The Meaning of “the Rule of Heaven”: Jesus’ Gospel and Ours

Dallas Willard Part 2 of 9

This is one of Dallas’s most famous series on the kingdom of God, at Hollywood Presbyterian Church. He works historically but eventually works through the Sermon on the Mount and eventually speaks on themes of ministry, discipleship and disciplines.


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Dallas: Thank you, Gary. It is a pleasure to be here with you and I trust we will get to know one another pretty well as we go through the week. The series that we have contemplated and have decided to bring is one which we have talked about with some of the pastors and other leaders in the group and we are hoping that it will be very useful to you. [00:56]

In case that you are not used to it, I hope that you will get used to the habit of bringing your Bibles with you. I see a lot of them in the audience and this is primarily going to be a Bible Study. You may find that we cover some very unusual topics and some passages that you are not used to thinking about but they are in there. And if you will bring your Bibles and your note pad with you—now that I have a sense of what size the group is going to be—I think probably I’ll prepare mimeographed [photocopied] sheets to guide us on each of the studies. What I’d like to ask you to do is not to study ahead, but after each lesson, take the material presented, take the material that is presented, and during that week, try to think about it, try to study through it. Work through some of the passages that are given out and pray over them. Perhaps, talk with your friends about it and see whether or not it stands up. [2:03][1]

Since we don’t know one another very well, let me begin by just stating a few assumptions that I make, not only here but in teaching generally. You know, teaching is not particularly a way to get rich or famous, so one must have some thought about the value of doing it, to carry one through the work. You must evaluate the difficulties of trying to understand what you are talking about—which isn’t the easiest thing in the world—and the difficulties of presenting it. So, let me just share with you some assumptions that I make now in coming to this class. [2:52]

First of all, I assume that we are totally at the mercy of our ideas. Our beliefs are important, but ideas and beliefs are different. For the most, our lives do not run on beliefs; they run on ideas. They don’t run on what we are sure of, what we think we know, so much as they run on the way we think about things. How do we think about things? Those are our ideas, and we are at the mercy of the ones we have.

Every one of us has a map that is in our mind, and that map identifies places and ways to get from one place to the other. Of course, the most important thing about a map is what? It tells you where you are, because if you don’t know where you are, the map will not help you, will it? No one can use a map unless there is a little something in here or out here, which says, “You are right here.” Right? And then you can use the map. [4:01]

The map that is in our mind is not something that we necessarily put there. Most of us got it in large part from our upbringing and from all sorts of things—songs we heard when we were children or teenagers; events that have happened to us, good and bad; perhaps, some teaching. But most of the map that we’ve got in our mind, that makes up our mind, is not something that we have consciously obtained.

You get very little of it in school, for example. School kind of fills out a few of the little lines between the places, but what we call school or educational system gives us very little of our map. And yet, we live by that map. We are at the mercy of it, and that’s why it’s important for us to talk about ideas so we can change our map. We can get light on our map by listening to others, by reading, by thinking, by experience, and by grace. And perhaps the last is what we most need: grace for our map and the Scriptures are given to us to help us with our map. [5:17]

Now, that brings me to my second assumption. This is a more specific assumption. That assumption IS the Bible was written by fairly intelligent people who basically knew what they were talking about, and we need to say that once in awhile. We really do, in order to keep it out of the category of a sort of a book of incantation. We need to understand that these people that wrote this book—there is another end to it, but let’s dwell on this one first—were real people who were living a real life. They lived under real circumstances. And they had found out some things very often even against their will, but they found them out. [6:11]

One of the great teachers in life is pain, isn’t it? Pain is one of the greatest things that changes our map. You think of reality is what you run into when you are wrong—not a bad working definition of reality. Then you see the connection between pain and education. It’s a very important one and these people who wrote the Bible suffered a lot. And because they did suffered a lot, they learned a lot from their suffering. And so, that’s very important for us. These were people who lived in the real world, and of course, a part of that real world to God in God’s Kingdom.

And that’s the other thing I want to say to you. I not only believe that the Bible was written by people who are living in a real world, who were basically intelligent and had good sense, and they knew what they were talking about. But I also think that God has had a special hand on the Bible in such a way that it is an absolutely reliable guide to anyone who wishes to know the truth. [7:28]

Now, if you don’t wish to know the truth, it’ll just get you in trouble. There is an old saying among the Medievals, “When a jackass looks into a mirror, he does not see an apostle looking out.” The Bible is a mirror, and perhaps not we ourselves, but maybe someone we know fits that other description in relationship to the Bible.

