This message is part of a series entitled, “God Tries His Children”. To see all of the messages in this series, please click here.
Last Sunday was Easter Sunday. We celebrated the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We looked at a variety of evidences of the resurrection. One glaring fact: everyone knew the tomb was empty. The entire struggle to disprove the resurrection proves the tomb was empty. There would be no concern if the body remained. We also found direct evidence that many saw Jesus. If people had not seen Him, there would be no reason to theorize concerning His appearances; no reason to explain why people saw Him. The fact is that in their denial we find testimony of the truth. Jesus Christ arose the third day to defeat death and Hell and all the fears of mankind’s mortality.
Jesus humbled Himself to be with us; He came from a perfect Heaven to an imperfect Earth. Jesus gave us living examples of heavenly love, service and life. Jesus ministered to the people in Judea in the first century and He continues to minister to us today both in Heaven and through the Word. Jesus lived on Earth for 30 or so years. He continues to live among, through and in us today. Our Lord is a risen Lord. Our Lord is a living God. Our Lord says worship Me and Me alone and I will give you eternal life. Our Lord has proven He can provide life and access to Heaven because He provided it to Himself. Christianity is about this person, not about ritual or ordinance or rigorous discipline. Christianity is about Christ. Christianity is about loving the Father through the Son with the Holy Spirit. Jesus fulfilled the Father’s requirements for entrance into Heaven and He imputes that righteousness upon all who believe in Him. Jesus sent the Comforter to encourage our souls. Only through Jesus can you have the Holy Spirit. Only through Jesus can we have life eternal in Heaven. We serve a truly awesome loving God who sent His only Son to secure our salvation.
We will consider three verses today. Our first verse, Matthew 8:22, is taken from a passage where Jesus is testing the veracity of an individual’s commitment to follow Him. The man still worries of the things in the world. Our second passage in Matthew 10:35 is extremely serious. Most anyone in the world would balk at its message. Many question Jesus’ love and devotion to the salvation of man because of this passage. They also point to this as a passage where Jesus might condone breaking the fifth commandment to “honor thy father and mother.” The passage in no way indicates that, but testifies of a believer who is committed to the family of God, not the family of man. The final passage, Luke 18:22, is another one that has confused many. This coupled with verses that follow seems to say being wealthy disqualifies you from Heaven. This could not be farther from the truth. Like Job, knowing where that wealth comes from and to whom it actually belongs is the key issue (Job 1:21). If God calls you in service to liquidate all you own and seek to follow Him, He is testing your commitment.
Has God ever asked you how committed you are to Him? We are not talking necessarily in literal words, though that can happen. Mostly God speaks to us through prayer and conviction in His Word. God speaks to us through His word and while we are in prayer.
Has God ever tested you to the extreme? Have you ever been in a church service or in private devotions and received this strange urge to dump everything you have on your plate and all your personal plans to go to some far away place even a country and serve God? Have you ever been stricken with an immediate need to clear your day or week and go spend time with a certain individual? Have you ever been convicted that, right at that moment, you need to forget your groceries and talk to that man or woman standing next to you? How you respond to these things testifies of your commitment to Christ.
These are all mild examples of conviction to obey God. Yet even in these we all fail at some point. We need Christ’s strength. Would you ever think God would test you at some extreme level? This is not a discussion concerning initial faith. This is a discussion concerning following, submitting, committing to Him regardless of cost. I do not know if God has ever tested you to an extreme personally, but I know that He does test His faithful.
Many talk of Abraham but we normally are in awe of his strength to sacrifice Isaac, and we should be. However, we often fail to see this as a normative situation. We often see Abraham’s commitment to God as extraordinary. It should not be. That is not meant to diminish Abraham or his faith, for truly they are remarkable. God gave us this account to show us His expectation for His glory, not for us to revere Abraham and hold him as some paragon of faith and commitment. That would take the glory from God and focus upon Abraham. Abraham is wholly committed to God. God is always faithful.
We often skip over a very important aspect of Job’s life as well. Many have marveled at Job’s worship after losing 10 children and all his possessions in a matter of minutes. As if this loss is not enough, we find penitent Job worshiping God, when he is additionally stricken with disease. Job is committed to God’s love, goodness, faithfulness and promises of redemption. Job never forsakes God; he never once doubts God’s power or promises. Job is wholly committed; God is always faithful.
