Monday, August 21, 2017

Know and Obey - Matthew 7: 21-25

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’
23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

On this day fifty-two years ago, a young man named Jonathan Myrick Daniels was murdered in Selma, Alabama. Jon was a white seminary student who came with the Freedom Riders to join Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil rights protest. He was one of four people who attempted to enter a segregated store. The shop owner met them at the door with a shotgun.  After a brief argument, the shop owner aimed his shotgun at a young unarmed black girl and pulled the trigger. Jon pushed the girl out of the way, taking the full blast in his chest. He died instantly. His actions saved the girl’s life.
 Jon kept a journal during this time. Shortly before his death, he wrote:

“I lost fear . . .  when I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord's death and Resurrection, that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God.

I began to lose self-righteousness when I discovered the extent to which my behavior was motivated by worldly desires and by the self-seeking messianism of Yankee deliverance! The point is simply, of course, that one's motives are usually mixed, and one had better know it.”

Jon recognized in himself two struggles he must win if he would truly follow the will of God—fear and self-righteousness. He lost his fear by knowing his relationship to Jesus. Once we are really in a relationship to Christ, we lose our fear of everything else. Following Jesus, losing our lives or gaining earthly glory are just the same. To follow Jesus is to surrender ourselves to Him. Jon won the struggle with fear by recognizing his position in Christ. He knows Christ and he knows that Christ knows him.  

But the second struggle continues. It is a struggle of why we serve. Are we serving with the right motives? 
 I marvel not only at this young man’s faith, but also at his wisdom in understanding this second struggle. Jonathan Daniels understood something that many older people simply overlook—that our actions are rarely totally unselfish. Even in our most unselfish moments, there are elements of superiority and self-exaltation.

Jon saw himself as a civil rights crusader. But he also saw the selfishness of what he was doing. He was there to prove his own moral superiority. A part of him held an ego-stroking desire to prove himself good by “fixing” the South. Our struggle isn’t just to make Jesus Lord, but to do it for the right reasons. If we follow Jesus for the wrong reasons we can do as much damage as if we were working against Him.
Compare him with the store owner who murdered Jon. We don’t know this man, but it’s likely that he considered himself a Christian, which means that he thought he was following Jesus. His decision at the moment to pull that trigger was done for what he thought was right. 

The Klan claims to be Christian even while betraying what Jesus stands for. Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing in 1998 or James Field who drove his car through a sea of people in Charlottesville did it because they thought they were serving God by protecting their way of life from foreigners. They thought they were doing God’s work, but really they were breaking God’s law. If only they really knew God and their motivations for serving Him, these tragedies may not have happened. 

Jon recognized that even in our most apparently unselfish moments we can have a deeply selfish desire to “fix” the world. Fixing things makes us feel good about ourselves. We have a childish desire to stand up and say, “Look what I did” and then to claim all the glory. Jon struggled that in the midst of his most noble moments, we do it fully for the love of God and for nothing else. 

In Matthew 7, Jesus is not talking to unbelievers but believers. He assumes we believe in God. He assumes we call Jesus our Lord. But it is possible we may call Jesus as Lord and not even be in God’s kingdom. We can work for God and still miss Him.
The structure of this passage goes like this—

“Lord, didn’t we (fill in the blank) in your name?”

 He fills in the blank with all kinds of good things we do for God--prophesying, casting out our demons, and doing mighty works. We could fill in the blank with witnessing, feeding the poor and hungry, speaking truth to power, or any other good work.  

True obedience and faith is based upon two things--a knowledge of God, and His knowledge of us.  
Look at the life of Moses. He was born a Hebrew, yet raised as a grandson of Pharaoh. When he learned he was really a Hebrew early in his life, he developed an empathy with his people. In his ignorance, he lashed out at their enemies by killing an Egyptian who was whipping a slave. At that moment, he thought he was doing the Lord’s work, but he wasn’t doing it the Lord’s way. He never met the Lord, he was just doing God’s work. He had as much potential as hurting as healing with his actions. He had not yet met the Lord, so his killing an Egyptian did nothing to further the Lord’s work.   

Moses did not meet the Lord for another forty years. When he encountered God in the burning bush, he was already a broken old man. Instead of being confident in his abilities, he complained of his unworthiness. It was not until Moses stopped trying to think of himself as a messiah, that he could be used by God.
We have to know Him and hear from Him before we can be used by Him.

Jesus is telling us here not to lead, not to try to serve at all, until you see the burning bush. God must reveal himself to you.

It isn’t only our vices that leads us away from God’s will--it can just as easily be our virtues. If in our impatience to serve Him, we fail to hear his voice, we scatter God’s people not unite them. If we do not hear the God we serve, then we do not help.

Does God use people who do not know Him? Yes. Do people do God’s work who do not hear His voice? Absolutely. There are many good charities and excellent social changes that have been started by people who do not know Jesus. But in the long run, it does them no good, and the Kingdom of God no good. The Kingdom is first of all where God rules, not where good things are done. 

Nor can we assume that we are doing right simply because we are doing things in God’s name.  Jesus makes it clear that there will always be people doing things they think are right, but not in God’s name. If we work even good things in God’s name that God did not command, then we are taking God’s name in vain, and confusing our will with God’s will.  All the religious wars that were ever fought were fought by people working in God’s name. 

To be used by God, we must be listening to Him.  We can’t just hear the voice of God once, and go on, but we listen for His voice constantly. Once we hear from God, then we must obey. Jesus said,

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

We follow the will of God out of habit. We may have heard His voice in our youth, but we haven’t heard from him since. But we can’t keep hearing Him unless we are obeying.

Obedience is not something we do once, but something we do over and over, every day. Don’t just respond by habit, but pay attention to what God is saying. 

Once, there was a church who had a stewardship Sunday. They invited people to testify about what giving to God’s work had done for them. A man stood up and told how he had come to that church with only ten dollars in his pocket. The preacher was preaching about giving it all to the Lord. He heard the voice of God that morning and gave all ten dollars to the Lord. As a result, God blessed him and he was now worth a million dollars.
After he was done, someone shouted out, “Mister, I dare you to do it again!” 

Bold obedience is expected from anyone who truly wants to walk by faith. When we know Jesus’ voice, we must obey.

Do you know Jesus? Have you had a personal encounter with Him in your life? Is that personal encounter ongoing? Are you willing to follow now, like you did yesterday, and to listen for the voice of the Lord?

When you hear the voice of the Lord, are you willing to obey, no matter what the cost?  Are you willing to sacrifice now the way you sacrificed when you were young, with your whole heart and soul? 

That’s what it means to follow Jesus—to hear his voice and obey.    

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