The Bible can be a very dangerous book. You remember, Jesus said to people in His day in the fifth chapter of John, “Search the Scriptures; for in them you think you find life but you will not come to me that you might have life” (John 5:39–40, author’s paraphrase[2]). And Peter has to say about Paul’s writings that there are some things in Paul’s writings that are difficult to understand which the unstable and perverse wrestle with to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:15–16).

So, that’s why we need to add on to this. God has a special care about the Bible, but just one final thing on this second assumption now. When we come to the Bible, we come to it using our best critical faculties. We ask any question that is legitimate, and we honestly seek the answer. [8:57]

We can’t approach the Bible as something that’s going to prove for us what we already believe. There is a great temptation among Christians to do that because, of course, if we didn’t already believe the right thing, we wouldn’t even be Christians, would we? So, all that’s left for us to do is to go to the Bible and find out that indeed it really is true, that what we believe is correct.

Probably, a number of things that I believe are wrong. If that’s not true, I’m a strange bird indeed because that’s true of almost everyone else I know and some very important ones. You know about the man who said he made one mistake. He once thought he was wrong about something. [10:06]

I don’t believe that God is nervous about our questions, and the Bible can take care of itself. All we need to do is to be thorough and honest and open to the truth. And I must say, we must read it in a repentant mood. The more we think we know, the more we need to repent. So, that’s the attitude I will take toward it. I will say some things that are rather different, but I don’t say them just to shock you. I find no joy at all in being clever with ideas and all of that sort of thing. [10:53]

I will say things that may sound very unusual and different to you. For example, I am going to make a suggestion today about the Gospel that is most commonly heard. And I am going to suggest that it is not the one that Jesus preached at all. I am not saying that just to be clever. I am saying it because I believe, unless we understand that, we will shut ourselves off from the truth and power that is in the Gospel that Jesus preached.

I am not going to blame anyone. I have no interest in condemning someone or appearing superior to them. But it’s important for us to understand that we may have drifted into a position where there is something wrong in what we believe. Now, please test out everything I say in every way you can, and if it is true, it will bear examination. [11:56]

Final assumption: If we are indeed teaching and living in the truth that we see in the Scriptures, the effects will be the same as those indicated in the Scriptures. Let me tell you one of the things that turned my own thinking around. I have been talking almost forever it seems—and I started preaching and teaching at a very young age. And one of the things I began to notice as I studied the Scriptures is how much time I and others spent trying to get people to come and hear them; and then I noticed how little time Jesus spent doing that. In fact, I noticed that Jesus spent more time trying to get away from people than he did trying to get them to come.

Now, certainly there are indications that some people would not come, wouldn’t walk across the street to hear him, but basically what He was saying was something that, as the Scripture says, “the common people heard him gladly.” (Mark 12:37, KJV) So gladly, in fact, that the fundamental reason, from a human point of view, why Jesus was killed on the cross was envy on the part of those who were supposed to be in charge of the religion of His day. And we all know how that works. It’s a very powerful motivation and we see how the Gospels play around this idea. [13:42]

Remember when John the Baptist’s disciples came back to him and said, you know this fellow that you baptized over there, he’s getting all the crowd. Remember what John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). He’s the groom. I’m the bridegroom. I rejoice over the city,” and the whole attitude of the New Testament is really joy when others succeed—joy when others succeed more than I do.

In the great kenosis passage in Philippians 2. Paul said to the followers of Christ in Philippi, “Let nothing be done out of glory and strife but let everyone think of themselves as more lowly than the others,” right? (Philippians 2:3) You begin to get in the real spirit of the Gospel message when you begin to understand that. So when we are in a competition, if we were in a competition, you would want to see the others succeed more than we do. If a church somewhere needs a few additional members, we would be glad for some of ours to go help them out and so on. [15:06]

That’s beginning to get into the spirit of the Gospel now. We have to understand that our success as teachers and churches depends upon our aligning what we are saying and doing with what Jesus Himself said and did.

Now, that’s a great challenge because you may recall that in the apostolic days of the post-Resurrection time in the early church, the Christians were regarded as people who were revolutionaries, as people who turned the world upside down merely by coming in—not by violence, but merely by coming in—and by their teaching and the reality of what they did, inverting indeed the whole order of power and value that is set up by the world.

