Mark 12:28-34 “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’ ‘Well said, teacher,’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.”
There are two Americans whom I admire, one known throughout the gospel church, the other hardly known at all. I admire them because of their ardour for the living God. The first is Jonathan Edwards who died in 1758. There was an occasion when he was a teenager when he was reading the New Testament, and these words just leaped off the page and seemed the most beautiful words he’d ever read in his life: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (I Timothy 1:17). He wrote in his journal a few days later, “As I read those words, there came into my soul . . . a sense of the glory of the Divine being; a new sense, quite different from anything I ever experienced before. Never any words of Scripture seemed to me as these words did. I thought how excellent a Being that was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be rapt up in him in heaven, and be as it were swallowed up in him for ever.” Here Jonathan Edwards is describes the first stirrings of his love for God.
The other American who loved God was a man called Dan DeHaan who died in a plane crash in 1982. I have friends today who once went to the weekly Metro Bible Study in which Dan taught hundreds of young people in Atlanta in the 1970s. They admired him, and they loved him; I wish I could have met him. At one session he told them this: “I grew up in Michigan. It was there that I met the Lord, one lonely evening in my home at the age of fourteen. I remember listening to great sermons in church when I was a boy and going away wondering what God wanted of my life. In the wintertime Lake Michigan would often freeze, and I would spend Sunday afternoons out on that frozen ice. I would run out onto the lake, possibly half a mile, and sit all bundled up on a huge snowdrift that had been hardened from the wind. As I would sit there I would contemplate what God was like . . . I would often cry out, ‘O God, don’t let me join the ranks of the spiritual drop-outs. Don’t let me become careless and bored in my walk with you.’ . . . Soon after my sixteenth birthday a man told me to do a study on the character of God . . . I found myself hungering to know God. I would carry my newfound knowledge out on the ice and ‘pray it through’ . . . As God would reveal himself to me I found his will more of a delight and his Word the enjoyment of my life. Psalm 40 and verse 8 became my favourite verse for some time, ‘I delight to do thy will, O my God; thy law is within my heart.’ I’m saying all of this to make one point: the deepest thoughts a person can ever have are his conception of the nature of God” (Dan DeHaan, “The God You Can Know,” Moody Press, Chicago, 1982, pp. 37&38). There is Dan DeHaan expressing the beginnings of his love for God. What admirable Americans those two wen were, separated by over 200 years, and, of course, we could find Welshmen across the centuries who have felt the same.
A man once came to Jesus Christ and asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Our Lord said to him, “‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.'” (vv. 29-31). Jonathan Edwards said, “I thought how excellent a being God was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy this God, and be rapt up in him in heaven, and be as it were swallowed up in him for ever.” Dan DeHaan would often cry, “O God, don’t let me join the ranks of the spiritual drop-outs. Don’t let me become careless and bored in my walk with you.’ . . . As God would reveal himself to me I found his will more of a delight and his Word the enjoyment of my life.”
The man who asked Christ this question about the greatest command was thrilled with his answer. “Well said, teacher,” he cried. “That is exactly it.” How can there be any greater life than this, one spent loving the one true and living God who created the universe, the Lord who personally has spoken through the prophets and apostles, the Father who sent his blessed Son Jesus Christ to become the Lamb of God to deal with our shame and blame, the Merciful one who pardons our sins and gives us eternal life? How magnificent a God! Let us love him. Let us love him completely. Let us love, and praise, and wonder. Let all our lives be utterly taken up with him. Let us fall in love with him, and then love him with all our ransomed powers, and love him, more and more, all our days consumed by his greatness and glories. That is life. That is why our hearts are beating at this moment – for him. That is why we are breathing in and out just now – to breathe out our love for him. That is why we are thinking any thoughts now, that they might be full of love for him: “This is my beloved and this is my friend.” How fearful to refuse to love so good and glorious a God.
