The kingdom of God demands more than a casual, half-hearted pursuit. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his exposition of the gospel of Luke, calling on us to devote ourselves earnestly to the Word and the work of the Lord.
This morning we will continue our study of the Gospel According to Saint Luke. We will look at Luke 16:14–18. I would ask the congregation please to stand for the reading of the Word of God:
Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
“The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.
This is the Word of God you have just heard, from the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ. Please receive it as such and be seated. Let us pray.
Our Father, as we prepare our hearts to come to the Lord’s Table this morning, we ask that You attend the gift of the sacrament with Your Word. Sanctify us by Thy Word, for Your Word is truth. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Love of Money
Following the somewhat lengthy parable of the unjust steward, which was given specifically for the benefit of the disciples, we see that the Pharisees were outside the group, listening to the parable. We read in verse 14 that the Pharisees, lovers of money, also heard the parable of the unjust steward. The steward was not a sound keeper of money, and Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and mammon,” that is, God and your money.
We are told in this text that the Pharisees were lovers of money. One of the most misquoted verses in sacred Scripture is the verse people quote as, “Money is the root of all evil.” But that is not what the Bible says. The Bible does not say that money is the root of all evil. It says that the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10).
If the love of money is a root, that root had sprung up fully to a forest in the hearts and souls of the Pharisees. Being lovers of money, they were seriously offended by Jesus’ teaching on stewardship. Their response to the message our Lord gave them in the parable of the unjust steward was not to flee to Him in repentance but rather to stand back and deride Him, to sneer at Him.
Can you imagine sneering at Jesus? One’s behavior could sink no lower than to hold the Son of God Himself in contempt, yet this is the world’s almost universal reaction to Jesus. All who are outside the kingdom of God, though they may make empty compliments of Jesus by calling Him a great teacher or prophet, indicate by their response to His Word that they hold Him in contempt in the deepest chambers of their hearts.
Abominations to God
Jesus responded to the sneering of the Pharisees and said: “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
We live in a topsy-turvy world where princes walk in rags and beggars ride on horses. We live in a culture that exalts people of unspeakable immorality. Our culture praises people while they are an abomination to God.
Do you ever think about anything being an abomination to God? We are often told that God loves everybody unconditionally. We have no room in our thinking or theology for the idea that something may be an abomination in God’s eyes. We might say: “Sure, certain behavior patterns are an abomination to Him. God absolutely hates sin. He loves the sinner, but He hates the sin.” Where do you find that in the Bible?
We read in the Psalms and the Prophets that God abhors the evildoer, that the evildoer is an abomination in His sight. God does not send sin to hell at the judgment day. He sends people there because they are an abomination to Him.
There was likely never a more abominable group of people that walked the earth than the Pharisees, who prided themselves on their righteousness and goodness. They thought that living a good life was enough for them to be justified and enter the kingdom of God.
How many people do you know who rely on living a good life to get themselves into heaven, who are practicing self-justification, who are resting on their good deeds and performance to pass the bar of God’s justice? There is no more foolish endeavor, no greater fool’s errand than to seek to enter the kingdom of God by your own good works. That is not only what the Pharisees did, but what they taught everybody else.
The Crisis of Human History
Jesus spoke briefly about the law. He said, “The law and the prophets were until John,” not that they were until Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament. When He talked about the Law and the Prophets, He was talking about the whole progress of the Old Testament, which He said went up to and included John the Baptist. Though he is written about in the New Testament, John belongs to the period of redemptive history that we call the Old Testament or old covenant. The Law and the Prophets ruled up to and including John.
The advent of John the Baptist’s ministry caused a crisis point in history because John was the forerunner of the Messiah. He proclaimed the crisis of human history when he said, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Then he pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
When Jesus entered His public ministry, His message was the same: the kingdom of God is at hand. The Pharisees heard that, and first they yawned, then they sneered, then they murdered. The last thing they wanted was the kingdom of God.
Pressing into the Kingdom
Jesus said, “Since that time (the time of John) the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.” I love this text. Jonathan Edwards preached an entire sermon just on those words, titled, “Pressing into the Kingdom of God.”