Now, we are going to talk about that at length in the coming days. We are going to talk about the principle of inversion within the Gospel of Jesus—the principle, which He indicated in a number of places by saying, “The last shall be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:16, NASB) We will be studying carefully the beatitudes and the parables to see just exactly how that works. But there’s a principle of inversion in the Gospel and there is a truth and reality to the Kingdom of God that makes that inversion real. And once that inversion is completed, we begin to see the effects of the New Testament teaching and reality of the Kingdom of Heaven that came in the person of Jesus and was opened to everyone in the world. [16:54]

So, let me just recap. My assumption is that we are totally at the mercy of our ideas and that’s why it’s important for us, not only for me to stand up here and talk to you, but for you to study and to think and to be open and to work to receive truth and the ideas that will guide you right. We live on our ideas. The second assumption I make is that the Bible is the primary source from which we can gain right ideas about God and about man and their relationship.

And then finally, if we are not seeing the kinds of effects that are indicated in the Scriptures—especially the New Testament in response to the teaching of Jesus and His activities—then probably we are not teaching what He taught. We are not living in the reality that He lived in? [17:51]

Three assumptions—I don’t ask you to buy them; however, I am saying these are assumptions I make. [I can’t argue for them at length here and you may want to—I hope many of you will want to discuss things after class. I’ll try to leave a little time after class each day to talk here and then after we break up, I will certainly be willing to stay around and talk with anyone about the issues I raise.] I am not going to argue for these assumptions. I think they are good assumptions, but I am not going to argue for them because I want to get on to some things which I think actually will be most helpful for most of us. But I want you to know that they are there and that I know that they are there. I am conscious of them. And if they need to be discussed in your mind, I’ll be happy to try to do that. [18:33]

Now. [He turns on his overhead projector.] Okay, is it possible to read that? OK, now I think what I will do is I’ll make sure that I will bring enough—I’ll find out how many people are here and I’ll just bring sheets on this sort of thing in the future, and that way we won’t have to worry about this. And also you won’t have to try to take notes in a hurry to get it down so you can have it when you get home and I’ll re-do this too so don’t break your fingers trying to write all this down because I’ll just simply run this off; also, with a general outline of the course.

The title is “A Series on What Jesus Believed and Taught—and Lived.” We are going to be looking at exactly what He taught and exactly how He lived. We begin this morning with the basic message which is set out repeatedly in the Gospels indicating the heart of His message. If you will take your Bibles now, we will begin by looking at Mark 1 and then skip back to Matthew and see how much of the material we can get covered. [20:07]

Another reason why I want to hand this out is because I won’t be able to cover all of the material that I will be putting up on the board or on the sheets but we will be able then to give you passages, which you can take and study at home.

When Jesus came to preach, according to the Gospel of Mark, His message was a very simple one. We will look at Mark’s version first, then move back to Matthew. Our whole discussion today will be making clear what this message is. [20:46]

Mark 1:14–15 states, “Now, after that John [the Baptist] was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.” Preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God; this was His message. The message was that the rule of God in human life is now available to everyone and He said, “The time is fulfilled.” There has been a change now between what went before—we will be looking at this today—between what went before in time in the nation of Israel and “the time is now fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” That was the Gospel. That’s the Gospel of the Kingdom of God: “the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Gospel.” Which Gospel?—the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Believe the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. What’s the Gospel of the Kingdom of God that is now available? [22:06]

Okay, now, I’m gonna stop on that and make sure that you have thought that through, that is the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is now available.

I put up here a little bit about the wording. Read it in a somewhat different way if you can. Reconsider your strategy for life—that’s what repent means. Now when we use that word repent (Gk. metanoeo), we are apt to think all sorts of things that don’t really fit in here. It’s a word that refers to thinking on your own thinking—thinking on your own thinking.

See, we all have plans for life and that’s our basic map; that is what we take to be reality and there’s a set of values built in that. We are all very familiar with that, because we run into it every day in the newspapers, at work. We even run into it in our government. These are ideas about people and how they should live. [23:14]

There is a certain standard version of what human life is like. When we read that word, metanoea, it means to reflect on your thinking, because that’s where your life comes from. Your life comes from your heart, and what is in your heart are basically your ideas about reality. They are your ideas about you. They are your ideas about what you can do to keep yourself alive and be well off. They are your ideas about what it means for you to be a good person. Well-being, well doing—fundamental ideas—we see them all around us and we have them in our hearts and that’s what we have to reflect on. Now, when you read that word repent, will you please try to think about it in that way? It means, “consider your plans and ideas about life.” [24:18]

Now, we go on because there is a new fact now. Consider your strategy for life in view of the fact, which has not always been a fact. With the coming of Jesus into the world, He brought with Him, if you wish, a direct access in His own person to the Kingdom of God. Reconsider your strategy for living in the light of this new fact, that you can now live under the rule of the Heavens.

