Eternal Savior Lutheran Church

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December 13 – Seizing The Kingdom By Force

“Verily I say to you, among those who are born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”  Matt. 11:11,12

Devotional Thought For The Day

This utterance of Jesus is among the more “difficult” things that He asserted.  The commentators note that there is some ambiguity in the verb that is translated “suffers violence,” that the form can be either middle or passive.  Not being a “scholar” of Greek forms, I’ll take their word for that – and my scholarly “parsing guide” concurs with them.  The same exact word also occurs in Luke 16:16, and there the context clearly shows that it is “middle and reflexive.”  In Luke 16:16 the subject is “pas,” translated as “every man” – so that wherever the “kingdom of God is preached,” that is, the Gospel, “every man presses into it.”  However, in the case of this verse in Matthew, there are many manuscripts which make it clear that it is passive, and the subject of the verb is “the kingdom of heaven,” and so it, the kingdom of heaven, “suffers violence” [passive] for “the violent” [same root word] “seize it” or “take it by force.”  Scholars therefore understand it as parallel to Luke 16:16, that those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” like the “tax-collectors and prostitutes,” eagerly press their way into the kingdom, seizing by faith God’s gracious mercy and forgiveness [Matt. 21:31,32].  Nonetheless, this observation and characterization made by Jesus seems enigmatic.  All agree, however, that the sense is that Gospel compels this energetic ambition and eagerness, and that given the difficulties of a life of repentance and faith in Jesus, such aggressiveness is required.

Who might we think of, besides the “tax-collectors and prostitutes” of Jesus’ day, those described as “the violent,” who have “seized” and entered the kingdom of God by such aggressive and assertive faith?  The list would include Noah – who after the flood got drunk and cursed his own son; and Abraham who was an idolater; and the sons of Jacob who wanted to kill their brother Joseph, and settled on selling him into slavery; and Moses who murdered an Egyptian task-master; and Samson who was infatuated with Philistine prostitutes; and Jephthae who made a foolish oath and carried it out with violence against his own daughter; and David, an adulterer and murderer; and perhaps Solomon, one of the greatest idolaters in Israel’s history.  All of these, in spite of their great wickedness and sin, “seized” and held on to God’s gracious mercy and forgiveness by faith, and in view of God’s promises refused to renege faith and insisted upon remaining within God’s kingdom, the kingdom of heaven.  What great aggressiveness and “violence” this must have required of them, not to have given in to guilt, doubt, despair, and unbelief!  Only the Gospel, the precious Words and promises of God, could compel and energize such faithfulness!

So also this Word of Jesus, in the context of the rest of Scripture, especially the abundant promises of God’s forgiveness, cleansing, mercy, and gracious love, continues to compel us to “seize” the kingdom of heaven forcefully by faith.  We who are truly repentant also “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” the righteousness of God accounted to all who believe.  Often the church is painted as a bunch of prissy and pious people who do little or no harm and evil.  In fact, there are many hypocrites whose whole being is tied up in falsifying the life of the church in this way – unbelievers whose hearts are set on proving their own “righteousness” and their little need for Christ and God’s gracious mercy and forgiveness.  They discourage and disqualify from their version of “the kingdom of heaven” the “tax-collectors and prostitutes,” and all those who recognize the wretchedness and violence of their sin – and this impeding of faith in Christ “presses” us to conclude that we are just too “violent” for God, too wicked and evil, beyond the pale of His redemption and renewal.  Under such circumstances, we must become all the more “violent,” all the more godly in seizing and demanding the forgiveness, mercy, and salvation that God has promised, and that God sent His Son to procure for us – and that Jesus provided for us in His suffering and death on the cross for our sins, pressing our way within the kingdom of heaven by faith, against their discouragement.  In this we follow in the footsteps of the great “heroes” of faith as recorded in Holy Scripture, God’s own Word, the Bible.

We follow in their footsteps of repentance and faith, strenuously turning our lives away from evil and into the ways of God – in spite of the strength of our sinful flesh, and the taunts of the impenitent, self-righteous, and unbelieving hypocrites.  Again, it is only the Gospel, the reality of God’s gracious forgiveness and mercy that can compel this godly “violence” within us.  It is godly, for we know that “God wills all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth [1 Tim. 2:4], and that it is “by grace you are saved through faith.” [Eph. 2:8]  If aggression, pressing, and seizing is required for this, so be it – we will not be found outside of faith and outside of God’s kingdom!  It is certainly a struggle – intensified by the accusations of Satan and hypocritical unbelievers, but the wondrous grace and love of God compels us, and His Word to us is clear, sure, and certain, that He also wills for us to believe, to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  May these precious Words of our dear Savior also compel you in whatever dark days of guilt and despair that afflict you.  Be among the violent and aggressive who “seize the kingdom of heaven by force.”

Prayer For The Day

Dear Lord Jesus, we do not want to be among the violent – we know Your love and have turned away from evil.  Yet there are many who would keep us from faith in Your promises, and from entering into Your kingdom.  Grant us all strength and aggression in the face of any and all of such impediments – by Your own Word and promises.  May we follow the path of all great heroes of faith, great sinners who have seized the gracious mercy and forgiveness that You have supplied for us, and that You will for us to have.  Amen.