We have mentioned Jim Elliot from this pulpit before. He and four companions, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming and Nate Saint made contact with the Waodani Indians in Ecuador. This was a tribe known for extreme violence. Elliot, McCully, Youderian, Fleming and Saint make contact with a few of the Waodani. After what seemed to be some very encouraging visits, on the morning of January 8, 1956, 10 Waodani warriors killed all five men on the banks of the Curaray River. This was one of God’s extreme tests of faith in a number of ways. First, a test of faith for the five men that were murdered. In a journal entry from Elliot October 28, 1949, we find Jim Elliot’s commitment even unto death where he wrote,
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
This quote may have been taken from Philip Henry. Regardless, it speaks deep truth. The next test of faith involved Jim Elliot’s wife, Elisabeth Elliot. With her son and Rachel Saint, they were convicted of God to go back to the tribe to share Christ with them. Eventually, the tribe was evangelized through their efforts and today many have accepted Christ. God was faithful.
One can possess nothing that equals the value of eternal life. Therefore, no one can barter for or purchase eternal life. That possession is only given, not taken. Clinging tenaciously to the changing waves of the world is a dubious existence. All of the people in our illustrations today knew these truths.
Today we will discuss commitment to an eternally existent, loving and powerful God. We will talk about committing ourselves to a new life with Him when called. We will discuss committing to a new family of believers. Finally, we explore committing to a new faith. We will begin in Matthew 8:22 please. Commit to a new life.
I. Commit to a new life (Matthew 8:19-22)
Let us look at some background. Jesus had been selecting His closest disciples. Every one He asked came with Him. Some left successful fishing enterprises, while others left their families, and still others left government positions as tax collectors. In this case, a scribe approached Jesus and said he would follow Him “whithersoever thou goest.” Scribes were keepers of the law. They were the teachers, copyists, scholars, lecturers in the synagogues. They were the debaters both publicly and privately and they were called upon at times for judgment rulings where the law was in question. Just being a scribe, they were paid per line of text copied. As a Pharisee, they received more compensation because they ministered to the people. Some Scribes were Sadducees, but very few. Very few became priests. They were known as men of the Torah, men who knew scripture. Scribes were not wealthy, but they were not without means. They had a family and the law was supreme in their lives. These men had to be 40 years old or older to be formally ordained as a scribe.
The first thing Jesus does is to make sure the man knows what he is getting into. Jesus knows the scribe; He knew all things. This scribe was going to be faced with having no home, no normal place to sleep. Where he had been used to regular workdays devoted to copying the scriptures, teaching in the synagogue, informing judges and ministering in the temple, now he would be in the wild and seldom would he find comfortable lodging. Jesus wanted him to know what was going to happen. There were no secrets here. The scribe’s commitment would be severely tested knowing they would give up their home.
In verse 21-22 we find a man who seems recently to have suffered a loss in the family. Did his father die? The dead required entombment quickly (the day of death) because of the Judean sun. (Luke 7:12) Tradition from Ecclesiastes required the body be washed and anointed as was the body of Jesus. Therefore, it is unlikely that this man’s father would have died since he was not already there tending to the arrangements. More likely, this man’s father was elderly and he speculated death was soon to come. We can only guess why this man felt a need to wait on his father’s death. It could very well have been for very compassionate reasons from the world’s point of view. Jesus’ response seems to be very stinging and sharp as He tells the man to leave the dead and walk with the living. Worldly compassion for a family of dead souls will not benefit God’s Kingdom. Jesus tells this man to let those who are separated from (dead, or physically fruitless) the Kingdom of God bury their dead.[i]
Jesus had many people say they wanted to follow Him. They thought that following Him would be wonderful, joyous and an experience empty of conflict and strife. Jesus made all of life seem that way, almost effortless.
In Matthew 19:16-22, a young man wanted to follow Jesus. He claimed he kept all the commandments. He wondered, if he matched up with the law in all aspects, what he lacked for life eternal. He asked Jesus which law he might not have kept. Jesus tells him that he needs to commit in total faith to God for everything. The law is a law of the heart. Jesus simply asked him to sell all he owned and submit. The implication is that this young man believed he could be equally devoted to worldly comfort and godly service. Jesus makes it clear your devotion can only be directed toward God.