We will be talking a lot of the Heavens, and I’m going to be be emphasizing that word today. While the word Kingdom of God is used most commonly in Luke and John, the common phrase in the Gospel of Matthew is the Kingdom of Heaven. Here is a very important point there that we must make. [25:12]

Indeed, one of the things that you can gain the most from so, far as this series is concerned, is to think very deeply and to study carefully what the Bible says about Heaven. The most important thing for us to say at this point is Heaven is not some place you go when you are dead. The Kingdom of Heaven is not something that is going to happen when you are dead or some time in the future. That’s why it’s so important for us to go over the wording of these passages in great care now. Of all the false assumptions about what Jesus was saying and as we look at this wording, the most important thing in it for us to attend to is the idea that now, now Heaven—the rule of Heaven—is available to people. [26:13]

We now live if we choose under the direct rule of God. That is Heaven and to believe the Gospel is to believe that. Now, if you don’t know what it means, then you turn to Jesus Christ to learn what it means because He is the doorway to it. But, the announcement is fundamental: this is something that has happened. The best way to translate “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” is to say, “It has made itself available. It has drawn nigh.” It’s not about to do anything. And I won’t normally worry you with such things as grammar, but if you look at point B, the grammar—the perfect indicative—generally expresses the present result of a past action and that verb. The verb, eggizo, is a present indicative verb that means, this is something that has now happened and is continuing in force. [27:24]

Now, why do we have to talk about it with such emphasis? Very simply. The common idea about the Kingdom of Heaven is that it tried to get a start, but it didn’t make it, and perhaps, at some future date, God will come back—let’s say with additional troops—and make it happen. Yeah! Come back with an atomic cattle prod and then everyone will say, “Okay, okay!” Right?—if you are going to be that way about it.

Did you ever see one of these big swans that is out in a lake and it decides to fly? It flaps and clatters for a half a mile down the lake. And very often, you will see them; they will just sort of give up and sink back in the water. And that’s the picture that many people have of what Jesus did when He came. He was going to do something real good, but it happened that the people rejected Him and the leaders crucified Him. So, it just never got off the ground. Now, I want to say in the strongest of terms, that is not what happened. [28:46]

The Kingdom of Heaven is now! It is now available. Now, it’s got some further dimensions that are going to manifest themselves. As far as you, as an individual is concerned, or I, as an individual is concerned, I am now given the privilege of living under the rule of Heaven. Not later—not if someone let’s me, not if I am approved of by the right people—all I have to do is to turn and walk into it. It’s as if you were walking along here with a friend and you didn’t know where the auditorium was, and the man said, “Turn, for the auditorium is at hand.” That’s it! That’s exactly it. That’s the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven. [29:40]

Now, when you turn to the Matthew passages and you see that this was something that probably John the Baptist and Jesus had worked out between them. After all, they were cousins and they certainly were familiar with one another. You can’t image that Elizabeth who was the mother of John the Baptist and Mary, who was the mother of Jesus would allow these two young men to not be in touch with one another after their initial greeting, which you will remember.

So, you can be sure that they were in touch with one another and you see, when John the Baptist comes preaching in Matthew 3:2, what is his message? His message is exactly the same, word for word, down to the accents and the endings—and they were exactly the same one—that we see in Matthew 4:17. Let’s read them again. [30:44]

Matthew 3:2 (NASB): “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Remember, it’s now available. Then look at Matthew 4:17. This is after Jesus was baptized by the Baptist who had a very special role. He was the first prophet really for many hundreds of years—several hundreds of years—and the people recognized him as a prophet. He came in order that he might have the privilege of introducing his cousin, who turned out to be the one on whom the Spirit of God came in such a way that He was recognized as the Messiah.

Now, when Jesus comes, He returns from His time of temptation after His baptism and begins to teach. We see in verse 17 exactly the same words, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That is to say, reconsider your strategy of life because now you have an opportunity which has never existed before and it’s the greatest opportunity you will ever have, namely, to live in the Kingdom of Heaven. [31:59]

Now, when we look ahead a bit—and I’ll want to come back in just a moment to that passage—but when we look ahead to Matthew 10:7, we see the same wording. When he sent his disciples out to preach, they were to preach exactly the same thing, same wording, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. That was the message.

