that it cannot be grasped by our human minds (Eph. 3:19). Oh what love we have felt!  

When we feel tempted to write off our children and friends with a puff of self-righteousness, we need to remember how our heavenly Father loved us. Since God loved us while when we despised him, how can we not show this love to our unrepentant children and friends. I know it’s not an easy task. But we can do it. We must do it. As Christians, we are called to forgive as we have been forgiven (Col 3:13). Even though our biblical advice is rejected, we continue to love these lost souls by encouraging them when they excel at work, by supporting them financially when appropriate, and by always being willing to offer them a kind hug or a soft shoulder. Although we should never directly fund a drug addiction or other sinful habits, we must always be seeking ways to love our children and friends. We are to love them with the love with which Christ has loved us.   

Nothing is Impossible

Often when our family devotion fails or our discipleship program has disappointing results, we tend to think God has failed. Nothing is further from the truth. We may have failed if we inaccurately presented the gospel or if we blunted the power of the gospel by living sinful lives. But God is still at work. Salvation via you and me is impossible, but with God nothing is impossible.

This is not to say that we have a guarantee that God will save every child raised in the church. People often think Proverbs 22:6 is a promise. The verse reads: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Simply teach a kid Jesus and he will get saved. But this cannot be right. If we claim a good discipleship program saves, then we save people through human effort. God said salvation by through human effort was,” impossible” (Mat 19:26).  The verse must mean something else.

The Proverbs are not promises to be claimed. Rather, they are short statements that reflect general Biblical truth about life. Generally speaking those who have been trained in godliness will not depart the faith. And, we do often see God saved children who have believing parents. However, there are exceptions to these general rules. Think of Jehoshaphat’s family. The ancient King brought revival to his kingdom. But, his son did “What was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chron. 20-21). Not every child who grows up in a Christian home will become a Christian.

But with God nothing is impossible. Jesus can and does save the lost and dying. Just think of Paul he was actively arresting and having Christians killed. Yet, God saved him. If God can save Paul, he can most certainly save our children and friends. Even in the darkest of hours, hope in God! Plead with him to save your loved one!   

Going Forward

Today the youngest Millennials are finishing junior high.  The window of opportunity to reach this generation through family worship is on the verge of disappearing. But the ability of parents to evangelize and disciple this generation is not coming to an end. Almost 90% of America’s largest generation looks to their parents for guidance and advice (Rainer, p. 55). And 88% of these young adults think their parents are a positive influence (Rainer, p. 245). In other words, adult children value parental guidance. Parents, reaching the next generation for Christ is only a cellphone call, a Skype conversation, or Facebook message away.

The End

As we wrap up the Baptism Class For Parents, I want to return to where I began. Parents, God has given us an unprecedented ability to reach our kids. Whether your child is a wiggly infant or sitting calmly in a cubicle, God wants you to reach them for Christ. Admittedly how we go about reaching our kids depends a great deal on their age and the nature of their heart. But the fundamental principles that underlie our interactions with the next generation remain the same. We pursue Christ with our heart, soul, and mind. Then we share our passion for God with our children via prayer time at the dining room table or a quick text message (Duet. 6:4-9). Certainly, we will make mistakes, misdiagnose our child’s heart, and will struggle at times. But ultimately the salvation of our children doesn’t begin or end with us. God saves. Regardless of where we and our children are, nothing is impossible with God!    

Works Cited

Ham, K., Beemer, B., & Hillard, T. (2012). Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What you can do to Stop it. Green Forest: Master Books .

Rainer, T. S. (211). The Millennials: Connecting To America’s Largest Generation . Nashville: B&H Publishing Group .