Out of Water
The wandering about in the wilderness did not suit the Israelites. At times, the whole deliverance project seemed aimless. And the people would grow unhappy and say so. I think it was educator Roy Blitzer who once observed, "The only person who likes change is a wet baby." The people certainly did not take into account that change was inevitable; most people resist change. The Israelites had had quite enough of hardship and loss of dignity, and they would complain bitterly to Moses. Moses, in turn, would complain to God. Sometimes, the people would complain to God, and God would complain to Moses! I wouldn't have blamed God in the least if more than once he pulled out some angel hair and thought, Why in heaven's name did I even think to bring these people out of Egypt?
There seems an almost endless ritual of complaint and gift giving. The manna got dull and boring after years of eating nothing but that. Hear the complaint? "This manna stuff is awful! We should have stayed behind. If we hadn't followed Moses, we could be sitting at home to a nice bowl of leek and onion soup. Instead, we get these health food pancakes. Now the water supply is dwindling. Hey! Moses! Why have you brought us way out into the desert from Egypt? Did you do it in order to kill us and our children and cattle with thirst?" They were, to use a phrase I heard some time ago, dying of thirst at the edge of the river, experiencing more spiritual dryness than physical.
After all, they were being led by God. Had God not provided them with food? Had God not given them protection from their enemies? God knew their needs and would have provided if asked prayerfully. The Lord had done so before and would do as much again, but the people were too stiff-necked, too stubborn to see it. So they complained, and God gave in to their groaning because of the promise made with Abraham.
To whom do we turn when we feel spiritually dry? "Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. Come to me and drink, and be thirsty no more," Jesus calls out to us. It's a wonderful thing, this fountain of living water, because when we drink deep from it, living water wells up within us and we can share it with those who thirst for life in Christ. There is no need for us to complain once we have tasted this water, for our spiritual wells cannot run dry. The good news is that we are sustained. We are nurtured despite our complaining and fretting and worrying. All we have to do is trust in the Lord who provides. (Eric Killinger)
When the Cheering Stops
Have you heard the expression "home team advantage"? Ask professional sports players whether or not the cheers and affirmation of fans, friends, and family make a difference. They will tell you about the home team advantage. The annals of sports have plenty of examples of winning teams who lost, partly because they were not playing in home territory. What does that have to say to us about Christians living in a less-than-affirming environment? How is our faith, our commitment to God, affected by whether or not we are affirmed in our discipleship?
I. Commitment to God Must Come from Within
Paul uplifts Christ's encouragement and God's love as reasons to be faithful (vv. 1-5). Luke's Gospel tells us that there were throngs who lined the road to Jerusalem when Jesus rode in as the Messiah (Luke 19:36-38). Where were those crowds on the Friday of the Crucifixion, and what were they shouting then? Jesus' commitment to God was not determined by the whim of the crowd. Jesus' commitment came from within.
Consider these voices:
"I can be a disciple as long as it is comfortable."
"I can be a disciple under somewhat demanding conditions as long as I am rewarded."
"It is difficult to follow Christ when people think you are different or weird."
What voices do we hear today? How can we make room to hear God's voice, and what influence do we allow God to have in our lives?
II. Commitment to God Demands Complete Obedience
Paul quotes a hymn about Christ in verse 8 and reminds us, he "became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross." How obedient are we? What limitations do we set on our discipleship? One good test of integrity in belief and actions is consistency. How consistent are we as followers of Christ? Consider these personalities and test their consistency:
The Go Along: the one who cheers when the crowd cheers and hurls insults when the crowd turns.
The Judge: the critic and cynic who focuses on failure and on whatever is negative in any given situation.
The Discounter: the apathetic and undependable churchgoer who thinks, My participation doesn't matter.
The Controller: the individual who takes vocal positions on issues, often for personal gain and self-esteem rather than in service to Christ.
III. We Must "Work Out Our Own Salvation with Fear and Trembling"
This passage challenges us to be in touch with the power that God has placed within us: "For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (v. 13). It matters what we do and say. We make a difference in this world. The difference that we make can be enormous when we allow the power of God to work through us. While sitting in a hospital waiting room, I overheard a woman who was talking about her church. Her voice was loud, her tone was critical, and her audience was clinging to her every word. I did not know the woman. I never did hear the name or denomination of her church. It did not matter; what she said had that familiar ring of famous quotations and complaints often heard by pastors and church leaders:
"We never did it that way before!"
"Pastor, I'm so glad you preached that sermon today. There are folks who need to hear it (of course, I'm not one of them)."
"I remember how Pastor ——— used to do things."
What if that woman's comments were someone's only impression of the church of Jesus Christ? For the sake of the gospel, even when the cheering stops, we must be about the work of Christ. This is the true test of discipleship: obedience to God and fidelity to Christ's church. How we live. Whom we love and forgive. What we believe. Such a life, anchored in God, is not hindered by the passing storms of life. (Gary G. Kindley)
Better Late Than Never
Have you ever known big talkers? You know the type: whatever accomplishment you've just enjoyed, theirs was better; whatever operation you just had, theirs was much worse; whatever your summer vacation was like, theirs was even better! But you will notice with big talkers that when it comes time to get something done, they are usually nowhere to be found.
The New Testament leaves no doubt that discipleship is a matter of actions, not simply words. In our text, Jesus is confronting the religious establishment, a group that made its living on words. The men want to entangle Jesus in a debate that will compromise him, but Jesus makes it plain that he isn't interested in meaningless talk—he is concerned with meaningful action.
I. God Does Not Honor Those Who Talk Religion but Fail to Respond to God's Call
The members of the religious establishment had reason to defend the status quo. It was their source of support; so long as they didn't antagonize the Roman rulers, they pretty much were allowed to run the show in the religious realm. An itinerant preacher like Jesus—particularly one the people were beginning to think might be the Messiah—well, such a person complicated their lives and threatened the status quo. That was why, as the week in Jerusalem went on, the religious leaders became more and more desperate to eliminate him from the scene.
They hoped to get him involved in theological debate, but Jesus would have none of it. Why talk about the things of God with those who refused to respond to the call of God? He turned the tables on them by posing a question about John the Baptist. They were on the spot; clearly, they had rejected John, but his memory as a prophet was still quite popular with the people. Any answer would get them in trouble—so they passed.
That led Jesus into a parable about two men: one didn't talk the talk but walked the walk; the other talked the talk but didn't walk the walk. Guess which one Jesus honored? The one who acted, not the one who merely talked about it. The religious leaders opted for argument rather than acceptance. They were more concerned with self-image than with self-surrender; more concerned about status than about sacrifice. And Jesus had no use for them.
II. God Honors Those Who Respond to the Divine Call
If the parable hadn't been telling enough, Jesus must have infuriated the religious types with his application. The prostitutes and tax collectors—the most reviled of all professions in that culture— would arrive in the kingdom of heaven before the religious leaders because when they heard God's call, they responded in faith and repentance, unlike their religious brethren.
There's a wonderful truth here for all of us: it does not matter what you have done, where you have been, who you were before trusting Christ. If you will give your life to him—walk the walk, not just talk the talk—God has a special place reserved for you in his kingdom.
Likewise, there is a word of warning to those of us who may assume our religion will be satisfactory. All the religious words and ceremony in the world will not replace authentic faith and repentance. God wants actions, not mere words. (Michael Duduit)