“Jesus said to [the religious leaders], ‘I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you... even after you saw [what John the Baptist came to show you], you did not repent and believe him.’”
~Matthew 21:31b-32 (NIV modified).
Jesus here is getting to the business end of things as Matthew tells his gospel. His parables and teaching have less patience about them and more judgment as the chapters wind on. He is stirring some pretty threatening warnings about the kingdom and who will enter and how they’ll enter. He saves no airs and graces for the religious leaders. It doesn’t look good for them!
Isn’t it funny—and typical—that both the church and the world both propagate the message that the people who look righteous are the ones most godly?
This is a sad reality that Jesus came to smash—and his Spirit does this as Pharisaic believers are judged accordingly in every walk of life though they often do not see it, damning the world (and not themselves) as they react.
The truth is Jesus came to turn the world of faith upside down—to bring home the true kingdom of God; that of saving by solemn person-by-person heart repentance and the consequent forgiveness of God—not through a single thing we bring to the table.
And this is our truest test. The truly godly person is no better than the next person; they just have a superior Saviour! He’s better in every way—just read Hebrews.
The person furthest from the Spirit of God has “it” all together—they don’t need God. God could only be an encumbrance to these, a shackle holding them down. The Pharisees didn’t need God—they made up their own rules. Indeed, John the Baptist came preaching and they listened but never responded, thinking Abraham their father and saviour (Matthew 3:9).
Those who’re serious about the call of God when they hear it might delay for a time before jumping on-board, but they do jump on-board, willingly and enthusiastically. And yet, those who are seemingly born with a silver spoon of faith in their mouths—those second, third and fourth generation Christians—will often miss the boat in their self-righteous apathy, never ‘going on’ with God in genuine and continuing repentance.
And so who might have the last laugh in this cosmic race between the hare and tortoise? Well, we know how that story finished! That proud hare was smashed.
The fact is God deplores self-righteousness; he can only abide by the humble, the poor of spirit; those hungering and thirsting for his Spiritual righteousness.
An additional sad fact is those with scales over their eyes—the ones like the Pharisees who were spiritually blind—don’t stand a chance of seeing the real kingdom unless God brings them around to judgment, humbling their proud spirits, in this lifetime.
They need a rock-bottom with which to facilitate repentance.
The good news is saved for the quick-to-repent soul who’s never far from the true fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). They have guaranteed passage to the kingdom of heaven now and in the life to come.
They shine God’s true light in their grounded and deed-based faith. It’s a real faith not a look-good faith.
What sort of faith have you?
Finally, a warning:
“When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.”
~Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 (NIV).
If we were to hear the gospel, believing it at first before backsliding, and therefore not respond according to the will of God, we clearly show we don’t understand the awe we must have for God or the plan he has for the consummation of his entire creation.
Why would we stand in an eternal no-man’s-land?
“Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
~Matthew 4:17b (NIV).
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.