This man had seen the light! He judged those words of Jesus to be correct. Ten out of ten! Well said! You might think that the most important thing in life is to judge God wisely, but it’s not. How God judges us is all important. How he thinks of us is far more crucial than what we think of him. Your standing in judgment upon the Lord Jesus Christ is neither here nor there. The slug’s opinion of the gardener is a matter of consequence to that slug alone; eternity hangs on how God judges you. How did Jesus sum up this man? “Yes. You’ve got it”? No. Did he say, “Well done brother. You’ve made the great discovery too”? No. What Christ actually said to him was this, “You’re not far from the kingdom of God.”
It is a remarkable statement. He was a perfectly respectable man. He was by all appearances a deeply devout and religious man; he was a highly intelligent man – he was a teacher. Yet with all his respectability, and all his intelligence, and all his religion he was outside the kingdom of God. That is something on which God’s word is utterly adamant, that that is how it is with all ordinary men and women, with all their good works and beliefs and mental aptitude they are yet outside the kingdom of heaven
The man knew so much. He had heard Christ. He was in the presence of Christ. He appreciated the answer Jesus gave; he agreed that the greatest commandment was to love God and also to love his neighbour. That is life – yes! From that time on he would say those words to his family and friends, but he himself was not in the kingdom of God. He was near it, but still he was not in it. Think of the asylum seeker arriving at Dover docks in the ship, and seeing from high up on the deck the land he desires, smelling its air, and hearing its sounds, but he is not yet in the United Kingdom. He is still outside. Think of the Mexican who looks across the Rio Grande to Texas; just the breadth of a river separating him from the nation he wants to enter. Not far from it, yet not in it. Think of the east Berliner who was separated by a wall a mere six inches thick from the west, not far from it but not in it. You too can be near the kingdom of God, but still not in it.
You remember how Pilgrim’s Progress ends? When all the other pilgrims have safely entered the Celestial City along comes a man called Ignorance. He quickly finds a ferryman called Vain-hope who takes him across the river to the gates, without any of the difficulties which Christian and Hopeful experienced as they forded the river on foot. When he knocks on the gate he is asked for his certificate but he can give them nothing. They bind him hand and foot and carry him to another door and throw him into the pit, and John Bunyan ends Pilgrim’s Progress with these words, “Then I saw that there was a way to Hell even from the gates of Heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction.” How near was Ignorance to the Celestial City! He knocked on its very gates, yet he never entered the kingdom. What will bring us very near the kingdom of God but not into it?
1 THE WARNING OF THESE WORDS.
There are times when warnings are crucial; “Danger ahead! This substance is poisonous! Beware of the dog! This traffic lane ends in half a mile! Cigarette smoking can kill you. Alcohol can endanger the unborn child. Do not get into a car with a stranger.” Don’t we live in a world where we warn one another of the consequences of our actions? Didn’t Jesus say things like, “Remember Lot’s wife.” And, “Fear God who can kill both body and soul in hell.” “Unless you repent you shall all likewise perish.” Jesus warned his hearers, and he is warning this teacher of the law that, as yet, he is only near to the kingdom of God.
This summer an acquaintance was getting on a ferry. He watched idly as one of the crew asked a man standing on the quay to throw him the rope. He lunged to catch the rope, toppled over and fell into the sea. Immediately a shout went up. What was the shout? “Man overboard.” The captain immediately stopped the engine so that the propeller might not hurt him and everyone combed the water to catch a glimpse of the sailor. They looked for ages and there was no sign of the man. Everyone had his heart in his mouth. The man couldn’t be spotted at all. “Why doesn’t someone do something?” a lady said in her frustration. The tension was unbearable. Had he drowned? Was he lost at sea? And then, far away from the boat a head bobbed up. It was the man; a current had taken him almost a mile away. They set off and other members of the crew with lifejackets jumped into the water and they rescued him. It was a tense few minutes. My point is this; nobody at all objected to the warning shout, “Man overboard!” Not one person said, “Hush! Don’t disturb the peaceful scene!” There was a man’s life at stake. So it was with Jesus’ preaching and ours too. There are always notes of danger to be sounded wherever a pulpit is set up. There are people whose hope that all is well between them and God is focused in the wrong objects.
i] ORTHODOXY ALONE CAN’T BRING YOU INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD: IT CAN ONLY BRING YOU NEAR
This teacher of the law had heard Jesus speak – as many of you hear him week by week in the sermons. You have learned much from him. You are sound in your opinions; you use the right language, and entertain the right convictions, and possess the right definitions, and employ the proper formulae, and have memorised the right catechism answers, and some of you may think you are inside the kingdom of God because of that. That is the ground of your assurance.
