What Jesus Demands from the World, Session 2
Desiring God 2010 Regional Conference
What Jesus Demands from the World
Thanks so much for coming back this morning. I felt so thankful when I was done last night that we were able to spend those minutes together, reveling in the connection between the person of Christ, his infinitely valuable person, his atoning work, and how those are the roots of his demanding and how that enables us to obey, in some measure, to the glory of God. I just felt so deeply helped by the Lord with us, so I’m going to pause and ask him to do that again.
Keeping in Step with the Whole Christ
Our overarching question, as we talk about what Jesus demands from the world, is how we fulfill this piece of the Great Commission — “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” That’s why all of these hundreds of commands were gathered together. It’s for the sake of teaching them to observe them, not just to parrot them but do them, as impossible as they are, including commands like loving our enemies (Matthew 5:43–44) and rejoicing in persecution (Matthew 5:12).
How are we to do that for our children, our small groups, our churches, and the nations? That’s the big overarching question, which I’m trying to do with the book, with these talks, with my family, and with my church. I just want to be an instrument in the hand of the risen, authoritative Christ to do that so that more and more people render God-glorifying obedience to everything Jesus demanded that we do.
That’s the big overarching goal, and we gave a partial answer to how that happens by saying that in that teaching, we keep connected the glorious person of Christ, who is infinitely valuable and infinitely satisfying in his friendship to us and his work in us, and his work for us in history on the cross. We keep the commands connected with those things. We don’t act like liberal ethic-stealers, and just snatch a command here and there and put it to use for their business or their club or whatever because Jesus is such a great ethical teacher. He in fact was a lunatic, if all he was was an ethical teacher, C.S. Lewis said, right? Because he would be on par with a man who believed himself to be a poached egg, going around saying things like, “Before Abraham was, I am,” if he actually wasn’t.
So you can’t snatch, out of his mouth, a random command here and there because it fits your needs, and say, “The person who said all these things about ‘the Son of Man came into the world not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many’ — I don’t like that worldview. Ransom? Yuck. Bad view of God.” You can’t do that. It’s all one big package. If you take him, you take his work, and you take, then, rightly understood, his demands, and that’s what I’m trying to do. I just want to get these demands right. I don’t want to abstract them, I don’t want to misuse them, and I don’t want to turn this into a club.
His Commands Are Not Burdensome
In fact, when I think about the way I want to do this here, I am contrasting Jesus — and I hope the way I’m doing it — with the way the Jewish leaders handled the commands of God. Listen to this. This is Matthew 23:4. Jesus said about them:
They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
Phew. You just vibrate when you see that use of commands, right? All these Pharisees and scribes and elders were taking all these commands, 613 commands from the Pentateuch, and just dumping them on people, and closing their hands, and just watching them get crushed and feeling superior. And Jesus said, “That’s not the way I do it. My burden is light. My yoke is easy.” And we tend to say, “You’ve got to be kidding. You said that unless somebody denies himself and takes up his instrument of execution and follows you, he can’t be your disciple (Matthew 16:24). What’s light about that? What crosses are heavy?”
That’s our challenge, right? When you read the Gospels and you read the Sermon on the Mount, it just doesn’t feel light. But it is. So we’ve got to figure this out. How do we understand the demands so that some wild statement like, “My burden is light and my yoke is easy” (Matthew 11:30) works?
Here’s what we’re going to do in this session, God helping us. I want to take some sample demands that I’m going to call foundational demands or basic demands or necessary-to-get-first demands, and get those, and let them amaze us because when people think of the demands of Jesus, they don’t usually think of these first. And then we will ask how they relate to our changed behavior demands, like “love your enemies,” “sell your possessions,” “give alms,” and so on. This includes attitude changes towards people, like, “don’t be angry” and “don’t hold grudges.” Those come, but there’s this cluster of demands that he gives that are amazing at the front end, and they make all of that different. And then once we’ve done that — that is, dealt with these basic commands — we’ll draw a line and we will step back and say, “Now how does the connectedness with Jesus and his work to those commands affect all these other weighty, hard, behavior changing commands.” That’s where we’re going.
I’ve got about six. They’re all here, and I’m just picking some random ones that seem to fit together well in a talk.
1. You Must Be Born Again
Number one: You must be born again. The most basic demand of King Jesus to the world is, “You are dead. You must be made alive.” John 3:7 says:
Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
And then, as if to make crystal clear what’s at stake, in John 3:3, he says:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.
So you perish outside the kingdom of God if you’re not born again. And then, he explains the role of God’s Spirit in doing that because this is a command that is technically, absolutely, and truly without any hyperbole at all, impossible for human beings to do. You do not do it any more than a baby produces its birth. John 3:6 says:
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
So what does that mean? Flesh is what we are by nature. It’s just the word for human nature without any spiritual reality. If you just abstract God, Spirit, Christ, and spiritual life away, what you have left are human beings, billions of them, walking around the planet who are just flesh. They are what they are by their first birth. But that which is born of the Spirit, a second time, a second kind of birth, is spirit; meaning, now there’s a living spirit within, so there’s spiritual life within. My spirit has come to life. It was dead, now it is alive, and that happened by the Spirit.
