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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Are You Ready?

Why do you suppose it is that so much of the time we either cannot or refuse to choose God as the focus of our lives until we're in a position that He is the only choice we have left?  In the Gospels, Jesus actually extended His invitations specifically to those who were at the bottom of the barrel, so to speak.

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.  Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
                                                                                                                       (Matthew 5:1-5    NKJV)               

In this particular Scripture, which is the beginning of what is commonly referred to as 'The Sermon on The Mount', Jesus goes on to include many others in what I've always thought of as an invitation of a sorts.  

At this point, we need to back up just a bit.  To fully appreciate how Jesus came to be delivering The Sermon on The Mount, which many wrongly believe to be when He began His public ministry, we need to do just a bit of background.  After being baptized by John [the Baptist] in the river Jordan, Christ spent forty days in the wilderness, at the end of which He was tempted by satan.  This is when His public ministry begins, and before He delivered The Sermon on The Mount near Capernaum, He'd already preached at Galilee and Nazareth before going to Capernaum, which fulfilled prophecy found in Isaiah nine and forty-two.  Then, going back to the region of Galilee, He recruited the first four of his disciples as well as doing all kinds sickness and possessions.  A huge crowd developed there and followed as He made His way from Galilee to Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and to the area beyond the Jordan River.  It was at this point that He returned to Capernaum, with His huge crowd of followers intact and growing, and delivered The Sermon on The Mount.

When reading through the second half of Matthew chapter four, it becomes obvious that the  focus of Christ was on those who were sick, diseased, poor, and possessed, and this same focus is present in the first five verses of The Sermon on The Mount.  What we need to understand here is what I think of as the 'cultural climate' within the Jewish world at that time.  First of all, Judaism is much more than a religious belief system, it is actually a culture within itself.  What was going on during the time of Christ was that the Jewish culture was so watered down, or distorted, by legalism that the leaders, mainly the Pharisees, pretty much decided who was worthy, or fit, to be a part of the Jewish 'in-crowd.'  A good example of this is found in Luke 18:9-14.

Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:  "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a  Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men -  extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'  And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful  to me a sinner!'  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other;  for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.  (Luke 18:9-14    NJKV)

By and through the earlier Babylonian Talmud, and then later on the Jerusalem Talmud, the leaders of the Judaic world had added at least six hundred 'laws' that had nothing at all to do with God or His Will.  The end result of all of this was that it wasn't just the Gentiles who were pretty much reduced to vermin in the eyes of the mainstream Jews, it was also those Jews who didn't meet the criteria of the Pharisees.  Then the coming of Christ, which was first prophesied of by God Himself there in the garden of Eden, (See Genesis 3:14-15), wasn't exactly what the mainstream Jews had envisioned.  While it was never even hinted at through Old Testament prophecy, the Jewish hierarchy had decided over the four thousand or so years since the first mention of a Messiah that when He did come it would be with a lot of to-do and fanfare, parades and marching bands, festivals and singing.  As we all know, it didn't happen quite like that, and this is one of the major problems that the Jews had with Jesus, He didn't fit in with their ideas and notions of what He should be and do.  This bring us full circle back to where we started, that the focus of Christ during His early public ministry was those who weren't recognized by the 'uppity-up' as being fit for anything.  Perhaps this is why so many of us refuse Christ until we're in the position of having no one else to turn to.  

But, there is a big difference between us today and those Jesus was focused on two-thousand years ago.  Society and culture had decided that those people weren't fit for anything, and a great many of those people had lived in a subsistence lifestyle for generations, with no way to change it.  That's not true today.  We all know people who 'had it all' and then lost it by their own  actions.  In  our world today there are many, many people who were wealthy and accepted one day, and are living in a shelter the next.  Remember the story about the man who built his house on the sand?  There you go, it's the same [figurative] thing going on all around us.  

Okay then, here's the point I've been headed at since we started.  You don''t have to wait until your straw house, built on sand, had collapsed around you to be the wealthiest healthiest person there is.  Unlike some who've been unable to do better not by their own doings and who waste no time coming to the altar, let's not wait until we've lost everything before we turn to Christ.  It says nowhere in the Bible that we have to be poor and broken before He'll accept us, that's something we do on our own.  It's a cycle that only we can  break, and He's standing there, ever so patient, waiting.

How about it?  Has He waited long enough?  Are you ready?

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