Tag Archives: commitment

2. Step #2: Heed Jesus’ Call For Repentance

Our first lesson was on acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah. Well, if we accept that Jesus is Messiah and Lord, the one sent to save and to rule over all – then we need to listen to what he says to us.

And his message is summed up in our focus verse for this lesson from Matthew 4:17:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

This is the second step to new life in Jesus. We begin with the question . . .

What is repentance?

Jesus’ parable in Matthew 21:28-31 gives us a nice definition of repentance. He said,

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?”

The answer, of course, is the first son. He changed his mind and did his father’s will. And this is a good way of explaining what repentance means – We change our minds and begin to do our heavenly Father’s will. This leads us to the next question . . .

Why do we need to repent?

We need to repent because we all give in to our “flesh.” That is, our human desires that lead us to do things that are sinful, evil and wrong. This is human weakness that leads us to be self-centered instead of focused on God and doing what is right.

As Jesus said in Mark 14:38, “the flesh is weak.” He means weak with regard to doing God’s will. God asks us to some things that are hard (as we will see below); and it seems easier to do our own thing than to try to do what God asks of us. We want what we desire, what is easy, what is comfortable.

We also all give in to “the world,” that is, the people, values and ideas in this world that are not submitted to God and thus pressure us to sin. We give in to this peer pressure; we go along with the crowd. We don’t want to look silly or un-cool.

Jesus said in Matthew 18:7 – “Woe to the world for temptations to sin!” The world is all about tempting and pressuring us to sin.

And behind all of this is Satan, the ruler of this world (Luke 4:5-6), who seeks to tempt us and pressure us to sin. He tests us by putting us into difficult situations, circumstances that test us, or tragedies that try us. And then he tells us, ‘its alright to sin; to act on your desires, to give in to your weaknesses, to take the easy (but wrong) way.’

And the bottom line is that, we have all given in. We have all sinned and done what is wrong. Jesus spoke of this in several places.

Jesus said that all Israel were sinners. Luke 13:1-5 says,

“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’”

Jesus said that all Galileans and all those who live in Jerusalem (all Israel) were sinners in need of repentance. And if the people of God (Israel) were all sinners, how much more the rest of the world that did not even know God?

Jesus also spoke of humanity as “evil” in Matthew 7:11. We have all sinned.

A summary of repentance

Given all this, repentance means having a change of heart and mind that leads us to turn away from our sins, our selfish desires which are the root of our sins, and as well, the world and Satan who pressure us to sin – in order to live a new live according to God’s will from now on.

So there is a backward looking part – turning away from our sins, and a forward looking part – living a new kind of life. Now lets look a bit more at the backward part. That’s because repentance means we have to . . .

Deal with past wrongdoing

This includes our acts of sin against God and others. In other words, we don’t just stop doing wrong, we deal with the fact that we have done wrong things.

We are to confess our sins: An example of this comes from the story of the prodigal son. After he squandered his father’s money he came back and said, “Father I have sinned against heaven and before you” – Luke 15:18. It takes complete honesty; you have to come clean about what you have done.

We are to be humble and sorrowful: Again from the example of the prodigal son, he said to his father, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants” – Luke 15:19. From another parable Jesus talks about a tax collector who, “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” – Luke 18:13. When you have done what is wrong – humility, sorrow and regret are the appropriate responses.

We are to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions: This includes trying to fix broken relationships. As Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your sister or brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24. This also includes trying to make amends for damage done to others. An instance of this comes from the real life example of Zacchaeus’ repentance. He said, “if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” – Luke 19:8. He had cheated people out of money as a tax collector and he makes amends for it here. He tries to make things right.

If this is the backward looking part of repentance, the forward looking part is to . .

Live a new life according to God’s will

Jesus didn’t just call us to live this new life, he came to show us what it looks like, through his teaching and example. We’ll look at this much more in later lessons, but for now just a few examples:

  • Don’t speak out angry words that tear others down – Matthew 5:21-22. This is a form of murder.
  • Be sexually pure – don’t engage in what God forbids. Matthew 5:27-28 gives one example, lusting after another person sexually.
  • Love your enemies – Matthew 5:43-48. Instead of returning harm for harm, return good for harm. Don’t just love those who treat you well, love those who hate you.
  • Keep your word without swearing promises – Matthew 5:37. Simply let your yes be yes and your no, no.
  • Share your resources with the poor – Luke 12:33. Don’t keep more than you need for yourself. Use your abundance to help those in need.
  • Be a witness for Jesus, even if others ridicule you – Matthew 5:11-12.

