“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” – Matthew 11:12 NIV
The following teaching is a variation of one of the messages I’ve consistently taught men over the last few years. Time and again, men are convicted and motivated (as I am) to respond to the Lord’s strong call of Followership. They intuitively know that there is a certain strength to Christianity, which is often not taught from the pulpits in many of our institutional churches today.
Admittedly, Matthew 11:12 can be pretty confusing. Lets seek to dissect it together. From the days of John Baptist, when his preaching evoked a strong reaction; when he was imprisoned and ultimately fell victim to Herod’s savagery.
“The kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing…” Remember, the Kingdom can be defined as the rule and reign of Christ over our lives. This message of the Kingdom, and those who were to enter the Kingdom, were facing a great deal of aggressive opposition from the general public and from the Jewish religious leaders in particular. This is not surprising because the Good News of the Kingdom of God is a strong message embodied in a call to surrender to the leadership of Christ. It is a message that means you and I must align our allegiance and loyalty to our King and He is now the new and continuing ruler of our lives. This clearly is not an easy message to embrace, as we all have erected and allowed alternative kingdoms to dictate our lives. But it becomes doubly difficult when you face opposition or persecution because of that message. Just stop consider the Christians in the Middle East at this very moment. Would you pray for them? Many are being martyred for their faith through the savagery of ISIS in this very moment. Imagine a Muslim becoming a Follower of Christ in Iraq or Syria today!
“… and forceful lay hold of it” means that the relentless, determined, and tenacious followed Christ with with forceful resoluteness! This is also the sense of Luke 16:16. While the Pharisees and others were busy opposing Christ, sinners were entering His kingdom in droves!
This gives us insight into the reality that we do not have to water or dumb down the message of following Jesus Christ. His chosen people of all ages hear His voice and follow to Him.
“When He has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow Him because they know His voice” – John 10:4. (See also, John 10:27-30)
Jesus Christ is once again magnifying, as He frequently did, the difficulty of entering the kingdom of God. Notice: “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” – Matthew 7:14 NIV
Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, but it is anything but “easy”
It calls for knowledge of the Truth, repentance, surrender, and following Christ in obedience.
Even the Apostle Paul understood the tenacity and courage it would take to engage the Kingdom of God. “All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering” – 2 Timothy 1:5 NIV
Jesus reiterated this when he said, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” – Luke 16:34. The word “strive” means to struggle against conflict. The great multitudes that had once followed Christ were diminishing to a faithful few, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” – John 6:66. Great crowds still came to hear,“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus,…” – Luke 14:25, but committed followers were increasingly scarce. Moreover, Christ’s messages often seemed designed to discourage the half-hearted “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” – Luke 14:33. Only those willing to carefully assess the cost (vv. 28-32) and invest all they had in His kingdom were worthy to enter. This speaks of something more than mere abandonment of one’s material possessions; it is a life-altering surrender. They were not to safeguard cherished sins, treasure earthy possessions, nor cling to secret self-indulgences. Their commitment had to be without reservation.
John the Baptist’s message of repentance was meant to precede and prepare people for the coming Messiah and His message. “This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'” – Matthew 3:3. John the Baptist preached repentance (turn from sin, surrender to Christ’s leadership and follow Him in righteousness), which was a message that called for a rigorous relinquishment of present and past sins with the proof of demonstrative actions. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” – Luke 3:8. His message was a clarion call for people to “seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the righteous man his thought;” – Isaiah 55:7
Embracing the Kingdom of God requires an un-refined faith.
In the last 200 years or so, Christians here in the United States have had it relatively easy with regard to cultural opposition. With the institutional Church promoting safety, security, relationships, abundance, grace, forgiveness, peace and other such powerful truths, the American Church has allowed itself to be lulled to sleep. The message of the Kingdom of God has never been an “easy-believism” kind of message. We have been getting away with it because of so much success, prosperity, and cultural acceptance within our faith communities. In our radically changing culture, it would once again seem important to embrace the truth of Matthew 11:12 – where only the “forceful” Followers of Christ “enter the Kingdom of God.”
Lets not wait to be overtly ostracized or for persecution to intensify. Let’s challenge people today to “strive to enter the kingdom” (Luke 13:34) and “contend [fight strenuously] for the faith” (See Jude 3).