This is such a hard saying, and also so controversial, I am going to spend two weeks on it. I am eager to do it with you, for you are such a thoughtful and grounded group.
Part I of:
“…the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence
and the violent take it by force.”
What in the world does this mean?
God has given us a woman right in our fellowship who is such a perfect example of what Jesus truly meant when He said this hard saying:
I’m talking about our own Miriam (Missy) who has spent her whole adult life fighting for justice for children who have so needed an advocate. Jesus gives this “hard saying” in the context of speaking about John the Baptist, who was violently passionate and willing to swim upstream, against the culture, to advance the Kingdom.
The ESV, NIV, and NAS have similar translations, but here is the ESV:
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force. (Matthew 11:12)
Missy has suffered much in her passion for justice, in going against the crowd, even those in the church who stood against her, as the Baptist stood against the religious leaders of his day.
Missy was called to this from a tender age. She also had parents who modeled this passion for advancing the kingdom. She writes:
I was raised in a Christian family and came to Christ at the tender age of 6 in a chapel service at Columbia Bible College where my Dad was attending. The words across the chapel said, “To know Him, and to make Him known.” And this became the desire of my young heart. God began working on my heart immediately with a strong desire to serve Him as a missionary in a foreign field. My father was a chaplain for many years to foreign merchant seamen who came to the ports of Norfolk, Virginia, from all over the world. He renovated a burned-out building by the shipping ports in a drug and prostitution-infested neighborhood. I worked in his mission and saw the precious children running wild in the streets. I started a Bible club with my mom and sisters and thus was born inside of me a deep love for those children and a desire to bring them to Jesus.
Below is Missy with some of the first children in her own Bible club. See what she writes beneath.
These are some of the original kids who came to my neighborhood weekly Bible Club.
And below, if you click on the link you can download a 6-second video of Toni0, a little boy who endured unspeakable trauma. Yet he came to my house every day. So many stories I could tell, but over the years I have been to multiple supermax prisons and many days in court pleading for mercy for this child. He would have 3 guards flanking him at all times, but they let me go into a tiny room with him alone where he laid his head on my chest “to hear my heart beating.” It gave him a few moments of peace for his troubled mind. He is now in his 30s and has converted to Islam while in prison which has been a great grief to my heart.
We live in a world where Satan is temporarily prince. He opposes all that is good. He has his helpers both in the demonic and the human world. He has no mercy, going after the vulnerable. If we are going to be passionate about advancing the kingdom, we will also suffer, but only temporarily.
Missy bought a home in the same ghetto that her parents had ministered. This has been her house of mercy for 35 years.
The house God gave me in the ghetto. For years, it has been full of kids coming and going. So many precious lives became part of my life. I would often have 10 kids piled into my van for Sunday mornings, many of them sitting on the floor. Then they all had dinner at my house. Several of them still reminisce about the Sunday Missy biscuits. I’m not a good cook, but I think it is the warm memories they crave.
I’ll return to Missy’s story next week, but let’s dig in first to what this saying does not mean, for it has been used to justify the kind of violence that Jesus clearly spoke against, both militaristic and personal.
Does God ever condone violence in war? My own dear late husband was a pacifist and made a strong case for it from the words of Jesus. He served in the military, but never bore arms.
I personally veer toward believing violence is justified in defending those who are attacked, such as in World War II and now, in defending Ukraine. This is the “just war” theory. It seems right to me, but I could be wrong.
But this hard saying has been used to justify evil wars begun by those who want to wipe out a certain kind of people and advance their own supremacy. It could never mean that — for God is not a respecter of persons.
This “hard saying” has been used to justify political violence. But that is not what this means at all. Violence leads to more violence. Is that not what Jesus meant when he said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword? How much better to go the peaceful way of Martin Luther King (who indeed suffered violence) than the way of Malcolm X or Black Lives Matter.
This “hard saying” has also been used to support a false and harmful image of masculinity. Mark Driscoll swore and screamed in the pulpit, told men to be MEN, but defined that in a way that truly confined women, twisted the beauty of marital intimacy, ruined marriages, and destroyed faith. He made his definition of “true masculinity” his theme, and it drew thousands of young people, both in Seattle and on the internet. I have been thankful for the journalistic integrity shown by Christianity Today’s “Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcasts.” They have exposed Driscoll’s false teaching and the danger of megachurches built on one charismatic (speaking secularly) man. The latest episode is an interview with Tim Keller and his views on this. If you are interested, and I hope you are, here is the link — if you know nothing about Mark Driscoll, the church finally came down when his plagiarism and taking funds from the church to promote his book were exposed — but I feel his abuse of elders and his congregation were more grievous.
For those who listen to part or all of the above, we’ll discuss it at the end of this week. We won’t discuss the Keller sermon until next week, though feel free to get started. I often have to listen twice, as I did with this one.
