************ Sermon on Matthew 11:12 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 23, 2018
"The Violence of the Kingdom"
Difficult Passages #16
I often look at other Bible translations when I am working on a sermon. You will find it helpful with tonight's difficult passage:
NIV84 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.
NIV From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.
NASB95 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.
ESV From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.
Do you hear all the talk of violence and force?
Two questions come to mind. First, what is meant by the Kingdom of heaven has "suffered violence"? Second, who takes the Kingdom "by force"?
I How to Respond to Jesus
A There are at least two different kinds of hard sayings in the Bible. On the one hand, there are texts that are just plain hard to understand. Texts about which you say, "What does that mean?" Peter admits this was his approach sometimes to the teachings of Paul:
(2 Pet 3:16) [Paul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand ...On the other hand, there are texts that are not at all hard to understand but that are hard to submit to. Texts to which we respond, "Wow! This text doesn't really mean this, does it?" Tonight's text appears to be both kinds.
B When we talk about "hard sayings" we need to admit something about the Bible: the Bible is a hard book. It does not merely contain hard sayings but what it says is hard from beginning to end.
You might say, "What is so hard about the Bible?" Let me tell you. It calls us to absolute and total obedience to the God Who made us. It exposes our utter failure to obey Him. Indeed, it recounts the history of God's people so that we might see our own failures in theirs. It shows Jesus experiencing the Father's wrath against our sin. It calls us to repent and to believe.
This is hard! What is the typical evangelical Christian response? To mute God's demands. To downplay God's demands. To upgrade our own acts as being acceptable. To pretend we are basically good when we are anything but.
The hard truth is that the Bible calls us to hard lives; lives in which we are hated by the world because we dare to proclaim the truth.
C For the last number of months we have looked at difficult passages of the Bible. Have you noticed, with me, that many of the hard saying were said by Jesus? I am talking about statements like:
-Blasphemy against the Spirit
-Do not throw your pearls to pigs
-I desire mercy, not sacrifice
-Cursing the barren fig tree
-Hate your father and mother
In John 6 we find the reaction of some to the hard sayings of Jesus.
(Jn 6:60-61) On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" (61) Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? ... (66) From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.They were offended by Jesus' "hard sayings" and abandoned Him. Similarly, many today are offended by what Jesus says. So, some churches and pastors hasten to take the offence away from the Gospel by turning it into something soft and inoffensive.
After this, Jesus asked the Twelve "You do not want to leave too, do you?" (Jn 6:67). Listen to Peter's response to the very same "offensive" words:
(Jn 6:68) Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."Peter's response was a wonderful and beautiful statement of faith.
Yes, Jesus' words are hard and difficult to understand and require an all or nothing response. But, but, they are the words of eternal life. At stake in Jesus' words is our salvation and eternal life. So one of the things I want you to do is to say with Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
This brings us back to our difficult saying for tonight:
(Mt 11:12) From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.
II Forceful Men
A Depending on the translation you use, our text speaks of forceful men, violent people, violent men, the violent.
Who are these men? They lay hold, they raid, they take by force. They don't sit around in beach chairs. They are men of action.
John the Baptist is one of these forceful men. What was so forceful about John? John stirred up a hornet's nest wherever he went. When he confronted the Jews things became explosive. He brought everything to a head. John's preaching caused violence. When he dared to confront Herod, he created the ultimate negative reaction when he was imprisoned and then lost his head because of what he dared to preach. John was like a hurricane or a tornado -- everything around him got turned upside down.
Forceful men, strong men, violent men like John the Baptist are always in the middle of the action. His life had become the issue. His ministry had become the issue. His preaching had become the issue.
B Forceful men opposed the Gospel and the Kingdom. I think of Herod -- whether it is the Herod who beheaded John or the Herod who killed Bethlehem's baby boys. People trembled around these men because when they became agitated or upset people tended to lose their heads and their lives.
We can also point to the Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus' ministry. They heard Jesus' teachings and saw Jesus' amazing miracles and claimed He was under the control of Satan. They refused to budge an inch and plotted how to kill Him.
These forceful men hated the message of prophets like John the Baptist and Elijah. They hated to be confronted with their sin. They hated to be told they were sinners who needed to repent.
C Of course, the most forceful of all is the Lord Jesus Christ. Can we say He was passive when He cleared the Temple of the moneychangers? Can we say He was passive when He set His face to go to Jerusalem in order to die? Can we say He was passive when He faced the hypocrisy and hatred and legalism of the Jewish leaders? Can we say He was passive when He went to the Garden of Gethsemane knowing He would be betrayed and arrested? Jesus was like John the Baptist -- around Him was a flurry of activity, a tornado of activity.
