Community Group Study Notes
Have someone in your group provide a 2-minute summary of Sunday’s teaching.
What is one thing that God taught you through this message?
How does knowing and loving God lead to a better outcome than just simply trying to follow a list of rules? Why does this relationship change our heart motives?
The Law of Love in God’s Kingdom means we can love others beyond our natural ability; the King gives us what he asks of us. Read Romans 5:5. How does God do this? Who do you find it difficult to love in this way? If the King’s love lives in you, how can they experience more of it? What has to change?
What is one action step that you can take in light of Sunday’s message and our conversation today?
Now, we've had a long few months in this timeframe of what we call pandemic and what we've seen over these last number of months is maybe a whole bunch of rules and regulations, and guidelines and executive orders, maybe more than we really know how to deal with to be honest with you. Let me say this, that it's certainly a difficult time to be a leader and we should pray and continually pray for our president, for our congress, for our governor, for our county executive. We need to continue to keep all of them in prayer as I know that you're doing. And so it's a difficult time to lead, but man, all of the guidelines, all of the regulations, all of the executive orders, man, I just start spinning, right? And sometimes it's very difficult to be able to keep up with them all.
This is happening at the federal level, it's happening at the state level and I completely understand because leaders are trying to do the best they can to make sure that people are protected and safe. But Western culture as we know it, particularly Americans, I'm sure Canadians maybe have the same ideas, but Western culture has an interesting relationship with laws and with guidelines and with regulations. In fact, what they have a tendency to do these laws and regulations and guidelines and executive orders is they often reveal some things about our hearts. So in some circumstances, what laws do is they reveal our rebellion to them, nobody's going to tell me what to do and I'm going to do whatever I want to do. Okay.
For some, it reveals the pride that's in our hearts. I keep every rule, I keep every law and I can't believe all the disgusting people that don't. For others, we find a manipulation that begins to creep out of our hearts, right? Because we're like yeah, I just think that law's kind of stupid and I think there's ways around it, right? This is kind of what happens with law, it actually reveals some things and by the way, there are some things that we all kind of giggle at and laugh at and leave it to Buffalo people to figure out ways around certain laws. So when the governor says that if you want to go into a bar that you actually have to order food, well, leave it to Buffalo, to figure out just how to do that.
In fact, the Lafayette Brewing Company, you guys may have heard, actually had a menu before the menu got shut down and it was basically this, this is the Lafayette dollar menu. So if you went there, you could order house chips and here's the description, chips made in house, thank you for that. Or a piece of meat for a dollar, one piece of our sliced meat chef's choice, try substituting for a piece of cheese, also chef's choice. Or you could order grapes, just a few grapes, not sure the color, that's what it says. Or you could order the smallest piece of cheesecake in Buffalo for a dollar, literally the smallest piece of cheesecake you'll ever see is what it says in the description. Or nine French fries and they count them one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine French fries. Or you could get a handful of croutons, homemade croutons, all whole handful.
Now, this actually made national news as you can imagine, Buffalo makes sometimes the national news for reasons that I'm not sure why, that have to do with dollar menus, manipulating laws and breaking tables and setting them on fire. But nonetheless, not exactly what we want to be known for, but nonetheless, this is sometimes the relationship that we have with laws, right? And whether you like it or not, laws are a part of any nation, laws are a part of any state, laws are a part of any kingdom, it's just the nature of things. You simply don't think about nations, or kingdoms, or states without thinking about that they are governed in some sense by laws that makes perfect sense to us. The nation of Israel was no different, right? The kingdom of Israel was no different, they were a nation or a kingdom that was governed by laws.
Certainly you remember that when the Israelites were freed from bondage and they made their way out of Egypt, that led by Moses into the desert area, he went up on Mount Sinai and God gave to him commandments, we call them the 10 commandments. He gave him these tablets of stone written by the finger of God saying, this is what I want my people to be about and then there was a time later where in instituting those commandments, God gave through Moses some other laws for the nation of Israel that would help to undergird those very high level commandments that he was giving so that his people would be unique in terms of who they were.
