As I look back over this series of articles, much time has been spent and many words have been written about the coming Kingdom of God which will soon be ruled by Jesus Christ, the Messiah of the world. His rule will be as GOD / KING. We have looked at several parables and showed how Jesus emphasized the importance of us realizing that we need to keep this Kingdom in mind as we live our lives. Our preparation for this Kingdom, which you and I will hear more and more about the closer we get to Jesus’ return, also includes some very practical things–things which many of us probably see as so obvious that we don’t spend much time thinking about them. Yet, I don’t think we realize how often we miss following through on some of the very things we see as too obvious to waste much time considering. Because none of us can afford to misunderstand what Jesus was teaching, we’ll take a few minutes to take a look at some examples.
Some of the examples we’re going to look at are found in the Sermon on the Mount, but just before going to these examples, let’s look at Amos 4:12, which serves as a good introduction for what we are going to look at, especially considering the hour we live in:
“A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.”
Verse 10 says,
“See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and His arm rules for Him. See, His reward is with him, and His recompense accompanies Him.”
We also find these words given to the prophet Isaiah in chapter 57:14-15:
“Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people. For this is what the high and lofty One says–He who lives forever, whose name is Holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
It is not hard to see that God puts a value on the attitude of the heart–likely beyond the level of our own understanding. Because of the value God puts on the “contrite” heart, we should make sure we understand what He is really referring to. In “Vines Old Testament Word Studies”, the definition I find for “contrite” is this:
“to bruise, to break, crushed, broken in spirit, smitten in spirit”
I suspect some would look at that definition and wonder how that fits with today’s “one size fits all, seeker friendly” type of Christianity that has become so popular, particularly in the western world. To bruise? To break?? Crushed??? Isn’t that contrary to “feeling good” about myself as a Christian? Probably so! Why would God expect that of me? That sounds pretty abusive! Yes, in our twisted “politically correct” world, where feelings are king, and our self-esteem rules, even God should be careful!? Could it be that we have lost sight of reality–at least from God’s viewpoint?
I am now old enough to have seen numerous religious “trends” come and go, all of them briefly taking center-stage as the newest “revelation.” As the pendulum would swing, crowds would jump on the bandwagon, but eventually the pendulum would swing back, and a new obsession would appear to take center stage and steal the show from the old. It is amazing how things become the new “revelation”– things that somehow no one saw before! What may be seen as spiritually “vogue” in our generation likely would have been seen as heretical to the apostles who walked with Jesus! I wonder if, instead of being proud of ourselves, we should rather be “smitten in spirit” so that we can truly approach the Throne? This is especially important in light of the fact that we are now looking at the imminent end of the age. The “Great Tribulation”, or Daniel’s 70th week is very close to beginning. This also tells us that the Rapture of the Church, or “Harpazo”, as it is called in Greek, is imminent. The Lord promised us that this event would happen when we least expect it. Are you ready? I pray you are, because once it has happened, there is no hitting the replay button and have a do-over.
At times it would do us all good to just get back to the basics of what Christianity is really all about. This is what we find Jesus did with many of the things He taught in the Sermon on the Mount.”
In Matthew 6:1-4 we find Jesus saying this (in the Message version):
“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure–’play-actors,’ I call them–treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it–quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.”
Jesus spoke of the Scribes and Pharisees being guilty of hypocrisy and He warned the disciples of “the leaven of the Pharisees.” Giving to the poor, prayer, and fasting are all Christian duties–by these we do homage to God. All three of these are used in examples that Jesus gave while teaching. Jesus taught that it is not enough to stop committing evil (sin), but we also must live our lives for others. This is how we show that we love others as much as we love ourselves. We do the good things that we do however, not to be seen by others, but as servants of Christ and for the Kingdom of God.
Vain glory is something that is very subtle and is one of the cousins of pride. The worst kind of pride is the religious kind. When we read the example given by Jesus of those in His time who would have a trumpeter on the street announcing their alms giving, we laugh! We can’t imagine someone being so obvious in their hypocrisy! Yet, isn’t it human nature to want recognition for good things that we do? It is human nature, but it is sin when done to be seen by men. The “reward” we get here by attracting attention is all the reward we’ll ever get. It cancels out any heavenly reward. By the way, history tells us this kind of display was common is Jesus’ time.
