Sunday, December 11, 2016

Kingdom violence

"Saint John the Baptist Sees Jesus From Afar" 
James Tissot, 1886-1894

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 11:2-15

TO CHEW ON: "'And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.'" Matthew 11:12  (link is to five translations)

Jesus has just finished describing the opposition His disciples will encounter (Matthew 10:17-20). Then in the very next chapter we see in John the Baptist, a living example of what He is talking about.

King Herod has imprisoned John for criticizing his morals. From his prison cell, John sends two of his disciples to see Jesus and bring back a little reassurance. "Are you the One?" they ask. "Or do we look for another?"

Jesus, in His typical way gives them an answer that both probes their expectations and enlists their commitment (Matthew 11:4-6). Then He praises John the Baptist and makes this curious statement: "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." What does that mean?

An article that discusses the themes of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke) says this:

"A dominant theme of Jesus' teaching is the kingdom of God. Jesus presents numerous word-pictures of what this supernatural realm "is like." But the kingdom is not merely to be understood with the mind. Rather, it is spiritual and is to be comprehended and entered into by spiritual means and in practical living....Enter the kingdom of God by "violent" determination. Be aggressive about serving Christ" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1439.

Jack Hayford explains it another way:

"Jesus asserts the "violence" of the kingdom....Jesus' references to the nonreligious style of John and the confrontative, miraculous ministry of Elijah teach that the kingdom of God makes its penetration by a kind of violent entry opposing the human status quo ...The upheaval caused by the kingdom of God is not caused by political provocation or armed advance. It is the result of God's order shaking relationships, households, cities, and nations by the entry of the Holy Spirit's power working in people. (See also Luke 16:6)" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1310. (All emphases added.)
Whether Jesus was talking about:
- our violent determination as we enter the kingdom,
- or the violence with which it enters our lives (playing havoc with our old life),
- or the violence with which it penetrates society (as we its citizens are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be salt and light),
- or the violent reaction society has to it, Jesus' statement embodies an energy and determination we don't often equate with religious belief—at least not in our day and not about the Christian faith. It sounds almost fanatical.

I ask myself, am I such a determined, committed, "violent" one? Are you?

PRAYER: Dear God, I hate being labeled a fanatic and yet the martyr faith in Jesus of believers across the centuries and even in my own time illustrates the price I should be willing to pay. Help me to come to terms with the true cost of following You. Amen.

MORE: Third Sunday of Advent
Today is the third Sunday of Advent. The liturgy for the day begins with this collect:

"Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen."
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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