Now, what Israel ended up calling these types of things, what they ended up saying about this teaching that God had given to the nation or the kingdom of Israel these laws, they called it the Torah. Now the Torah was just another way of referring to the first five books of the Hebrew scripture, or the Old Testament, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, this was the Torah. Now what the Torah means, the word Torah actually means teaching, or doctrine, or instruction and some have actually referred to it as the law, because this was what was given to Israel for them to be governed by and this is what the people of Israel would study.
Now, just prior to the time of Jesus showing up on the scene, there were two primary schools of rabbinic interpretation of the law itself. That was the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel, Hillel was a little bit older but you've got Hillel and Shammai, one was a little more strict than the other. Shammai was a little more strict than Hillel, but these were predominantly schools of thinking as to how to interpret the law or the Torah. Now, if one were a rabbi and were teaching the Torah and did a good job of teaching the interpretation of the Torah, they would say that you fulfilled the law, but if you did a poor job and actually did kind of a disservice to the law, they would say that you abolished or nullified the law.
So there was an idea with kind of the rabbinic schools of thought with the law that you could either fulfill it in terms of a right interpretation, or you would abolish it with a poor interpretation. And so when King Jesus showed up, these were the two primary schools of thought and what the King did in his coming is he actually began to help now say, that I'm a King who's going to take the place of an authoritative rabbi and I'm going to help you understand the authoritative reading of what the Torah is all about because the King was bringing in a new kingdom. Remember that in Mark's gospel, it opens up by saying, Jesus saying repent because the kingdom of God is at hand, the kingdom of God is near and this is the good news that I'm bringing. So the kingdom of God has broken in to time and space as we know it and so the kingdom of God is actually among us now.
And so what's interesting about this is that Jesus ends up saying that I haven't come to abolish the law actually, but I've come to fulfill it. Listen to what he said in Matthew chapter five, this is in the sermon on the mount, which is where we're going to be today. Looking at the sermon on the mount, Jesus said, do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them, there are those words again, right? In terms of the idea of the right interpretation of what the law is getting at. For truly I tell you Jesus says, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pin will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished.
Therefore, anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. So you've got a passage here that reminds us that there are kingdom laws so to speak, that Jesus the King is bringing in so that we'll understand them to some degree. He is saying, I am giving you the right interpretation of the Torah. I have come to fulfill what the law was actually teaching, not only... listen to this, not only in how he lived, but in how he interpreted our ability to live by that as well. But you see, the Pharisees were doing something pretty unique. The Pharisees were actually interpreting the law according to the letter of law, but in many cases they were missing the aim of the law or the point of it.
And so what Jesus does here in the sermon on the mount is he really talks about what citizenry in the kingdom of God looks like. And he is going to talk about kind of the law of the kingdom, what governs the people of God in the kingdom of God. That's a question maybe that we could ask and what I want to propose to you is just a couple of things actually, in terms of what we would look at as the law of the kingdom of God. Here's the first that I would suggest to you, kind of in these laws that govern life in the kingdom of God, the first is the law of righteousness, the law of righteousness. Here's why I'm referring to this idea because in the sermon on the mount very specifically, Jesus highlights the idea of righteousness a number of different times.
In fact, if we started looking in chapter five, just chapter five itself, which is the opening of the sermon on the mount, we'll see three different references to righteousness. Notice what it says in verse six, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled. And then in verse number 10 it says, blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And then in verse number 20, Jesus says for I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. See, Jesus is concerned here about the idea of righteousness and we ought to be concerned by that as well.
But here's the question that I guess we'd have to ask ourselves, how is it possible for people like us to actually do what Jesus said and that is that our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law if we want to live life in the kingdom. How in the world are we going to... or is our righteousness going to be able to surpass that of people who live their lives to study righteousness? That seems like a tall order for any of us, but what King Jesus is going to do is he's going to actually show us how and he's going to speak to that because the Pharisees get the letter of the law right, but they miss the point. They miss the aim of the law. You see, that's something that we need to be able to grab hold of because what we're doing sometimes in our lives in the kingdom is we're doing the same thing that the Pharisees were and we're looking, listen to this, we're looking for the minimum.
