Ambitions

Matthew 20-28 tells the story of James and John (apparently, via their mother) asking Jesus to grant to them the honor of sitting on His right and left hand in His Kingdom. This request was made shortly after Jesus had told the twelve that He would be betrayed, crucified, and raised again. Jesus’ reply was as follows:

But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”  They said to Him, “We are able.” (Matthew 20:22)

Jesus confirmed that indeed, they would drink of the same cup, and be baptized with the same baptism, but as for the request, it was not His to give. Those spots have already been prepared for those whom God has prepared them. The other disciples were understandably annoyed, but really, all of the disciples had the same mindset, wanting to be known as “the greatest among them” (See Luke 9:46; 22:24 and Mark 9:33-37). And even today, it is so often the same with us. We want position and power, riches, and honor, and every other good thing we claim we have coming. But what did Jesus say?

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20: 25-28)

Just as… Jesus came to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many. The path to greatness in God’s Kingdom is through service. There is no other way. We are to serve others, as if to Him (see Ephesians 6:7, Colossians 3:23). And while God will provide abundantly for us to be able to serve others, we must not forget that it is our position and honor to be servants. Our ambition should not be the abundant provision which enables us to serve – it should be to serve, even if to the point of giving our life as a ransom for the Gospel. We will remember, James was one of the first to be martyred for Christ (Acts 12:2). He did indeed “drink of the same cup.” We may be called to do the same. Conversely, John was not killed, but a study of his life shows he still drank of the cup Jesus did. History tells us that most of the original 12 were killed for their beliefs. They were persecuted greatly. And God was with them. He never failed them.

One of the great deceptions of our times is the idea that if we accept Jesus as our savior, then all will be well, we will be prosperous, everyone will like us, and our great earthly successes will be a light of the Gospel to others.

This is not Christ’s Gospel. It is a gospel of shallow soil, and when negative things happen to new Christians who have been led to believe “all will be well,” they are left hurt and confused, feeling lied to about this “Jesus” they had decided to follow. Many will fall away because of the troubles of life, for which they were very ill-prepared (see the parable of the seeds in Matthew 13). If we want to be fruitful Christians, and if we want to bring others into the forever lasting fruitfulness of the Kingdom, then we need to be sure we are speaking and hearing a gospel that is rooted in good soil – an honest gospel that not only preaches the good, but preaches the good that never leaves us, so that we can get through the bad.

Mercy

“Sic ’em, God.”

Far too often I’ve heard one or another derivation of this phrase. Whether in casual conversation or even prayer, it seems we hear people who call out to God to deal harshly with sinful people, cities, or nations. But is this the heart of God for us?

While it is true that man’s sin calls out for the judgment of God (see Genesis 4:10; 19:13, Exodus 22:22-24), we must always remember that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13). We are to call out for mercy; we are not the accuser.

The story of Sodom is found in Genesis 18 and 19. While the city was not saved, we see some keep points regarding our relationship with God and His willingness to save many (an entire city) for the sake of a very few (one family). The first show of God’s mercy in this account is in God’s telling Abraham of His plans to destroy the city. This opened the door for Abraham to plead for mercy for the city. Upon hearing God’s plans, Abraham tarries with God and talks with God. If Abraham were like many in our society today, he may have said something like this:

I agree, God… they are a wicked bunch. They go after strange flesh, they’re prideful, wasteful of their time, they don’t help the poor or the needy, and they commit abominations before You… Go ahead, wipe them out (See Jude 6-7, Ezekiel 16:49-50).

But Abraham wasn’t like many in our society today. He never even once mentions their sin. His focus in negotiating with God is always on the righteous. “Will you also destroy the righteous with the wicked?” (Genesis 18:23). “Far be it from you to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). And each time, God agreed with Abraham. He would not destroy if he could find just (50, then 45, then 40, 30, 20 and finally 10) righteous in all of the city. Abraham stopped at ten, but I personally believe he could have continued, and would have found a point at which the city would have been saved. Great evidence of this is found in Genesis 19:22. When the angel of the Lord was rushing Lot and his wife and daughters out of the city, and had given them permission to go to the nearby city of Zoar, the angel said, “Hurry, escape there. For I cannot do anything until you arrive there”

The angel of God Could Not do anything until Lot was safe. The presence of just one family related to righteous Abraham stymied the wrath of God against an entire city.

Further evidence shows that God will pardon an entire city for the sake of just one righteous. Jeremiah 5:1 says “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem; See now and know; And seek in her open places If you can find a man, If there is anyone who executes judgment, Who seeks the truth, And I will pardon her.” Here, God looked for a man who was righteous, so that He could pardon the entire city on behalf of one man. Grace indeed.

