The Good News of the Kingdom of God

Sermon preached on Luke 16:14-18 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 08/07/2022 in Novato, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.

We are reminded today that Jesus’ earthly ministry was to preach the good news of the kingdom of God. As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I continue to preach to you the good news of the kingdom of God using these words from Luke 16:14-18. Here we find Jesus making both some connection and distinction between his gospel preaching and the Law and the Prophets. And Jesus does this while at the same time combatting the Pharisees who themselves struggled to properly relate the Law and the Prophets to the coming kingdom of God. And so, while these few verses might at first glance seems like just a collection of some unrelated teachings, I hope to show a common theme being developed through them all.

Let’s begin then in our first point by looking at verses 14-15. There we see Jesus admonishing the Pharisees. There we see the text tell us that the Pharisees were lovers of money. This is the transition from the previous passage where Jesus had just declared that you can’t serve both God and money. Jesus spoke of how we might use money in a utilitarian way in service to the kingdom, but we have to make sure we don’t let money become our master. We must not let it become an idol of the heart. At this teaching, verse 14 tells us, the Pharisees ridiculed him. In other words, they scoffed and sneered at him. They turned their nose up at him, so to speak. Verse 14 says they responded this way in light of what he was just teaching here. In other words, they did not agree with his preaching here about money. Jesus’ preaching got too close to home to them.

Now, the text doesn’t tell us the content of their ridicule. The subject of the ridicule was Jesus’ teaching on money and how you can’t serve both God and money. But we aren’t told what they said in response. To sneer and scoff implies that they had some sort of response. But given what we know about the Pharisees and how the Jews often applied the Law, here’s what they likely were thinking. They probably thought Jesus a fool here. They probably thought Jesus was showing how little he knew of the Law. That’s because it was common Jewish thinking that having lots of money generally meant you were really godly. Of course, there are Bible passages that you could point to if you wanted to make that argument. The old covenant held out blessings for obedience in Deuteronomy 25 that included material blessings. And were not many of the patriarchs wealthy? Doesn’t a book like Job connect godliness and riches? There are examples one could point to. Yet, a book like Job also teaches against a simplistic application of that principle – his life becomes a clear example of that. Sometimes the godly do suffer and sometimes the godly are poor. Think of the many the prophets who endured persecution and poverty because of their stand for godliness. The blessings of treasure beyond compare is ultimately what God’s people will enjoy when God’s kingdom comes in the full. But it is an overly simplistic reading of the Law to think that obedience guarantees riches in this life. And because it is an overly simplistic interpretation, it is an incorrect application.

Of course their problem is deeper than just bad hermeneutics (i.e. how they are interpreting the Bible). Their problem is they are lovers of money. Jesus said you couldn’t be a lover of money and a lover of God. So, they were putting love for money in front of God. So even if they were thinking you could obey God in order to get rich, it wasn’t in service to God, it was in service to money. In which case, they missed the chief end of man and were pitiable souls.

But it wasn’t just money that they loved. They also loved the praise of men. And so their faulty connection between riches and obedience likely helps explain Jesus’ response to them. In verse 15, Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ ridicule by criticizing their desiring to justify themselves before men. You see, based on their theology, these Pharisees could devote themselves to acquiring earthly wealth and then use their wealth to brag to others how godly they must be. They could say, look how rich we are, it is because God is blessing us since we are so faithful to him. They are trying to justify themselves, to declare themselves righteous. This is wrong because you need God to justify you, not yourself. And it is ultimately wrong because we should be more concerned to be justified before God than men.

And yet instead of them being justified before God, look at what Jesus says at the end of verse 15. “What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” These Pharisees thought themselves experts of God’s Law. They pursued wealth and looked to exalt themselves before God. Surely, they remembered all those places in the Law where it said that this or that was an abomination in God’s sight. They probably thought themselves favored in God’s sight. But Jesus says their self-exalting pride is actually an abomination in God’s sight. Their pride did not leave them justified in God’s sight but condemned.

