AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH
January 10, 2010
the work of the Australian Presbyterian Union (1901),
the Lord without Compromise
and the Bible without Qualification,
The Rigorous Exclusions and
Marvellous Inclusions of
The Kingdom of Heaven
Matthew 18:21-25, Luke 17:3-7, John 15:22-25
Fondness for Wandering
At this time, we look at two marvels: how incredibly easy it is to gain access to the kingdom of heaven, and how astoundingly capable sin is, to deliver those facing a door of wonder, instead to the dustbin of hell. Hell, it is not a grind for the congenitally blind, since the blind close their eyes in the case which counts (Matthew 15:13ff.), whereas ultimately it is God Himself who judges in terms of light.
Thus when Jesus told a crowd of persons that IF HE had not come and done the works which none other ever did (John 15:22ff.), and spoken the words that no one else ever spoke, thus joining precept with power, capacity with call, principle with practice, divine expression verbally and vernally, Himself the very Spring of the power of creation in the format of man - for that is what it amounted to - then SIN would not be their lot. Face THAT down, however, sin against this light of finality and redemption, and you are already defaced! Thus IF HE HAD NOT COME AND DONE what He did, they would in such a case NOT have been held liable for ultimate penalty, reprobation: the contextual issue. God does not consign to hell on ignorance, nor for any lack of desire on His part, but for what amounts to considered reprobation, rejection, on the part of man, as foreknown by Him, prior to and beyond all expression of works (Romans 3:23ff.,9:1-22) before the world was.
Responsibility in the end, for any finding hell their home, is their own; for to them, heaven is no haven, and holiness is rejected to the uttermost. They become engineers of their own defacement, wanderers without the Lord, outraged by heaven, desperate for what is not God. What then of those who did actually in history have the privilege of seeing God in human format, His works seen, His words heard ? Consider further the case of John 15.
THEY were telling HIM, of their judgment of Him, and HE was telling them them of His judgment of them. What was that ? It was this, that if He had not personally proclaimed in power and word the unique, to the God-derived persons in the context of His claims to be God as man (as in John 14:9-11), then they would not have been put into divine disclaimer. God WANTS to forgive sin. Micah 7:17ff., makes this dramatically emphatic, and emphatically dramatic, both WAYS, just as Ezekiel 33:11 and lamentations 3:33 confirm, and I Timothy 2, Colossians 1:19ff. insist. He is not lurking, scrutinising with a view to final judgment, though it is equally true that He is not ignoring or disregarding the realities of sin (as in Isaiah 1, Romans 1-2, Psalm 11).
With God is divine realism, not defacing facts or defiling truth, but working with the facts that He Himself has made, those of freedom, love, liberty, perception, conception, perspective, will, relationships at the personal level with His other created persons and with Himself. This is ever the case. He does not shut His eyes, but opens them; it is man who closes the eye.
With God light is the milieu:
"God is light and in Him is no darkness at all" (I John 1:5);
and in the incarnate Christ "was life, and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4). Nothing is surreptitious, injudicious, unjust, inequitable.
Freedom has its costs; and if man chooses to remain outside Him who made it, then there is anomaly which shows itself in friction, fractiousness and folly, in futility and not in faith. The world is lacking; and to lack the Lord is to find a misrule. In the beginning, man was free with knowledge of God, to choose. In the end, man is outside the Lord as a race, and is free to fret; and it is only the divine action of the Lord which can bring Him back. Foreknown is each one, and in the end, God will apply the Gospel Himself. to lose nothing where man might have perished, for this is His principle of light and desire for every man, that each person might be saved, and with Him nothing lacks.
Indeed, it is realistic to face sin and expose it, as a doctor does disease. Useless it is to pretend. What is, is, and that is that. Equally, it would contravene the divine disposition as Creator of man in His own image, with enablement even to probe the divine power and nature through the reason given and the spirit invented for persons (Romans 1:17), simply to leave them, fallen and forlorn.
