November 9, 2008
Jesus proclaimed an astonishing Gospel! But, isn't it strange that his harshest criticisms were directed at those within the religious community? He said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut up the kingdom of heaven from men, for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in" (Matt. 23:13).
He condemned certain prayers: "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation" (Matt. 23:14)
He condemned certain generous tithers: "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected . . . justice and mercy and faithfulness . . ."" (Matt. 23:23).
He condemned certain moralists: "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the . . . dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence" (Matt. 23:25).
He even condemned certain missionaries: "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice the son of hell as yourselves" (Matt. 23:15).
Above all, he condemned self-righteous hypocrites: "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones . . ." (Matt. 23:27).
It's disconcerting to admit that Jesus' adversarial relationship was not with vile sinners. It was not with irresponsible drunkards. It was not with degraded prostitutes. It was not with enemy soldiers. Instead, it was with religious leaders.
They were Jesus' adversaries because they totally misunderstood the Gospel. They constantly dealt with petty, trivial issues. They "strained at gnats and swallowed camels" (see Matt. 23:24).
They misunderstood the concept that positive not negative approaches are more productive. They had complicated legal systems which prohibited even the most compassionate deeds if these broke their Sabbath laws. (See Luke 13:14-16).
They misunderstood the concept that flexible not absolute presentations are more productive. They insisted upon converts adhering to fixed ceremonial requirements (see Acts 15:1).
Their's was an assembly line salvation. Everyone must go through the same steps and repeat the same formulas.
They rejected the insight that God lives in individuals rather than in temples. They saw no inconsistency in offering devout prayers to God in the morning and perpetrating cruel injustices in the afternoon. (See Mark 13:38-40).
They rejected the insight that power resides in truth rather than in traditional authority. They equated counting out the exact legal tithe of dill seeds with momentous virtues such as justice, mercy and faithfulness. (See Matt. 23:23).
They judged things by ancient taboos and traditional authority rather than by actual results and visible fruits. (See Matt. 12:33)
They rejected the insight that the Kingdom is here on earth rather than in some future heavenly sphere. They refused to embrace a rewarding, creative and joyful lifestyle; and by the burden of their laws made it impossible for others to do so.
They ignored the idea that we're to show as well as tell. They talked a pious script, but lived lives that exemplified vindictiveness and cruelty (see Matt. 23:29-36).
They ignored the idea that we're to be life-savers as well as soul-winners. Their religious doctrines were often inhumane (see Matt. 23:15-22).
They ignored the idea that we're to share and not to hoard. They limited their outreach to one race, one class and one gender (see John 8:33).
Their exclusive practices and narrow prejudices made a mockery of God's love.
Now, if the Gospel includes these positive concepts, what is our task? What did Jesus tell us to do?
Our purpose is stated in the Great Commission. Jesus said, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20).
But, what do these verses really mean?
I. First, We're To Make Disciples.
Now, a disciple is much more than just a believer. A disciple is a learner and a follower. Think back to your youth and recall some personality from the world of sports or entertainment that you wanted to be like. Didn't you pattern your life after that idol in matters of dress, actions and speech?
Without even knowing it, you had become a "disciple" of that personality, a follower and learner of everything he or she did and said. Every TV appearance, every word, every mannerism became an object of intense interest to you because of your commitment to be like that person.
That's what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. He said, "Whoever serves me must follow me . . ." (John 12:26, niv).
In fact a disciple means one who is disciplined. Discipline includes responsibility, reliability and productivity.
II. Next, We're To Baptize These Disciples.
Again, baptism is more than just a water event. The word means being totally immersed in a way of life. John said Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. "I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1:8, niv).
Now, this wasn't a physical immersion in water, because the Scripture says Jesus didn't baptize anyone in water. (See John 4:2).
In fact, Jesus used the word "baptism" to mean going through a traumatic event. He said, " ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?' ‘We can,' they answered. Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with' (Mark 10:38-39).
Paul used the word "baptism" to mean taking on an obligation and being set apart for service. "Every one of them (allowed himself) to be baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, [that is, they were thus brought under obligation to the Law, to Moses and to the covenant, consecrated and set apart to the service of God]" (I Cor. 10:2, amp).