It’s one message, and we can put it in another language and Jesus taught it in many, many ways. We can say, “Whosoever will may come.” Anyone who wishes to live under the direct, immediate availability of God’s Kingdom today can do so. That means you and me. That means you and me and all of the circumstances in which we live . . . with all of the threats that come to us day to day, the chances of failure, the anxieties that flood upon us. You see Jesus, with this message as the background, spoke directly to those kinds of common, human concerns. He constantly dealt with them to lead us into a rule of God over our lives, which would set us free from every fear and empower us to be and to do the kinds of persons that God intended us to be. [33:37]

Now, there are various ways in which Jesus spoke about entering the Kingdom of Heaven. For example, in Matthew 5:20, we read these words. “I say unto you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees was a righteousness, which dealt with external action. And what He is saying is, as long as you are willing to keep your rightness at that level, you will never touch the reality of the Kingdom because the reality of the Kingdom is a reality of the insides or the heart. You have to be able to come to the recognition that it is when you turn your heart—the very basic motivations and thoughts—over to this Kingdom and surrender, that you begin to make touch, to make contact. [34:33]

In Matthew 18:3, Jesus says, “I tell you, unless you repent and become as a little child, you can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” In John 3:3, we are told that unless you are born from above, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. You see, many different ways of presenting the same fundamental truth.

One of the most chilling verses in all of the Bible is Matthew 23:15 where Jesus says to the religious leaders of His day, “You compass land and sea to make one proselyte and when you’ve made him you make him twofold more the child of hell than you yourselves are.” He also says, “You stand at the doorway of the Kingdom of Heaven and you block it and you will not go in and you will not let others to go in.” (Matthew 23:13) Isn’t that chilling? [35:25]

So, the way—entering the Kingdom of Heaven, a very complex phenomena here—is something that Jesus taught about in many, many different ways. But, the good truth is if you want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, all you have to do is to really want it and try.

One of the most shocking things in Jesus’ teachings was the people that He accepted. He was constantly in trouble because He was palling around with unacceptable people—publicans and harlots—you remember they said of him, He receiveth—this man receiveth sinners and eats with them.” Ohhhh . . . the very thought of it! This man receiveth sinners and but you see, that’s the point about the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s wide open; it’s wide open. [36:33]

In Matthew 11:5, we see these words to John the Baptist, “the Kingdom of Heaven is preached.” Look at verses 11–12 of Matthew 11 (and I am going to take time for you to turn to this because I really want you to mark this and also put by it Luke 16:16). We will see if I can’t work on my thing here a bit.

See point 1e [on the outline], “Gospel passages to study.” I’m going through a few of those at this point and you want to put Matthew 11:11–12 and Luke 16:16 together. I want to read them both. [37:24]

“Verily, I say unto you, Among them that are born of women, there has not risen a greater than John the Baptist.” (KJV)

The reference to a birth is not incidental—the first birth.

There is not “ . . . a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he [John the Baptist].” (KJV)

Was he greater because of his natural qualifications? No. He was greater because being in the Kingdom of Heaven is such a momentous transforming event. [38:12]

Now you see there so many of the verses in the Scriptures that we are not inclined to apply to ourselves—but we don’t begin to get the meaning of it until we do. I suggest that you need to take a moment in quiet meditation and read this verse and apply it to yourself. Then think about what it means about you if you are in the Kingdom of heaven.

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12, KJV) [38:50]

Now, you see, that’s exactly what the righteous people felt when they saw people clamoring and gathering around Jesus. They felt violence. What this is referring to is the fact that it is no longer necessary to stand on proprieties to enter the Kingdom. There is no protocol. You don’t have to get cleaned up and dressed up and hold your mouth right. And may I say, you don’t even have to have all your beliefs right. [39:24]

You know, it’s very easy to take the very great importance of beliefs and turn them in a bondage of works. That often happens in churches where we preach salvation by grace. The fact of the matter is if we are saved, it is because God in His grace has reached out and touched us. The bath comes later. The mental bath too. See? A little child can come into the Kingdom of Heaven without understanding all of the deep truths about the Trinity and the atonement and all of those things. The little child who simply comes and feels their need of God and says to Christ, “I will take you as my friend, and I will trust you.” Now let’s use that model in our thinking of taking Christ as our friend and trusting Him as we would trust a friend, even if we don’t fully understand the friend.