This leads us into our next point to look at verse 16 and see how Jesus declares that the era of the Law and the Prophets drew to a close with John the Baptist and now they were in the era of the proclamation of the kingdom of God. The connection here with the last point is how the Pharisees justified themselves, thinking themselves righteous according to the Law. Yet, the right use of the Law and the Prophets would have been to prepare for them the very time that was now at hand – the advent of the Christ and his kingdom.

So then in this second point, recognize that Jesus says there is a wonderful change that has taken place. The Law and the Prophets had drawn to a close. The Gospel has come. Here is a good proof text for why we divide our bible up into an Old Testament and a New Testament. Of course, I admit that is a bit of an over-simplification itself, since Jesus tells us here that the Law and the Prophets didn’t come to a close until the ministry of John the Baptist, and of course, the record we have of his ministry is actually in our New Testament. But the basic point is to see a significant turning point in redemptive history when Jesus began to preach the coming of the kingdom of God. In the Old Testament which includes the Law and the Prophets and the Wisdom Literature, we see the promise of kingdom of God. We even saw for a time the kingdom of God in type and shadow when David and his descendants reigned up until the Babylonian exile. But the kingdom of God went from just a promise and expectation to the realization of such when Jesus came preaching its arrival. The prophets of old prophesied its coming. Jesus announced its inauguration.

Yes, it is true that the kingdom has not yet come in its full glory. We call it semi-realized. It has been inaugurated but not yet consummated. The fulness will be ushered in at Christ’s return. But Jesus, as the Messiah sent from heaven, came declaring that it has begun to be ushered in. Thus, he also was reconstituting things under a new covenant. He would also ratify that covenant with a new better sacrifice – his own blood. Christ as king even now has begun to reign over his people from the right hand of God and by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of his people. What the kingdom will be when it comes in the full is that which we as Christians have begun to experience in faith and hope and by the Spirit.

I love what Jesus says is the response to this preaching of the kingdom. He say everyone forces his way into it. This is Jesus using some colorful language here. But basically, Jesus is saying that people are super excited at the coming of the kingdom. They’ve heard his announcement of it, and so Jesus is describing how people are doing everything they can to get into the kingdom. It’s like they are pushing and shoving to try to get in through the gates into the kingdom (think of a Southwest Airlines boarding call). That is in fact a common teaching Jesus gives in the gospels, speaking about how to enter into the kingdom.

This makes us ask again that question. How does someone enter in the kingdom of heaven. The Pharisees thought their approach to the Law and Prophets was preparing them for the kingdom God had promised to come. But Jesus again challenges their trust in their works. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). In light of the advent of the kingdom of God, Jesus says the Pharisee’s lawkeeping wasn’t going to get them into the kingdom.

That leads us then to our third point. You see, at this point, one might mistakenly think Jesus is saying that there isn’t any value then in the Law anymore. But that is when we turn to verses 17-18. There we find that Jesus reaffirms the usefulness of the Law. Verse 17, “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.” Yes, with the coming of Jesus, it was an end of an era. The Old Testament period where God gave the Law and Prophets over many years was over. There weren’t going to be any new books of the Bible to add to the Old Testament anymore. That time period and its inspired written record had come to completion. In a sense it had come to an end, because it came to its intended end – namely Christ and the coming kingdom. But Jesus clarifies. That does not mean it is now null and void. There are some who profess Christ who effectively treat the Old Testament like it is null and void, and that is wrong.

Let me clarify. That doesn’t give us permission to take the Old Testament out of context and then make inappropriate applications. To do so would be more of that bad hermeneutics. For example, the Bible elsewhere teaches that the ceremonial laws were to point us to the cleansing our hearts need, so that now under the new covenant we are not restricted to eating just kosher foods. Likewise, the ceremonial laws prescribed various sacrifices that the Bible teaches have come to an end now that Jesus is the final and all-sufficient sacrifice. Or in establishing a new covenant not tied to a physical land or a physical temple, certain stipulations related to the land and temple no longer apply. I could go on with further examples. If you take the Old Testament out of context you can come up with some applications that don’t actually apply. That doesn’t mean those parts of the Old Testament are void. But it does mean you need to rightly understand them in context. But the Old Testament is also full of a number of commands that make up God’s moral law which are always binding in all circumstances. That means they are always applicable in all times and in all places. Such are summarized in the Ten Commandments though you can find them in various places throughout the Law and Prophets.