The heavenly rewards may consist of several things. Proverbs 11:24 tells us:
“One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.”
Then we read in Proverbs 28:27:
“He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.”
In Psalms 41:1-2 we find these words:
“Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the Lord delivers him in times of trouble. The Lord will protect him and preserve his life; he will bless him in the land and not surrender him to his foes.”
Another promise is found in Psalms 112:9:
“He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness endures forever; his horn will be lifted high in honor.”
Psalms 112: 5-6 has a wonderful promise:
“Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice. Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever.”
I could share many more scriptures, but here is just one more found in Luke 14:12-14. The words spoken by Jesus go like this:
“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
If a person is paying attention when reading these scriptures, it’s not too hard to catch what is being said. The average person is going to live their life, spend their time, and spend their money in a way that takes care of–first of all, themselves. Whether it has to do with giving money to the poor, or preparing a dinner for people, few will put themselves out when there is no “reward” within view. When the Scribes and Pharisees had a trumpeter blow his horn to announce their giving of alms, it was not for the sake of the poor. It was for the sake of the attention and vain glory they could get for themselves.
Jesus spoke of the second greatest commandment being the commandment to love others as we love ourselves. Do we really love others as He requires, or do we put our own limits on how we show “God’s love”? How often are we guilty of protecting ourselves by making sure our hard earned money is placed in hands that not only will guarantee we get our rightful tax write-off, but will also make us look good? Much of organizational function today, whether it is a church denominational organization or individual church is handled as a political entity, rather than part of Jesus’ Church Body. The Pharisees were guilty of this. They were more interested in protecting their power structure and positions than they were interested in doing the real ministry God had called them to. Today, there is often more interest in building “God’s Work” up numerically than in following the true leading of God’s Spirit. When we follow the leading of God’s Spirit, we will quite often rock the boat. We will also irritate some people, and some people will become quite uncomfortable. But, isn’t that exactly what happened in Jesus’ ministry? He crossed so many of those in power that they crucified Him.
Something that most “denominationalized” people don’t realize is that most people who find Christ as Savior, are not reached by “recognized” ministries, but by those who have little or no name–at least on this earth. Most of these people have no salary, and they live totally by faith. Some days they eat and some days they do not. If they receive any money to do the work of the ministry, it is because someone listened to the prompting God put on their hearts. Unfortunately, many are prompted by the Holy Spirit but do not respond, thinking that someone else will do it. One way or another God will get the work of the ministry done because He is the Lord of the harvest, but many people miss out on the blessing that God had planned for them; in fact many are guilty of ignoring God.
Someone said, partial obedience is is total disobedience. That seems a bit harsh, but isn’t it really true? 1 Samuel 12:24 say this:
“Above all, fear the LORD and worship Him faithfully with all your heart, considering the great things He has done for you.”
We find Jesus going on with some of the simple things we miss. He went on to describe “prayers”, but one can bet it was once again the hypocritical Scribes and Pharisees that provided Him the perfect examples to use. Of all the things we do, prayer is the #1 thing that should be genuine. Here’s what Jesus said, (once again in the “Message”):
“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. all these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense His grace. The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply…”(Matthew 6:5-9)
It is amazing how different the prayers we pray when alone as in contrast to how we pray when we’re in a public setting. It is almost funny how “holy” we can make our prayers sound! People have a habit of spicing up their public prayers with all kinds of lofty religious terminology and religious phrases that could very well have come right out of a book on systematic theology, instead of from the heart. It doesn’t matter how much emotion we put into our prayers, or how “spiritual” they sound, if the prayer doesn’t come from the heart, it won’t rise more than six feet over our heads. God wasn’t impressed with the loud, attention-seeking prayers of the Scribes and Pharisees. This hasn’t changed in our day! God is still looking for the person that has the humility to bare their heart before their God.
There is a scripture in Jeremiah that often comes back to my mind–especially at times when I’ve allowed myself to get too busy doing “good things” but have allowed myself to drift in my relationship with God. Jeremiah 30:21b give us these words:
“I will bring him near and he will come close to me, for who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?”
These words can be haunting to anyone who has a true desire to get close to God. This is exactly what He created us for, but very few accept God’s invitation.
A third area we find Jesus continuing this theme is when he brought up the subject of fasting in Matthew 6:16-18:
“When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. If you ‘go into training’ inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices. He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you well.”