Christ is not saying that truth is unimportant. We know from the whole New Testament that it is of tremendous importance. “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free,” said Christ. Everyone who is going to enter the kingdom of God is going to have know the truth. They are going to know that Jesus Christ is Lord. They are going to confess that God raised him from the dead on the third day. Everyone who enters the kingdom of God will have believed the teachings of the New Testament. They will all believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. They will believe in God’s free justification through the life and death of Jesus which they will have received by faith alone. Christ never says that truth is inconsequential, or that you can have your truth and he can have his.
What the Lord is saying is this, that it is perfectly possible for us to be totally correct in our doctrines and yet for us to perish outside the kingdom of God. We may be very, very competent in our grasp of Christian truth. We may be very profound and accurate in our theological insight. We may be very able in stating and asserting and maintaining a defense of revealed religion. We may have a great love for theological literature. We may love theological discussion. We may imagine ourselves to be men and women standing on the watchtowers of Zion on the lookout for false doctrine. We may be zealous for the Confession of Faith, and the Authorised Version, and the Lord’s Day, and revival, and the baptism of the Spirit, and the Christian world and life view while yet we ourselves are outside the kingdom of God.
I am not saying that those doctrines are wrong, but a grasp of theology, and a fascination for truth, and a love and zeal for Christian teaching can be ours while we are still sitting outside the borders of the kingdom of God. I am saying that if this is true then we must examine ourselves lest we are going to the Celestial City with the faith of devils. The devils believe. They are Trinitarian; there isn’t one Unitarian devil. All of them know Jesus Christ, who he is, the Son of the Most High. They believe all the doctrines. John Milton portrays them in Paradise Lost gathered around in a group in one of the caverns of hell discussing the divine determinism and God’s sovereignty, and I suppose doing so with much accuracy, but devils yet. What a terrible picture that is. There they are, bound in chains until the judgment of the great day, and they are whiling away the hours of their captivity talking of the great complexities and intricacies of the revelation of God, lost in intellectual speculation. Every one of them outside the kingdom of God. I think of a man from whom I bought my set of the works of Thomas Manton who had been in the navy. In those early days he took two suitcases on a voyage, one of which was full of Puritan books and he read them during his tours of duty. There was no one more orthodox, but he went to a modernist theological college when he was discharged from the navy and imbibed all that philosophy, and if he is still in the ministry today he is preaching another gospel.
Christ is saying to us, “You with your orthodoxy are not far from the kingdom of God,” but it is no qualification for entrance.
ii] ENTHUSIASM IN THE PUBLIC SERVICE OF GOD’S CHURCH ALONE CAN’T BRING YOU INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD: IT CAN ONLY BRING YOU NEAR.
At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus spoke of many who will say to him, “Lord, Lord!” in the great day. Here are emotional men; here are committed people who are crying, “Lord! Lord!” They appear to be so keen, and seem to be involved people. They look such an earnest group, and their assurance that they are indeed in the kingdom of God is based on that fact, that both God and man could see how enthusiastic they were, and yet, in spite of all that, they remained outside the kingdom of God.
Let us remind ourselves that it is perfectly possible for people to be total activists in their different religions, to be fasting for a month, and knocking on front doors selling literature, and going on pilgrimages to grottoes, and to Rome or to Canterbury. Both men and women can take vows of celibacy and poverty; men will flagellate themselves until the blood flows. It is possible for people to be involved in every church meeting and constantly engaged in Christian work, and yet, all the time not be in the kingdom of God. The Pharisees crossed land and sea to make a convert. What zeal! Mormon men will give a year of their lives to spreading their fantasies all over the world. “Lord, Lord,” they will cry.
