Desperate Men and Desperate Kings
As a child, there was always one part of the Bible that confused me enough to stick in the back of my mind, but not enough for it to really be particularly distressing. It's this tiny little verse in Matthew where Jesus says
12 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, ESV)
I'm still not one hundred percent sure what it means, and now that I've done a bit of research in writing this article, I'm even less sure. Anyway, let's keep that in mind for a bit and flick over to 1 Samuel 22:
1 David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father's house heard it, they went down there to him. 2 And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men. (1 Samuel 22:1-2, ESV)
I've always loved this, and I'm not sure why. The idea of four hundred embittered, burdened men and their families flocking to a man who was chosen by God to be king is just… odd. No upstanding moral citizens, not even average men. We're talking the dregs of society here, those who have nothing left but to pin their hopes upon a king, who, as far as they know, may never make it. And David embraces them, surrounds himself with them. Heck, some of these people have probably been convicted of murder.
I can't imagine ever being that desperate.
Crime and Punishment
I was listening to a guy called Ray Comfort recently; my sister in law recommended a talk that he'd presented titled ‘Hell's Best Kept Secret'. Whilst I can't vouch for everything the guy says (some of the stuff on his blog looks a little sketch), this talk made an excellent point.
Basically, without a deep understanding of the fact that every individual deserves the most ultimate form of punishment under rules that God set forth in the Bible, nobody is ever going to want to look to Jesus for anything. Or maybe they will, but then it will wear off.
The argument goes something like this - for the last hundred years or so, churches have been trying to plug the concept that there's a ‘God-shaped hole’ in your heart - like there's something in your daily existence that's missing. They say that you can fill that hole with Jesus, and he'll give you this deep sense of peace and a deep sense of joy.
That's fantastic, and true, but it's pretty much trying to sell Jesus as a boyfriend whom you can't see. I don't know about you, but I reckon I'd get bored pretty quickly if I was in that situation.
The thing is, to reduce Jesus to a level as shallow as that is bordering on blasphemy. Jesus was the Son of God. He was prophesied about for centuries before his birth. He's regular portrayed in scripture as radical, as offensive, and as insanely passionate; as a man with full knowledge as to the fact that he was going to die for the sins of the world.
Now there's a phrase that's lost a lot of meaning. ‘Sins of the world’. Long story short, a sin is any wrong, small or large, done against God. And, God explicitly says that the product of sin is death (Romans 6:23), by his rules, as the author of the universe. People often argue that the things they've done wrong aren't really that bad, or that they might've wronged the people around them in a small sense, but not God. God, however, takes ownership of all this - if he is deeply personal, and the grand purpose of our existence is our relationship with him, then naturally every wrong is a wrong against him. Does this sound self-absorbed? For a human being, yeah, sure, but God's allowed to act as the centre of everything because he is the centre of everything.
And, so, every time I lie, every time I steal, every time I cheat, every time I say something unfair or cruel or hurtful, I'm also wronging the creator of the universe, and that calls for my blood. Our aforementioned rebel-king David captures it really well when he says to God, in regards to a lust-fuelled murder, “against you, you only, have I sinned…” (Psalm 51:4). It's as if David's wrong to the victims here is nothing compared to the fracturing of his relationship with God, and whilst that seems awfully extreme, that's why it captures the nature of the situation perfectly.
Whilst I can feel that it's bad when I hurt someone, at the end of the day, the consequences on my relationship with God are so much worse.
The Kingdom of Heaven is for Desperate Men
There is some good news in all of this, but it sounds pretty bizarre and there's still a lot I don't quite understand about it. I'll have a go nonetheless:
God made himself into a man - a guy named Jesus, known as the Son of God, the child of a virgin impregnated by some miraculous means. He bore both God's and his mother's essence entirely, in that he was completely God and entirely human. As such, he was able to live a perfect life - even by God's standard - despite every temptation he faced to throw it all in. He came with a deep sense of purpose, and ultimately died to pay the debt that we all owed.
He died for people who were too broken, for people who knew they had no hope on their own accord, for people without a leg to stand on; and before we can even think about accepting his death as our path to being put back on track with God, we need to acknowledge the severity of the problem.
From all of this, I'm left to conclude that the kingdom of heaven is for desperate men. For men who don't seem to have another option, for people who are clawing their way in, for those who know there is something wrong with themselves and with the world, who are putting their trust in a king who, according to some, may never end up on the throne, and according to others, is ordained by God.
And so, when I realise that it's hard to live in a way consistent with this, to persevere through my own doubts and through my own carelessness, there's a huge comfort in the knowledge that, even if I end up hanging on by a thread, that thread is the grace shown to me through Jesus Christ. And it's a very strong thread.
At the end of the day, I am a desperate man, and the kingdom of heaven has a place for me.