"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 1 Peter 3:15

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Follow me

The theme at New Life bible camp this summer came from Isaiah 43:19, which says,

19 For I am about to do a brand new thing.
      See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
   I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
      I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

In this passage God is speaking to his chosen people, Israel.  The people were in captivity, bound from the freedom they once knew. These were the consequences for their idolatry, but God chose to save them, showing them his greatness and love, something their idols could never do.  Not only did they face physical captivity, but God was showing them that idols bring spiritual bondage and that only he could break their chains and set them free.

Though our idols may not be made of wood or stone, we’ve all turned to idols and felt the sting of its consequence.   We’re all in desperate need of the living God who can do a new thing in our lives.  We all need the freedom that only he can bring.

Idolatry comes in many shapes.  I think of the story of the rich young ruler in Luke 18.  Here is a young man who wants to experience something new!  He asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”
Jesus’ response is not what I would expect.  “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good.  But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’”

What is in this response?  First he says that only God is good.  And then he lists off a few commandments—laws that if we could obey, would make us good.  It is interesting that Jesus chose to use the commandments that deal with relating to other people.

The young man believed that he had kept all these commands his whole life.  But didn’t Jesus also say that if you look at a woman with lust, you commit adultery?  If you have anger in your heart, you are guilty of murder?  Sin is not just the things we do; it’s the condition of the heart.  Jesus had to help this young man see that.

Jesus said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

After telling the young man to obey the commandments to treat others right, Jesus strikes to the core with an impossible challenge—sell all you have and give it to the poor.  The mask is off, the condition of the young man’s heart is revealed.  He could believe that he was doing pretty well—on the surface he was keeping the commandments and living a holy life, but when he had to give something up for the sake of others…well, that was something else completely.  The idol of his heart was revealed.  Leaving his treasures behind was a challenge too great.

Why would Jesus respond in these ways—asking this young man to do the impossible?  This reveals a truth to us all.  We’re all in the same spot as that rich young man.  The young man asked what he must do to receive eternal life, and by naming the impossible, Jesus made it clear that there was nothing he could do.  None of us can do anything to earn eternal life—we just can’t be good enough.  But Jesus said to this young man that only God is good…and we know that Jesus is God!

After challenging with the impossible, Jesus offers a simple invitation.  Follow me.  Because it’s impossible for us to be good, we must follow the only one who is.  We are utterly dependent on him “What is impossible for man, is possible for God.”

This person is left with the same decision all people must face.  Whom will I follow?  To what will I cling?  Will I lord my life, and bow to my wealth and idols, or will I will I recognize true faith as dependence on the only one who brings eternal, life--starting now.    

Jesus says, "Follow me."  the story ends with the young man's head drooped in sadness as he walked away.  Which direction does the story go for you?  For me?  

Who will you follow today?