Let me go beyond that, the “Lord, Lord,” not only of zeal but the “Lord, Lord” of emotion. There are some people and they are bound to be joyful on principle; they must be effervescent whenever they go to church; they must show outwardly whatever feeling is in their hearts. They feel bound to strike up and repeat the last verse of a hymn from the congregation. They have persuaded themselves that having such religious emotions is itself proof that they are in the kingdom of God. There are others who cannot pray without breaking down and weeping, and I am saying that beautiful though that is yet it is possible for this to take place while we are outside the walls of the Celestial City.
It is possible to have great experiences outside God’s kingdom. Think of Judas returning with the Twelve from the preaching mission on which Jesus had sent them. “Lord, the very devils which subject to us,” he said. But that fact was no adequate grounds to believe that Judas had been brought into the kingdom of God. When Ignorance is asked at the gates of heaven, “From where have you come?” he quotes the words of Jesus in Luke 13, 26&27, “I have eaten and have drunk in the presence of the King, and he has taught in our streets.” That was his argument. In other words he was saying, “I’ve had great experiences. I can remember a day when I ate and drank with Jesus, and what a marvellous day it was. I remember what I heard. I can’t forget what I saw.” That was his argument.
None of the shining ones rejected his claim; it was perfectly true. Jesus doesn’t find fault with us for eating and drinking with him. He isn’t questioning the experience. Christ is finding fault with an assurance that we are in the kingdom of God based upon that experience. It is not enough that we have eaten and that we have drunk with Christ. It is not enough to sing from our experience, “He took me to his banqueting house and his banner over me was love.” I am sure we ourselves face the same peril as Ignorance. We can recall moments of great blessing in our spiritual lives. We can remember certain conferences. We can recall special meetings, or house groups, and they were times when we felt God as near as those people in a sinner’s house at a meal sat eating with Jesus of Nazareth. We can remember the word of God being preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. The word came to our heart like a bolt from the blue and our assurance that we are in the kingdom of God is based on that memory.
I am asking only, “Is it enough?” I am not denying the validity of the experience. I am not saying that it didn’t happen. I am not saying that it is not important, nor that it is undesirable, nor that it wasn’t precious to you, but I am asking before God, “Will it bear the weight that so many people rest on it?” The weight of our certitude that we are in the kingdom of God. It may be that like Felix, as we hear the servant of God reasoning with us of righteousness, temperance and judgment to come we tremble under the word of God. It may be that we experience some sense of dread and terror as we hear the awesome affirmations of God’s holiness and rectitude and the terrible certainty that we shall stand before the great white throne. We hear the word, not just with comprehension but with emotion yet all the time we are outside of God’s kingdom.
There are many men in the Christian ministry and their only assurance that God has called them to that work is certain feelings they started to get in church. They sat there in their pews; they watched a minister engaged in his calling and one day they had a thought that they would like to do that. They felt something of the intellectual exhilaration of understanding and preaching the message of God, and that feeling became an growing desire to be involved in that work themselves. They gave up everything to enter a seminary and to spend their lives in church work, but I am simply asking whether that feeling will bear the weight they’ve rested on it. Whatever damage a muddled religious man can do in the pew it is a hundredfold increased once he turns his collar round, stands in a pulpit and teaches a congregation. And I would say that there are perilous religious experiences, and that the New Testament addresses us with the command that we are to test the spirits to see whether they come from God or from somewhere else. We have no right to rest our assurance that we are in the kingdom of God on so fragile and so unstable a foundation as a feeling in our hearts.
iii] MIGHTY WORKS ALONE CAN’T BRING YOU INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD: THEY CAN ONLY BRING YOU NEAR
The Lord Christ says that in the last day many of the goats on his left hand side will protest that they did many wonderful works. Amongst them will be the men who have been tremendously successful in their religion. They have millions in their bank accounts to show for it. They live in palatial mansions behind high security fences, and they travel in private jets and appear on stages in sports arenas all over the world. Their faces are seen on television screens; their glossy magazines are sent all over the third world. There isn’t a country in Eastern Europe where you will not find pictures of their activities and claims that they have healed the cancer victim and caused the childless woman to conceive. Yet to many people who have done mighty works the Lord Jesus says he will speak saying, “I never knew you.” They were outside the kingdom of God.
