Betsy was out of town last week for a few days with a couple of our kids. She was driving home Saturday afternoon and I was going to be gone all day, so in the morning what did I do? I cleaned the house. I put laundray through, washed the dishes, sprayed down the counters, swept the floor, cleaned up the scattered items which accumulate over a few days of several boys living together without a woman to keep them neat and tidy. I wanted the house to be ready for her to come home. I wanted the environment to reflect what I know she wants it to be. And it's always this way when she is coming home from being gone.
Well, Jesus desires a certain kind of order in our lives too, where he is at the center, and the character and quality of our lives reflects something of his character and beauty. His desire is that we would use all that he's entrusted to us for the intended purposes of his glory and honor. But we don't know when he's coming back, and that's by design. Jesus is calling his followers in this passage to a posture of anticipation, readiness and urgency.
Anticipation puts the reality of his return at the forefront of our minds and hearts rather than as an after thought. It's about an internal heightened awareness that he could show up at any moment.
Readiness is about that anticipation shaping our priorities and conduct. Because we're aware and expectant and on alert, we never stray too far from what we would want to be found doing. I don't go hide in the basement and play video games for hours eating cheetos and drinking chocolate milk while letting the kids do whatever they want when I know Betsy is coming home any time now. I clean up and tend to things far more carefully and mindfully when I know she's coming back.
Urgency speaks to the felt seriousness of these things. In a life full of distractions and possible uses of my time and energy, urgency intensifies my awareness of what really matters. It helps me rightly prioritize.
We tend to waste time on things that seem fun or interesting or exciting but which are of little value. And Jesus is leading us into a life that really matters; a life of meaning and purpose. He is saying, "Don't waste your life. Make it count. Live for what truly matters. Don't let the momentary distractions keep you from fulfilling what God has created you for and called you to. Don't settle for a life of mediocrity..."
There is an inevitable malaise which emerges in our lives if we don't aggressively guard against it. There are enough seemingly important and urgent things in our lives that we'll always lose sight of what's truly important and urgent unless we keep it ever before us. And Jesus is helping us to see the bigger picture... to not get so preoccupied with the tree that we ignore the forest to which it belongs. Let's live each moment, each day, as if Jesus is watching... because he is; and as if Jesus is returning at any time... because he is. Let's let the urgency of that order our priorities and engagement with the world.
A Prayer for Readiness:
Lord God, it's so easy to assume I have tomorrow, and the next day and plenty of opportunity to give come back to the things that really matter. It's so easy to get distracted by the pressing earthly things and fleshly impulses presenting themselves right now, which seem so important and urgent. But I belong to you. And I've been called to represent you, and steward my life for your glory. Help the urgency of your return to embed itself in my heart, not so I live with pressure or in fear, but so that I might live a life that matters. Thank you for giving me purpose and meaning and guard me against the impulsivity that would rob me of that. Help me to live each moment and each day as if you have given it to me and as if it is my last, so that I live with intentionality and wisdom in all things. Amen.
There are three short sections here about very different things on the surface. The one thing I see across all three passages is our capacity to dig in our heels about the wrong things.
Jesus says he came to bring division, meaning that he would polarize people. By his very nature and purpose, how people respond to Jesus would drive a wedge between them (v. 49-53). And either people will stay tethered to their assumptions about reality before Jesus came, or they would rightly adjust their undersanding of everything around Jesus.
Jesus also essentially makes the case that Christianity is evidence based. He has not called us to blind faith with no reason to believe. He says that just as you see certain things in the natural world which you understand to indicate weather patterns, so He has come and given clear signs pointing to obvious conclusions (v. 54-56). But we trust in the obvious things that science may tell us, while ignoring or resisting the obvious things Jesus reveals to us.
Then, it's almost as if Jesus brings this down to our horizontal, human relationships to show us how natural and compulsive this is. He says that our tendency to focus on the wrong things, and stubbornly defend the wrong things even to the point of going to court of stupid disagreements with people (v. 57-59). He's basically telling us them and us that are way to willing to defend ourselves and our position to the foolish risk of our future and freedom. We're willing to stubbornly dig in our heels on our own sense of rightness to our own peril.