Later, Paul explained true Christian Baptism. "You were all baptized into Christ, and so you were all clothed with Christ. This shows that you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26-27, edb).
So, when people are baptized, it means they have entered into a spiritual union with Christ. They are immersed into his nature. When that happens, others notice.
Once a man was asked by a neighbor to drive her son to the hospital. Although he had other things planned, he couldn't say no, so he put the child in the car and started on the fifty-mile journey. Suddenly the boy turned to him and asked, "Are you God?" Startled, he said, "No, son. I'm not God." The boy continued, "Well, I heard Mom asking God for some way to get me to the doctor. If you're not God, do you work for Him?" The man replied, "Well, I guess so! At least sometimes and I'll try to do it more often!"
III. Finally, We're To Teach These Disciples.
We're to instruct people in the principles that will produce abundant life. As Christians we're to discover all the facts and information of the universe. We're to adapt ourselves to reality. We're to observe, listen and enrich our knowledge in all areas of life. We're to help unify such diverse subjects as science and theology, history and technology, politics and ethics. We're to be spiritual connectors.
We're to emphasize Jesus' teachings. But, we're also to demonstrate Jesus' actions. He said we're to observe and obey his precepts. That's more than head knowledge. If we follow Jesus' example, we will accept, respect and love our fellow men; not criticize, condemn and judge them. We'll see our creator reflected in everyone of his creatures. We'll treat associates as if they were Jesus himself. In short, we will worship God by serving others.
An old poem by Gertrude Sturgeon says,
Sometimes it's just a little thing
That lifts the heavy load;
A look of understanding
As we travel life's hard road;
Again it is a little thing
That makes the way so dark'
A look-a frown-a hateful word,
That makes one miss the mark!
Be kind and understanding
And helpful every day;
Then you will be a blessing
To those who come your way;
Remember all the "Little Things"
That lifts the heavy load
Of others as you journey down
Life's daily rugged road
-By Gertrude Sturgeon, Adapted by Maralene Wesner
The gospel according to Jesus is different from the one emphasized by many religious groups. It's not complex theology. It's not exact doctrine. It's not a lot of rules. It's not mystical experiences. It's not slick publicity. It's not endless meetings and activities. Instead, it's very simple. Jesus said, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the other commandments . . . are based on these two commandments" (Matt. 22:37-40, nlb).
That's our commission. As we live out our values, others will see their merit and adopt them as their own. Jesus said, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34).
We are here on earth to effect change and accomplish God's purposes. We're to realize that each one of us is an ambassador, an agent and a representative of the divine realm. We're not merely to "play God" we're here to act for God!
When Jesus said, "he who has seen me has seen the father," he meant, "If you can't see God in the concern, and love and service I exemplify, you will never see Him!"
Furthermore, we are now here in his place. John said, "As he is, so are we in this world" (I John 4:17).
What a responsibility this imposes upon you and me. We are the only likeness of God most people will ever see. God doesn't want graven images of his physical likeness. Instead, he wants living images of his moral likeness.
When a disciple asked, "Show us God and we'll be satisfied" (see Luke 16:19).
Jesus' answer was, "Look at me. I am a reflection of God" (see John 14:8).
Then he said something else, that's even more important. He said, "If you follow me you will become reflections of God too" (See John 14:12).
That's what Christianity is all about. God involves Himself on this earth through those Christians who offer Him their eyes, ears, hands, feet and hearts.
The world says, "Show us God and we'll be satisfied." His reflection is in you and me. That reflection can be distorted by mirrors that are tarnished by selfishness, greed and hostility. Therefore, the greatest question is this: "How truly, how correctly, how clearly are you reflecting God?"
An old poem by Edgar A. Guest, expresses this profound principle:
I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I'd rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye's a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example's always clear;
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in actions is what everybody needs.
I soon can learn to do it if you'll let me see it done;
I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue to fast may run.
And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I'd rather get my lesson by observing what you do.
For I might misunderstand you and the high advice you give,
But there's no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.
-Edgar A. Guest
That's the Gospel according to Jesus!