We're looking for the minimum standard of what it means to live in what we would call righteously, which in some cases looks like an external righteousness, but Jesus is trying to do something different. It's why when we're reading the sermon on the mount as it begins to unfold, here's what we hear Jesus actually saying. He starts saying things like this, you have heard it said, but I say to you, it was said of old, but I say to you, you have heard it said, but I say to you. Jesus is now taking the position of authoritatively as both King and teacher, teaching us what life in the kingdom is supposed to look like and what the laws that govern the kingdom actually look like. And so when we talk about the law of righteousness, Jesus actually begins to unpack that for us as we walk through the text and I'm not going to read all of these from the text, but I'll give you some examples.
Jesus says, you've heard it was said, you shall not murder. Well, that's absolutely true, right? It's funny because when people start living by the minimum standard, what often they end up saying when we start talking about matters of faith and I've had these conversations many times over with people in our community and in Western New York, and I would start talking about Jesus and about righteousness and about forgiveness of sin, and I would hear something inevitably that sounds like this. Well, I've never murdered anyone, congratulations you, we're so glad that you've not murdered anyone. And by the way, I'm a proponent of saying, do not murder, right? That should not be the case, do not murder. So the answer to that is of course, yes, but Jesus says, while you've heard it said do not murder, I say to you, do not harbor anger in your heart.
Now we've gotten something even deeper. Jesus has gone from just the letter of the law to now bringing it down to the heart level because how do you end up murdering somebody? You do that by developing and harboring anger and hatred in your heart. You don't just wake up, go for a stroll, man it's a beautiful day, did you hear that hummingbird? I'm going to murder someone, that's not what happens. There's something that goes on inside and Jesus goes beyond the letter of the law into the heart of the matter. And he continues on, he says you've heard it said you shall not commit adultery, absolutely. You should not be unfaithful to your spouse, absolutely. That's absolutely true, but Jesus says, but I tell you, you shouldn't have lust in your heart for someone else. Jesus now goes down to the heart of the issue.
You see, this is life and the kingdom. Life and the kingdom is about what happens in here, it's not just about the letter of the law. And by the way, there are many people confusing themselves thinking that they are righteous because they have never physically cheated on their spouse yet are harboring lust in their hearts for someone else or engaged in an emotional affair with someone else, and somehow they've convinced themselves that it's okay because they've never gotten physically involved. Jesus says, that's not righteousness. That's not what kingdom righteousness is about, you're too busy trying to obey the letter of the law that you miss the point and the point is that you live righteously from the heart. He goes on to say other things, right? He goes on to say, it was told of you that if you divorce, you need to be able to give your spouses certificate of divorce, this was talking to men toward women back in that time.
Moses did that because of the hardness of hearts and so Jesus is saying okay, yes, there should be consideration for the other person and this should be legal if in fact there's going to be a divorce, yes, but I say to you, do not divorce. He says, except for sexual immorality that's another case to be able to consider. Do not divorce, why? Because you're not considering what it's doing to the other person, because you are now in a position where you're causing them to become an adulterer or an adulterous. See Jesus is getting down to the heart of the issue, he's not just talking about the superficial external things, he's talking about what gets all the way down to the heart. He goes on to say things like this, you've heard it said, you shall not break your vow, or you shall not break your oath.
And Jesus says, but I say to you, you don't even need one because your yes should be yes and your no should be no. You don't have to swear by anything because life and the kingdom is about a righteousness that surpasses the letter of the law. Your yes can simply be yes and your no can simply be no, you can simply be someone who speaks the truth and you don't need vows and oaths. He gets to the heart, right? Or he goes on to say something like this, if someone does something to you then you're... you've heard it said, if someone does something to you, you need to respond in an equal, not an over size but an equal amount. If it's violence, you treat it the same way. In other words, he said you've heard it said an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
You're going, what is this? Exchange of teeth? What is this happening here? If somebody knocks your tooth out, you don't get to knock all of their teeth out, only one of their teeth, right? That was the idea, right? They knock your eye out, you don't get to take both of their eyes, just one. It was called the Lex Talionis, it's basically an equitable, an equitable exchange in terms of what this happens. Jesus says, you've heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I tell you something different. And then he gives these illustrations and it's basically this, it doesn't have to be one of two ways, either take the beating and like it, or really whoop up on them, he said, you can show them a different way, a kingdom way.