Isn’t it a solemn thing these tremendously searching words of Jesus? They are saying to us that people who know the truth can be outside the kingdom, and people who are activists in the church can be outside the kingdom, and people with exhilarating experiences may be outside the kingdom, and now, that people who have done mighty works may yet be outside the kingdom. I am being told in the solemnest manner possible that I can be a great preacher and still go to hell. I am being told that I can be a successful preacher even whilst yet outside the kingdom of God. It is a very solemn thing, that there will be preachers outside the kingdom in a lost eternity. They won’t all have been false prophets. They won’t all have had a dead ministry in the sense of being ineffectual preachers. There will be men who knew the truth, and preached the doctrines, and their sermons were blessed by God, and yet they themselves never entered the kingdom of God. So I would say that before this teaching I should look into my own credentials, and at my own position. I would say to you not only must I do this, but you must do this too. All of us must examine ourselves and ask, “On what is my assurance based that I myself have actually entered the kingdom of God?” Are there times when you totally agree with the preacher, like this man did, so that you say what this man said, “Well said, teacher. You are right . . .” But Jesus told him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Don’t these words of Christ encourage us to open up again this great question of our soul’s salvation, and keep it open, and examine ourselves, lest ours should be a false peace?
I have fixed the standard so high that I feel guilty. I have pitched it at such a level that I feel I have set us all down outside the kingdom of God, near, yes, but not inside it. Who then can be saved? Yet I am back with this scene. A religious man, a teacher of the law, once came to Jesus Christ and asked him what was the greatest commandment, and when he heard Christ’s answer he was thrilled with it. Loving God and man is “more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” he said (v.33). Nevertheless, even though Jesus judged his words to be wise words, our Lord said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” In spite of his religious interest, and his listening to Jesus, and his earnest agreement he was still only near to the kingdom of God. It would be a strange thing if that phenomenon no longer existed in God’s church. It would be most unusual if Jesus said these words, and gave other warnings like them, that we felt we could hurry over them and ignore them. It would be strange if when I came to the Lord’s Supper I was so confident that I never once examined myself to see whether my hope of salvation lay exclusively in the broken body and poured out blood of my Saviour. He died, the just one for me the unjust one, to bring a rebel like me to God. Do I believe that yet? Am I to be a stranger to self-examination? I know I’ve got the right doctrine. I know that I’ve had my great moments with God in and out of the pulpit, but am I still only near to the kingdom of God?
It certainly looked to everybody in the temple that day that this man was right inside the kingdom. He was a scribe, a teacher of the law of God; he was enthusiastically listening to Jesus Christ; he was one of the esteemed men in the vicinity. Did Peter and James and John look at him and think of themselves as crude fishermen from Galilee while he was a qualified man of rank from Jerusalem, full of religion. Yet might it not be that they had the one thing that brought them into the kingdom whereas he was only near it? Is that a safe place to be? Isn’t it a very precarious place, near the place of safety, near the shelter, near the harbour? A century ago the ship named “Royal Charter” had circumnavigated the globe and was almost at its home port in North Wales when it hit a rock in a storm in Moelfra Bay and all hands were lost. The chief officer’s wife was expecting her husband that very night. She had cooked his favourite meal, and how broken she was when she was told the news: “So near home, and yet lost!” she said. Think of the dying thief who perished in unbelief, crucified alongside Christ, hearing all that Jesus said on the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” seeing all his composure and grace. He was a witness to Jesus’ willingness to save his companion, hearing Christ assuring his old buddy that that day he would be with Jesus in paradise, and yet this dying criminal, so near to the kingdom, continued to curse the Lord and, his legs smashed with a sledgehammer, he gasped his last breath in unbelief, just as he had lived. So it is possible to be very near the King deluding ourselves that we are in him. I have spoken to you about the warning of these words, but now let me speak to you about their hope.
2. THE HOPE OF THESE WORDS.
There is a place that is wonderfully near to the kingdom of God. There is a mindset and an attitude and an understanding that makes even Jesus say, “You are not far from the kingdom.” He did not say this to the Pharisees. He denounced them as blind guides and hypocrites. They were whitewashed sepulchres full of dead men’s bones. They were far from the kingdom of God; not this man though. He was almost there. I believe that some of you are exactly where he was.
