When our kids were younger we enrolled them in a school that made them pass an interview before they were allowed in. I felt like there was something flawed about subjecting four-year-old kids to this process. Surely the entrance into Kindergarten—a place where crafts, play, and rhyming prevail—shouldn’t be guarded with lock and key. Despite my feelings, I still put three of my four kids through the process. Two of the three interviews went rather poorly all things considered.
My kids weren’t concerned about messing up the interviews. Max didn’t answer the questions about his name correctly and Shay went absolutely crazy with a pair of scissors and reduced every paper they gave him into confetti. I was less easy going about the mistakes. I didn’t want the door closed in our faces. I wanted in. Despite that fact, I still poked Max in the eye with a pencil during his interview, and sweat profusely and babbled nervously throughout Shay’s. Understandably, I left both interviews worried.
I’ve thought about this process several times over the years, and have come to wonder if maybe the interviews were not so much to see if the kids were a good fit for the school, but rather to see if the school was a good fit for the family.
I wonder if that’s part of the point of tests, initiation rituals, and entrance fees? Maybe they’re just as much to evaluate if you really want in as they are about if they want to let you in.
Are you willing to pay the entrance fee? Once you’re in, will you value being in enough to behave in a way that shows you’re in?
Today we’re starting a new passage of Scripture in our Summer Reading Plan: Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Matthew wrote his Gospel for a Jewish audience which is why he starts with a genealogy.
To people waiting for a Messiah, Matthew shows who Jesus is—a descendant from David’s royal line and the Son of God.
To people waiting for a Savior, Matthew shows why Jesus came—to save people from their sins.
To people waiting for God to visit them once again, Matthew reveals Jesus as Emmanuel—God with them.
After Jesus is baptized with water and in the Spirit, He begins His ministry by preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) The first instruction Jesus gives is to repent. Why? Because the kingdom of heaven is near. (Matthew was Jewish and writing to a Jewish audience so he says kingdom of heaven instead of kingdom of God—God’s name was considered too holy to use, but in using the word heaven instead of God, Matthew means the same thing.) Jesus’ first instruction about how to enter the kingdom is to repent—to change direction and follow Him. Why? Because in Jesus, God is near.
God is holy, whole, pure. We are the sick, diseased, and afflicted. We need the good news that God is near. The people listening to Jesus knew their need and found the good news that Jesus shared with them very attractive. That’s why a growing crowd started to follow Jesus. He had something they wanted.
Jesus invites His listeners into a Kingdom that isn’t defined by time or space but by its King. Entrance into this Kingdom is relatively easy: Repent. Change direction from following another king to following this King. Come under this King’s authority. There are no restrictions—anyone listening to the invitation can take Jesus up on it. Having extended the invitation, Jesus teaches His listeners about life in this Kingdom.
We are going to spend the next several weeks reading Jesus’ words about what life in the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Jesus isn’t teaching to test His listeners, to see if they have what it takes to get in. He already knows the answer to that—they can’t pay the price. He’ll pay the entrance fee for them. But I can’t help but wonder if Jesus is teaching them about the Kingdom to test them. To see if, knowing what life in the Kingdom is like, they’ll still want in. If they know what kingdom life is like, will they want to live in a way that shows they’re in? I wonder if Jesus is laying out the cost of life in this Kingdom to see if His listeners will believe the cost is worth it?
Jesus says over and over that Kingdom living leads to blessing. Blessing is way bigger, richer, and deeper than happiness. Ultimately, blessedness is favour or approval. Jesus is telling His listeners that Kingdom living results in living under the blessing, the favour, the approval of the King. It’s something to think about as we read this week.
If the fullest meaning of “blessed” is approved, how does Jesus say we can live under the approval of God?
Does this seem easy? Doable? Desirable? Why or why not?
What’s the alternative? Does it seem desirable? Why or why not?
How do your answers to the questions above turn you to the Gospel?