You can actually demonstrate to them that there's a kingdom at work among us that stops ultimately the violence, that stops oppressing people, but you can show them a different way in terms of how to live. Jesus is getting to the heart of the matter. You see, this is how Jesus speaks to righteousness, this is how he talks about life in the kingdom. It's not just about the letter of the law and the law of righteousness is one that's fulfilled from the heart, not just external minimums that we think that we have to meet. Some people are so busy being sin managers that they haven't learned what it means to live above sin and to live in relationship with the king. You see, this is why Jesus talks about righteousness in these ways, it's not external. In fact, in Matthew six, right? As you keep reading in the sermon on the mount, verse number one, Jesus says be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.
If you do, you will have no reward from your father in heaven. In other words he's saying this, hey, by the way, your righteousness is not for the sake of being put on display so that people will tell you how awesome you are and you can be puffed up with pride about how righteous you are. He said, we have enough of those problems with the Pharisees and the scribes and the teachers of the law. That's not the point of this and in fact, a little later in chapter six, he says this in verse 33, but seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. What Jesus is functionally saying is this, is that when we seek the kingdom of God and we seek the righteousness of God, that we understand we can find in Jesus. That it is in relationship in that way, that everything changes for us.
We now have the opportunity to be righteous because he is righteous. In other words, let me say it this way, God is asking from us what he gives to us. He gives us righteousness in him and he's asking that of us because he gives it to us because we couldn't produce it on our own. Righteousness comes from seeking him and knowing him as a first priority. Think about it this way. Let's say that there's a guy who's headed out on a date, first date with a young lady. So what he does is he gets an audience with this girl that he's going to take out, he gets an audience with her sister and he says hey, I want to make sure that I do everything right, tell me what I need to know. Some of you have tried this move by the way, right? Tell me what I need to know about your sister because I'm going to take her out. And so the sister says this, she says well, do not... if you guys go out to eat, do not take her to a Mexican restaurant because the smell of salsa makes her sick.
So do not do that, all right? Also, if you're going out, I'd be... I'd pay attention to how you're dressed because if you wear a printed T-shirt she's going to think that you are really, really a loser. She's just going to think you're a loser if you wear a printed T-shirt, all right? So don't wear a printed T-shirt, he's like okay, okay, okay. Do not tell her that you're a former athlete, she thinks athletes are all useless and arrogant. Make sure not to tell her that, all right? And by the way, when you're in the car, do not listen to pop music because she will think you are boring and basic if all you're doing is listening to pop music wherever you're taking her. And if you're taking her to a movie, makes sure that you don't order popcorn, it hurts her teeth.
And oh, by the way, if you're going to a movie you better not pick it because if you do and she doesn't like it, she really, really hates wasting two hours of her life on things that she didn't have a say over. So make sure that you do all that and the guy's like okay, I think I've got it. And so he went out on a date with this girl and he made sure all of those things never happened, and do you know how the date went, terrible. Do you know why it went terrible? Because he spent all of his energy trying to figure out how not to offend her and spent none of his energy trying to get to know her. That is a great picture of how so many people treat life in the kingdom of God. We spend all of our energy trying to figure out how we can maybe not offend God, maybe obey the things that he has said, by the way, obedience is beautiful.
But we're trying to do that from an external perspective without actually getting to know him and learning how to love him, and we spend all our energy in the wrong places. Life in the kingdom is bigger than the letter of the law, it gets to the point of the law and the spirit of the law and it becomes a heart issue. So what does it look like? What is the governing law of the kingdom of God? Well, there's a law of righteousness like I just told you, but there's also the law of love, right? These are the... this is the law of the kingdom, the law of love. Listen to how Jesus dealt with this when he talked about love in Matthew chapter five. He says you've heard that it was said love your neighbor and hate your enemy, which by the way it never says that in the Bible. Love your neighbor, yes, Leviticus 19, hate your enemy, no.
