Thursday, February 24, 2011

Obedience Is More Than Saying Yes

I did not mean for this to be a series this week, but it appears as through it has become one.  Today's message is related to the previous two.  Yesterday we talked about the comparison between those who serve God all their lives and those who come to Jesus in their last moments.  Today we will be comparing those who seemed to live around Christ but never really in Christ versus those who come to Christ in their last moments.  For this, we will go through a parable and an encounter Jesus had with a Pharisee. 
But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go, work today in my vineyard.' He answered and said, 'I will not,' but afterward he regretted it and went. Matthew 21:28-29 NKJV
We have a tale of two sons.  The first son was sent to the vineyard to work, but he refused.  Later, he repented of his refusal and went to work anyway.  For today's purposes, this is the example of one who comes to Jesus later in life. He rejected God at first, but later repented of that rejection and came to the Lord.  The only "work" required of us for salvation is to accept Jesus as Lord and so this man while living in rebellion for a part of his life, submitted himself to God.  In that submission and out of his love for the Father, he went to work.  Obviously, coming to Christ later in life prevented him from (or in the case of this parable going into the vineyard later) doing as much work as he would have otherwise done. 
Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, 'I go, sir,' but he did not go.  Matthew 21:30 NKJV
And here we have the second son.  He started out great.  His father asked him to do something, he said he would do it, then nothing.  I liken this to someone who grew up in church.  They probably spent their entire childhood talking about how good Jesus was and had dreams of a life of serving him, but then something went wrong.  They turned away and sought their own way.  The promises made earlier in life proved empty as the ended up living for themselves. So many of these tend to fall away in college or as their careers begin when those pesky Christian virtues get in the way of their own desires. 

This verse also applies to many still in the church.  Jesus here was likening the second son to the so-called religious leaders of His day.  They grew up learning the law, they prayed as they were supposed to, they served in how they thought they should serve, they tithed exactly ten percent of all they had, and yet they rejected the Lord.  None of these works matter when you disobey the one command that matters.  We are saved by grace, but you have to accept that grace.  There are so many in church today who go through the motions.  They may be involved in ministry, they may teach, they may serve communion, and they probably even tithe.  They do all that but ignore the one thing God told them to do.  They never give their lives to Jesus.  All the works in the world do not matter if you disobey that one command.  We do not know what that second son did instead of going to the vineyard nor do we know if he was otherwise friendly with his father.  It does not matter what else he did, he was asked to do something and even said he would do it, but then refused.  No matter what else he may have done, he did not do the will of the father.  Such is the same for us.  No matter what we do in church or for church, it does not matter if we do not the one thing the Father wills us to do, and that is to submit ourselves to Jesus Christ. 
Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said to Him, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.  Matthew 21:31-32 NKJV
Jesus brings the message home here.  He asks which of the two did the will of his father and of course he answered correctly in that the first one did.  That was a bad answer for that Pharisee.  Jesus set a trap and he fell into it.  John the Baptist came and taught the message of repentance to prepare the way for Jesus, and the Pharisees did not hear.  There are many in church today who ignore that same call to repentance and what we have is a powerless cheap gospel.  Note who Jesus likens the first son to, they are the tax collectors and harlots.  In other words, they were the ones who lived a life of sin as opposed to the ones who lived a life of self righteousness.  It is those who lived a sinful life who hear the call of Jesus to grace and repentance through His strength that are likened to the obedient son.  It is the ones who were part of the church community but who never accepted that gift of salvation from Jesus are likened to the disobedient son.  Jesus makes this even clearer in another well known parable.
Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee's house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, "This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner."  Luke 7:36-39 NKJV
A Pharisee invites Jesus to dinner.  He was probably looking for something to trip him up on.  While at the table, a sinful woman came to Jesus and anointed His feet with oil and washed his feet with her tears and hair.  In other words, she was face down head at his feet weeping and worshiping Him.  The Pharisee thought he had his chance to find fault in Jesus.  He could not imagine that someone so "holy" as Jesus would allow a filthy woman like that anywhere near him.  The Pharisee certainly wouldn't.  He figures that if Jesus were a prophet he would know just how wicked that woman was and reject her. 
And Jesus answered and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." So he said, "Teacher, say it." "There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?" Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have rightly judged."  Luke 7:40-43 NKJV
Jesus shares a short parable with Simon.  It was about two debtors who owed different amounts both being forgiven.  The obvious point that the one who is forgiven more would have more love for the debtor than the one forgiven less.  Generally speaking, that is how it would be.  The larger the debt you are forgiven, the more you love the one who held the debt.  The Pharisee just fell into the trap of Jesus.
Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little."  Luke 7:44-47 NKJV
This is very much like the first parable we spoke of today.  This woman did not live her life for God.  She lived for herself and drenched herself in sin, but she came face to face with Jesus and all that stopped.  She did not start her life well, but she ended it clean and forgiven, destined for eternal life with our Lord.  The Pharisee was self-righteous.  He probably grew up in the temple, learning the law and probably thought he was doing right by God.  It was that very attitude that was his downfall.  I am blessed that when I came to Christ, I became part of a church that was filled with people more like this sinful woman than it was by Pharisees.  I know so many who grew up in the church and so many who came to Christ later in life and the difference between the two is amazing.  Now I am making a generalization, but please do not think that everyone who grew up in church is like a Pharisee and that everyone who came to Christ later is like this woman.  There are many exceptions on both ends.  But, from much of what I have seen, I fear for many who grew up in church.  They sort of become Christian by absorption and not by commitment.  They show no changed life because they never really felt they had a life to change from.  They live selfishly, they are lazy in terms of any kind of ministry, they almost never share Jesus, but they show up to church each and every week.  They gossip worse than anyone in the world, they drink and get drunk, they are not leaders of their wives or submissive to their husbands.  They look no different than the world, except they go to church.  Not only that, many times they look down upon those who come in from the world.  I experienced this myself in that when I came to Christ, I was rough around the edges as God worked on my heart.  I was not versed in the Bible and I did not understand everything.  I had a naive child-like faith like any newborn in the Lord and instead of embracing that, it was generally looked down upon.  My enthusiasm was seem as immaturity and my Scriptural naivety was seen as a nuisance.  They take on the attitude of the Pharisee in that they do not even realize what wretches they were if they are saved or what wretches they are if they are not.  I fear many are not.  I fear that many of these never made that personal commitment to the Lord.  Their faith is assumed by their upbringing, but assumed faith is not faith at all.  If you never made that personal deliberate choice for Jesus, then you do not have Jesus.  Unfortunately, many of these do not even know that they need Jesus.  The Gospel message is something they assume applies to them when they never really even made that choice to follow Him.  Even with the saved, for the most part, words like "sinner" or "wretch" are theological terms they never really grasp or understand.  They know they are saved but never really understand from what and other than an intellectual assent that they need a savior, but then never really grasp the sin they are saved from.  Their faith becomes lukewarm and they never really grow.  