What is the level of commitment Jesus is looking for? Some left everything and followed. He told Andrew and Peter that He would make them fishers of men. They left their nets and followed Him (Matt 4:20). James and John, sons of Zebedee left their boats and father (Matt 4:21). Jesus never promised them anything, but they left family and the world behind to follow. We have a promise of eternal life. How much more should we be willing to leave everything in the world behind us to follow the Savior? We should be committed to a new life with God. God is always faithful.
Commitment to the Lord was not simply on a business level. It was always tied to a new life, a new family, or a new world. Jesus wanted those who follow Him to focus on new things and walk away from the old, even family.
II. Commit to a new family (Matthew 10:35)
The sword Jesus talks about in Matthew 10:34 is the sword that cuts asunder and severs even the strongest ties that bind. Because of the Gospel, people would be put at odds with family. This is actually a passage that Jesus quoted from Micah 7. The separation between family members is severe. In Micah 7:2 we read that the godly have perished from the earth and there is no one upright among mankind. During the time of Micah’s prophecy, people would enjoy evil and do evil things very well. People connive against one another for gain. They spoke their minds without concern for the suffering their words might cause. No one could be trusted (Micah 7:3-5). Jesus is telling us that the ungodly surround us and are in fact in our earthly families. In Micah 7:6 we are told we cannot trust even those family members for they will have contempt for us, they will rise up against us, they will become enemies of believers in Christ.
What we find is that people in families not following the gospel doctrines that Jesus taught would ostracize their members who did follow Jesus. How many chanted, “Give us Barabbas” in the courtyard that day because they knew their dear family members were laying down palm fronds for Jesus just a few days prior? How many would chant, “Crucify Him” that a few days before saw their sons, daughters and mothers flock to hear Jesus teach in the temple? We could easily see these family members ecstatic to see this “heretic cult leader” properly dealt with according to the law. With some of the cults that have sprung up in our past we can understand the family members’ response, hoping that those led astray would now “come to their senses.”
In the days of Christ on Earth, many wanted to follow the law. They were so deeply engrained in working for their righteousness that they persecuted anyone who would not do things their way. Those who found Jesus the Messiah, and believed in Him, found something alive; they found faith. This faith in a life eternal outside the confines of the world brought about new and great challenges. How could simple faith create an environment of righteousness before God? They could not see that it is not faith, but the object of faith that develops that righteousness. Faith is the vehicle to communicate that righteousness. Faith in the only begotten Son of God is the answer. Instead of faith in our ability to do, we need to have faith in the One who did.
We need to commit to a new family. We have to commit to a family in Christ. We find new brothers born of a spiritual birth through the shed blood of Jesus. The world’s family is through a blood connection perpetuated in sin (Ps 51:5). Where the blood of the crucified One cleanses the soul to a pure white condition we are joined in the same Spirit in the body (Is 1:18; 1 Cor 12:13; Eph 2:18; Eph 4:4). We are part of a new body as righteousness is imputed to us through the faith in the pure blood of Christ.
Your new family of believers is joined in spirit and mind (Phil 1:27). We are of one accord regardless of our location. We are steadfast having the same power source and ultimate home. That home is not the same as the lost of the world. Only our new family will strengthen our spirit and edify us.
We cannot hold onto our worldly family and expect to live in the family of Christ. If it is not His will that we lead our family to Christ, Jesus will put division between us until we separate. It is not our position to maintain a witness for their salvation. Jesus opens their heart for His witness to them. That witness may not come from us. We praise the Lord for the opportunity, but we should never presume we are the only way they can find Christ. We have to realize that sometimes the best witness we can have is to separate and have them come back to us through Christ Jesus.
Is there strife between you and your family because of Christ? Worse yet, do you ever spend time with your family and forsake worship of the Lord? Both of these could be because you have not committed to the family of Christ. Ladies and gentlemen, when you forsake worship for lost family members or any family members who will not attend worship with you, you place them before God. God knows it. Your family knows it. If your family loves God, they would never have you forsake Jesus for them. They would want to worship with you if they serve the risen Christ. That is the test of commitment.
Like the Greek myth of Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian knot, thereby setting him free to rule the world, committing to Christ cuts the ties that bind to Earth and frees the Christian for a heavenly residence. Christ frees us from the world’s kingdom so we can enter His heavenly Kingdom. We should be committed to a new family with God. God is always faithful.