Jesus then proceeds to offer an example of this that shows both the ongoing nature of the Law as well as the need to properly interpret it and apply it in context. I refer to verse 18 and its teaching on divorce and adultery. Jesus was actually raising a debated topic among the Pharisees to make his point. Verse 18 says, “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” One school of thought among the Pharisees was that basically you could divorce your wife for almost any reason and then you’d be free to remarry. Another school of thought among the Pharisees was that you could only divorce your wife and remarry in the case of sexual immorality. That is of course what Jesus taught, and in the parallel version in Matt 5:32 that case of sexual immorality is even mentioned. And so, Jesus references this debated point of the law and gives a definitive answer to the question. If you divorce your spouse without biblical warrant and then remarry, you are committing adultery.

Do you see what Jesus is doing there? He is saying that the moral law of God as recorded in the Law and the Prophets continues to always be in force. The Pharisees might have accused Jesus of trying to nullify the Law with his announcement of the coming of the kingdom. But Jesus shows here that he himself continues to affirm the moral law of God. In fact, Jesus reveals that it is some of them who are the ones actually trying to nullify God’s laws by trying to invent arguments to put asunder what God had joined together. Of course, the Pharisees who were trying to make divorce easy appealed to Deuteronomy 24’s provision of a certificate of divorce. But elsewhere Jesus says that provision doesn’t mean that give you license to divorce your wife for any reason, Matthew 5:31. So, it was not Jesus who was seeking to abolish God’s laws. It was actually some of the Pharisees who were guilty of that by their faulty interpretation and application. Jesus instead affirms the moral law of God, even the 7th commandment here of “Thou shall not commit adultery.”

What Jesus is teaching here is very important to appreciate. Still today, even among some reformed Christians, there are arguments offered to extend the application for granting biblical grounds for a divorce to various reasons beyond what the Bible teaches. We can appreciate why people might be tempted to do that, but no pastor has authority to grant biblical grounds for divorce beyond the biblical grounds for divorce. But the point is bigger than just this one specific example with divorce and adultery. All God’s word, Old and New Testament, continues to be valid and authoritative to us. So, we need to make sure to continue to affirm that what the Bible teaches, even in the Old Testament, is still valid and binding. But Jesus at the same time shows that the Bible’s teachings must be interpreted properly and applications taken in the proper context.

In conclusion, let us step back and bring all our points together for today from our sermon. We can see that this section is not a random collection of Jesus’ teaching, but a wonderful relationship of law and gospel as it pertains to how we are justified. So, start by taking points two and three together. Point two said there was something new that had come: the good news of the coming of the kingdom. So, there was a wonderful change that had taken place with the gospel. But point three said there was still a validity of the old too. So, things have both changed and stayed the same, so to speak. The good news that the kingdom is at hand has come. We should all want to get into that kingdom. But the Law which reveals our sin and guilt still stands. How could we get into that kingdom of righteousness if we are unrighteous sinners? That then gets us to bring in point one. The Pharisees thought they were justified by their works and they thought their riches were proof of that. But in reality, their righteousness fell short of being able to get into the kingdom.

How then do we get into this kingdom? Our passage tells us that we should want to get into this kingdom! True, by the Law’s demands, we fall short of its perfect obedience required. We should affirm again today that the Law is right and good and true. We should not disregard it. We should strive to keep it, every bit of it, rightly applied. But let us not do that trying to be justified before either God or men. Rather, let us turn to God and call to him for mercy. Let us say, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” Let us look to God to justify us by grace. Indeed, this he offers to us through faith in Jesus’ name. That is why Jesus died on the cross. To bear the penalty of our sin in his place. So that our sin would be counted to him and paid for on the cross. And his righteousness would be accounted to us so God would declare us justified, righteous and pleasing in his sight.

If you so trust in Jesus, you will find that you don’t have to push your way into heaven, but that Jesus will openly usher you into his glorious and eternal kingdom.


Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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