Once again, Scripture is pretty plain. Don’t be an actor! It is no one else’s business if you are fasting. There’s no value in bragging about how hungry you are, yet willing to ‘sacrifice’ for God! The Pharisees were known for their religious antics. What Jesus was trying to get across is that not only does God notice when we fast, but He also notices the way people draw attention to themselves in the process.
The bottom line in all these examples is that God expects us to be genuine in everything we do. He knows the heart. Another example of how God knows the heart is found in an answer that Jesus gave Peter after the rich young ruler had left in Matthew 19:27-30. Here is how the conversation went:
“…Then Peter chimed in, “We left everything and followed you. What do we get out of it?” Jesus replied, “Yes, you have followed me. In the re-creation of the world, when the Son of Man will rule gloriously, you who have followed me will also rule, starting with the twelve tribes of Israel. And not only you, but anyone who sacrifices home, family, fields–whatever–because of me will get it all back a hundred times over, not to mention the considerable bonus of eternal life. This is the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.”
Here again we find that God’s view of things is usually much different than ours. So many of our personal agendas are motivated by selfish motives. Too many times we don’t even realize it! Most are familiar with the phrase, “It’s a dog-eat dog world”. For those reading from the west, you will recognize this easily. Others may not. The phrase is just a description of how most people are only motivated by selfish interests and in order to accomplish these interests, others will get hurt in the process, but that’s just the way it is. Another way of saying it is, “a dog has no conscience and will eat another dog if he’s hungry.” Humans have a God-given conscience that they conveniently ignore when it gets in the way of something they want–no matter who it hurts. God created us to be more than dogs!
I had an experience several decades ago that might serve as an illustration. I was a young pastor serving as an associate pastor. I was the church pianist; I was youth director; and I also headed up the college group. I was in my late 20’s, was full of energy, and had already served as senior pastor for five years by that time in another city. Having graduated from college right after I turned 20, allowed me to have built up years of experience and a full resume–a resume that belied my young age. The man I was serving under as associate, pulled me aside one day and said that he had the “name”, status, and influence to take me through the shortcuts of climbing the denominational success ladder. He told me that I “had the goods”, and would be on the fast track to end up as part of the denominational leadership in no time at all. He promised that if I followed his directions, I would have a shot at the top position at a younger age than anyone else had ever had. He made it very clear however, that I would have to make all of my career decisions with his approval, starting with a church he had already picked out for me to pioneer in a nearby city.
To a young mind, this seemed like a gift from heaven, but before I had even gotten in my car after this meeting, I heard the Lord say in my head: “DON’T YOU DO IT!!!” It wasn’t that still small voice I heard on that day!
Even though the magnanimous offer was tempting, I wouldn’t have done it anyway. How far could I have gone? Only God knows, but not likely as far as I had been told I would go! Life has too many surprises and some of them are not good ones. But, the Lord had been my guide since I had left college and I wasn’t about to put my life into the hands of any man instead of my Lord. But to make sure I didn’t even think about it very long, God spoke quick and very clear!
This experience of mine however has been a life-long reminder that man may cobble together a plan to find success, but God’s plans never track on the same road. God’s definition of “success” is also contrary to ours. People gauge success by how important a man’s name is, or what the size of his church is. Yet, some of the largest churches are being led by people who do not hear from God at all. Man’s feeble attempts at doing “God’s Work” fall way short of God’s ways. I’m afraid that many of those who think they are doing great things for God will find that God hardly knows them–or their works. Running great programs does not equate with God leading a body of believers by the power of His Spirit. Many of those who are expecting a standing ovation when they get into the Lord’s Presence will be sorely disappointed. Others however who have been looked down on as insignificant, lowly, and not worthy of mention, will find themselves joyously met by the Master Himself with the words, “WELL DONE, good and faithful servant!”
A story is told about an old missionary couple who had been working in Uganda for many long years and were returning to New York to retire. They had no pension; their health was broken; they felt defeated, discouraged, and afraid. It turned out that they were returning on the same ocean liner that President Teddy Roosevelt was on, returning from one of his big-game hunting safaris. As they came in to port, no one paid any attention at all to the old couple, but the attention of people just wanting to catch a glimpse of this great man was beyond imagination. The old missionary said to his wife, “Something is wrong!” Here is this man, who is just coming back from a hunting trip and everyone is falling over each other just to get a glimpse of him! No one pays a lick of attention to us! The wife just told him he shouldn’t feel this way.
