Jesus said, somewhat enigmatically, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.” (Luke 16:16) Nobody truly yet casually comes to Christ.
These verses are set between two parables, the parable of the unjust steward and its application, and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. But to appreciate these verses, we must actually look to a larger block of context. In chapter 15, we find that “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.” (Luke 15:1 ESV) But the Pharisees are disturbed by this, and criticize Jesus for receiving them, and even eating with them. So Jesus told the parables of the lost things to show the joy in heaven over repentant sinners. He left the parable of the prodigal hanging with an uncomfortably unfinished story. Will the older brother heed his father’s entreaty and join the celebration? With that question hanging, he turns to his disciples and tells the parable of the unjust steward. The steward recognized his plight and took decisive action to ensure that he had a secure future. That shrewdness is commended and set forth as an example for Jesus’ disciples to emulate. But for the disciples, that shrewdness will manifest itself in abandoning allegiance to this age, and, rather than worshipping it, using worldly wealth for kingdom purposes.
The Law and the Prophets Were until John
[dropshadowbox align=”left” effect=”lifted-both” width=”250px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Discipleship is no casual affair. We strive to enter through the narrow door. Discipleship does not just happen. Discipleship is not a matter of ‘let go and let God’, precisely because discipleship involves a decisive and definitive turning, and an ongoing battle.[/dropshadowbox]The law provides the standard by which fallen men are convicted of their sin. And the prophets prosecute that case. Of course, the “Law and the Prophets” is another way of saying “the Old Testament,” but the function in view can be seen by looking ahead to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, particularly verses 29-31:
But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:29–31 ESV)
In the law and the prophets God beckons sinners to repent of their sins. Much as the shepherd in Jesus’ parable went to great lengths to find the one lost sheep, and the woman took drastic measures to find the one lost coin, so we have in the Law and the Prophets the entreaty of the father to a stiff-necked people (cf. Luke 15:28)
Not Merely Blessings and Curses
If there is any doubt about the wooing entreaty of the law, a look at Leviticus 26 ought to remove it. It starts out this way:
3 If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, 4 then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit (Lev 26:3–4 ESV)
Now, look at v. 14
14 But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. (Lev 26:14–17 ESV)
So you might think, that’s it … obey and be blessed. Disobey and be cursed … but keep looking …
21 “Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. 22 And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted. 23 “And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, 24 then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. 25 And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. 26 When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied. 27 “But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, 28 then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. (Lev 26:21–28 ESV)
It goes on and on … God is chastening his people to draw them to himself. The law and the prophets are like a wise parent disciplining his child to forego their rebellion. The law and the prophets beckon sinners. And we are born sinners. We all fall short of the glory of God. Every one of us is a lawbreaker. So the law points us to our need. It shows us our error and beckons us to repent. The law sets forth the standard to break us, and the prophets come in like a district attorney and prosecute us with it. And it’s all meant to drive us to our knees.
The Kingdom of God is Preached
And for a people, weary with their sins, the news that the kingdom of God had come was like a cool rain in the dessert … Christ receives sinners. Hallelujah. And there is a flood of sinners, thirsty for God’s mercy, all coming to Jesus. (Luke 15:1) Much like when the doors of a department store open on Black Friday, a mob of repentant sinners are desperately pushing their way into the kingdom.
Everyone Forces His Way into It
Not only does that image of Black Friday serve well for this phenomenon of a ripe harvest and large crowds of sinners drawing near to Jesus, but the particular language that Jesus uses also fits the image. He says that “everyone forces his way into it.” It is a forcible entry. Just as the crowds on Black Friday elbow and nudge and shove their way in, so those who enter the kingdom of God do so with decisive force.
Discipleship is no casual affair. We strive to enter through the narrow door (Luke 13:24). Discipleship does not just happen. Discipleship is not a [dropshadowbox align=”right” effect=”lifted-both” width=”250px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]The law is like the stronger king in Jesus’ parable (Luke 14:31-32), or the accuser taking us to the magistrate (Luke 12:58-59). And it calls us to decisive action, forceful action, ongoing action.[/dropshadowbox]matter of ‘let go and let God’, precisely because discipleship involves a decisive and definitive turning, and an ongoing battle. When we repent of our sins and turn to Christ, we abandon our allegiance to this world. No longer are we fearers of men. We fear God instead. No longer do we worship money, we work with it for kingdom purposes instead. And that is a decisive shift in our lives. But turning from the idolatry of greed today does not mean you won’t struggle with it tomorrow. Until Christ returns we will constantly be waging war with our flesh, putting to death the stirrings of sin within us. Yes, we are dead to sin, but sin is not dead in us. And our whole lives will be about destroying it.
The Law Does Not Pass Away
The very same law that convicted us of our sins so that we sought the mercy of God in the finished work of Jesus Christ, that same law continues to beckon us to continually repent. The law is a revelation of the character of God. It can no more pass away than God can change Who He is. And as we strive to be what God has declared us to be, the law continues to guide us, and convict us, and push us toward a humble plea for mercy.
The law is like the stronger king in Jesus’ parable (Luke 14:31-32), or the accuser taking us to the magistrate (Luke 12:58-59). And it calls us to decisive action, forceful action, ongoing action.
Yes, “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33 ESV) Indeed, you cannot serve God and mammon (Luke 16:13). Greed is idolatry. (Col. 3:5) But discipleship is a process. We have been declared righteous only through the finished work of Jesus Christ. He lived for us and he died for us. But discipleship is about striving to be what he has declared us to be. And that involves struggle.
Consider James 4. He is writing to believers. Yet in the passage where he tells us that “friendship with the world is enmity toward God,” he says, “You adulterous people!” A disciple fails. He fails often. We do not “arrive” at the righteousness God has bestowed on us … not in this age. When Christ returns we’ll have that righteousness in full, and no sin dragging us down. But until then, we struggle.
Discipleship involves a decisive shift. Consider Paul’s words in Philippians 3:
9 For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
But Paul, who knew the struggle of walking with Christ, goes on to say:
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 (Phil 3:8–15 ESV)
Press on. Nudge your way in. Lay hold of the kingdom with all that you are and all that you have. If the Pharisees had done that … if they’d known this struggle with ongoing sin, they would not have begrudged the masses coming to Christ for grace. They would have identified with them instead. When you grasp the wonder of God’s grace toward you, humility, love and compassion naturally and necessarily follow.