Taken together, there is a warning here for us to consider all that Jesus reveals through his work and words, about reality. We can disbelieve his work because it doesn't fit with our limited view of things and the reality we've assumed, and dismiss his words accordingly. Or, we can pay attention to his work, as so extraordinary and so outside of the scope of our assumptions, that we consider what he is pointing toward, and hear his words as a credible testimony on everything.
We need to seriously stop dogmatically adhering to our assumptions with such limited understanding and perspective, and open ourselves up to Jesus' worldview and the truths that he came to make obvious. Jesus tells us through his life and teaching that we're pretty much wrong about everything, but our need to be right about things and defend our views and our lives at all costs amounts to taking Jesus to court to have our competing views of reality judged. We ought to be uncomfortable with that scenario.
A Prayer for Doubt:
Lord, give me doubts about me. I am so in touch with my doubts about you. I question so much about you and the truth of your word. I lean so heavily into my own thoughts and the ideas of the culture surrounding me, and the worldviews whcih undermine your supremacy and authority. I give so much credibility to the educated, academic and successful. But still I doubt you. I doubt Jesus. I doubt miracles. I doubt Scripture. I doubt the gospel. Forgive my arrogance. Cause me to doubt the other things I am so sure of... the things which I assume are true and real and which cause me to doubt you. Let me assume you are real and true. And let me doubt everything else, and question everything else in light of you. Let me not lean on my understanding, but give me understanding according to your word. Amen.
I want to focus on the repentance part of this section. There was this idea in Israel that the level at which you suffered and the manner in which you suffered was some indicator of how sinful you were. Jesus debunks this mythology... wewrongly judge people in this way, but Jesus makes it personal. One of the defense mechanisms basic to humanity to is to keep the focus off ourselves by focusing on the sins of others. We distract from what's wrong or broken in our lives by attributing and assuming brokenness in other peoples lives. And Jesus confronts that...
"Unless YOU repent, you will likewise perish," He says. They want to focus on the consequences of guilt and sin in the lives of people out there, and ignore any possible consequences of guilt and sin in their own lives. Jesus reminds us that our biggest problem isn't sin out there, in the lives of other people, our biggest problem is sin in here, in our hearts and lives. And rather than being relieved that we aren't like some other group of people who we've judged harshly, Jesus says we need to repent because God's judgement is coming for us otherwise.
There is no Christianity where there is no repentance.
A Prayer for Personal Conviction:
Lord, it's just too easy to lament the evils and immorality and sin that are so pervasive in our culture. It's so easy to identify guilty in others, and assume the worst of others. It's so easy to define other people by their worst moments. But it's all a distraction. What's hard is to see me as I really am. I deflect so naturally and so chronically from dealing with my own sin by focusing on the sin or needs in others. Holy Spirit, make my heart soft to your gentle but firm conviction. Sensitize me to the things that grieve you, so they would grieve me. Whenever I move in my mind to judge another person, cause me to consider my own failures and shortcomings... my own sin. Lead me, in your kindness, to personal repentance as a way of life. Amen.
This passage should be a wake up call for any of us that have trafficked in church culture for a long time. The question posed to Jesus is whether those who are saved will be many or few... and Jesus focus' on two characteristics of those who will be saved but mentions nothing of quantity. The idea of taking the narrow door indicates the singular route to salvation which goes through Christ. It is a well traveled road, but it's the only road.
The bigger point is that those who are saved, won't necessarily be few, but it will be surprising. Many who think they are saved, will in fact, remain dead in their sins. Jeus describes there own thinking this way, "We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets." In other words, we think because we associate with Jesus, identify with Jesus, are proximate to Jesus, maybe even because we like Jesus, that we are obviously saved by Jesus. And Jesus says that's a tragic assumption.
This is the danger of church. You can assume that because you go to church and sing to Jesus, and fellowship with people who love Jesus, and hear Jesus proclaimed, and because Jesus has some role in your life, that Jesus has saved you from your sin. We can assume that being near Jesus and familiar with Jesus means that we're followers of Jesus. And Jesus says a lot of people in that place will be surprised to discover that they're lives have nothing to do with the real Jesus, and he will disassociate from them.