As the ocean liner came into port, a band was waiting for the President, along with the mayor of the city and a number of other dignitaries. The couple however were not noticed by anyone and soon disappeared into the crowd. That night the old missionary couldn’t take it anymore, and his spirit broke. He blurted out to his wife, “I can’t take this! Where is God? Does He know we came home?” His wife told him he should go in the bedroom and tell all that to the Lord.
After a while he came out of the bedroom and his face was totally different. After she asked him what happened he said, “When I told God how bitter I was that this President had been honored in such a grand way, while we had no one there to greet us at all! When I got done telling God how disappointed I was, the Lord just put His hand on my shoulder and said, “You’re not home yet!”
This reminds me of the passage in Scripture where Jesus was asked who was the greatest in the Kingdom. This is how it went:
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And He said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. And whoever welcomes a little welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin!” (Matthew 18:1-7)
Two of the disciples, James and John had wanted to be positioned on each side of Jesus when He was in His glory, but what a thing to ask! Of course, they were both still young and brash. Life has a way of maturing us into the people God intended us to be, doesn’t it? Of the two brothers, James was the first to die of martyrdom. He was beheaded by Herod. John, on the other hand was the only disciple not to be martyred. He went through unspeakable things but ended up dying at a ripe old age. He was the one that God chose to pen the Revelation of Jesus Christ while a prisoner on the Roman penal island of Patmos. Why was James murdered so early? Only God knows but it was within His eternal plan. Do you know you are also within God’s eternal plan?
One more Scripture we need to look at before going on. This is another example of the first becoming last and the last becoming first. In Mark 6:1-6 we find that Jesus went to His hometown accompanied by His disciples. Here is how the Scriptures read (in the Message):
“He left there and returned to His hometown. His disciples came along. On the Sabbath, He gave a lecture in the meeting place. He made a real hit, impressing everyone. ‘We had no idea He was this good!’ they said. ‘How did He get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability?’ But in the next breath they were cutting him down: ‘He’s just a carpenter-Mary’s boy. We’ve known Him since He was a kid. We know His brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and His sisters. They tripped over what little they knew about Him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further. Jesus told them, ‘A prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as child…”
What’s our lesson in this Scripture? The greatest of all, the Messiah Himself, even though He amazed them by His teaching, upset many of the people–especially the religious leaders because they hated being out-shined by anyone. From being amazed, they became offended because He was one of their own! How could there be anything special about Him? I think history shows us that this has happened again and again through the centuries. In this case in Mark 6, the very One that they rejected; in fact the whole nation soon after, is the very Cornerstone–the only real Cornerstone! Psalms 118:22-23 says:
“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
There are those belonging to the remnant who are fulfilling the desires of the Lord God but are likely recognized by very few. Were there only apostles in the first generation of the Church? Have there been true prophets of the LORD since? Absolutely, on both accounts! Most who claim to be such are likely not who they think they are. But, many who make no claims for themselves are without fanfare fulfilling those authoritative positions in the Body. God sees things much differently than we as people do. We quite often lavish all kinds of honor on those who make lofty claims for themselves but God does not recognize them. Conversely, many that are seen as “out on the fringe”, and marginalized, are some of the ones God has anointed for this most challenging and difficult hour!
We live in an hour when status and popularity should mean nothing to us. Being seen as a member in good standing in whatever organization we belong to is nice but has nothing to do with being led of God’s Spirit. Many times God asks things of us that are not so popular. In fact, they can be quite upsetting–especially to the most religious around us. It was no different in Jesus’ day. John the Baptist was popular among the people because they saw him as a man that was not afraid to push the envelope. To the religious leaders, he was a threat because he wouldn’t live within their comfortable boundaries. John was rough and coarse, his message was ominous, he called for things that we rarely hear about today; things like repentance, holiness, and humility. He called sin, sin! He didn’t care if he rubbed someone’s fur the wrong way. He only had One that he answered to, and that was God. Because he lived in obedience to his God, Jesus said about John, that no greater prophet had ever lived.
How does God see you today? There is no greater time to take stock and make things right that need to be made right, than today. That great trumpet is about to sound! Are you ready and prepared?