God is not willing to fall short in Fatherhood, lapse in concern or ignore the seeking wayward, in their destitution. Nor is He willing to call darkness light, or arbitrary exclusion of Himself, righteousness.
Provoked, He is patient; warning He yet spares; and as in divine foreknowledge of all those to whom His love will effectually reach in His all-knowing sight, by the changeless Gospel, He exposes truth, so He brings that same Gospel with patient sincerity even to all. Before time and in time, He works; and the one though father to the other, so far from eclipsing it, exhibits it as far as the light of the Gospel reaches, successively in the generations, and finally in the judgment which you recall, CANNOT be EXCEPT as before God the light of redemption, earnestly applied, is not desired; and that not by mere fallen nature, but in the knowledge of God.
It is not as if the foreknowledge excludes any, but because God is the God of truth and omniscience, comes the guarantee that in the resulting predestination (Romans 8:30), NONE who might be found, FAILS TO BE FOUND! ONLY where the Lord's declared divine desire, high as the heaven, expansive as this earth, yes and to the heavens also, to bring all to reconciliation (Colossians 1:19ff.), as to truth, and to deliver them from perishing, is founded and applied, is judgment settled, in the light.
When, His love toward all of His image bearers is not received by some, found to be not fitting, no, neither in heaven nor on this earth, neither in foreknowledge nor even, when He comes, on earth: only then is there final exclusion. To be sure this is a logical order, for His foreknowledge precedes time; but this merely makes it all the more apparent. Circumstance does not dictate, nor does momentary moodiness secure. Divine priority in foreknowledge does no violence to the passion of His heart, to save, but surely implements it, as history so well discloses and verification illustrates.
What is excluded is inclusion in the kingdom of heaven, in the land of divine light, in His redeemed millions, of any not His, any who are extraneous to His call. For such, heaven would be a hell of warped will confronted with the blinding light of truth, with no room to escape into rationalisations and non-repentant sacrilege.
This, for them, it would be as if hell were merely transported; for as John 3:19 shows so clearly, it is PREFERENCE FOR DARKNESS which is the very ground of condemnation. It is not exclusion of light because it grew faint in dispersal, of love because it was unknown, of divine desire as if it were circumscribed. In the end, results accrue, but from the first, God's vast desire is PRECISELY as He claims. Far from this is it, and the very opposite, that limits: it is abortion of love in man, not lack of love in God. Such is the message of John 3. It is exclusion of the profusion of offered light, from before time to time (John 6:65), which brings darkness, its own demented drag-net for the perpetually reprobate.
Thus it is indeed incredibly easy to enter the kingdom of heaven, as far as the door is concerned; for it hinges on the death of Christ in the divine passion for souls, exposed in all to all. It is however all but incredibly able that sin is, to blind, to unwind the eyes, the lookout from the mast of truth, and lower it till it sees only the billowing seas and lacks all perspective when the storms come.
The perpetually divorced will may rant and condemn God, like one who insists on smoking, reviling because of cancer. But it changes nothing; for truth in the end, is not for the ridiculous but for what is reasonable, just and true. It is not this world which is a comedy, an absurdity, but the theme song of the dispossessed who must possess God (rather than being subject to Him), which is the absurdity. Bound to the absurd, they tend to voice their absurdity in absurd assaults on the Creator whom they insist on despising, deploring, ignoring or distorting as far as they are able.
Thus in many ways do multitudes lapse from hope, turn from reality, expose their fraudulence, demean their supposed neutrality and express their hearts. Like volcano vents, from which lava pours hot and heavy, a black surging mess, morass, are their complaints, when avoidance is available, and the divine lift is near. From these vents will often be seen the falsity of the basis of many, not least, even of those who thought they were near.
Fraud on Forgiveness
Take, for instance, the case of Matthew 18. How often should you forgive a sinning brother ? First of all, is it only a 'brother' whom one should forgive, one of the same family ? In the case of Israel, where this issue was set, however, although to be sure the case was that of a theocratic nation, ostensibly given up to the grace of God as England once was under Elizabeth I, there was no question, if you judge from Matthew 23, of all of them being spiritually in brotherhood. In CHRIST'S own context therefore, it is without reservation to any.