This is one of the hardest doctrinal issues in the scriptures, as we want to believe that Jesus saved us so we could bring Jesus to our families. That, folks, is not the way it always works. Sometimes the worst thing we can do is keep letting our family define or dictate our worship based on their availability. This is a hard and terrifying thing ladies and gentlemen. Please understand that this pastor has done this very thing. My wife and I have experienced the pain it can cause. However we also know the great blessings in the Lord we reap from it every day now!
Commit to a new life with God first and forsake all for Him. He has the power, not us. Our sovereign, loving God has great plans for us, but we have to be submitted to His will, His way, and His power. We do this by committing to Him in a new faith.
III. Commit to a new faith (Luke 18:18-22)
We made mention of this scripture earlier. This is the rich young ruler. He had everything the world could afford but wanted to know how he could obtain eternal life. He was wise enough to know that was out of his reach. We do not know whether he intended to purchase it from Jesus, or if he was looking for some simple answer. This young man was confident though that he could do whatever it took to achieve eternal life. He knew he could accomplish whatever task was required or keep whatever rigorous standard Jesus might levy upon him. He is not ready for Jesus’ response. Jesus tells him to cast off all the things in the world that give him confidence and commit wholly to faith alone. Jesus knows this is the one thing he lacks, commitment. As long as his money or influence could secure what was required, this young man knew he would succeed. Jesus asks that he discard his crutch. His test of commitment was to forsake all the things that gave him assurance in his world. We must also commit to simple childlike faith.
During my reading this week I came across this paragraph:
“Even the weakest saint can experience the power of the deity of the Son of God, when he is willing to “let go.” But any effort to “hang on” to the least bit of our own power will only diminish the life of Jesus in us. We have to keep letting go, and slowly, but surely, the grateful life of God will invade us, penetrating every part. Then Jesus will have complete and effective dominion in us, and people will take notice that we have been with Him.”[ii]
Anything we lean upon in the world dims the reflection of Christ we should see in the mirror. Our commitment to Christ must be complete. We commit through faith. God is always faithful.
Our faith to Christ must be as complete as Abraham’s. We should enjoy resting in the commitment of Job. We should see Christ as God and know He truly cares for us. The faith of Moses, David, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is a faith that the normal Christian should enjoy. They were not any more uniquely committed to God than we should be. Their commitment should be our commitment. It was just as hard for them as it is for us; but with God’s power they did it and we can too.
We are tested in our new life. We are tested in our new family. We are tested in our new faith. All of these tests take place on a regular basis. Though we may not be tested as severely as Daniel or even Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego before the fiery furnace, still our commitment is tested. Are you committed wholly to Christ?
I know you are probably concerned because you know you are not committed to Him as deeply as His disciples and the examples we have in scripture. There is hope, folks. You do not have to sit there in despair. God gives us faith (Rom 12:6; 2 Cor 10:15). Christ strengthens us for all these events (Phil 4:13). We also receive more faith by hearing these truths (Rom 10:17). We know that if others can achieve this level of faith, we too can enjoy it. It is truly a commonality. The wonderful thing about God is that He expects us to be realistic about our faith and know when we need more (Rom 12:3). Regardless, we do not have faith in man or the things of man, be it technology, reason, ability, or even character traits. Our faith rests in our commitment to God and His power (1 Cor 2:5). The power to commit to Christ wholly is given by God through faith (1 Pet 1:5). Ask for the strength you need to accomplish God’s will and you will receive it (Matt 21:22). Ladies and gentlemen, be committed because God is always faithful.
[i] There are two main words in Greek for death, “thanatos” and “nekros.” Thanatos is regularly found in scriptures indicating a spiritual death such as a family ostracizing a member might say, “you are dead to me.” Nekros is used to indicate a physical death. Scripture is consistent in these uses. A challenge exists in this verse because “nekros” is the word used in both cases. The only interpretation that makes sense is that the first dead are those who are useless to the furtherance of the Kingdom of God – they are separated from (dead) and of no use to Christ. These individuals do not believe and cannot help Jesus accomplish His mission which is to do the Father’s will by coming to earth, living, giving himself and dying on the cross for our sins. The second word “death” is also nekros and clearly indicates a dead body. We could dynamically read this verse, “Let those physically separated and useless to the Kingdom of God bury their dead.” For an exposition on this subject follow this link “http://mvbclander.com/topical-studies/what-is-biblical-death/”
[ii] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, James Reimann ed. (Discovery House Pub: Grand Rapids, 1992), April 12.