So this was... this was kind of now a tail that had been spun, right? You've heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I tell you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your father in heaven. He causes his son to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Or not even the tax collector's doing that and if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect therefore, or be complete therefore as your heavenly father is perfect or complete. Do you see what Jesus is doing here? Jesus is taking a famous phrase from Leviticus 19, love your neighbor and he is beginning to unpack what that actually looks like.
Now, he calls out a wrong assumption because they were beginning to speak words like love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Jesus says no, no. In fact, later on in Matthew's gospel, Jesus actually takes that teaching about loving your neighbor and he answers a question that was asked of him, notice what it says in Matthew 22, hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together and one of them, an expert in the law tested Jesus with this question. Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus replied, love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, this is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself, all the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.
So you hear Jesus saying this, you want me to simplify the law for you? Sure. Love God, love people. You want me to simplify it for you? Love God with everything that you have, love your neighbor as yourself. Listen to this, but hear what Jesus did in the sermon on the mount, he took the category of enemy and placed it into the category of neighbor. Did you get that? He took the category of enemy and put it into the category of neighbor. Jesus says, love your enemy just like you love your neighbor. Now, we might be thinking to ourselves how in the world can we do that? I liked it better with the wrong statement in there, right? Love your neighbor, hate your enemy. That sounds... that feels about right to me. Well, then that may remind you that your heart doesn't feel about right because the King says that in life and the kingdom will look different.
In fact, what we need to understand is how is it even possible for us to be able to love our enemies like we love our neighbors, how is that even conceivable? Let me tell you how, because the king did it, the king did it. Do you know that when Jesus went to a cross, that Jesus loved those who crucified him. Listen carefully, father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing. Jesus loved those who crucified him, his enemies. By the way listen, let me make it more personal. Jesus loved another set of enemies called us. He loves us. In fact, listen to how Paul says it in Romans chapter five, you see at just the right time when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die, but God demonstrates his own love for us in this while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
You see the reason that we can love enemies is because the king who loved his enemies lives in us by faith and we will know that we are living the life of the kingdom when the life of the King is activated in our hearts and we can now listen to this, love our neighbor and by neighbor we mean everybody including enemies. Now this is not a conversation about people who have violated other people that you can't trust, but you still have to forgive and you still have to show love. It may not be that you're going to trust them and invite them into your life again, I understand all of those things, those are two different issues. But forgiveness, that's not an option according to the gospel. Love, that's not an option according to the gospel.
So we have been called to a different way of living to a higher form of love than just the letter of the law, right? We have to understand what neighbor means and Jesus helps clarify that and gets to the heart of the matter. You know why this is kingdom law, listen to how the half brother of Jesus actually referred to this very same teaching in James two. If you really keep the... look at this, I want you to say it with me. If you really keep the royal law found in scripture, which is this, love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing right. Do you know what royal law translates? Law given by a King, that's what it means. Law given by a king, a king who is bringing a different kingdom and is saying loving your neighbor is inclusive of everybody everywhere, including enemies. This is a radical reorientation of what love actually is and it's very different than what the Pharisees were doing.
Here's what the Pharisees were doing, the Pharisees were trying to teach a love of Torah. Jesus was trying to teach a Torah of love, and there's a difference in those things, we should love and meditate and love the word of God, but it is moving us in the direction of loving the one that it testifies about, not just in itself. Remember in John chapter six, this isn't a part of our message, it's just coming to mind right now by the spirit, but listen in John chapter six, here's what Jesus actually said. He said this to the Pharisees, he said, you think by diligently searching the scriptures that you have eternal life, but these are the scriptures that testify about me. Jesus says, life is found in me and the scripture is there to point us to life in him. You see, life in the kingdom is about understanding how Jesus radically redefines everything.
So there's this law of righteousness and there's the law of love, but let me give you a last law, it's the law of entry. You'll see what I'm saying in just a second, but you know based on just intuition and common sense what I'm talking about. Nations aren't nations unless there are some forms of entry into the country, you don't get to just... I don't just get to just stroll up to the border. Have you ever tried this at Canada? And Canada's nice, they're our neighbors, we love them. Have you ever just strolled up to the border and went what's up everybody? And just walked on through. If you tried that, how did it go? It didn't go, you got put in that building, detained, talk to, asked for stuff, right? You don't get to just stroll in to another nation that there are laws of entry, right?