Jesus said “Violence—the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence. People are just walking in.” “Where are all these cockroaches coming from,” the righteous person said, “Get out of here. You don’t smell right. You don’t look right. You don’t do right.” That’s exactly what the righteous people said and that’s exactly the same people about whom Jesus said, “unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees, you cannot enter.” (Matthew 5:20)

This Gospel of the Kingdom is going to come to culmination in a death on the Cross—an exceedingly messy matter with a King who allows Himself to be killed. [41:27] That’s not the end of the story, but it was a great reproach. This is why, by the way, Jesus never preached His death as Gospel. He tried a few times, but His disciples shut Him up immediately. They didn’t want to hear that part. Right? And really what they were doing was, they were unable to get loosened up their ideas about the nature of the Kingdom. They had this idea, well, a King is not was not going to die; that’s not going to happen. Right after Peter gave his great statement about the Messiahship of Jesus, looking at Jesus, he says, “You know, you really are the Messiah.” (Matthew 16:16) Immediately thereafter, when Jesus begins to tell him about his death, he says, “Far be it from thee.” (Matthew 16:22, KJV) In effect, he was saying, “That’s not the sort of thing I had in mind by calling you Messiah, Jesus.”

And others were anxious to make sure that they had their names on the list to be a Chancellor of the Exeter and Secretary of State, right? They even had their Mommy working on that. (Matthew 20:20–24) See, they totally misconceived it—a King whose thrown is a cross. [42:40]

But that’s the way it is with a Gospel. It opens the door because there the King gets right down where everyone else is and goes through it the way they go through it. He dies, too, that they might rise with Him. That’s the only way that the nature of this Kingdom of God can be really shown. It welcomes every one.

You know, we tell the story of The Prodigal Son? (Luke 15:11–32) That’s not about the prodigal son. That’s about a prodigal father—a father who just out of the lavish abundance of his heart gives and gives and gives and gives and gives and gives and gives and I am gonna stop. But I’m doing that because I just want you to get a sense of how it just goes on and on and on. See? [43:43]

In Luke 6:35, we have this conceptualization of the Gospel. “God is kind to the wicked and the ungrateful.” That’s what Jesus said. And of course that’s you and me, isn’t it?

Look at Luke 16. Compare Luke 16 with Matthew 11:11–12, because here the language is a little different. And by the way, it’s fascinating always to look at passages like Matthew 11:11–12 and Luke 16 and watch how the translators struggle with them. If you are like me, you’ve got 35 translations of the Bible on your shelf at home, right? So, take them down and compare them. [44:41]

Look at Luke 16:16 now. This is the parallel passage to the one that we have just read out of Matthew 11. He is talking about again the people in John 16:15 who justify themselves before men, but God knows their heart. See, these people were deciding who could appropriately approach the Kingdom of God. And look at verse 16 now—“The law and the prophets were until John.” (KJV) The Law and the Prophets were until John. [And when you look at Matthew 8 and other passages and we are going to talk about this at length next time because next time we are going to be talking about the Kingdom of Heaven in the Old Testament.] [45:25]

But when you look at this and other passages, you realize that there was this cataclysmic change that happened. It was marked in the first passage we read from Mark 1:15 by Jesus’ saying, “The time is fulfilled” or Galatians 4:4 “in the fullness of time.” There is an economy—see, God is doing something in the world. World history means something. It is significant. Not just for those that we think of as being especially His people, but all people. God does not leave any people alone. This whole world is His world, and He’s doing things with it and when we’re able to understand it, we will see that no time was lost. So, the time was fulfilled.

Now, there is this cataclysmic change which is expressed here in terms of “until John, the law and the prophets were preached.” (Luke 16:16) What did that mean? That meant that God’s rule, in so far as it was committed to human beings, in a covenant relationship, was committed to Israel. [46:31]

Now, God had to do with people other than Israel—even in the Old Testament. You see He had to do with people other than Israel. Job was not a Jew, but if you look at Job, one of the things you will see is, there is no discussion in Job of a covenant relationship. God’s redemptive work, whereby He commits His Heavenly rule to human beings, was given for a long period of time to Abraham and his biological descendants. That is broken in the New Testament. Read Matthew 8 and Matthew 21:43. You will see the transition that is taking place. And the book of Acts fills out the details of how that special relationship was given to all of these unlikely types. And the way it’s described here in Luke 16:16 is since that time—that is, since John the Baptist—the Kingdom of God is preached. The announcements go up.