Edwards talked about the multitudes of people who flocked and rushed to Jesus when they heard Him speak about the kingdom. They pursued Jesus with all their might. Wherever He went, they followed in huge throngs, not simply to be healed, but to hear about the kingdom of which Jesus spoke. Jesus elsewhere said they were taking the kingdom of God by force, as violent men, yet could not keep them away. They were battering down the doors, doing anything to get into the kingdom of God. As they were saved, that striving, pressing, and forcing did not stop, but accelerated.
Paul understood the idea of pressing when he said to his readers in Philippians 2, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” The kingdom of God has never been a casual affair. Jesus rebuked the church at Laodicea because it was lukewarm. He said, “I would rather you be cold or hot, but if you are lukewarm, I am going to spit you out of My mouth.”
We sometimes talk about nominal Christianity, which describes people who are Christians in name only and have no passion for the things of God. They may understand theology and have their intellects tickled by discussions of doctrine, but their hearts are far from the kingdom. They are not pressing into the kingdom of God.
This morning, at the beginning of our worship service, we read Psalm 84. Listen to these words for a second. The psalmist writes:
How lovely is Your tabernacle,
O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, even faints
For the courts of the Lord;
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. (Ps. 84:1–2)
Does that sound like you? Do you think about coming to church on Sunday morning, think about entering the sanctuary, and say, “I can’t wait to walk in there. How lovely is the court of the Lord. My soul longs, aches, swoons, faints to be in the sanctuary of God, because my heart and flesh cry out for the living God”?
The Greatest Awakening
There are times in church history where the spirit of God visited the people of God in extraordinary ways. We think of the great awakening of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, where zeal for the things of God swept across the land as the gospel was recovered anew.
We think of the Great Awakening in America in the eighteenth century, with the preaching of Whitefield, Edwards, and John Wesley. We think of the Welsh revival, when God visited His people and woke them up out of their dogmatic slumber.
God moved His people in these periods to great passion of heart for the things of God. However, the greatest awakening in human history was in the Apostolic age in the first century, when the King of the kingdom was present in the flesh. They heard His voice, they listened to His words, and they rushed into His kingdom, pressing and striving with all their might to be in it.
Hearts on Fire
Steve Lawson, in his book on Whitefield, tells the story of an actor who talked with the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. The archbishop said to the actor: “Help me understand this. Actors get onstage and speak of imaginary things, and the audience weeps and is profoundly moved. Yet if you come to our churches where we preach about real things, nobody is moved. Why is that?” The actor responded to the archbishop, “Because on the stage we proclaim imaginary things as though they were true. Whereas, in the pulpit, the preacher speaks of true things as if they were imaginary.”
The kingdom of God is not a place of fiction. It is not imaginary. It is real and it is true. If you understand it, then like the psalmist, your soul will long, and your heart will faint. You will cry out for the living God.
I believe that Christianity is rational, that you cannot get to the heart except through the mind. You can, however, get to the mind and never reach the heart. God wants us, heart and mind, mind and soul. In fact, the more we understand the truth of the things of God, the more our souls are inflamed with fire.
In light of this text, I ask you: Do you have fire in your belly for the kingdom of God? How much pressure do you have in your life to seek the deepest things of God that you can find? I cannot answer that question for you because I cannot read your hearts, but God can and does read our hearts.
Jot and Tittle Inspiration
Jesus continued, “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.” Let me take a moment to talk this statement Jesus made.
We have all kinds of intellectual and theological debates about the nature of Scripture. Is Scripture just a book written in antiquity by some people who were religious? Or was it indeed superintended and inspired by God Himself? Then people argue over the extent of that inspiration. Some say that the Bible is inspired as a whole, and there is an organic inspiration about it. The basic truths are contained in Scripture with a mixture of errors that come from the pens of human beings. Others disagree and say that it is not just plenary inspiration we are talking about, but verbal inspiration, which means that every word of Scripture is inspired by God and carries His authority.
I suggest to you this morning that Jesus did not believe in plenary inspiration or even verbal inspiration. If you want to know Jesus’ view of Scripture, it was “jot and tittle” inspiration. Not just every word, not just every letter, but every vowel point, every comma, every period was inspired by the Holy Spirit so that not one word of Scripture can possibly fail.
As I have always said, I do not want to have a lower or higher view of Scripture than Jesus taught. I want to hold to the position that He taught. He said, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.”
The Law Remains
Christianity is in an epidemic of the movement technically called “antinomianism.” The anti means “against,” and the Greek word for law is nomos, so antinomianism means “against the law of God.”