If this is the example of the merciful heart of God in a time before Jesus’ sacrifice had paid the price for the sins of the entire world, we are without excuse if we call for anything less than complete mercy in this present dispensation of God’s purchase of salvation for all who will believe and receive. Yes, we can acknowledge the horror of the sin around us, but just like Christ, we are to “seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10). It’s not that the stories of society’s sin aren’t true. It’s not that those sins won’t ultimately be judged at the end-time judgment of God (see Revelation 20:11-15). But until that time, our only job is to be Christlike, and to follow the example of the One who always lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25). Christ is the mercy of God presently stymieing the justice of God. He paid the price for the sins of the world. He is the Redeemer. He is the Savior. And “as He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).

But how often do we really behave as if we are representing Christ to this world? It is so easy to just sit back and complain about society, to put down our neighbors and leaders, as if in our flesh we are something better (We are not – see Romans 7:18). Without Christ, we are nothing better than even the vilest of sinful people. Without Christ, we deserve all the judgment and condemnation we attribute to others. But we are not without Christ, and as the redeemed, our only goal regarding judgment should be to save others from the same fate we were saved from ourselves.

Humility

Matthew 23:12 (Amplified Bible)

Whoever exalts himself [with haughtiness and empty pride] shall be humbled (brought low), and whoever humbles himself [whoever has a modest opinion of himself and behaves accordingly] shall be raised to honor.

James 4:10 (Amplified Bible)

Humble yourselves [feeling very insignificant] in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you [He will lift you up and make your lives significant].

Philipians 2:3-11 (NKJV)

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

By nature, we are not humble creatures. Far from it. Yet, somewhere along the path to Christlikeness, God will deal with us, and begin to ask us to humble ourselves, so that He can then do something significant with our lives. But what does it mean to humble ourselves? In the three verses above, the word for humble(d) is the Greek word tapeinoō. (Strongs 5103). This word can be defined “to make low, bring low; to level, reduce to a plain; reduce to meaner (poor) circumstances; to assign a lower rank or place to; to abase; to be ranked below others who are honored or rewarded; to lower, depress; to bring down one’s pride; to have a modest opinion of one’s self; to behave in an unassuming manner; and devoid of all haughtiness.”

Strong stuff. Fortunately, it isn’t God’s desire to do this to us. What a terrifying blow that could be! It is, however, His goal that we do this to ourselves. “Humble yourselves” His Word says. And if we do, He will then lift us up, and make our lives a place of honor. Ultimately, our example to follow is Jesus. More than anyone in history, Jesus humbled Himself. He was from the beginning with God and was God (See John 1). But, he lowered himself, reducing himself to poor circumstances, and assigned to himself a lower rank among men, as man. He gave up His position with and as God to take on the flesh of man, and even fully submitted Himself to man’s sin. This is not to say that Jesus sinned, but he did take our sin upon himself (see Luke 22:41-42). He who knew no sin became sin for us (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). And when He did that, the reality is, God poured out His wrath for sin – upon Jesus – so that it would not have to be poured out on us.

Are we willing to follow in that example? Could we give up our position the way Jesus did? Jesus took our sin, and suffered our punishment trusting that ultimately He would be raised by God and given a Name above all names and a position above all. But His purpose in taking our sin wasn’t the ultimate position of glory. He had glory before he took the form of a man. His purpose in humbling himself was for the salvation of mankind. And so too should our purpose be when we work to humble ourselves.

And that’s the key. The purpose behind striving for Godly humility. If we’ve fallen deceived to someone who has told us to humble ourselves because we’ll be given a place of honor by God, then our attempts at humility will be futile. The place of honor is not to be our goal – it is never the “because” for our humility. The place of honor is not the purpose. Just as it was with Jesus, the place of honor is the reward for being willing to humble ourselves in the giving of our lives for the salvation of mankind. We must see ourselves as lower than all of mankind – so that all of mankind is in our eyes more worthy than ourselves. We must see ourselves as ones who will die to save them – because they are the important ones.

Who is important to you? Is it the guy down the street? The unwashed man on the corner? The coworker who slanders your name every chance he gets? Until our humility tells us that these people are more important than us, and that their needs are more important than ours, and that their lives are worth the cost of our own, then we have not fully traveled the road towards humility.

A Tare or a Wheat

Matthew 13: 24-30

Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

In the parable above, the wheat (God’s true servants) and the tares (those people who may at first appear Godly, but who are actually placed by the enemy) are discussed. For those not familiar with “tares,” the word is from the Greek, zizanion, which means, a kind of darnel, resembling wheat, except the grains are black. When they first begin to grow, the two look very similar, and the true difference can’t be fully ascertained until the time of harvest. Some commentators add that the wheat “bows” when the head is full of grain at the time of harvest, but the tares are stiff necked, proudly showing their black grains above the surrounding wheat.

The disciples asked Jesus to explain this parable in verses 36-43. This is a picture of the world today. The field is the world. The good seeds are true Christians. The tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Notice how like us the “servants of the owner (Jesus)” are. Upon seeing the tares, they ask the owner (Jesus) if they should gather up the tares and remove them. This is very similar to the disciples asking “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” when they had become offended because the people of a certain village did not receive them (Luke 9:54). In that case, Jesus “turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”” (Luke 9:55-56)

We see the similar response by Jesus in the parable of the tares. While it may be our natural desire to remove those who are not truly serving God – even those mixed in with the true Church, attempting to deceive the world with an appearance of Godliness, this is not the way of our Lord. As He said, He “did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” And with the tares, He says to let them be, and whatever is a tare will be separated and sorted out at the time of harvest.