On the other hand, there are Christians who came from a life of sin.  The second church I was a part of was populated with Christians such as these.  That church was filled with people who did not grow up in church.  They lived sinful lives before coming to the Lord, sometimes very sinful lives.  They saw that they needed Jesus and invited Him into their lives and that made all the difference.  They cling to the Lord for protection from falling back into the miserable lives they once lived and live as though (because they are) truly grateful for the forgiveness of their many sins.  Their dedication to the Lord is so much more solid because they were able to recognize that they needed Jesus.   They were the first son who after a time of rebellion, answered the call of their Father.  They were the Prodigal sons who came to the end of themselves and came back to their Father pleading for His grace and mercy.  It is for these, that when they sing Amazing Grace, they know full well what a wretch they were that was saved by the grace of God. 

We see today a story of two sons and a related story of a Pharisee and a sinful woman.  May our faith never just be assumed.   May we never be lukewarm.  May we not love our God in word, but not back up that love with deed.  In the end, it is not about how many church services we went to nor is it about how self righteous we are.  It is not about our upbringing or lack thereof.  It is not about what our parents believed and not even about that they taught us to believe.  Grace is not something we absorb, but a decision we must make each for ourselves.  So the question we all need to ask is not whether or not we go to church or grew up in the church, but whether or not we gave ourselves to Jesus Christ, accepting Him as Lord and Savior and if we did, are we truly living for Him and in His example.

Before I close, I would be remiss if I did not address one other lesson from the parable of the two sons.  This parable has much meaning for those in the church as many of us are called into different ministries.  So many of us are reluctant when first called.  We are like Moses in that we are unsure of ourselves, but as we grow in our faith we accept that role God has for us and we see Him working through us.  If God has called you to some ministry and you are holding back, please repent of that and fulfill that ministry that God has called you to.  No matter if you think you are not skilled for it or that it will not be a good experience for you, God would not call you to it if He would not equip you Himself to achieve it nor would He call you to it if it would not lead to joy in the Lord.  There are others, though, who are like the second son. God calls them, they say yes, then they do not do it.  Saying yes to God is not obedience.  Doing what God asks of you is obedience.  If God calls you to be a pastor, then you must be a pastor and lead and teach the church God has given you.  If God calls you to be a teacher and you answer that call, you have to actually teach.  Being a pastor who does not lead or is not there for his church or being a teacher who never teaches is about as useful as someone hired to be a principal who never shows up to school.  It's also kind of like someone who calls himself a Christian, but does not strive to be like Christ.  Titles our pointless without fulfilling its purpose.  Just like the first son, accepting a title and doing nothing with it is like agreeing to do something and not doing it.  Teachers much teach.  Leaders must lead.   You can not call yourself what you are not being, and God will not allow you to betray His trust forever and there will come a time when that ministry will be taken from you. 
I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.  Revelation 3:15-20 NKJV

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