This is a part of what makes a nation, a nation and Jesus here in the sermon on the mount and particularly even further along in Matthew's gospel, not just in the sermon on the mount. Jesus is actually concerned with talking about what entry to the kingdom of God actually looks like. In fact, let me show you a number of places where he says it, first in the sermon on the mount a couple of times, Jesus says I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. And then in chapter seven, he says this, not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father, who is in heaven.
Matthew goes on to say in chapter 18, Jesus said, truly I tell you unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. And then in chapter 19, Jesus said to his disciples, truly I tell you it's hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, I tell you it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. And then in chapter 23, Jesus says woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites, you shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to, do you see how important it is in Matthew's gospel that he Chronicles king Jesus talking, not just in the sermon on the mount but all the way through his entire gospel, talking about the requirements for entry into the kingdom of God.
And do you know that in all of those circumstances, in many of those circumstances, Jesus was talking to different audiences, not the same audience the entire time. And so he's actually relaying different things about entry into the kingdom of God, just in the ones that we read, you have to have a righteousness that surpasses the Pharisees and the teachers of the law to enter the kingdom. You have to do the will of God to enter the kingdom. You have to have a childlike trust and humility to enter the kingdom. You have to remove the obstacles, in this case he was talking about wealth. You have to remove the obstacles to get into the kingdom and you have to abandon the wrong interpretation of the Pharisees and the scribes to enter the kingdom.
He said all of those things just in Matthew's gospel, but do you know what he was doing? He was actually giving us detail of something that he summarized elsewhere. In fact, he was talking to a teacher of teachers with the Pharisees named Nicodemus, and Nicodemus was inquiring about who Jesus was and what Jesus had done and listen to how Jesus responds to him, this teacher of the Pharisees, Jesus said very truly I tell you Nicodemus, no one can see or enter the kingdom of God unless they are born again. Now that phrase born again, some people if you... depending on the background you come from, you refer to that, that almost sounds like a denomination to you. Yeah, he's one of those born again, right? But what it really means is to be born from above.
It means to be born spiritually, that we are born physically one time, but then we are born spiritually after that and the only way that there can be entrance into the kingdom of God is if we are born spiritually and the only... listen to this, the only way we have access to enter the kingdom of God is the king, that's it. The King is the only one who says yes, who allows us in, who gives us opportunity to come in, please do not forget that it is through faith in the king that we enter the kingdom. Some of us think that somehow we can work our way in, if I do enough good things, if I say hello to enough strangers on the street, if I let enough people get in front of me in traffic, if I walk enough older people across the street, if I pay my taxes on time, if I treat my employees properly, if I do all of these things, God won't have an option, I'll have to get in. Not unless the king says so.
And the king is only saying so, if you have put your faith and your trust in him he's the only one that gets you there. You cannot get there on your own, none of us can, that's imperative for us to remember that it is by grace alone, it's not by our works. I was reading an excerpt from a book, the book was called proof and the writer was named Timothy Johnson, and what he had to say was pretty interesting... Timothy Paul Jones I should say, not Timothy Johnson. And in there he relayed a personal story and I just, I copied it because I wanted to read it and he relayed a personal story about his family and it illustrated this point beautifully. I want you to hear it. He said, I never dreamed that taking a child to Disney world or the Magic Kingdom could be so difficult, or that such a trip could teach me so much about God's outrageous grace.
Our middle daughter had been previously adopted by another family, I'm sure this couple had the best of intentions, but they never quite integrated the adopted child into their family of biological children and after a couple of rough years, they dissolved the adoption and we ended up welcoming an eight year old girl into our home. For one reason or another, whenever our daughter's previous family vacation at the Magic Kingdom, they took their biological children with them, but they left their adopted daughter with a family friend. Usually at least in the child's mind this happened because she did something wrong that precluded her presence on the trip. And so by the time we adopted our daughter, she had seen many pictures of Disney world and the Magic Kingdom and she had heard about the rides and the characters and the parades. But when it came to passing through the gates of the Magic kingdom, she had always been the one left on the outside.