We must absolutely understand what Jesus really meant! I hope this from Keller will pique your interest. He said the purpose of his message was:
…to explain God’s spiritual violence and arouse it in you who do not have it, and stimulate it in you for whom it is low.
Jesus spoke this hard saying in the context of explaining the radical life of John the Baptist.
When the REALITY of the impending Kingdom of God came to John, and the knowledge that Jesus, the Lamb of God, would usher it in, he became radical! He was willing, as truly God asks all of us to do, to swim against the flow, and he suffered for it, identifying with the sufferings of Christ. Likewise, the disciples died martyrs deaths but advanced the kingdom with their passion. More contemporary saints like Deitrich Bonhoeffer and Jim Elliot died martyrs deaths but advanced the kingdom. All of those I have just mentioned suffered violently — yet great is their reward in heaven.
Keller also said it takes a kind of violent hunger for us to truly embrace the Kingdom of God.
Below is the sermon if you want to get started this week, but I’ll reserve the questions on it for next week. This is the first time during this series when you will have to purchase a sermon — but since we are taking it for two weeks, I hope you’ll find it worth it! Here is the link to purchase it.
God Hunt Sunday:
- How have you seen God in your life this week?
- Any initial comments on Missy’s story or this “hard saying?”
Monday: The Calling of John the Baptist
Jesus spoke this hard saying in the context of the life of John the Baptist. Keller refers to this clip from The Greatest Story Ever Told with Charleton Heston playing the Baptist.
3. What prophesy was the Baptist’s father given about him in Luke 1:76-79?
4. Read Luke 3:7-9
A. What did he say to the crowds to awaken them here? Find everything you can.
Last week, in loving our enemies, we looked at how we must be both tough and tender. Mostly we see tough from the Baptist, but we can learn from him. Matt Chandler tells about a classmate standing next to him at their lockers and saying, “I need to talk to you about Jesus. When would be a good time?” In the podcast from Tim Keller I referenced above, he is often asked “What is the model of Redeemer.” He said they don’t have a “model” but do first want to show that Christianity is intellectually respectable, then desirable, and then true.
B. What might you learn and incorporate into your life evangelistically from the Baptist, Chandler, or Keller?
5. Read Luke 3:18-20 and explain how John the Baptist suffered violence for speaking the truth.
Tuesday: The Confusion of John the Baptist
Why do those who seem most passionate about promoting the kingdom so often seem to encounter the most trouble? I believe it is because they have rattled Satan. Did you catch this last week from our Missy?
My grown son whom I raised for 20 years has gone AWOL with his new girlfriend. Oh, the bitterness that has welled up and taken residence in my innermost being. I was exhausted and struggling to get my incorrigible adopted son into bed Friday night around midnight when he raced into my room and breathlessly, with his thick accent, told me to get downstairs immediately. “Big problem, Mom!!!!” My brand new floors which had finally been laid were spongy and soggy with water pouring out from the new dishwasher under the flooring. The appliance guy had not hooked it up properly. .. It’s a holiday weekend and I had no idea what to do next. I’ve been screaming a lot lately, and I wanted to scream some more. Instead, this time, I quieted my heart before God and fell to my knees beside my bed. “I know I’m not suffering like the Ukrainians, Lord, but I’m downright exhausted!” I told Him sincerely wanted to pass a test for once in my life. I wanted to learn to trust Him with what He has allowed in my life. The verse came to me, “They looked for a city, whose builder and maker is God.” I reveled in the joy that awaits the child of God in my new home built by God Himself, where I won’t need constant repairs and I won’t be responsible for them anyway! Oh, hallelujah!!
In the opening of Matthew 11, the same chapter as this “hard saying,” we see confusion in John. He’s been serving the Lord passionately and now he is in prison.
6. Read Matthew 11:2-6
A. What question does the Baptist send to Jesus? Why do you think he might be confused?
B. How does Jesus reply? How is this an answer?
7. Challenge question: Keller has often said that when you are angry with God over suffering it is because you are religious rather than gospel-oriented. Can you explain why? How do you react to suffering?
Wednesday: Going Against the Flow
Missy is such a beautiful example of going against the flow of the world. She is certainly not conformed to the values this world has but has her eyes focused on the kingdom. Here Jesus says the same of John the Baptist.
8. Read Matthew 11:7-12
A. How does Jesus challenge their expectations of greatness in verses 7-8?
B. How does our world define greatness?
C. What does Jesus say about John in verses 9-11?
D. From what you’ve learned so far, what do you think verse 12 means?
9. Where is God challenging you to go against the flow? What changes might you make to do so?
Thursday-Friday: What This Statement Does Not Mean
10. In the opening I shared my thoughts on ways this hard saying has been misused in wars, politics, and defining masculinity. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
11. If you listened to the interview of Tim Keller on The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, please share your comments.
12. What is your take-a-way and why?