“Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our super-spiritual projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’Matthew 7:21-23, The Message
In our Lenten series, we are nearing the end of the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus has two things left to say. The first has to do with how seriously we will take what he has said. “….only those who do the will of my Father will enter the Kingdom of heaven,” he says.
George MacDonald, Scottish pastor of the 1800s, wrote this about the text. “I can find no words strong enough to serve for the weight of this necessity–this obedience…It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe in him if you do not anything he tells you…” Following the Call, pages 316-317.
In 1569, a Mennonite named Dirk Willems, under the threat of a death sentence fled from arrest, pursued by a “thief catcher.” Willems ran across a frozen lake, making it safely to the other side. However, his pursuer broke through the ice and was in danger of drowning. But Willems, believing Jesus’ command to love your enemies, went back to rescue him.
The thief-catcher, believing it was his duty to, nevertheless, arrested Willems and took him to trial. The result was that Willems was found guilty and burned at the stake.
This story is told because it illustrates the kind of obedience for which Jesus calls. Willems unquestioningly returned obedience when he believed that was the choice before him. So also the One-Way Missionaries of the early 1900s who packed a coffin with their belongings rather than a suitcase as they traveled to a foreign mission location.
In the western mindset there is no greater obligation than looking out for yourself. Jesus, on the other hand, has carefully laid out what it looks like when we put others first, ourselves second. Loving our enemies, keeping a promise even when it hurts you, and putting God’s kingdom above everything else are all examples of God’s demand for our obedience. “Be perfect as I am perfect,” he tells us.
During Jesus’ ministry he often had wannabe and pretending disciples who lurked around, perhaps looking for a miracle or some novel new teaching, but not willing to give their lives obediently to him. That’s why he told one person that he’d better rethink what the cost was going to be to follow Jesus. Jesus never pulled any punches.
Wendell Berry, the famous environmentalist and author, said that one of the embarrassing discipleship questions we have to ask is this. “Can you be sure that you would keep his commandments if it became excruciatingly painful to do so?” Truly painful.
Prayer: O God, it is easy to say that we love you but it is far more difficult to live up to that assertion. We know that you are uncompromising and that your grand desire for us is for us to be like you. So we ask you to help us strengthen our resolve. To put everything else aside in order to love you alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.