Monday, December 20, 2010

Will Anyone In North America Go From Last To First When Jesus Returns?

We live in a self-absorbed society in North America. No matter what we do we evaluate it's worth by the question, "What's in it for me?" We may not even realize we do this because we may phrase it a different way, "There's no benefit in this", "I'd rather be doing something else", "I don't feel like doing this". Most of the things we evaluate for worth we do so with a self perspective. It takes effort to watch a movie we are not interested in because someone else wants to watch it. It takes effort to participate in an activity we don't like because someone else likes it. So it shouldn't surprise us that Peter also wondered what all their sacrifice would get them after the rich young man walked away. Jesus told them it was hard for the wealthy to escape from their trap and enter the Kingdom. At this the disciples panicked and Peter asked the question:

“We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27)

The first thing that strikes we is the fact that the disciples had left everything to follow Jesus. Most of us don't. In fact, for many current day disciples there is very little difference between pre-conversion and post-conversion. It is like we have taken on a new hobby and the activities for it are Bible Study and Sunday worship. Most churches have done away with the prayer meeting because people stopped coming. There may be Men's and Women's fellowships but really, other than these "hobby" activities nothing much has changed. We have the same jobs, live in the same house, probably have the same friends, where the same clothes, participate in the same activities, read the same books, go to the same movies. Whereas the disciples of Jesus left everything, homes, businesses, family, to follow him and never went back. They were learning to become servants, giving of themselves for the benefit of others so Peter's question, although natural, was also very unnatural after all this time with Jesus. However Jesus had a great deal of patience for these disciples:

Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Matthew 19:28)

This was specific for the inner circle, the group of 12 disciples but Jesus continued with something for all of us:

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life." (Matthew 19:29)

Some people have taught that this means here and now. I know God is not above blessing his servant's with such things now but looking at the context of what is being said we should understand this to be the promise of what is being prepared for us. If not then Jesus is a liar because many good servants have died with nothing to their name after having given up much more than we have today. What did the disciples have and how did they die? They gave up everything to become hunted men with nothing to their name who died cruel deaths. Unfortunately we are allowing our society to taint our understanding of the Word and we are looking for promises of prosperity in this place when Jesus is more concerned about prospering the souls of the lost. Perhaps this is the reason why he gave the disciples a slight rebuke as he finished answering Peter's selfish question:

But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. (Matthew 19:30)

The Kingdom does not work on the principles of this world. Leadership is not what we understand leadership to be. What gets rewarded are not people who promote themselves. In this place we celebrate the "self-absorbed", the people who made something of themselves, the rags to riches stories, the people who have overcome great adversity to go on to "success". So what if their lives are really messed up and they have gone through six marriages and they have great addictions. As long as they are rich, live in big mansions, drive expensive cars, wear costly clothing, they are a success. We turn heroes out of anyone who is on TV or in the movies. People who get a "reality" tv show become instant stars and we want to read all about their lives and what their opinions are on everything.

We may be an idiotic society but God's Kingdom is not. Those who choose to follow Jesus, to be his disciple, must turn their back on self-absorption and become a servant. Our purpose is to demonstrate Jesus Christ to the world through our service to the world. We give up what we want for the sake of other people. We preach and teach as an act of service and not because we want the spotlight. We befriend people, not because of what we can get out of it but because of what we can put into it. We get involved in activities, move into neighbourhoods, devote ourselves to others because we have something they need and we use all our energy to share it.

I know us. We would rather work our 9 to 5, come home and shut the door, turn on the TV or computer, maybe pick up a book, and just crash. We would rather surround ourselves with a few low-maintenance friends who we get together with occasionally. We would rather make our home our sanctuary for us and the two children, slowly adding nice things and building our retirement fund. That's comfortable but Jesus did not call us into the comfortable life and most of our rewards for good and faithful service are not in this place. The blessings we receive now are intended for others. If we have a nice house it is so we can practice hospitality. If we have a car it is so we can use it to serve others. If we have money it is so that we can plant seeds for the  Kingdom. Whatever we have is because we have been equipped for the work. We cannot be like the rich young man and allow these "things" and our attitude to block us from the Kingdom.

We are in a lot of trouble in North America as we allow our desires to overtake our devotion; as we allow the attitude of our society to taint our understanding of the Word. We do not have to be poor to follow Jesus but we do have to understand that we possess nothing. Everything we have comes from the Father and it's purpose is to equip us for service. If we take any other attitude it will become a noose around our necks. Servants do not look for rewards in this place and are willing to sacrifice everything for Jesus. Our reward will come and it will be glorious as we enter into eternal life. We need to fight here in North America to make Jesus first and last in our lives. It is not an easy task as we shed the attitude of self and allow our purpose to become others. It is good to remember in this servant attitude Kingdom that the first will be last and the last will be first.

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