What was preached about the Kingdom of God? It’s open! It was preached. That was the announcement. The Kingdom of Heaven is OPEN! Taking applicants! Anyone who wishes can now come and live in the Kingdom of God. They can join the company of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They can live in Their presence and work with Them and work from Their resources and they can be a part of this great Kingdom—that’s the Gospel—anyone could come! All of the people who couldn’t come before, now they can come. Just come right in. [48:22]

So what does Matthew 11:12 say: “and every one rushes, pushes, presses, jumps, leaps, dives, stumbles, blunders into it.” That’s what is says. Everyone presses into it. That is the Gospel. It’s now open.

Now, in a week or two, we will look at the Beatitudes. We will try to get an impression of how open the door was because, you see, when Jesus presented the Gospel of the Kingdom, He presented it in such a way that it became clear that all of those who were regarded as un-bless able. The door was wide open, and all of those or many of those who were regarded as not even needing it were shut out. Right? They were caught up in their proprieties. They were caught up in being, oh, so right and so wonderful and so thankful that they were the people of God and they weren’t. [49:32]

You remember in Matthew 8, you have a series of miraculous events, which is led off by the centurion, the Roman centurion, who comes and says to Jesus, “I have a servant at home. [Because I have authority, I send people with my word.” And then he tells Jesus, “You don’t even need to come; you just say the word and my servant will be healed.” Jesus just stops. He’s bowled over. He says, “What kind of faith is this? He says, “I have not seen such faith in Israel.” [50:09]

One of the things we are going to be talking about at some length is faith and how it works—its relationship to words. This man had faith, basically, because he knew how words worked in government. And by the way, when we say Kingdom, we should once in awhile put in government. When we are talking about the Kingdom of Heaven, we are talking about the government of Heaven. And words being what they are, we need to shift those around once in awhile to give realism because you know, we don’t have Kingdoms anymore. They have those in England or someplace like that. They have Kings. Right? We have government. That’s talking about government. It’s talking about the government of God, see?

And this centurion said, “I know how you work because I too am a man set under authority.” You have authority in a government. And he said, “I say to this man, come and he comes.” Isn’t that something? You just make that noise and that man moves. I say, “Go.” He goes. He says, “I too am a man.” [51:18]

See, the centurion recognized Jesus as a man under authority, and that’s what enabled him to have faith. And Jesus said, “I have not seen such faith, no not in Israel.” Then He goes on to say a stunning thing. He turns to the Israelites and He says, in effect—read that passage carefully [Matthew 8], it’s among the references up here [on the outline]. We will have plenty of time to work over them.

But Jesus says to them, “People are going to come from the east to the west and sit down and have a meal in the Kingdom of Heaven with Abraham but the children of the Kingdom will be shut out.” (Matthew 8:11–12) What? If you’re a child of the Kingdom, aren’t you in? No? You see He’s referring to people who were in, only in the sense that they were a part of the people of Israel who had previously been given the responsibility and right of exercising the power of the Kingdom of Heaven. They were under authority! But they had perverted that. [52:35]

And because they lacked the faith that put them in touch with God’s heart, the reality of God, they had been mistaken about God’s righteousness as Paul will say at a later time about these particular people. I don’t want to give these people too bad a time because many of them were well-meaning and good people, but there it was.

As Paul was to say about them, those going about to establish their own righteousness, have missed the righteousness of God. They missed the righteousness of God. And these cockroaches, these nothings, these—they walked in. See, that’s the prodigal father—the prodigal father is what stands back of the Kingdom of Heaven. [53:33]

Well, isn’t God concerned about them being righteous? Oh, yes, He is. But just as He looked at Abraham and said, “Abraham, you trust me and I‘m very happy to accept your confidence in me in place of your having done all the right things,” see? Romans 4:5 puts it, “he accepted his faith for righteousness.” We need to plug in here now and say this, even our word faith has become weakened and destroyed.

