The Kingdom of Love

As you recall from our last post, Peter begins the dialogue in Matthew 18:21-35 with a question regarding how many times he is required to forgive his brother in the new kingdom, suggesting seven times would be quite generous.  Jesus answers that seventy times seven would be more appropriate basically saying there is no limit.  Jesus then launches into another, “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to…” parable and describes the scene.

A certain servant owed the king the equivalent of 150,000 years of wages.  The servant in question requested patience from the king and more time to repay.  The servant was essentially asking for some way to refinance the debt.  But the king, moved with compassion, set any idea of refinancing aside and, at what we can assume was a great expense to the king, completely forgave the tremendous debt.  Then servant #1 seeks out a fellow servant who owes him a small amount of money.  He physically attacks his fellow servant demanding immediate repayment of the paltry debt.  The total lack of compassion shown by servant #1 turns the king’s heart from compassion to anger and servant #1 is turned over to the bad guys.  Jesus summarizes the point of the story in verse 35, “So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

This parable is a window into how God expects citizens of His kingdom to treat each other.  We are servant #1 and we have a debt that is so large we have no hope of paying it back.  It is the debt of our sin.  At great expense to the king – in our case the invaluable death of His Son on a cross – we have been forgiven our enormous debt.  In response to God’s immense and undeserved forgiveness, we are to forgive our brothers.  Jesus answers Peter’s question with a dramatic story to make the point that we are to follow God’s example of unending love and forgiveness in how treat each other.  We are to go beyond just treating our neighbor as we would like to be treated, we are to love our neighbor in the way God loves us.

The kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven is now the kingdom of love.  Love is the aura of the kingdom of God.  It flows from God Himself, from God’s love for His children.  And it flows like a rushing stream through us to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34-35).

We often fail to notice the significance of the new in this commandment.  The commandment to love is a new aspect of the new kingdom.  It was not the aura of the old covenant (see our last post).  Love is the everything of the new covenant.  Jesus taught it in the gospels and the rest of the New Testament unwraps what love looks like in practice.  Paul, Peter, John, James, and the other New Testament writers elevate the supremacy of love over knowledge, giftedness, and even good works.

The kingdom of God has become the kingdom of love.  And we imitate God Himself when we are “…kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has also forgiven you.” (Eph 4:32).

Seventy Times Seven

Another kingdom parable involving debtors (Mt 18:21-35) begins with an interesting exchange between Peter and Jesus.  Peter and the disciples have been observing Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees regarding His “acceptance” of sinners.  They have been listening to His teaching about what life is like among the citizens of His kingdom.  They are also learning about a new commandment, “Love one another.” (Jn 13:34).  This is all very foreign to their Old Testament trained ears.

The Old Testament they grew up with did not carry the aura of love, acceptance, and forgiveness that Jesus taught.  They lived under the idea, clearly expounded in the Old Testament, that obedience to God’s laws brought blessing while disobedience brought a curse.  They believed God would reward the righteous and strike down sinners; not accept and forgive them.  Jesus’ first century followers understood the implied fairness of eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth.  They did not understand the “beautiful unfairness of grace” that Jesus ushered in with the new covenant.

But by the time we come to Matthew chapter 18, the message is starting to sink in to the apostle Peter.  “Then Peter came and said to Jesus, ‘Lord how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  Up to seven times?’ ” (Mt 18:21).  It is as if Peter is saying, “Ok, I think I am starting to get the message here.  You are saying, Jesus, that in your kingdom, life together is marked by love and forgiveness, not revenge.  I have grown up under this getting even mentality my whole life, even in my religious training, and you are saying to set the eye-for-an-eye aside in favor of forgiveness?  Well then let’s take this to the limit.  Are you suggesting I be so radical as to forgive my brother more then once?  How about something totally outside my normal thinking such as up to seven times?”

Peter expects that his seven times has way overestimated the amount of forgiveness needed, but as is often the case with our Lord, Jesus turns his question upside down and says Peter’s number is, in fact, way too low.  “Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Mt 18:22).  Jesus then continues, “For this reason the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a certain king who…” (Mt 18:23).  Jesus then answers Peter’s question with a powerful kingdom parable; the contents, interpretation, and application of which we will cover next time.