Once I found out about this history, I made plans to take her to the Magic Kingdom the next time a speaking engagement took our family to the Southeastern part of the United States. I thought I had mastered the Disney world drill. I knew from previous experiences that the prospect of seeing cast members in freakishly oversize mouse and duck costumes somehow turns children into squirming bundles of emotional instability. What I didn't expect was that the prospect of visiting this dream world would produce a stream of downright devilish behavior in our newest daughter. In the month leading up to our trip to the Magic Kingdom, she stole food when a simple request would have given her a snack. She lied when it would have been easier to tell the truth. She whispered insults that were carefully crafted to hurt her older sister as deeply as possible and as the days on the calendar move closer to the trip, her mutinies multiplied.
A couple of days before our family headed to Florida, I pulled our daughter into my lap to talk through her latest escapade. I know what you're going to do she stated flatly, you're not going to take me to the Magic Kingdom, are you? The thought hadn't actually crossed my mind, but her downward spiral suddenly started to make some sense, she knew she couldn't earn her way into the Magic Kingdom. She had tried and she failed the test several times before. So she was living in a way that placed her as far as possible from the most magical place on earth. In retrospect, I'm embarrassed to admit that in that moment I was tempted to turn her fear to my own advantage. The easiest response would have been if you don't start behaving better, you're right, we won't take you, but by God's grace I didn't say that.
Instead I asked her, is this trip something we're doing as a family? She nodded, brown eyes wide and tear rimmed. I asked her, are you part of this family? She nodded again, said then you're going with us. Sure there may be some consequences to help you remember what's right and what's wrong, but you're a part of our family and we're not leaving you behind. I'd like to say that her behaviors grew better after that moment, they didn't. Her choices pretty much spiraled out of control at every hotel and rest stop all the way to Lake Buena Vista. Still, we headed to the Magic Kingdom on the day we had promised and it was a typical Disney day, overpriced tickets, overpriced meals, and lots of lines mingled with just enough manufactured magic to consider maybe going against someday.
In our hotel room that evening, a very different child emerged, she was exhausted, pensive and a little weepy at times, but her month long facade of rebellion had faded. When bedtime rolled around, I prayed with her, I held her and I asked, so how was your first day in the Magic Kingdom? She closed her eyes and she snuggled down into her stuffed unicorn and after a few moments she opened her eyes ever so slightly, daddy she said, I finally got to go to the Magic Kingdom but it wasn't because I was good, it's because I'm yours. It wasn't because you were good, it's because you're his, that's the only way we enter the kingdom and live a life that is transformed by his life in us. It's a beautiful, beautiful picture of grace. Let's bow our heads together.
As our heads are bowed in this moment, if you're here in this room or you're watching online, my hope is that you'll recognize first if you've never come to a place of simply receiving Jesus. I hope that you understand that you can't good your way into the kingdom, you can't behave your way into the kingdom. It simply comes by trusting in Jesus, because the only way into the kingdom is because you're his. So if you've never turned from your sin and put your faith in Jesus, I hope that this day you'll do that very thing, that with all the faith you'll have, you'll simply acknowledge Jesus I know I've sinned, I can't save myself. And I know that my only chance of entrance into the kingdom of God is not based on my good works, but it's based in what you have done in dying for me, even when I was an enemy and rising from the dead so that now by faith in you, my sins can be forgiven, my hope of new life can be real.
If that's your need, I hope in just a few moments you'll hear from one of our other pastors who will tell you how we can connect with you and how you can follow through on that decision. Father, for the remainder of us I pray that we would, if we claim to know the king, that we would understand what it means to live life in the kingdom. That this isn't just about sin management or external features that demonstrate to people that we don't do the following things as important as it is to stay away from things that harm us. But that we would go beyond that, that we wouldn't look at life as a minimum standard, but we would look at a life where our hearts are so filled with Jesus.
That we can live like he, that we can walk like he, would you help us to understand so that the world that looks at us in the church might be able to see a glimpse of people who are not just married to external standards, but because we love the king we have his heart and people can see a different kingdom at work in us, a kingdom of righteousness and love that has been shaped by the cross. And I pray this now for all of us in Jesus name, amen.