Luke 24:35 NIV
Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
Does It Matter To You What Christ Wants?
The world is morphing at light speed. Yet the most important parts of life have not changed a whit since Adam and Eve left the garden and pursued their dreams with Sin permeating their thinking. We must contend with the same concerns David, the second King of Israel, did as well as those of the disciples who followed Jesus. Last week I was asked by someone whose opinion matters to me, “Why do you stay with that same little church? Why don’t you do something different?” Someone else wanted to know what I planned on doing with the books I have written. The implication was that my life might improve if I made certain changes. Of course I was glad that people I love care about me and I knew they meant well but both times I found my heart pricked by a pang of disappointment that troubled me. Why do I face so many difficulties? What can I do to improve my life? Do I need to make a change? Should I be a bit more proactive in meeting my own needs? Have I thrown away my life doing what I do?
You have important decisions to make about how you will use the time you have been given. It is a bit daunting trying to have the best life possible because you only have one shot at it and then you are finished, at least with this temporal existence. Without becoming overly melodramatic, there is a certain urgency to your decisions, as probably you want to make the most of what you do and squeeze out of your life the greatest amount of fulfillment you can. There has been a philosophy which nearly all people around the world have adopted and it is illustrated by a request two of Jesus’ disciples had for Christ. Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask." "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked. They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory." (Mark 10:35-37 NIV)
Is it crazy to want something for yourself? Don’t you have a right to try and make the most of your life, to achieve your goals and fulfill your dreams? The Christian community generally believes James and John were philosophically in step with the great human push for fulfillment and personal achievement. Much of the Church promotes this line of thinking and in fact usually celebrates it. Jesus however seemed perturbed by the request and His response to the brothers reflected that. Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. (Mark 10:42-45 NIV)
This of course was not what the disciples were expecting and if it were not for our familiarity with the text, it would not be for us either. Consider carefully Jesus’ response when told by the twelve disciples that the huge crowd He had been teaching was famished. "You give them something to eat." (Luke 9:13 NIV) What were they supposed to do? They didn’t have the money to pay for food for the crowd of thousands and although they were able to come up with two small fish and five loaves of bread between them, it seemed ludicrous to think they should provide food for all the people. Keep in mind what Jesus demanded. He did not expect them to be able to feed everyone. He did tell the disciples to give the crowd the food they had after He blessed it. There was no room here for the twelve to get a snack for themselves first before they started giving away the bread and fish. They had to hand over all they had without any promise of getting any of it back.
The Sermon on the Mount is often read but rarely taken seriously. We solemnly proclaim it as “God’s word” but mostly ignore it. Notice the theme woven throughout. Here is just a quick overview of some of what is found in it. Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:39-42 NIV) And then He tells us what to do about our enemies. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...(Matthew 5:44 NIV) Further, we are not even free to entertain ourselves however we want in the sanctity of our own mind. I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28-29 NIV) Even if we are justified in our anger over how we are treated, we do not have the right to hold a grudge. We are to forgive immediately any mistreatment we have received. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV) Perhaps most difficult of all, we are not free to criticize others. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1 NIV)
If you put all of these admonitions of Christ together, you do not find a formula for success! In fact, it does not even seem to matter to God how things go for you, whether you are liked or not, whether you have fun or don’t, whether you get what you have earned or you are cheated out of what you deserve. You are here it seems, to make the lives of others better no matter how much it costs you. That of course is not the Christianity we find promoted but it is what Christ has said Christianity is. I recently heard of a pastor who discovered a couple of bags of trash dumped in the church dumpster by someone from the neighbor and not with the church. He found somehow the address of who it was that left it there and brought all the trash back to the person’s house. Is that what we find described in the Sermon on the Mount?
The Old Testament has a lovely picture of how Christianity is intended to look. In the badly corrupted kingdom of Israel, a pagan king and queen ruled. The person they put in charge of their palace was Obadiah, a man of faith who risked his life to save over a hundred prophets of God from being murdered by King Ahab’s soldiers. The great prophet Elijah approached Obadiah while Obadiah was walking through the countryside. Elijah wanted a meeting with King Ahab and asked Obadiah to arrange it due to his connection as palace administrator.
As Obadiah was walking along, Elijah met him. Obadiah recognized him, bowed down to the ground, and said, "Is it really you, my lord Elijah?" "Yes," he replied. "Go tell your master, 'Elijah is here.'" "What have I done wrong," asked Obadiah, "that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death? As surely as the Lord your God lives, there is not a nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to look for you. And whenever a nation or kingdom claimed you were not there, he made them swear they could not find you. But now you tell me to go to my master and say, 'Elijah is here.' I don't know where the Spirit of the Lord may carry you when I leave you. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn't find you, he will kill me. Yet I your servant have worshiped the Lord since my youth. Haven't you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord? I hid a hundred of the Lord's prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water…And now you tell me to go to my master and say, 'Elijah is here.' He will kill me!" (1 Kings 18:7-10, 14)
Obadiah faced a very real dilemma. Would he risk his life to do what Elijah asked? Without complaint he already had done more than enough to qualify as a good and godly man but now it felt like too much to ask of him. Many will only go so far when it comes to practicing Christianity. When it gets uncomfortable or inconvenient, how easy to just walk away from the tough demand of God! Many Christian people are good at telling God, “No!” Obadiah took the demand of Elijah as some sort of punishment. “What have I done wrong?” He had not done anything wrong! He was in fact gloriously right in his actions. So why did God put him in such a dangerous spot? God chose Obadiah to bless God’s people by giving up his right to manage his life as he saw fit. How would he do it? By opening the door for Elijah to speak with King Ahab!
We do not choose how God will use us to feed the world. Like bread that is broken off and shared or juice that is poured into a cup and passed along, we are nourishment for a world hungry for God. Your ignoring of an insult, generous gift, kind words, moral purity, love for people who should be despised is the bread God uses to feed starving people. You may say that it does not matter if I hold back my criticism but you cannot know who will notice what you have done and be drawn to Christ by it. When you are not aware of God using you, when you are simply doing the good thing our Lord has said to do, Christ will use that good thing to nourish someone, encourage someone, strengthen someone or heal a wound in someone. You may not know in your lifetime what a great deed you did simply by forgiving someone or not paying attention to the mistake that person made but someday you will see how you were nourishing bread for a person starving for the generosity of God; thirsty for His mercy.
Imagine the tiny desert lily, hidden away next to a rock but without warning a gentle breeze carries its fragrance off to an unsuspecting soul who at the moment it reaches her, gains courage to try to put her marriage back together, stop drinking or find enough hope to go to one more job interview. In that instant, the forgotten lily becomes the hand of God when He seemed to be no longer there. You are that lily and by just doing what God says to do, your fragrance brings hope once more to those who may have lost hope along the way. Never underestimate the power of Christ to transform your simple actions of generosity, kindness and forgiveness into the power God uses to put together new lives through the Gospel of Christ.