In Matthew 18, we find Peter wondering how often you forgive someone who sins against you. First, perhaps, he cuts down your favourite tree, by leaning too far in clipping his fence line into your garden, and rejoices in his conceptions not put to the test. Then he calls you a fool, then makes loud noises all but driving you from the house, then he adopts an insulting posture towards your religion, on and on as if evil were his delight and self-indulgence his life. One day the next contribution comes along. He sees your dog and kicks it viciously, breaking a rib.
HOW OFTEN ? asks Peter, in such extensive aggravations, do you FORGIVE the fellow ? Expanding in spiritual context in conversation with the amazing Jesus Christ, Peter suggests maybe seven times. Surely this is a case of patience, grace, forbearance, toleration with a real contribution to peace. After all, how many will transgress against more times and in a greater variety than seven occasions permit ?
Christ's answer is provocative to the flesh, evocative to the spirit and a source of sublime contentment. There is no arithmetic barrier, is the import of 'seventy times seven', since it COULD have been seven times seven, and this abrupt escalation speaks for itself. Christ's parable, which follows, tells of one owing a colossal sum, as in a figure all people on this earth do, since NOT KNOWING GOD PERSONALLY is like being a car and having no oil, while it grinds along ceaselessly! It is a horror. To cover and demit this unspeakable horror, involves a huge deficit, a massive debt, and in the parable the man's boss forgives him a catastrophic looking debt.
This is nice: the man in authority has pity on the man and his family and feels for the consequences if his servant is taken to task and so freely forgives him. A certain kinship with mercy and grace and patience and kindness arises in most created human breasts at this; for it is good and gracious, peaceable and forbearing, something of a real person here, after the mould of the original, that such magnanimity could be shown, such feelings experienced and such an achievement as this, in actually covering the man's debt, from one's own resources, indicates.
However, the parable continues, the servant in this blessed condition of escaping condemnation most just, then finds some associate who owes him a pitifully small sum, ever so much less, and with his newfound liberty, he insists on total and immediate payment. Not getting this, the man not then being able, his tormentor has him thrown into the debtor's prison, something reminding us of Dickens' description of the same in the England of his day. Not out of this does that man come UNTIL he pays all!
The fact that it is rather hard to earn one's way out of such a prison does not help... Others tell the boss of what has happened, since it jars on the human spirit, manufactured in heaven, or in other words, moulded on the image of God's own nature, however much sin covers it like barnacles on a keel. Incensed at this outrage against mercy in general and his own mercy in particular, earlier shown to this now so lordly servant, the boss indicates that the pardon is rescinded, for the spirit of the thing has been violated. SHOULD YOU NOT, being forgiven when you begged for mercy, at least have passed it on, shown it!
So, said Christ, will My heavenly Father do to you, "if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses." Notice that it is 'from the heart'. A grudging concession to the expectations of being a good chap is not nearly enough. It must be from the heart. A certain coldness is not to the point: there must be a heartiness about it.
Let us consider this. It is business! says one of cut-throat action to ruin competition, and make profits. That is not a moral matter; it is just the way it goes. Murderers like Macbeth, under wife's tutelage in that case, may feel the same. If you want to be King, you have to ... go for it, king of industry, no difference, trade union king of workers by psychological manipulation, the same. Yet it is ALL LIFE. It is not to be compartmentalised. You are living and eating and thinking and moralising or being moral, you are acting and submerging or subverting: it never ceases to be part of you, of your responsibility and of your grounds for praise or judgment.
To seek to ram the annoying Green Peace vessel might lead to murder. It is useless to challenge that it was annoying or vexatious. Did it THREATEN LIFE ? Did the response threaten life ?