D Either for the Kingdom or against the Kingdom are forceful men, violent people, violent men, the violent. Men like John the Baptist, Jesus, Herod, the Pharisees. Telling us what? Telling us the Kingdom of heaven is not for weaklings because forceful men resist it. Telling us the Kingdom is not for weaklings because citizenship in the Kingdom requires constant striving, untiring energy, the utmost exertion, a heartfelt conviction.
The Kingdom is not for weaklings. It is not for those who waver or compromise. It is not for rich young rulers who love wealth more than they love Jesus. It is not for would-be disciples who want to go home and collect their inheritance. It is not for those who put mother or father ahead of Jesus. The Kingdom is for the strong like John the Baptist, like Peter, like Paul, like the faithful of the Old Testament.
The Kingdom requires spiritual zealots who have a single minded commitment to the rule of the King. Who let nothing and no one sway them from entering the Kingdom and remaining a part of the Kingdom.
III Forceful Kingdom
A What about the other question? What does Jesus mean when He says the Kingdom has been forcefully advancing, subjected to violence, suffers violence?
The Greek has two separate meanings. The first meaning is that the Kingdom of heaven is suffering violence. That is, it will be attacked. And those in it will be persecuted. Because there are those -- like Herod and the Pharisees -- who hate the Messiah and His Gospel and its messengers.
We see this persecution against John the Baptist and he was put in prison and beheaded. The Pharisees and scribes vigorously attacked the good news of the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus and they plotted His death and stirred up the crowds against Him. The Zealots hated the Kingdom because it did not fit their view of a military kingdom which defeated the might of Rome. Herod and Pilate hated the Kingdom because it threatened their rule. The Kingdom was attacked and denied and hated and opposed. Its spiritual reality was rejected. Its King was rejected. Its values were rejected.
Was this anything new? Of course not. The Kingdom of God was opposed by Pharaoh, king of Egypt as he slaughtered the baby boys of the Jews. It was opposed by the people of Canaan. It was opposed by Haman as he plotted the death of Mordecai and all the Jews of Babylon. It was opposed by the sorcerers of Babylon as they looked for ways to get rid of Daniel.
So the Kingdom of heaven was being attacked and many were those who attacked it and opposed it.
Is it any different today? People still hate Christ. They still hate His prophets and servants. They still hate the news of the Kingdom. They still oppose the King of the Kingdom.
B The second meaning of the Greek is that the Kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing. God is forcefully advancing the Kingdom against the forces of darkness and evil. The Kingdom is moving ahead. So, look at John the Baptist. He forcefully proclaims the Gospel to an unbelieving world. He forcefully proclaims the Gospel in the midst of a sinful generation. And it worked. John the Baptist had a tremendous impact. People turned to God, repented of their sins, were baptized, and came to Christ. This forceful man of God vigorously advanced the Kingdom of God among Jew and Gentile, Greek and Roman.
Now look at Jesus: the sick were healed, the lepers were cleansed, the dead were raised, the blind were given sight, sinners were forgiven. What was going on? The Kingdom was being advanced. Forcefully. By the Son of Man.
Go to the Apostles. The Sanhedrin told them to stop preaching Christ. But they continued to preach. Peter was thrown into prison but an angel released him. Paul had threats against his life over and over again but he kept on preaching -- all the way to Rome and even to Caesar's household. The Kingdom was being forcefully advanced.
Don't we see the same thing in the Old Testament. The Hebrew midwives were told to drown the Hebrew boys. But they refused. Everyone was told to bend the knee to Nebuchadnezzar's image but Daniel's three friends refused. With 300 men Gideon defeated a Midianite army numbering a hundred thousand. What was happening? The Kingdom was being forcefully advanced.
Satan is mighty and his demons are powerful and sin strives to hold us. But the Kingdom is forcefully advancing. How did Jesus put it to Peter?
(Mt 16:18) And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.The gates of Hades do not stand a chance against the Kingdom and its King. Those gates will come crashing down. They will be torn off their gateposts in the same way as Samson tore off the gates of the cities of the Philistines. The gates of Hell will not prevail and cannot prevail.
"From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it" (Mt 11:12).
The Kingdom was moving forward with John. It was moving forward with Christ. It was moving forward with the apostles. It is moving forward today.
Are you moving with it or against it? Or do you sit on the sidelines like a bystander? Are you one of the forceful citizens of the Kingdom? Do you advance and submit to the claims of King Jesus?
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