Following Jesus on the
Jesus did not go back to heaven and leave His followers behind to do their own thing or run their own lives! He carefully left us many instructions and commandments concerning how we should live our lives as Christians. And He promised to leave us the Holy Spirit to be our personal trainer and teacher and help us work out how to follow His commands in our own lives. His Spirit is to be a fiery presence living in each believer, influencing and guiding and comforting us as we go about our work and live out our days. .
When we read through Matthew, Mark and Luke we find many of Jesus’ lessons and parables written there for us to study and follow. Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the “synoptic” or “same” gospels because they repeat many of the same lessons for living that Jesus left for his followers. When Jesus wasn’t healing people, He was constantly teaching His important lessons on how we are to live. And today we will look at three of his many lessons recorded for us, his followers in the sixth chapter of Matthew.
In our first lesson we find Jesus commanding his followers not to do good deeds in order to impress others. It can be stressful –working on impression management and trying to be what everyone wants! And of course we can never please all the people all the time. It can be pressure filled and burdensome having to dress for success and never letting your guard down. And then we have hurt and angry feelings when some folks criticize and reject us. Jesus is calling us to leave all of that behind and live simply. He is calling us to freedom! To a new way of living! Instead we are to do what we do simply to please and glorify God.
Jesus tells us in one of his lessons that when we give to a good cause or to the poor we are to do it secretly! Jesus says:” When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:3-4) It’s fun to see our name up in lights and to receive recognition and applause– to build up our self-esteem! But Jesus tells us not to play that game. He asks us to follow Him in a life of humility.
And Jesus did not want His followers to show off when they prayed or fasted either. (Matt.6:5-8, 14-18) There were religious leaders back then who loved to stand on the street corners and pray loudly so everyone could see how pious they were. And these same religious leaders hung their heads and moaned and groaned when they were fasting so that everyone could see how much they were suffering and be impressed.
We may not do those things today. But today there are other “Christian” activities we can get involved in to help others and to please God but also to make ourselves look important to others. We may donate to a cause partially to please God and partially to have our name listed in a book of recognition along with all the other names of folk who donated. Or to have our name chiseled in stone on the front of the church for all to see! Makes us feel proud and important..
But Jesus knew that this prideful competition between brothers and sisters in Christ can tear apart the unity and love that our churches and Christian communities are meant to have. Sometimes proud ambitious people are driven to walk over one another to get to the top and gain control. And they leave a trail of hurting and broken people behind on their way to up to prominence. That is not what Jesus wants! The rest of the world plays these prideful games, but we who have been born again are to be different. Jesus is calling us to follow Him in a life of humility.
We sometimes play these games because we fear rejection too much. But we can survive rejection and we need to tell ourselves that we can. Our worth and value is not determined by how other people think of us or treat us. True acceptance is not found in our accomplishments but in what Jesus has accomplished for us. Scripture says: “We are made acceptable to God through the Beloved (Jesus).” (Ephesians 1:6) We should try to value the unconditional love of God more than the conditional approval of people.
Jesus’ next lesson is a command for us not to put all of our efforts into saving money for earthly things. Here is what He says to us: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 5:19-21and 24)
I do not think that Jesus is teaching that we should not save money for our children or for health care or for food, clothing, shelter and modest entertainment. There are other passages in the Bible that tell us to work and save for these things. I believe Jesus is probably teaching that his followers should not put their efforts or money into expensive over-the-top items that are meant to project power and impress others- the very expensive automobile, the huge elegant mansion with manicured grounds, the wedding that costs $90,000.or the dress that costs $4,000. Should we Christians spend money to project power and lord it over others while a third of the world goes to bed hungry? And should we use Jesus Name while we are doing it?? Jesus’ followers are not to impress others with opulent displays of wealth designed to bolster their arrogance! Again we are called to follow Jesus in a life of humility.
Jesus continued his lessons commanding his followers not to worry. He told them: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds, they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin…But seek first the
and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:25-28 and 33) kingdom of God
Instead of worrying Jesus calls us to trust God and have a childlike faith in our heavenly Father. We pride ourselves for being intellectual and for not believing in God when we can not fully understand what He is doing. But if we had a god that we could fully understand it would not be the God of the Bible. Jesus calls us to a lean on God with a simple childlike faith. (Matthew 18:2-4)
Scripture says to: “Cast all of your cares upon Him” (1 Peter 5:7) Jesus points out how God cares for the birds and for the flowers. And He reminds us that if God takes care of the birds and the flowers, how much more will He take care of us, His children. Scripture says: “Fear not for I am with you, be not afraid for I am your God, I will strengthen you, yes I will help you, yes I will uphold you with the right Hand of My Righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10)
Jesus is calling us to believe that God is just (Deut.32:4) merciful and all loving. (1 John 4:8) And we are to have confidence in the sovereignty of God. He is in control of the whole world and of every microscopic detail. Even though He has given us free will and we can mess things up badly, He promises in His Word (the Bible) to overcome all evil and make everything right in the end. Let’s believe that. “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)
In all of Jesus’ lessons He is teaching his followers a new way of living. The old way was a painful and burdensome way and it didn’t work. So Jesus is calling believers to a “new and living way.” With the Holy Spirit working out our faith and guiding us in this new way we are learning to act on God’s Word rather than reacting to what other people think of us. Christianity was once called “the Way” (Acts 9:2)
In following Jesus on this Way – this road less traveled - we will be going in a direction opposite from all those who are following the world’s wisdom. And we may be misunderstood and persecuted because of that. But Jesus is calling us to take up His yoke and follow Him on this glory road and we mustn’t keep Him waiting. We will find joy and peace along the way and Jesus promises us rest for our souls. (Matthew 11:29) Are you coming along?