It is the same in war. If an offence, real or imagined, threatens, is this the same as thrusting into war, killing a few million instead of repenting of your error or seeking the place of forgiveness, for theirs ? Contest without heart, reason, mere emulation or vainglory, surging into calamitous carnage because of unforgiving hauteur, what is this ? Is this the way of the kingdom of heaven ? Not at all. This is the work of vengeance and escalation, ramming things home with a power which does not fear to kill; evoking possible retaliation and vileness of life for many.
The Difference in Repentance
In Luke, we see in a different overall context, another aspect. Here we find the addition of another clause. Look at 17:3.
"Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him,
and if he repents, forgive him."
Here the nursed grudge is dismissed as unworthy of the hospice of faith. In the Alpine scenery with the purity of heaven, then this is the way: IF HE REPENTS, forgive him. What then if he does not repent ?
Notice now in the parable in Matthew that the lesser debtor, unforgiven by the hypocritical servant who had been massively pardoned, was asking pleadingly also for pity. He even fell at the other servant's feet and begged, saying, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you all." In this case, there was even some prospect of repayment, since the debt was relatively small. It was not here an overwhelming thing at all, and the man might well have got his money back; but he was unmoved by this great difference, lessening the patience needed.
Thus his boss would NEVER get back the sum; and yet he forgave. Here the servant might expect a return, but inhumanly ignored this and demanded that others be exact to meet his exactingness.
Thus the concept is clear: in neither Matthew nor Luke is the case one of indifference, unrepentant grossness. We are not here looking at imperious persons who refuse at all to change their ways, scorn truth, ignore righteousness and want only to continue to be their inglorious selves. That is not the issue.
Rather it is this: How LONG do you put up with someone who repeatedly, almost ad nauseam, provokes you by just failing to match up to need, and is MOST provocative therefore; but repents. Endlessly, for it is not for man to judge, but to pardon. There is no breaking point here.
Such is the love and mercy of God: He is not standing in threatening mode to the humble, to the poor in spirit, who just seems to fall so far short that there is a bewilderment whether he can still be accepted. Fear not, for if you confess your sins to the Lord, then by the blood of Christ you are covered (Hebrews 9:12), for it is an eternal redemption, and it is not failure but scorn which is fatal. That however is precisely what God preserves His children from; for in this case, the 'childhood' is one of spirit, and this is the nature of the case, in the end, with such.
What then of the heart which sees the unrepentant, who carries on gloriously in gracelessness with smirk ? One way of understanding this is to say: HAVE A FORGIVING SPIRIT. God will judge soon enough; "vengeance is mine!" says the Lord. Justice will be done if mercy is not sought where it matters most, from the Lord. For us, to whom the word is, Judge not! (this does not mean pretend, but do not act as final arbiter), the attitude of SEEKING GOOD even for those ruffling the feathers repeatedly and asking for retribution as if doing so were a profession in itself, is clear. LOVE your enemies, and do GOOD to those who despitefully use you - who do evil to you with the skill of a cunning batsman! Overcome evil with good.
Thus although there is a difference when the wrongdoer repents, in that total fellowship can be restored to where it was before, and good for that person may be sought without grudging restraint, yet the attitude is STILL this. Where there is no repentance, seek for this, that the person might yet escape the conclusion, not for this only, but for all the sins committed, from hell. Have a tender heart and a seeking spirit.
Where then does the difference lie ? It is in this. If a murderer still wants to murder you, clearly there is a barrier for close approximation of his weapon to your throat; and prudence indicates a certain constraint. If a false brother insists on his false way, failing in doctrine and abusing the truth, then you HAVE to SEPARATE from him (Romans 16:17), for he is abusing the honour of Christ, rebelling on campus, assaulting his (ostensible) President, putting his word in place of the Lord's, and is a traitor. Even this may be borne until it is clear, and then the exclusion zone occurs, not only from Church fellowship, but from heaven (as in I Corinthians 6).
Being 'in the zone', where it matters, is not a mere matter of feeling, but of faith, which placed firmly in the Lord's Christ with no mutations in person or work from man, is still what saves, what each Christian would seek for all, whatever the outcome.
For part 2, use this hyperlink.