Entering the Kingdom by Force
Luke 16:16 ¶ “The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force.
Luke 16:17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped.
The arrival of John the Baptist signaled a turning point in human history. Until that time “the law and the prophets were in effect.” John began to proclaim the coming kingdom and the response was huge. People came in mass numbers, urging one another to enter the kingdom. The force of the crowd coming out to hear about the new kingdom was overwhelming. But did they really understand what it all meant? The law was not going away, but instead it was being fulfilled through Jesus Christ and would be written on the very hearts of the people. The things of the world might shift and change, but the kingdom was about fulfillment of the law, not its destruction.
The fear began to well up inside of me as I realized that there wasn’t enough room for the crush of the crowd. I had never experienced anything like it before in my life. I was heading to the first-ever Billy Graham Crusade service in Moscow, Russia. I had taken the subway train to the station where we were to exit. You could sense the excitement of those people who were on our train car, people from all over the country were arriving to see what would happen at this event that had been widely advertised.
What no one had expected was the arrival of so many people at the same time at one subway station. There was only so much room available on the train platform and everyone had to be funneled up the escalator to the exit. When we stepped from the train we discovered there was no place to go. We were pushed and shoved by the people behind us and all of a sudden we were part of a massive crowd that was trying to force its way in the direction of the escalators. The force of the crowd was so great that at times it seemed that my feet no longer touched the floor. There was a back and forth rocking motion and I was simply swept away by the crush of the crowd as slowly we made our way to the escalator, all the while fear was creeping in because more trains were arriving. We could only sustain a certain amount of crushing and then there would be no room left. The air began to feel stale for there were simply too many people in too small of a space. And little by little we were trying to force our way forward until we would reach the escalator. At that point we seemed to be spit out of the crowd, one by one, until we could balance ourselves on the steps that were moving rapidly upward.
This crowd was trying to enter the kingdom by force, in much the same way I believe it may have happened in the time of Christ. This was something new and novel. People were tired of the past because it had nothing to offer them. Now, they were hopeful about the promise of a new future and so they pushed an shoved to get to the good news of the kingdom. And just as the people who came to see Jesus got excited about what “freebie” he could give them — namely his miracles, so the people that day at the Crusade couldn’t wait for the “freebies” at the end. The Salvation Army team had to stand around the floor of the arena with ropes to hold back the crowds. The people really had no idea what this “altar call” was, but they knew that if you went down front they would give you some free literature and so they anxiously awaited the end of the service so that they could enter the kingdom by force — nearly trampling the Salvationists. It’s a sight I will never forget.
The sad truth is that on a smaller scale, far too often, we too may be trying to enter the kingdom by force. We push and we shove to get there and enjoy the “freebies” that Jesus has to offer us, but we want it all to be easy. Jesus never promised that it would be easy! He never said that he would destroy the law — but instead that he would fulfill the law. The kingdom is an invitation to join Jesus in living out the law from the inside out. It is an invitation to servant-leadership in a very upside-down world. It’s where the first are last and the last are first. It’s a place where we are to reflect Jesus, being his instruments in a world that so desperately needs to experience his love. The reality is that the gate is narrow, and when people figure that out, they aren’t as excited about trying to get in. We don’t want to leave our baggage at the door so that we can enter. We try pushing and shoving and getting in with all that we have, because of what we think we will receive in the end. Instead, we are invited to put down our junk and give ourselves wholly over to the work of Jesus in our lives. This is the work of the kingdom, and we can’t grab it on our own. Jesus works in and through us and the law of God becomes the law of our lives — nothing more, nothing less!
Lord, thank you for the gift of your law Amen.