The date was November 24, 1863. To the besieged men inside the city of Chattanooga, the day dawned cool and cloudy. Just outside the city, on top of a hill called Lookout Mountain, a rebel flag flew at the beginning of that day. The men of Major General Joseph Hooker’s division of Union soldiers had to climb that day over 1,400 feet up that mountain burdened with their guns and their heavy packs before they could even begin the battle, but thousands of them did so and stormed the Confederate fortifications on that hill, forcing them to retreat across a valley to the next line of hills. By the end of the day, a Union flag flew from that mountain, giving hope and encouragement to the besieged men of the city, who the very next day charged up the hills of Missionary Ridge to win the Battle of Chattanooga.
The Zealous Take The Kingdom By Force
Just like the blue-coated men of General Hooker’s division took Lookout Mountain with zeal, despite the exhausting climb and the fortifications that were on top of that mountain, we too are told in the pages of scripture that we will enter the kingdom of God the same way. Let us turn in our Bibles today to Matthew 11:12. In this particular passage Jesus Christ was talking to his disciples about John the Baptist and the work that he did in Judea as well as about the greater Kingdom of God that we are all pressing towards. Matthew 11:12 reads as follows in the New King James: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” Most other translations, like the NIV or the Young’s Literal Version, read much the same way. What was Christ really saying here?
To help us figure out, let us turn to a related passage of this verse, which can be found in Luke 16:16. In this verse, Jesus is making a similar point to some Pharisees who had ridiculed Him. In Luke 16:16 we read: “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. If you have ever been to a concert, for example, or a sporting event at a stadium, you have seen how people will press into the venue once the gates are opened because they are impatient to get to their seats and to watch the show or game. This is the sort of picture that is being envisioned here, a rush of people zealous and enthusiastic about what is happening and unwilling to wait any longer.
Two Kinds of Zeal
What we see expressed in these two verses are two different kinds of zeal. Matthew 11:12, spoken in the context of persecution, speaks of the zealous hostility of Satan to the expansion of God’s kingdom. Satan would like nothing more than to seize the kingdom of God by force and stop it from expanding through the conversion and salvation of human beings like ourselves. From the beginning of human history, until his time on this earth is cut short, he has continually sought to oppose and thwart the plan of God. Luke 16:16, on the other hand, is talking about the zeal people have about being saved. Do you remember when you realized that God was calling you? Do you remember that enthusiasm you had for learning and applying God’s ways, for attending Sabbath services and the Holy Days and for obeying God’s laws? The Bible calls this sort of zeal and enthusiasm ‘first love’ in Revelation 2:4 when talking about the church at Ephesus.
What sort of zeal do you have? When you hear of God’s word being proclaimed on WGN, are you happy that the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is being preached? Do you celebrate when you read your new issue of the Good News, or cheer when you hear about the responses to the preaching of the word described in the United News? Are you happy to see new members and guests visit your hall so that you can greet them and get to know them, overjoyed that God is calling and working with others to be a part of your family? That is the kind of zeal in which Jesus was talking about in Luke 16:16, the zeal of pushing to get your spot in the Kingdom of God to enjoy all eternity in the Family of God. That ticket is far more valuable and precious than any sporting event or concert that we could ever press into.
Satan, though, has a different kind of zeal. His zeal is hostility to God’s ways, wishing to tear down those seeking to accomplish God’s work, through attacks and hostility and persecution. We know Satan’s fate, and we do not want to share it. Nonetheless, the persecutions and trials we face in our lives, individually and collectively, are a sign that we are doing God’s work well enough to attract attention, which means we are a threat to Satan’s hold over the world, which he cannot stand. When we stand up and support the preaching of the Gospel, we can expect to suffer violence, we can expect to suffer persecution, but we know we will ultimately prevail.
A Spiritual Battle, A Spiritual Invitation
Unlike the brave Union soldiers on Lookout Mountain, we are not engaged in a literal or physical climb up a mountain with 50 pounds of gear on our backs before we face a battle above the clouds. As Paul says in Ephesians 6:12, we do not battle against flesh and blood, but against rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Our battle is a spiritual one rather than a physical one. We realize that the struggles and fights we see on this earth result from the influence of Satan on this world stirring people into conflict. But the fact that the battle is spiritual and not physical does not make the battle any less real. It does not mean that you can fight with any less zeal simply because your enemies cannot be seen or touched.
Likewise, unlike visitors to a Dolphins game or concert, our ticket is not a physical one, nor do we press into a venue for an event lasting only a few hours. Rather, we have received a ticket into the eternal Kingdom of God. Are we as impatient and enthusiastic about that event as we would be outside of a stadium or theater? I hope so. I know I am greatly impatient for that day to occur.
Which type of zeal will inspire us as we live the rest of our lives? Will we be filled with the zeal to press into the Kingdom of God, to be with our Father and our Elder brother, Jesus Christ, and the rest of our brothers and sisters, to enjoy the Kingdom of God for all time? Or will we be distracted and derailed from that invitation because of the zeal of Satan for the kingdom of God to be destroyed? The choice is ours to make—I hope I see you in the kingdom. I’ve got my ticket ready.