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  • Writer's pictureRob

The Hundred-Sixty-Ninth (Works)

How was your week?  I hope it was enjoyable, and you had a chance to eat some good food!  Whether you were at home eating your own food, at a friend's or family's eating theirs, or even at a restaurant eating, the food required you or someone else to work.  You worked to prepare the meal, you worked to make money so you could buy the ingredients, your friend or family worked to do the same, or you worked to be able to buy from the restaurant.  

We know what that work is, and what is required of us for it.  What about when scripture talks about works?  What does it mean by that?  We get paid in the world due to the works of our hands, so it's only natural for us to associate getting something with us having to work.  With sayings like, "You don't get what you want, you get what you work for," and, "work hard for what you want because it won't come to you without a fight" (Leah Lebelle), we grow up in, and are conditioned by, an environment that teaches us nothing comes to us for free.

That's not the way the Kingdom of Heaven operates, though.  It's essentially the complete opposite, and we'll get into more specifics of what that means shortly.  To begin with though, we need to understand how we enter that kingdom.  Otherwise, we'll never know or experience the opposite way that it operates.

There are only fifteen verses that talk specifically about how to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, which is also called the Kingdom of God.  Interestingly, many more of those verses talk about things that won't get you into that kingdom rather than specifically what will get you in.  Perhaps that follows the idea of not requiring works?  

By taking a look at the verses, we can see that only the most righteous will enter the kingdom (Matthew 5:20).  As we learned before, context is key, so we must look a few verses prior to see what Yeshua was talking about just before telling the people on the mountain they have to be more righteous than the people they regarded as the most righteous among them.  We find that He told them they must follow all YHWH's commandments, even stating that He wasn't there to tell everyone He's nullifying the commandments and in fact, they will be valid and required to be followed until the new heaven and new earth (Matthew 5:17-19).  

We also find among these verses that we must become children before we can enter (Matthew 18:3, Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17).  Again, context is important, so what was happening right before these statements?  In the first verse, the disciples were asking Yeshua who is the greatest in the kingdom.  Yeshua was trying to get them to understand that the Kingdom of Heaven isn't about who is the greatest.  They need to be like children and forget everything they think they know, because it's all based on how the world operates.  In the last three verses, the disciples were trying to keep children away from Yeshua, so again, He used it as a teaching moment to reinforce the fact that they have something to learn from these children.

Looking further in these verses, we see that entering the Kingdom of Heaven will be hard if we're rich (Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:23-25, Luke 18:24-25).  Here, He is not saying that you have to be poor in order to enter, which is different than His teaching you have to be like a child, or you have to be the most righteous.  He is saying that it will be nearly impossible.  However, He goes on to say that with YHWH all things are possible.  The point of this is that you have to not focus on, or trust in, worldly riches in order to enter.  The challenge is that when you have those worldly riches, the natural tendency is to cling to it because you get accustomed to that level of wealth and not having to worry about how to pay for things, or if you have to choose between getting your main mode of transportation fixed or having a meal that day.  

The last four verses of the fifteen are sort of unique.  In one, we find that entering into the kingdom involves going through a lot of tribulation (Acts 14:22).  In another, we see we have to be born anew spiritually before we can enter the kingdom (John 3:5).  One of them actually gives us a definitive statement of something we have to do in order to enter: we have to do the will of YHWH (Matthew 7:21).

The final verse is quite interesting, because not only does Yeshua make a point using some graphic imagery, when you read the Hebrew version it makes an interesting substitution (Mark 9:43-47).  Yeshua goes through various body parts in this passage, telling the disciples to cut them out/off if it causes them to sin.  His point is not that you actually have to cut off body parts, it's that through this illustration you realize it's not a body part that causes sin, it's you and your will.  We like to blame others, or say that we couldn't help it, but if it comes down to losing a body part because of it, we'd likely just admit it was our choice that we sinned rather than chop our hand off.

The Hebrew version of these verses actually substitutes the Garden of Eden for the Kingdom of Heaven.  The illustration is the same, down to being thrown into hell, which is actually Gei-Hinnom (Greek gehenna), a valley next to Jerusalem which was used in ancient times as a location where Israelites were sacrificing their children to pagan gods.  It was cursed by YHWH through Jeremiah because of this (Jeremiah 19:3-5).  I find this substitution interesting because it seems to confirm that the Garden of Eden is once again accessible in the Kingdom of Heaven.  The same place that had the tree of life originally will be where we dwell in the future! (Revelation 22:2)

But what does all this have to do with works?  With worldly works, you do something for someone else and then they compensate you.  None of these things that let you enter into the Kingdom of Heaven are works that you do for someone else.  You don't do them, with someone reaping the benefits, and then get compensated by being able to enter the kingdom.    

That's one of the aspects of the kingdom that makes it the polar opposite of how the world works.  Remember when Yeshua said you have to be more righteous than the Pharisees in order to enter?  Another aspect of the kingdom that makes it opposite is that His sacrifice through His death gave us that righteousness, if we only believe it, because that righteousness is given through the grace that was made possible through His sacrifice (Romans 3:21-28).  Here Paul points out that those commandments Yeshua said we have to follow, the works we do to follow them are not what gives us the righteousness needed to be in the kingdom.  That doesn't negate the fact that Yeshua said we have to follow them, because essentially in the same breath He also said we have to be supremely righteous, knowing that in the end the only way we could achieve that would be through His death.  

While the process to enter the kingdom does not require works, that doesn't mean we won't do them.  That's another way the kingdom is opposite.  In the world, when we work we are less than motivated to go out of our way for the place at which we work.  Generally, we don't go looking for additional works we can do, and when we do we are likely looking for some way to be noticed or get ahead so we can be promoted or get a raise.  With the Kingdom of Heaven, being in it motivates us to do the works that the world would look at as required in order to get in in the first place.  

Our faith in the fact that Yeshua's sacrifice gives us something we would never have deserved otherwise, and could never have done enough to achieve, period, does something in us to open our heart to others.  Otherwise, our faith, or what we claim is faith, is nothing (James 2:26).  We see that our Savior, Yeshua, even while we were sinful, died so that we could be forgiven for those sins (Romans 5:8). 

Because He did something without us asking, without us even knowing to ask, for it, we see those less fortunate, or those in need, and say, for example, what is five dollars for me compared to Yeshua's life He gave for me.  Everything worldly is meaningless when compared to that sacrifice, and because of that we are willing to give it up to help someone else.  So remember, our works are not an "entry fee" or a price to be compensated with access to the kingdom, but that doesn't mean we won't do them!

Shabbat shalom and YHWH bless you! 

-Rob and Sara Gene

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