The Two Debtors

Jesus continues the theme of good news to the needy in the story of the two debtors.  The context for this parable is Jesus’ invitation to the home of Simon, the Pharisee, for a dinner party.  At the dinner, a woman known to be “immoral” came and anointed the feet of Jesus.  Jesus, aware of what the host and religious guests were thinking told this story, “ ‘A certain moneylender had two debtors:  one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both.  Which of them will therefore love him more?’  Simon, the host, answered and said, ‘I suppose the one whom he forgave more.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘You have judged correctly.’ “ (Lk 7:41-44).

Jesus goes on to equate the woman with the large debtor.  She loves much because she has been forgiven much.  Jesus pictures sin as a debt, not just a character flaw or something unpleasant.  It is a debt that is real and that we have no hope of successfully repaying by our own righteousness.  If we are to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must recognize our need and come with the open hands of faith in Jesus Christ.  It is significant in this parable that after announcing to the woman, “Your sins have been forgiven” (Lk 7:48), Jesus adds, “Your faith has saved you.” (Lk 7:50).

Two words that repeatedly come up in these kingdom parables announcing good news to the needy are repentance and faith.  Jesus’ acceptance of “sinners” is not some universal salvation that only requires recognition of our need.  It also requires repentance and faith.  Jesus’ began His earthly ministry with this invitation, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1:15).  Repent and believe.  Repentance and faith.

What do you think of when you hear the word repent?  Our English word “repent” is translated from the Greek word metanoia.  “Meta” means “change” such as in our English word metamorphosis; a complete change of form, structure, or substance.  “Noia” comes from the Greek root “nous”.  If you look up the word “nous” on, you will see it is a term in Greek philosophy for “mind” or “intellect”.  To repent literally means to “change your mind”.

Jesus is asking His hearers to change their mind and join His kingdom.  And the ticket to join is faith.  Jesus told Nicodemus, a Pharisee who surely met any outward qualifications for righteousness, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:3).  Jesus goes on in the rest of John’s gospel to explain that to be “born again” is to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, and have faith that His finished work on the cross, confirmed by His resurrection, paid the price for our sin.

How do the needy (or self righteous for that matter, or anyone in-between) enter the kingdom?  We enter the kingdom by repentance and faith.  “Your faith has saved you.”

The Lost Son

Finally, we come to the last story in Luke 15, commonly known as the parable of the prodigal son, or as I like to think of it, the parable of the lost son.  For again it ends with the theme of the lost discovered.  When the lost son is “found”, a party ensues and the father explains the celebration to the older brother with these words, “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.” (Lk 15:32). 

Let’s go back to the start of the story.  A wealthy landowner had two sons.  The younger son requested his share of the inheritance from his father so he could set out on his own.  The father agreed and the younger son took the money and headed off to a far away country.  After squandering his inheritance on loose living, the son ended up working on a hog farm in a time of famine and was in the process of starving to death.  When the son came to his senses, he said, “My father’s servants are treated so much better than this.  I will go to my father.  I will throw myself on his mercy.  I will offer to become a servant and work off the money I wasted.”  So the son returned home.

Meanwhile back at the family farm, Jesus paints a picture of a lovesick father waiting and yearning for his lost son.  When the son returns, the father sees him from afar, is overwhelmed with compassion, runs to embrace him, kisses him, and announces a feast in his honor.  He will have nothing to do with his son’s plan to pay off the debt, but instead proclaims to all who will hear, “Rejoice with me.  My son who was as good as dead has come back to life.  My son who was lost has been found.” (Lk 15:23-24).

Let’s stop the narritive right here and say, “Wait just a minute.”  Are we to believe that after squandering his father’s money and inflicting the emotional pain of leaving without a trace, that all is forgiven?  What about working off the debt?  What about some probationary period to make sure the son’s change of heart is genuine?  And is Jesus’ parable really suggesting that the attitude of this father – celebrating his son’s return with forgiveness and no thought of repayment – is a picture of how God, the Father, accepts us?

That, my friends, is the absolute unadulterated beauty of the Christian message!  When we change our minds about Jesus Christ and embrace His message, all is forgiven.  There is no probationary period.  There is no “good works” requirement of being better than my neighbor, giving to charity, or performing any acts of penance.  To our calculating and cynical minds this is too good to be true.  That is the uniqueness of the Christian message.  And this free gift is being offered to you right now.