There is a theology pervasive in the evangelical world known as dispensationalism, which at its core is antinomian. In dispensationalism, the law is Old Testament. It has no function for the New Testament Christian. Every jot and every tittle of the law is done with, and the theme song of the antinomian is: “Free from the law, O blessed condition. I can sin all I want and still have remission.” The law of God is a thing of the past.
Why do you suppose that we regularly put the Ten Commandments and their exposition in the bulletin and liturgy? We are reminding people that the law of God is not gone.
Calvin spoke of three basic uses of the law, the first being that the Old Testament law of God reveals the character of God and is the perfect mirror for us. When we look into the mirror of the law of God, we judge ourselves not by the community standards of where we live and our culture but by the law of God. We hear the question, “If the Lord would mark iniquity, who would stand?” We know when we look in the mirror of God’s law that we will not stand. The law of God reveals to us our utter hopelessness and helplessness of saving ourselves. As the Apostle Paul said, it acts like a schoolmaster that drives us to Christ. Not only that, but Calvin goes on to say the law acts as a restraint on wickedness in the world.
The most important contribution Calvin made was the tertius usus or third use of the law, saying that, for the Christian, the law still has the extreme value and benefit of revealing to us what is and is not pleasing to God. If I am pressing into the kingdom of God, I want to know what God loves and what He hates.
Legalists against the Law
The Pharisees were supposed to be experts in the law, but at the same time they were legalists and antinomians. They were legalists in that they added principles and traditions to the law of God that were not the law of God. They kept people in chains where God had left them free. That is what legalism does. They were also legalists in thinking they could save themselves through their own righteousness, their own good works, another form of legalism.
The Pharisees were legalists even further by trying to find wiggle room to get around the radical demands of God’s law, so that they became antinomian. They became against the law. Nowhere was that clearer than their teachings on marriage and divorce in the traditions of the rabbis.
The rabbis looked at the Old Testament law regarding divorce, where God in the Pentateuch said there was only one ground for divorce, and that was sexual immorality. As Jesus explained when the Pharisees tried to trap Him in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said, “From the beginning there was no divorce, but to the hardness of our hearts, God condescended to allow divorce in the case of sexual immorality.” Paul also included the case of desertion later. But the rabbis said: “If a wife breaks her husband’s favorite dish, that’s grounds for divorce. If the husband thinks the wife isn’t pretty anymore, that’s grounds for divorce.” So, the Pharisees undermined the sacred institution of marriage.
God’s Law Defines Marriage
Where did marriage come from? It came from God. In our marriage ceremonies, we always say that it was instituted by God and regulated by God’s commandments. We are not free to do whatever we want with marriage.
In 1948, the historian and sociologist Pitirim Sorokin of Harvard University expressed his great fear regarding the imminent destruction of American culture. The reason he was so concerned was that he said the family unit is the stabilizing force of every nation and society. The divorce rate had escalated from 10% in 1910 to 25% by 1948. Sorokin said, “No nation can survive when one-quarter of its families are breaking up through divorce.”
Sorokin sounds naïve today when, for decades, we have been at and over a 50% divorce rate. The cultural solution to the disintegration of the home, family, and marriage is to grant no-fault divorce, then do away with marriage altogether. It is more than a trend; it is an epidemic, particularly with young people who cohabit without marriage.
I wish I had the time to recount the number of professing Christians I know who are living together without being married, in flagrant defiance of the law of God. They say, “What difference does a piece of paper make?” It is okay with the government, and it is also okay with the church.
If you are living together, are members of this church, and we find out about it, you will be brought into discipline immediately. It is a gross and heinous sin that no church dare tolerate. But churches all over the world take the position, “We’re not judgmental, so we’re not going to exercise discipline.” A church that will not exercise discipline for gross sin is not a church. Discipline is one of the necessary conditions for a true church.
The government defines marriage between two men or two women as legitimate and brings repercussions against bakers who will not bake cakes for such weddings and churches that will not allow their halls to be used for such weddings. It will not be long until there are sanctions against preachers who refuse to perform such weddings. The objection will come not only from the state, but also from churches that have already embraced the legitimacy of homosexual marriage, which is an abomination in the sight of God. It presupposes that the law of God has failed and that we can live without it.
All our marriages are flawed. Every one of us brings wrinkles to the bride of Christ. Yet because of His righteousness, He has married us.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.