What does faith mean? Faith means for many folks that they are trying to believe but don’t really. It really does! It’s equated with a struggle to believe, and people actually think they believe if they are trying to believe. Right? You know the Archie Bunker definition of faith? It’s what you wouldn’t believe for your life, if it wasn’t in the Bible.[54:38]

What Jesus saw in that Roman centurion was trust. Trust! And if you go through your Bible and mark out the word faith and write trust or confidence; confidence is just with faith. Ah, but trust . . . “By grace are ye saved through trust and that not of yourselves; it’s the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

“The just shall live by trust.” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38) Right? And of course, the other side of that is equally true that the unjust shall die by trust. Because it isn’t just in the trust, it’s in what you trust. That’s what makes the difference. If I am trusting my gasoline gauge and it’s wrong, the car will still stop. It won’t say, “Well, Dallas is really trusting, so I’ll just go on.” It’s in what I trust in. And if I trust it, I die by it, as well as live by it. [55:50]

Jesus came and said to people in His own person—we have to spell this out a lot and I hope you’ll understand that the details are coming but this crucial point must be made—operating out of the rule of Heaven, He said to everyone, “Come, follow me. Believe in Me. Trust Me.” Right? “He that believeth on me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” (John 11:25–26, KJV) What a claim! 2 Timothy 1:10 says Jesus Christ destroyed death. What a claim! Trust Him? Yes!

You learn the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. You learn to trust by association, through taking little steps, till you learn the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven so thoroughly that now you know who you are and you know that you don’t need to be afraid of anything. You don’t need to be afraid of anything! [57:04]

And Jesus went around and He did three things. If you look in Matthew 4 and Matthew 9, you will see that He did three things—He put up Kingdom announcements which is ordinarily translated, “He preached the Kingdom of Heaven.” He preached! But that’s announcements. That’s what preaching is: preaching is announcing. Then He taught in their synagogues, and He manifested the power of the Kingdom, which He preached by healing and other miracles. He demonstrated His authoritative Word as a representative of the King and the Kingdom by taking care of things. If they didn’t have any food; He knew where to get some. If they were in trouble with a storm on the ocean; He knew what to do. Speak to it! Oh! That’s shocking, isn’t it? Speak to it? Yes, He did.

You remember, again, in Matthew 8, they were going across the waters, a storm came up, His friends were just gibbering out of their minds with fear. and He was asleep. You know, when He got up, He said, “Where is your faith? Where is your faith in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Where is your faith? He was sleeping. [58:36]

Now, the words of Jesus about trust and confidence and faith are fairly well known but they don’t fit in well with the Gospel, which we commonly hear. For example, the passage in Matthew 10:28, “Fear not them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; . . . rather fear him who is in control of both realms. He will destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Paraphrased)

Now, listen to this—that’s a rather shocking statement. Compare it to 29. “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?” (Matthew 10:29, KJV) A farthing is . . . any of you remember what a mille [coin] was? A mille? Nobody’s here old enough to remember what a mille was? A tenth of a penny. Back in the 40s and maybe still in the 50s, they had these little pewter things. They were called milles; they were a tenth of a penny. You imagine what that would get you today? Well, that’s about what a farthing was. Now, look what He says. “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Matthew 10:29–30, KJV) And then a little humor. “Don’t be frightened. You are worth more than several sparrows.” (verse 31) See? [1:00:14]

The many passages now in the Gospels about this kind of thing are the heart of the Gospel. Many of the things that Jesus taught, we just treat them like “Oh, pretty words. Oh, another lovely saying, Master, shall we set that one to music?” You know. It flies by. Wooooo! “That was so gratifying, so sweet.”

No! this is the heart of it, folks. [1:00:39] It’s knowing that God is directly and immediately available to you. That’s why the word Heaven is important. It’s because where is Heaven? You may be surprised to learn that Heaven is all around your head. We are going to look at Heaven next week, but Heaven is used primarily in the book of Matthew to accentuate the Jewish experience of the direct accessibility of God to His people.

Second Chronicles 16:9 states: “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show himself strong in behalf of them whose hearts are perfect toward [set completely on] him.” (2 Corinthians 16:9, KJV) It’s in Psalm 34:15: “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.” (Psalm 34:15, KJV) Trust it! Trust it! That’s all you have to do! [1:01:53]

Gracious Lord,

We pray that you will illumine our minds and that you will give us the ability to think better because of your Spirit coming upon us. Speak the word of the Kingdom in our hearts. Give us the sharpest of critical faculties, the willingness to think and to experiment to know the Kingdom.

Lord, help us to understand your Gospel and why people were just filled with joy when they heard it and saw it. Bring it upon us! Let your Kingdom come upon us as it is in Heaven, so do here on earth.

In Jesus Name,


[1] Numbers in brackets indicate the time index of the recorded lecture.

[2] Note: Many of Dallas Willard’s Scripture quotations were made from memory, so a majority of them were paraphrased (although some varied only slightly from the King James Version of the Bible). Except for this first one, these are not marked. Those from specific Bible versions are noted.

Listen to all parts in this A Series on What Jesus Believed and Taught—And Lived series