On the other hand, people who Israel saw as having no part in God's redemption and who are outside the scope of salvation in Jesus; people from far off, distant places who don't deserve Jesus; people who appear to have nothing to do with Jesus and whom we don't associate with Jesus; they will in fact be welcomed into the kingdom of God, and Jesus will claim them as his friends.
Jesus is saying, in yet another way, don't trust your own assumptions and thoughts about him and how he operates. Our ways of thinking and judging are all bent. Jesus operates out of a whole different paradigm and according to completely different factors. Lay down all your assumptions about how religion works and how God works and let Jesus recalibrate your thinking and understanding, according to the way of the kingdom. He will turn everything you think you know on its head, and it will ultimately be the rightside up.
A Prayer for Correction:
Lord, I don't even know all the ways in which I'm wrong about you, about life, about the world, about myself, and about people. I'm so wrong about so much that even right now, I still think I'm right about almost everything. I love your word where it affirms my assumptions, but where it conflicts with my assumptions, my impulse is figure out how to adjust your word to my worldview, not to adjust my worldview to your word. Would you give me a desire for and openness to correction. Give me personal insights into where I'm wrong about the things that matter, so that I can enter life as it is, and not keep living within the world I'm constructing in my own mind. Help me want to be right with you, more than I want to be right about you. Show me where I'm wrong. I don't want to be surprised in the end... I want to know you for real, and be known by you. Amen.
We sang a song recently at Generations called ["Jesus Lifted High."] And in the bridge of the song, it says,
You get the last word You always do You know the best way You always move You have the best heart You always will be lifted high...
I was thinking about that line, "you have the best heart," when I read this passage in Luke today. Jesus has faced so much opposition in Jerusalem, so much resistance, criticism, accusation, slander, etc. And he will experience much worse as it later escalates to injustice, violence, torture and even wrongful execution. This is the place of power in Israel, and the power brokers hate Jesus. And yet his heart is not angry, resentful, bitter, vengeful or retaliatory. That's certainly what would be going on in me.
But Jesus is tender toward them, open to them, and grieved by them. He just longs for their salvation. He uses a maternal metaphor to characterize his heart toward this city, and these people who have so flatly rejected him. He sees past all the wrong thinking and misunderstanding and false accusations they've contrived in their heads; past their rebellion, insults, and hardness of heart; past the personal suffering he has and will endure at their hands; he sees past all of it, to their deep need, and their profound brokenness that's beneath it all.
And rather than deriving any satisfaction from what's to come for them, he's just grieved and sad that they will miss out on the very Kingdom they're waiting for, because they're expecting it come in a particular way that conforms to their own ideas and ideologies. Jesus' heart isn't hardened to them one degree... like a mother who wants to protect her most vulnerable children, Jesus desires to cover Jerusalem, and protect the people from their own ignorance and foolishness.
I'm so not like Jesus. Man, if I'm honest, I'm not even sure I want to be in these ways. I suspect a lot of us see Jesus as weak here, and are glad to posture in the strength we draw from our anger and defensiveness. We lament suffering in the world and in our lives, but then we don't even like the idea of being the people who might reduce suffering. We get mad at Jesus when he speaks of judgment, but we ourselves want to judge Jesus and certainly we want to retain the freedom to judge others. We can't embrace Jesus until we embrace this self-denying mercy as a worthy ideal.
Following Jesus means receiving this mercy from him for yourself. But following Jesus also means that at least see this as strength and not weakness, and as something we should aspire to in our own lives. This means we have to abandon, yet another reflex so natural to us. We must not only be those who desire mercy from others, but we must become those who extend mercy toward others.
Jesus really does have the best heart... May we see that plainly today and embrace it wholeheartedly.
A Prayer for Mercy:
Father, you have shown mercy beyond measure in and through Jesus. Thank you. Thank you for being merciful to me, a sinner. For remaining open to me even when I was closed to you. For being patient with me, even when I move away from you. Your heart is unrelentingly kind and gracious, and I know because I've tested that. Forgive me for all the ways in which I want your mercy for me, while withholding mercy from others. I want mercy when I offend. But I want justice for those who offend me. I want grace when I trangress. I want consequences for those who transgress against me. Forgive my hypocrisy. And change my heart to want the heart of Jesus... help to embody to others, that which I love to receive from you. Amen.