This teacher of the law reminds me of John Wesley the young and unconverted clergyman, first meeting with the Holy Club at Oxford University, praying and studying the Greek New Testament, interceding for an hour each day, fasting twice a week, visiting prisoners and the poor, trying to get into the kingdom of God by his own goodness and failing completely. He went to Georgia to try to make Christians out of the American Indians by a similar message of morality, and he failed again. On his journey home he wrote in his journal, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but, oh, who shall convert me?” He talked with evangelical Christians in London and he made this great discovery that he had never understood the gospel, he had not been trusting in the Lord Jesus for his salvation. He was then not far from the kingdom of God. What did this lawyer do with his questionings? He went to king Jesus with them. That is how he got near to the Lord’s kingdom.
That is what John Wesley did. In London, a few weeks after returning from Georgia – the exact morning was May 24, 1738 – Wesley opened his Bible and his eyes fell on these very words of our text: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” God’s kingdom was near. The Lord wasn’t tantalising Wesley, bringing him into contact with such fine men and women and explaining the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ simply in order to frustrate him further. John Wesley was not far from the kingdom of God. That same evening something remarkable happened to him. This is how he famously described it in his journal: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street where one was reading Luther’s preface to the epistle to the Romans. About quarter to nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation, and an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
How did John Wesley enter the kingdom of God? Not by his own prayers and fasting and good works, but by what Jesus Christ alone had done, he who said, “I am the door.” Wesley said, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation.” That is it. That is the step from being near the kingdom to entrance into it. It is by Jesus only and faith in him that we enter the kingdom of God. We go to him just as we are for admittance. Let me explain this to you very simply.
i] The first thing is this, that we are sinners. Sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God. God has given us his law; it tells us we are to have no other gods but him; we are not to make any idols and worship them; we are not to take his name in vain; we are to keep one day separate and holy each week; we are to honour our parents; we are not to kill; we are not to commit adultery; we are not to steal; we are not to bear false witness; we are not to covet. Positively speaking, we are to love God with all our hearts and love our neighbours as ourselves. That is what you have failed to do; every single one of you. That sin of yours has alienated God; it brings his wrath down upon you; and it has created a spirit of enmity in your hearts towards God so that you don’t want to hear about ‘salvation’ and ‘conversion.’ They become the most dreadful words sinners can hear. That is sin, man’s fearful problem.
ii] The second thing is this, that just such sinners may be saved, because Jesus Christ the Son of God came into the world to seek and to save the lost. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. The blood of Jesus Christ God’s son cleanses us from all sin. He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him. The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. That is how sinners are saved. The Son of God became the Lamb of God and laid down his own life lovingly as the once and for all cosmic sacrifice in order to save us. Christ has borne all our condemnation in his own body on the cross.
iii] The third thing is this, that lost sinners will be saved by Christ only if they turn from their sinning ways and entrust themselves into the saving keeping power of the Lord Jesus. We have to go to him in the isolation and loneliness of personal guilt, and personal shame, and personal confession, and personal faith. “I am trusting Thee Lord Jesus, trusting only Thee.” So God commands all men everywhere to repent. Except you repent you will all perish. As many as received Christ to them God gave power to become the sons of god, even to them that believe on his name. Those who come to him he will in no way cast out. Though your sins be as scarlet he will not cast you out. Your foul sins will be as white as snow. Though your sins be red like crimson – and they are – he will not cast you out; they shall be as white as wool. This is what God’s word says to you today. It is so wonderful you can hardly believe it, but it is true. There is no other way to God. There is no other religion. There is no other door into God’s kingdom. If you don’t come to God by his only Son then you will be lost for ever.
