At the beginning of our life with Jesus Christ, we were sure we knew all there was to know about following Him. It was a delight to forsake everything else and to throw ourselves before Him in a fearless statement of love. But now we are not quite so sure. Jesus is far ahead of us and is beginning to seem different and unfamiliar— “Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed” (Mark 10:32).
There is an aspect of Jesus that chills even a disciple’s heart to its depth and makes his entire spiritual life gasp for air. This unusual Person with His face set “like a flint” (Isaiah 50:7) is walking with great determination ahead of me, and He strikes terror right through me. He no longer seems to be my Counselor and Friend and has a point of view about which I know nothing. All I can do is stand and stare at Him in amazement. At first I was confident that I understood Him, but now I am not so sure. I begin to realize that there is a distance between Jesus and me and I can no longer be intimate with Him. I have no idea where He is going, and the goal has become strangely distant.
Jesus Christ had to understand fully every sin and sorrow that human beings could experience, and that is what makes Him seem unfamiliar. When we see this aspect of Him, we realize we really don’t know Him. We don’t recognize even one characteristic of His life, and we don’t know how to begin to follow Him. He is far ahead of us, a Leader who seems totally unfamiliar, and we have no friendship with Him.
The discipline of dismay is an essential lesson which a disciple must learn. The danger is that we tend to look back on our times of obedience and on our past sacrifices to God in an effort to keep our enthusiasm for Him strong (see Isaiah 50:10-11). But when the darkness of dismay comes, endure until it is over, because out of it will come the ability to follow Jesus truly, which brings inexpressibly wonderful joy.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’ ” Luke 15:21
I’ll make a confession if you promise not to tell.
Having been selected to represent my college in a traveling music team one summer, I had a few days to relax at home before returning to campus for a week of practice before we started our tour. During my short visit home I discovered a bag of M-80s in my dresser drawer. In case you don’t know, M-80s are like firecrackers on steroids! Deciding that these would be perfect boredom breakers during our pre-tour rehearsals, I brought them back to campus and wasted no time showing them to my friends. No sooner had I pulled them out of the bag than someone mentioned that they go off under water.
The bathroom down the hall provided the perfect laboratory to prove the claim. I opened one of the stall doors, lit the M-80, and dropped it into the toilet bowl. I backed into the shower stall nearby and waited. For a few quiet seconds, nothing happened. But then—KABOOM! I opened up the stall door to find thousands of porcelain shards and a gaping hole in the floor where the toilet used to be!
Since there were only five of us on campus, I knew that it would not take long for the authorities to find the culprit, so I decided it would be best to make a preemptive strike and contact the Dean of Students immediately. We had a brief conversation, talking about me paying for the damage and other potential consequences, and then I headed off for our first week of summer tour, thinking: There, that takes care of that!
But when we came back to campus for some supplies after our first week on the road, I was informed that the president of the college wanted to see me in his office. Gulp! What made matters worse was that the president was a close and long-standing friend of our family.
After dropping the M-80 into the toilet bowl, it never crossed my mind that the real problem with my foolishness was not a blasted toilet and a flooded bookstore below the bathroom. The problem was that I had offended an important person in my life and had potentially damaged a significant relationship.
This is exactly what Jesus is getting at in the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:21. While we normally think that the boy’s guilt relates to his dabblings in the darker side of life in a faraway land, that’s not Christ’s point. The prodigal asked for his inheritance early, which in that day was like saying to his dad, “I wish you were dead!” And in addition, he squandered a portion of the family estate, which was an equally egregious offense to his father.
The story of the prodigal was told to demonstrate that our sin is first and foremost a deep offense to God. It’s easy to focus on the external consequences of sin by playing games of cover-up, using repentance as a strategy for damage control so that we can get on with life. But the heart of true repentance is an acknowledgement of grief and sorrow over the way that we have personally offended our God who has given us so much and who loves us so deeply.
Thankfully, God—like the prodigal’s father—waits for us to come and repent of our sin against Him so that He can stun us with His compassionate grace of forgiveness and restoration. How good it is to hear Him say, “Kill the fatted calf. Let’s have a party! My son who was lost has come home!”
Don’t Be Afraid
From: Streams in the Desert
—J. R. Miller
From: Through the Bible
Numbers 27:16-17 (NIV) 16“May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community 17to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”
Moses was not going to be allowed to go on with the Children of Israel into the Promised Land. He had a heart for the people and knew they needed a strong leader to turn them from sin. They needed a commander who would go before them into battle and inspire them to keep up the fight. Where would you find someone like this with a heart like Moses, who would plead for the people before God?
He prayed the above prayer, asking God to send a man with a real shepherd’s heart. God answered that prayer in Joshua. Joshua is the Old Testament form of the New Testament name Jesus. In that day, God fulfilled that prayer in Joshua. However, Joshua didn’t completely finish the job. As great a leader as he was, some of the enemy remained in the land. One enemy group deceived him into making a treaty. The Children of Israel grew weary and would not drive the others out. The result was constant battles throughout Israel’s history. Along with that came the influence of idolatry that was the greatest of all poisons to Israel.
Ultimately, God answered that prayer in Jesus. He is our Shepherd. Unlike the first Joshua, He can lead us to victory over all enemies. He is not tricked into any compromises. A man became our Shepherd. He protects, leads, feeds, and cares for us, the sheep of His pasture. Thank God for the ultimate answer to this prayer and for His great ability to lead us into complete victory without compromise!
Meditation: Jesus goes before me into battle. I just need to follow.
Matthew 19:24-26 (NIV) 24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” 26Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
A rich young man approached Jesus. He inquired of Jesus which laws were necessary to keep to enter into heaven. Many Jews believed that if they could narrow down the laws to those most important to God, they would stand a better chance of getting into heaven. Jesus asked the man to sell all he owned, give it to the poor, and follow Him. This came at a time when Jesus only had about a week before the crucifixion.
The man went away sorrowful. Jesus had put His finger on the one thing that kept this young man from God. He trusted in his wealth. Then Jesus told the disciples something that astounded them, the camel and eye of the needle analogy. Some of the gates around Jerusalem were not of great height. To get a camel through, the baggage had to be taken off. The camel had to be pulled through on its knees. The picture is a forsaking of wealth and acceptance of humility. Jews thought wealth was a sign of God’s blessing, so the disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” It is the same for all men. It is not a keeping of the Law or any outward thing. It is the miraculous work of God.
Remember: Salvation is a work of God’s grace. Nothing you can do will make God love you any more. However, clinging to the world may keep you from opening your hands to receive His grace.