While this parable does speak to the world as a whole, it can also speak to individual church bodies, or even governments. In the view of the Church, we must always be diligent. It was “while men slept” that the enemy was able to come in and sow his seeds of descent. Because it is God’s desire that “all men be saved” (1 Timothy 2:1-4), we should always be praying, seeking God that all would “come to the knowledge of the truth.” Jesus says not to tear out the tares, but to let the angels of God do that at the time of harvest (end of the age). This is not only for the protection of true Christians who may be hurt in the tumult of our feebly trying to distinguish between tares and wheat before the time of harvest, but this is also for the hope of the tares themselves!

The reality is, we are all born into this world as fallen creatures – “tares” of the devil. Until our accepting of Jesus as our savior, we are not “wheat.” God waits with longsuffering for us to come to Him, and accept Him as Lord. He does not desire that any person should perish (2 Peter 3:9). This is why we should pray for others, seeking God “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in (Christ)” (Acts 26: 18). Contrary to the world’s view of people, God’s view of people would not be “once a tare, always a tare.”

We are not to remove the tares. Rather, we should pray that God would convert them to wheat.

Not Being Offended in God

Luke 7:19-23

And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to Jesus,saying, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”
20 When the men had come to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’” 21 And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight.
22 Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. 23 And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”

If we recall from the first chapter of John, John the Baptist came before Jesus to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry by bringing the masses to repentance. When John first saw Jesus, he said “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). And further… “John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”” (John 1:32-34)

John was convinced of Jesus. His destiny to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah was prophesied. He had spent his entire life, even from before his birth, filled with the Spirit of God (Luke 1:5-17). John had seen and knew who Jesus was.

And then the trouble came.

When John sent messengers to Jesus to ask, “Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?”, he was asking from a prison cell. John had spoken against Herod regarding his marrying his brother Philip’s wife, and Herod’s new wife wanted to have John killed. Herod feared John because he knew John was a holy man, and attempted to protect him by placing him in prison. Ultimately, his new wife got her way, and used trickery and seduction to have John beheaded (See Mark 6:14-29).

So here John was, faithfully serving God, being inspired by the Spirit of God who had always been with him, and when Jesus finally arrives on the scene, John winds up in prison. We must put ourselves into John’s position here. How would we react? John may have thought the following:

All my life I’ve been different. I had this calling to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. I saw Him myself! I saw the Spirit descend on Him like a dove. I even baptized Him! He was supposed to be the one to bring God’s Kingdom on Earth. But… here I am, stuck in prison because I did what God had me do.

And so John asked, “are you the one?” He had been so sure, I’m sure excited, fully knowing that Jesus was the Christ sent by God. And now when trouble comes he asks, “are you the one?”

And isn’t it the same with us? Even though the Spirit of God was with John, and had always been with John, like us, John was still a mere man. Mere men doubt. Mere men expect God to do things that God isn’t going to do. Mere men get confused. Mere men only know in part, as if looking in a mirror – dimly (see 1 Corinthians 13:12). Clearly by his question, John was faced with the realization that his expectations weren’t being met. He wasn’t even sure if Jesus was the One anymore. So when Jesus is sending message back to John, pointing out all the miracles which are being done (Not for John, but for others, remember), He adds, “And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Luke 7:23). Jesus was saying: Just because you’re in prison, John… don’t be offended because of Me. Just because things aren’t working out the way you expect… don’t be offended because of Me. And we must remember the same… no matter what is happening, or not happening in our lives, we must not allow ourselves to be offended at God. We must guard our hearts in this. We will be blessed for it.

I also find it interesting how Jesus answers John. He doesn’t say “yes, I am the One.” Instead, He simply points to the miracles, and leaves it up to John. John already knew works were being done by Jesus. He had been told about them by his disciples (See Luke 7: 18). John also knew the scripture enough to know that the miracles were fulfilling the prophecies of the coming Messiah (See Isaiah 35:4-6). Jesus simply reminded John of the Word. Jesus would use a similar tactic later as well, stating to His disciples, “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves” (John 14:11). The works of Jesus speak to who He is. Do our works do the same?

Continuing in Luke 7, we see that Jesus speaks very highly of John – after John’s messengers had departed. But He did not go to John, and John was never rescued from his prison cell. Ultimately, he was beheaded.

We live in a society which often only wants a “feel good” message of the Gospel. And the Gospel is a feel good message. It is, however, so often so much more. And in those confusing times of “more” we must be sure our focus is true, and like Paul, we must know how to be both abased and how to abound (see Philippians 4:11-13).

Jesus said we are blessed if we don’t allow ourselves to become offended in Him.