Now as you can see from all this . . .

The life Jesus calls us to isn’t easy

That’s because repentance requires us to start all over again with our lives. Matthew 18:3 says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is saying that to follow him, we must relearn how to think and act and live. Just like a child has to learn everything, so we have to start over and learn what it means to live according to the values of the kingdom of God, which are often the polar opposite of how the world thinks and acts.

Repentance also requires us to take the hard road. As Jesus said at the end of his Sermon on the Mount, where he teaches about God’s will, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14. It is easy to go along with the world; the crowd. But “The gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life.” The demands of obedience, of following Jesus, are difficult. And that’s why Jesus teaches us that . . .

It will take your complete commitment

It must be your highest priority in life. As Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” – Matthew 6:33. Following Jesus is not a casual thing, something you do on the side. It must become the supreme focus of your life, even above providing for your material needs (your career), which is the context of this verse.

It involves sacrifice. “And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” – Matthew 18:8-9. We must be willing to make whatever sacrifice we need to, to enter the kingdom. We cut off whatever gets in our way.

It will cost you everything. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” – Matthew 13:44. We must be willing to give up everything, in order to gain it.

Because it takes our complete commitment, Jesus calls us to “count the cost” of what it means to follow after him in the path of life. Luke 14:25-33 says,

“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.’”

Jesus is saying, understand what you are getting into, and make sure you are willing to do what it takes to meet the demands of repentance – before you choose to follow him.

Now, having said all this and emphasizing the demand of God upon us, let me also say at the end . . .

Repentance and new life is possible with God’s help

We can’t do this in our own strength. That’s for sure. God has to come in and change our hearts. And God has to strengthen us to do what he asks of us.  We will look at this in our next lesson.

William Higgins

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4. A New Life Of Righteousness

In lessons 4-12 we will look at nine characteristics of what this new life in Jesus looks like, as we heed Jesus’ teaching and follow his example. This lesson gives an overview of what new life in Jesus looks like with regard to a morality that is different than the way the world lives.

The focus verse comes from Luke 6:46. Jesus said,

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”

This obviously makes the point that if we call Jesus Lord; if we acknowledge him to be the Messiah, we must do what he says. It is meaningless to call him Lord and then do your own thing.

But what does it mean to do what Jesus says, when it comes to a new moral code? First of all . . .

Jesus agreed with what was taught by Moses and the prophets

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them . . . .” – Matthew 5:17. [Follow the link for more on the question Should Christians Obey the Law of Moses?]

Here are some examples of his upholding the teaching of the Law:

  • When the rich young ruler asked what he must do to enter life (or the resurrection), Jesus said, “You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'” – Luke 18:20. Jesus quotes to him several of the ten commandments.
  • He also condemns “sexual immorality” – Mark 7:21. [Follow the link for more scriptural teaching on Sexual Purity]

There are many other examples, but the point is that Jesus agreed with Old Testament teaching.

But, we also have to take note of what he says in the rest of Matthew 5:17, “I have not come to abolish the Law or the prophets, but to fulfill them.” Jesus came to perfect or to bring to completion what was taught by Moses. He does this in several ways . . .

Jesus fulfills the Law by giving it a perfect focus

Of all the commandments in the Old Testament (Orthodox Judaism lists 613) which are more important or central? Does it have to do with purity laws (the Pharisees) or the Temple procedures (the Sadducees)?

Jesus highlights a different focus, citing what he calls the two greatest commandments. In Matthew 22:37-40 he says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

So, love of God and others is the focus of it all and how you pull it all together.

Jesus also fulfills the Law by raising it to a higher standard

Jesus taught a form of righteousness (or God’s will) that went beyond Moses and the practice of Moses by the teachers of his day. He raised the bar of God’s moral code. Again, his teaching doesn’t do away with Moses, rather it builds on it and intensifies it.

To put it another way, what Jesus is really doing is showing us more clearly what loving God and loving others looks like.  Here are some examples:

1. Put aside destructive anger. In Matthew 5:21-22 Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, (that is by Moses and the prophets) ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be liable to judgment . . . and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” God is not just concerned with physical murder. God is also concerned with our anger that strikes out to insult and verbally tear down another person. This goes beyond Moses.