When you strip away the media caricature of Christianity, when you strip away the uninformed biases we have heard all of our lives about Christianity, at the heart of the Christian message is the story of a lovesick Father rejoicing in and accepting without reservation the person who embraces His message of good news.  And the good news is this:  Jesus Christ died for your sin problem and offers to set you free from its penalty and its power.

What sin problem?  In our human condition, in our default mode, all of us are guilty before a holy God of breaking His moral code.  Like the compassionate father’s offer of forgiveness and celebration to his son, God has a forgiveness and celebration offer for you.  His offer is summarized best in this single verse from His book, the Bible, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23).

On the one hand, we have earned death as a wage for our sin.  This is the human condition.  We were born into it and have confirmed it by our sinful actions.  But in contrast to what we have earned, God offers eternal life as a gift.  The means to receive the gift is through Christ Jesus; by embracing His message of good news.  Good news for the needy.  Good news for the lost.  Good news for the oppressed.  Good news for sin’s captives.  Good news for you and me.

If the idea of embracing the good news message of Jesus Christ is new to you, let me offer you this.  When Jesus came to earth, He initiated a new arrangement between God and man.  His message of release from the penalty of our sin was totally founded upon His death, as a substitute for each of us, on a cross.  Under God’s old arrangement, the default arrangement for the whole human race, we stand guilty of breaking His moral code.  But that all goes by the wayside when we agree to God’s new arrangement by acknowledging our guilt, accepting the free gift of Christ’s death in our place, and embracing what Jesus says as true.  If you wish to say “I’m in” with this new arrangement, tell God in prayer about your decision.  Then, talk to someone about it.  If you would like to know more about God’s offer or talk with us about a decision you’ve made, please drop us a line at our contact page.

Good News for the Lost

Remember the context of Jesus’ first coming?  His contemporaries viewed the coming kingdom as a national deliverance from foreign oppression and personal deliverance for the righteous.  Jesus turned that idea on its head and proclaimed deliverance for the needy; the sick, the oppressed, the sinner.  The Jewish leaders expected judgment for the sinners, not redemption.  When Jesus ate with those considered “sinners,” it meant acceptance and recognition in their culture.  This coupled with His announcement that the kingdom had come to “sinners” led to many a protest from the religious leaders.  (See The Parables of Jesus by David Wenham for a longer explanation of the comparison between the self-righteousness of the religious leaders and the self-recognized spiritual poverty of the “sinners.”)

Jesus’ three parables of the lost things, from Luke 15, are given in this context.  “Now all the tax-gatherers and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.  And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’  And He told them this parable, saying,…” (Lk 15:1-3).  In Luke chapter 15, Jesus answers the protest of the religious leaders with three stories about lost things which illustrate that the very thing they were accusing Jesus of is exactly why He came; to rescue the needy.

In the story of the lost sheep (Lk 15:3-7), the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and looks diligently for the one lost sheep until it is found.  He then “calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’  I [Jesus] tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous who need no repentance.” (Lk 15:6-7).  Notice the words “sinner who repents.”  Coming to Christ is an act of faith and repentance that starts with recognizing our need.  There is no repentance in the righteous ninety-nine, not because they are righteous in the justified sense, but because they think themselves righteous and in no need of repentance.  There is no rejoicing because they are not coming.  They do not recognize their need.  Not only is Christ’s message good news to the needy, but it brings joy to the shepherd, Jesus, when the lost are found.

The short story of the lost coin (Lk 15:8-10) again highlights the joy of finding that which was lost.  “When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’  In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk 15:9-10).  The point of this story, as in the one above, is the joy that results when the lost have been found, when the sinner repents.  The focus of these two parables is less on the lost and more on the one doing the looking.  The concern and action by the shepherd and the woman demonstrate that the lost are a priority in Jesus’ ministry.

Finally, we come to the last story in Luke chapter 15.  And as with the others, it is an answer to the Pharisees charge in Luke 15:2 that Jesus welcomes “sinners.”  This is the parable of the lost son and continues the “lost things” theme of the chapter.  However, due to its length and incredible detail about the love of the Father for the lost, we will save our discussion for next time.