iv] The fourth thing is this, that we need the help of the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and bring us to faith and repentance. We can’t get into the kingdom without him. Unless a man be born of the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God. We can’t motor in under our own power. You won’t even understand what I’m saying without the Spirit, or if you understand something you won’t like what I’m saying without the Spirit, or if you think you appreciate what I am saying you’ll still be unable to do anything about it without the Spirit. Without him you can do nothing. Yes, you do need deliverance from the guilt of sin, but, just as deeply you need deliverance from the power of indwelling sin which is the source of the voice saying to you even now as you listen to my words, “This is boring; these are only the preacher’s ideas; I don’t need to hear this; ignore all this; I don’t want to get religious.” Sin says, “Don’t make a fool of yourself; your convictions are just his pressures on you.” But it’s not boring is it? We are talking about how you can enter the kingdom of God. What journey to a fabulous kingdom could be more thrilling? If you are going to benefit from Jesus Christ you have to experience an inward renewal. The Spirit of God has to work in your heart. Almighty God has to give you a birth from above. You must be drawn by the Father to the Saviour. You have to be made a new creation. You have to be made a new wineskin for the new wine of Jesus Christ being poured into you. You are helpless without the Holy Spirit. He has to work to change you in order for you to benefit from the work of the Son of God.
v] The last thing is this, that entry into the kingdom of God is freely opened to us now, today, and it is our duty, as well as being in our highest interest, to enter into the kingdom by Jesus Christ today. It is a movement of your heart and soul initiated and sustained by the Holy Spirit, using the word of the gospel to make you willing. If you keep waiting until you are more prepared to enter you will never enter the kingdom at all. You must come into the kingdom of God just as you are today. Hear, and your soul shall live! Christ has opened the life gate that you may go in. Come to the Father through Jesus the Son. Think of all you’ve heard! I cannot believe that it was all rubbish. I cannot believe that the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount is rubbish. So now is the best time; now is the day of salvation; now you must enter into the kingdom of God. Jesus says, “Come unto me all who are labouring and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” The Spirit and the bride say Come; and let him that is thirsty come; and let him that hears come, and whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.
I can see how you say that it’s not all that convenient at the moment. You want to wait until you have solved a few problems and thought a bit more about it, and made yourself more worthy. When you are older will it be more convenient than now? When I stand in a doorway and hold the door open for someone to come in I don’t stay there for ages holding the door as that person is deciding to enter or not: “Shall I go in? Yes . . . no, later . . . yes I will . . . no I wont . . .” And so on and on. I move from the door and it closes, but some of you are saying to Christ today, “I haven’t made up my mind. Maybe I will, maybe I wont . . . yes . . . no . . .” And if I remember aright that is what you were saying last year and the year before. We don’t stand holding a door ajar for a whole minute while people are making up their minds, but some of you have kept Christ waiting holding open the door to the kingdom for years.
I would say to you that no matter how young you are, come into the kingdom. You say you are only a child, well you enter his kingdom as a child, and you live with him as a child, and pray to him as a child and read the Bible as a child and be a Christian child. You make sure that you don’t say to him that it’s inconvenient, that you want him to wait holding the door open for a few years while you play around outside. There are many saying that we plan first of all to sow a few wild oats: “Let me taste some of the great pleasures of the kingdom of this world. I want to taste its debauchery before I enter the kingdom.” Some of us are saying, “Wait until I’m married. Wait until I’ve finished in school. Wait until I’ve got a degree. Wait until I get promotion,” because it is always so inconvenient for a sinner to enter the kingdom at this moment.
We forget that we have no tomorrow; it is never tomorrow; it is only now. And we forget something else, that as our days go by and we keep refusing to enter God’s kingdom it becomes easier and easier to say No, and at last we are on the brink of eternity and then we’re saying No on the precipice of the bottomless pit because the devil who used to say, “Plenty of time,” is now whispering to you, “You’d be a hypocrite if you tried to enter now.” He’s got you outside with him, and that is where you will be for ever and ever, outside the kingdom. Always so near, but always so far away, and then never near, never near again.
That is why Christ tells us not to procrastinate. Don’t put it off. The door to heaven is open, Christ is inviting us to stop being near it, just on the outside, and come right in, and come in now, into God’s forgiveness, and God’s acceptance, and God’s mercy, and God’s love, and God’s sonship, and God’s glory. Don’t go on being not far from the kingdom. Step right in!
28th November 2004 GEOFF THOMAS