2. Don’t lust after another person. In Matthew 5:27-28 Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus teaches us here that faithfulness to our spouse also includes not looking at another with lust. This goes beyond what Moses taught.

3. Keep you marital commitment. In Matthew 5:31 Jesus said, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’” Moses permitted divorce.

Here I skip to Matthew 19:6, where Jesus gives a more concise answer. He says that when two people marry – “They are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” So he teaches that we are to keep our covenant of marriage even when it is very difficult. (Jesus only allows divorce between two believers when the marriage has already been broken by an act of sexual immorality – Matthew 19:9).

4. Keep your promises without swearing oaths. In Matthew 5:33-37 Jesus said, “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not break your oath, but carry out the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool . . . Let your word be ‘Yes,’ ‘Yes,’ or ‘No,’ “No,’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” Moses allowed promissory oaths.

But Jesus teaches, instead of swearing promises – “I will do this, I swear,” simply be a person of your word. Just say “yes” or “no” and leave God and God’s name out of it.

5.  Love your enemies. In Matthew 5:43-44 Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . ..” Moses taught that under certain circumstances we can return harm for harm, for instance during a war.

Jesus teaches us that we are not only to love our neighbors – those who are like us and do good to us – we are also to  love our enemies. Instead of returning harm for harm, we are to give good in return for evil, even with our enemies. [Follow the link for more scriptural teaching on Jesus’ command to Love Your Enemies.]

6. Don’t condemn others. In Luke 6:37 Jesus said, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Moses taught that you should judge sin in others’ lives, even with the death penalty in some cases.

Jesus teaches us that when we see someone else sin, we are to respond with mercy, just as God has had mercy on us. We are not to dismiss them, or look down on them as condemned by God; or seek to harm them. Rather, we are to work and pray for their repentance. And if they have sinned against us, we are to give mercy and even forgive them when they repent.

7. Share your wealth. In Luke 12:33 Jesus said, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail . . ..”  Jesus is saying, don’t keep more than you need for yourself, for your comfort and security. Use your abundance to help those in need. This goes way beyond what Moses taught on giving tithes.

Finally, . . .

Jesus fulfills the Law by calling us to give up our entire lives out of love for God and others

Jesus taught in Mark 8:34-35 – “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

If what we saw before dealt with seven specific examples of the new life, this is the whole of what God wants from us. God wants all of us. Every part of us. Self-denial and taking up the cross is the summary of the Christian life.

This is what Jesus did when he came, served and died on the cross – out of love for God and others. And this is what Jesus call us to do, to lose our lives out of love for God and others. We are to deny ourselves and our selfishness. We are to give up our lives; our ambitions in order to do whatever God tells us to do.

Three things to remember

1. Obedience is not optional. Although we are saved by what Jesus did for us on the cross, he does require us to obey. As Jesus said at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:20, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” And as he said at the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

This last verse shows us that even some who acknowledge Jesus as Messiah and Lord, will not make it in. Only the ones who do what Jesus teaches.

2. God makes our obedience possible. Obedience is only possible because God makes it possible for us. Otherwise it is too hard.

When the rich young ruler thought that God’s way was too hard, Jesus said, “What is impossible with people (or – mere humans), is possible with God.” – Luke 18:27 (NLT). Jesus said in a time of real testing, that although the flesh is weak, “the Spirit indeed is willing” – Mark 18:38. The Spirit helps us in our weakness to do God’s will. The Spirit of God enables us to obey.

3. When we fail, we seek forgiveness and renewal. Jesus taught us to pray regularly, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” – Luke 11:4. He also said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” – Matthew 6:14.

When we do fail; when we give in to the weakness of our flesh (our fears and insecurities); when we don’t rely on the strength of the Spirit – we seek God’s forgiveness.

William Higgins

9. A New Life Focus Of Serving God

A key part of our new life in Jesus is that we have a new life focus and orientation. We live now to serve God and work to advance God’s kingdom. We don’t live for ourselves, or others, or anything else.

Our focus verse comes from Matthew 25:21:

“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

This is the response of Jesus to those who have worked hard to serve God with their earthly lives – when they see him on the final day.

