“How is it that the gospel has become so backwards?” asked the sincere young believer of her friends at the dining room table, who were busy enjoying a hearty lunch of quiche and salad. It was becoming a tradition with them to gather for lunch together at the parsonage after the Sunday morning service.
“What do you mean?” asked Pat, the bubbly young pastor’s wife who enjoyed these lively talks about life and the Word that usually accompanied their meals together.
“Well ... we call people to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior and then we invite them to Wednesday night Bible study and Sunday morning worship, right?”
“Right,” said Pat as her twinkling green eyes met Mary’s. “They need the warmth and support of other believers to be able to share Jesus’ warmth on the job and among their friends.”
“And without the community of faith there’d be little impact on the world,” offered Steve, the young blond-haired, blue-eyed pastor. He longed to see justice and equality come to this earth and was very active politically.
“Pat, would you pass the dressing?” asked Kevin, Mary’s husband, who was quieter than the rest and a little more thoughtful.
“Sure ... here, Kevin. Go on, Mary,”
“Well, Jesus would go right up to people like Peter and Andrew when they were fishing or Matthew at his tax booth and say, ‘Come, follow me...’ and they would immediately drop everything and go follow Him. We certainly don’t call people to do that today. Maybe after they’ve become believers we call them to greater and greater commitment until finally one day they go to the mission field or off to seminary to be a pastor.”
“Right,” interjected Kevin, “but doesn’t it say in the Word that to become a disciple you must first give up all your own possessions? Why do we have people first become a disciple and then later gradually, if they’re lucky, come to a place where they have given up all their own possessions?” He looked across the table eagerly to John, the burly seminary student with curly brown hair and soft brown eyes who was doing his in-service training under Steve, and added, “What do you think, John?”
John smiled warmly.
“Well, you’re right. It says it right there in the Word, in Luke 14:33 and other places. But nobody does it,” he added ruefully.
“It must be that was just for back then. Times are different now,” consoled Pat.
“If people did give up everything, what would they do next, practically speaking?” asked Steve thoughtfully. “Go on welfare ... what kind of witness would that be?”
“I suppose you’re right,” said Mary sadly. “There is no way to do that in our day and age.
“But did Jesus really mean for things to turn out the way they are now? Wouldn’t it have been simpler if He had stood before the crowds and called on them to receive Him as their Lord and Savior and then told them to meet with Him again at synagogue on the Sabbath? If that’s what He had in mind it would’ve been easier to start off that way right from the beginning. Surely He must have had something else in mind or that’s what He would’ve done.”
“You’ve got a point there,” said John amusedly.
“The world is a lot more complicated and complex today than it was then,” offered Steve. “It’s no wonder things have changed so. It’s certainly a challenge to make the gospel relevant to today’s generation.”
Their talk drifted on to other things. They finished eating, said good-bye, and went on to their own homes and tasks of the day. But Mary couldn’t stop thinking about Jesus and what He really had had in mind.
“I wonder what it would be like if He came to our world today? What would He say and do? What would believers be like?” Her mind played with the idea like a child with a new toy.
His followers didn’t just do what everyone else did. They didn’t attend the mainstream churches of their day. Why, they didn’t even attend church. Peter and Andrew didn’t go on fishing every day after they met Jesus and just go to church once a week and meet for Bible studies in their homes. No! Their lives never were the same again! The early believers in Acts met together often. They couldn’t stay away from each other.
Although she had heard so many times before that that type of life was “not normative for today but was a unique expression for that time period,” she couldn’t help but get excited at the thought of that life existing somewhere on earth today.
These people would be different from your run-of-the-mill churchgoers. They would be “peculiar,” zealous, committed. Their care for one another and those around them would communicate that love had visited the earth. Their warmth would attract others. It would be fresh, alive, contagious. Oh, that there were some group somewhere that was like this! Her soul yearned to know them, to be a part of them.
The Master had looked at the good, moral people of his day who went to synagogue every week, were kind to their neighbors, and were upstanding citizens, and said to His followers, “your righteousness must exceed theirs.” Evidently being good, kind, and moral and going to church every week wasn’t good enough for Him.
It wasn’t good enough for Mary either. “I just feel so empty inside,” she thought. “People tell me I’m saved, but I don’t feel any different than I did before I was saved. What have I been saved from anyway? It seems like the only thing that changed when I got saved was my pattern of thinking. Is it my brain that’s been saved? My head knowledge keeps growing and expanding the more I study the Word but what of my heart? It seems puny in comparison.
“I know so many things I should do ... love your enemies, lend without expecting anything in return, give to those who ask of you, be kind to one another... But to be honest I’m not at all growing in my power to do them.” Her soul yearned for something greater.
Kevin wasn’t satisfied either. They talked often together and searched for something more. Kevin visited a community in the Midwest. The life there wasn’t any different than what you would’ve found in any number of churches. They thought maybe they should become missionaries. Kevin considered going to seminary. They prayed and talked and waited.
One day Kevin and Mary visited a community in Vermont. What they saw there cut them to the heart. They saw a people who had given up everything to follow Yahshua, the Son of God. He was their only possession. Nothing else mattered to them — not family, careers, vacations, things. Nothing. They wanted Him above all else. It left them shaken.
Mary saw the shallowness of her own life in comparison. The life before her was like a flood light penetrating into the deepest parts of her heart. She saw that she was actually an unbeliever — she who had been trying to follow Jesus for years. She saw that she didn’t really believe in God. She didn’t tremble at His word. There was no reality of God in her life. Her life was not fundamentally different from the lives of all the other unbelievers she knew. He was like some fairytale figure to her — far, far away.
She saw that the Jesus she had been introduced to hadn’t been worth giving everything to. Nobody she knew had done so. Neither had she. Mary knew why she had never felt clean. She hadn’t been. There was no power to forgive in that gospel, no power to cleanse, to break down the barriers, to forgive others. It was earthly — natural — just like any other self-help group. “God helps those who help themselves,” was all she had ever been shown.
But now they were confronted with the truth. It was simple — so simple even a child could understand it. There is a God in heaven. He has a people on the earth who are doing His will. To become a part of this life, His life, you must die to your own life. You must uncompromisingly, unconditionally surrender. It is your life for His life. To those who believe, this message is the power of God for salvation.1 But to those who don’t believe, this message of the cross is utter folly.2
Your life? Your rotten, stinking life for His life? His eternal, unending, wonderful, magnificent, deeply satisfying life, for your life? My husband and I saw the pearl. We went down to the waters of baptism, just like Paul the apostle had, and washed our sins away. We became immersed into His life — the life of Yahshua, the One who is mighty and powerful to save. He saved us and is continuing to save us.3