This comes from a parable in Matthew 25:14-30 (sometimes called the parable of the talents). Here it is:

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

‘Take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For those who have will be given more, and they will have an abundance. As for those who do not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'” (TNIV)

We’ll come back to this text. Let’s first notice that . . .

Jesus was a man with a mission

He worked hard to promote the kingdom, to make it a reality on earth. As Matthew 9:35 says, “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.”

Jesus gave himself to this completely and constantly. Serving God was his life focus and orientation. As he said in Luke 4:43, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”

The Gospels tell us that Jesus

  • taught God’s way
  • healed the wounded
  • loved the loveless
  • and served the needy

He served God in all these ways in order to spread God’s kingdom message and to build up God’s kingdom community.

Jesus also calls others to be a part of his mission

During his earthly ministry he frequently said to people, “Follow me.” Now this phrase included in it an invitation to repentance and faith in him – but most especially it was a call to ‘Come and work with me to advance God’s kingdom.’

One example of this is found in Mark 1:16-20:

“Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.”

Jesus called many people when he walked this earth. And now that his earthly ministry is over, Jesus calls us to serve God; to work hard to spread the kingdom and finish the mission he began.

So we will draw now on our Scripture reading, as well as other passages where Jesus talks about this, and see what. . ..

Lessons we learn from Jesus about serving God

These are things we can take away from these Scriptures that will help us, encourage us and equip us for the task of working for the kingdom.

1. Each of us are given tasks to do. Just as the servants in the parable were to take what was given them from their master and increase it, so we are each given kingdom responsibilities and we are to advance the kingdom in those areas. We all have responsibilities, according to our ability. Some have heavier duties, some lighter, but we all have something to do.

2. These tasks can be anything that further God’s kingdom. Just as with Jesus’ example, we can

  • teach God’s way
  • heal the wounded
  • love the loveless
  • and serve the needy

Whatever God assigns to us to spread his kingdom message and to build up his kingdom community.

So, find out what it is that God wants you to do. Look at the gifts that he has given you – natural talents or gifts of the Spirit. Find out what brings you joy in serving God. And then get busy at it!

But also, help out with whatever needs to be done, even if you don’t feel tremendously gifted, or called in that area. In any Christian community there are things that just need to be done for the community to work. And you don’t need a heavenly vision or a warm and fuzzy feeling to do it. Just a servant’s heart. Give of yourself in these areas as well.

3. The focus of all our work is bearing witness to Jesus. It is about testifying to the coming of the kingdom with Jesus; it is about sharing who he is and the salvation he gives. Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” – Acts 1:8.

  • We do this as individuals, sharing as we have opportunity about what Jesus has done in our lives; inviting people to church.
  • And we do this as a community. Jesus calls us “a city set on a hill” (Matthew 5:14). As a community, we live by a different standard than the world around us, and this is a witness to Jesus.

Let’s remember that Jesus tells us – don’t put your lamp under a basket, but let your witness shine before others – Matthew 5:14. We don’t need to be fearful. And he tells us don’t be ashamed of him before the world – Mark 8:38. We are to share our faith in Jesus boldly with others.

4. The goal of our work is to make disciples of Jesus. In the words of the great commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:19-20. We are to bear witness to Jesus so that people will begin to live a new life in Jesus for themselves and be a part of the kingdom of God. We are not just sharing information about Jesus, we seek to lead them to commit be disciples of Jesus as well.

5. Jesus calls some to give their whole lives to working for the kingdom. They may have to leave family and career behind, to help finish the work that Jesus has begun. As we saw in Mark 1:16-20, the first disciples did this. And in Mark 10:29 Jesus speaks of those who leave family and homes behind “for my sake and for the gospel.”

And God might well ask some of you to do this. Are you open to hear what God has for you? Perhaps God will call you to be a missionary or a pastor or to give your life fully to work for the kingdom in some other way.

6. Jesus calls others to stay in their place in life and work for the kingdom. To the healed demoniac who wanted to be a traveling missionary with Jesus, he said in Luke 8:39 – “’Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” It was God’s will for him not to go, but to stay home and serve and witness there.

7. We are to support those who give themselves fully to working for the kingdom. Jesus said, speaking of these, “the laborer deserves his wages.” – Luke 10:7. They can’t do what they are called to do without your support.

8. God’s Spirit gives us the power to work for his kingdom. Just as Jesus was empowered by the Spirit, so are we. Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . ..”

We can’t do anything in our own strength. We need God working in and through us to accomplish something for the kingdom, whatever our gifts and callings.

9. Be prepared to give an account. This brings us back to the parable  in Matthew 25. We have each been given tasks, and we will have to give an account for how we have done. The parable is meant to impress in our minds the exacting nature of our master.

It teaches us – don’t be lazy, doing nothing to increase God’s kingdom; doing nothing to finish Jesus’ mission. For those who do nothing, will not enter the kingdom on that final day when Jesus returns. And the parable ends with this ringing in our ears in order to make an impression on us.

Rather, find out what God wants you to do and work hard! Give your all for the work of God. Be a man or woman with a mission, just like Jesus.

And if you do, you will be blessed to have joy with Jesus for eternity, as our focus verse says. This is a reward that far surpasses anything we give up to work for him; anything we have to sacrifice to advance God’s kingdom.

A final thought

All of our lives are so busy today. It is a part of our culture that we are always doing things. There are so many things, good things, to do. The challenge for each of us is to have a “a final day perspective” on what we choose to do with our limited time. In other words, what will God really care about, in terms of all you do, when you stand before him on the final day?

What I am saying is, of all your many commitments, make serving God and working for the kingdom the top commitment. And schedule the rest of your lives around that.

William Higgins

10. A New Courage To Suffer

In this lesson we are talking about a willingness to suffer for our commitment to Jesus and the kingdom of God. A willingness to give things up and to go through hardship because of our faith.

The focus verse comes from Mark 8:34:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Jesus is saying that anyone who follows him will be persecuted. So you have to be prepared to deny your self-interests and take up your cross – an instrument of death.

From Jesus’ point of view persecution is a certainty. He says, “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” – Luke 21:16-17. So lets look at . . .

How persecution works

1. We follow Jesus. We do what Jesus teaches and models for us. Specifically:

  • We confess Jesus as Lord. We bear witness to him as the Messiah and the Son of the living God and the one who has given us salvation.
  • And we live according to Jesus’ teaching and example; by his standards and values.

2. People in the world don’t like this and so they respond in negative ways. As Jesus says in Matthew 10:24-25, it won’t be different for you. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you when you follow me.

  • We are persecuted for confessing Jesus; for witnessing to others about Jesus. In Matthew 10:17-18 Jesus says to those he sent out to be his witnesses – “they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.”
  • And we are persecuted for living according to Jesus’ teaching and example; for obeying Jesus’ moral code. In Matthew 5:10 Jesus talks about being “persecuted for righteousness’ sake;” for doing what Jesus says, instead of what the world or a particular government says.

Persecution comes in many forms

It doesn’t always mean death (certainly not in our context). There is, rather, a scale of negative reactions that can come our way:

  • You can be slandered – Matthew 5:11. Jesus talks here about how they will   “. . . revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” In Matthew 10:25 this can include being called “Beelzebub” or Satan.
  • You can be excluded socially – Luke 6:22.
  • You can receive various expressions of hatred – Luke 21:17.
  • You can be taken to court for your faith (where it is illegal to be a Christian) – Mark 13:9.
  • You can be put to death – Matthew 10:21.

So there are different levels of  persecution, from something as simple as ridicule, to being put to death.

But there is good news  . . .

The Spirit gives us the courage we need to stay true

In these situations Jesus tells us not to be ashamed of him and his words – Mark 8:38. He also tells us not to fear those who can only kill you, that is your body and not your soul – Matthew 10:28.

But he doesn’t leave us alone. As Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . ..” – Acts 1:8. The Spirit helps us, where we would not be able to do it in our own strength. Although we would give in to our fear, or shame, the Spirit gives us the courage and boldness we need.

The difference that the Spirit makes can be seen in the example of the disciples. When Jesus was persecuted and eventually killed, they were cowards. They abandoned Jesus, ran and hid in fear. But after they had received the Spirit, they were willing to give their lives (e.g. James – Acts 12:1-2).

The promise of eternal blessings

If we remain true in times of persecution God will reward us. It will be worth it. Jesus said:

“Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” – Mark 8:35.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:10.

“You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” – Mark 13:13.

If we endure, we will enter the kingdom eternal.

[Follow this link to read some stories of perseuction from the time of the Protestant reformation – Martyr Stories]

[Follow this link to read stories of persecution in the world today – http://www.persecution.com]

William Higgins