Leave the Dead to Bury Their Dead
Jesus said this in another place to confirm this worldview that there are dead people walking around and living people walking around. After a man said, “I want to follow you, but let me go bury my father first” (Luke 9:59), he said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their dead” (Luke 9:60). So you have dead people who need burying, and dead people who bury them. Did you get that?
Leave the dead to bury their dead. That’s just a clue. It’s just a little window on his worldview of humanity. Ordinary people are dead, that is, they have zero spiritual life, which means they can’t tune into God, Christ, the cross, or the gospel with any genuine delight, appreciation, love, gratitude, or dependence. It’s all boring, or it’s all mythical. It’s just of no interest. Or they might be religious and go to church, and it doesn’t move them at all. They’re there for the fellowship and they’re there for the cool music, but as far as spiritual reality, you can listen to them pray and it’s not there. They pray just like unbelievers, “God bless my day. Help me to get a job. Make my kid well.” That’s just the way an unbeliever prays.
There is no spiritual sense of “Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Break my heart. Exalt your name in my life. Transform my mind. Humble my pride.” There’s none of that in their prayers at all. They’re dead.
Once Lost, Now Found
Or to see it again in the mouth of Jesus, the prodigal son comes home and his older brother is bent out of shape because he’s dead, and the father says, “This my son was dead and is alive again. Come on into the party. Get life. Join us in mercy. That’s life.”
John 3:8 talks about the strangeness of this and how it happens, saying:
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
So you’re standing there and suddenly, “Oh. There’s a wind. I don’t see it. Where did that come from? How did that start? I don’t see any fan.” And that’s the way people get born again. All of a sudden, they think, “Why am I now needing Christ? Why am I now feeling conviction for sin? Why am I now desiring to go to church? Why am I now trembling for my eternal destiny? What has happened to me?” God happened to you. The Spirit blew out of nowhere. You don’t make yourself alive. This is very offensive to American — and I presume Canadian — independent, self-sufficient, take-control, manage-your-life human beings. To be told, “Excuse me, you’re dead, and you must be born again,” is offensive.
Commanding the Dead to Live
It is saying, “I command you in the name of almighty God, be born again.” It’s like commanding the lame to walk. It’s like commanding the blind to see. It’s like commanding the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak. It’s like commanding Lazarus to get out of the grave, for goodness’ sake. That can’t happen. We think, “I’ve got to be in charge. This has to be my free, autonomous, self-determining decision.”
Well, if you want to stay there, you stay dead. Lazarus did rise from the dead, but he didn’t do it, and you didn’t do it, Christian. I don’t know what you’ve been taught about how you got saved, but you didn’t do it. Your life is a gift, and it came out of the blue. The wind blows where it will. We don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going. And so is everyone who is born by the Spirit, which means, by the way, a little parenthesis comes to my mind.
I don’t remember becoming a Christian. I don’t remember ever being a non-Christian. I don’t remember not believing. I grew up in a Christian home, and therefore I’ve never had one of those, you know, get-off drugs testimonies. But you know how it works for me to sing these songs? I mean, you may stand there wondering, “Why are these people lifting their hands? Why are their eyes shut? Why are they like that?” Maybe you don’t remember anything dramatic, but all you have to do is learn a doctrine like this and believe it with all your heart.
John Piper was dead. I don’t remember being dead. I was. Whether I was four, five, six, seven, or eight years old, I was dead — more dead than any drug addict. And now I’m alive. And now I watch myself, my indwelling sin is so manifest to me, that all I need to do is extrapolate a little bit back to what it would have been if he had not intervened, so that the ongoing witness of my own abiding corruption is all I need, together with this doctrine, to say, “I’m flat on my face, thanking the sovereign Jesus for making me alive and keeping me alive.”
So the first command, the most basic command, that the Lord Jesus gives to the world is, “You must have life. You must be born again.” I admit, it leaves you sitting there very helpless. You might think, “How do I obey? You told me it’s a command, but what do I do? What do I do?” So let’s just keep going.
I’m trying to pick the most basic, prominent ones in Jesus. Number two is repent. Matthew 4:17 says:
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Luke 5:32 says:
I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Luke 13:3 says:
Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Now here’s what I want to say about this command because I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the meaning of the word repent in the mouth of Jesus. Here’s the main thing I want to say: it is not something you do. Just leave it at that. Well, what is it? It is the verb metanoeō or the noun metanoia — meta is to alter or change, and noia is mind, disposition, or attitude. To repent is to experience a profound change in the way you view and value God and Christ and his work. It’s like saying, “Change your view of me. Change your attitude toward me. Change your valuing of things so that I am central.” It’s not saying, “Do stuff. Stop sleeping around. Stop lying. Stop cheating. Stop stealing.” That’s not the meaning of repent, and I can show you that.
A New Inner Reality
Luke 3:8 goes like this: “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” Or the ESV translates it, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” Clearly, fruit-bearing and repentance aren’t the same. Repentance has fruits. If it doesn’t, it’s not real. But it’s not the fruits, and the fruits are all those behaviors. If you jump immediately and say, “Jesus is saying change your behaviors,” you will stay dead and change. That’s how churches are grown in America. Dead people gather together for all kinds of reasons in relation to desperate life situations or needs. People can have good feelings while they’re dead. People can think, “Make my marriage better. Make my kids better. Make my job better. Change me but don’t tell me I’m dead. Don’t tell me I have to have a metanoia that is an alteration of the way I think and feel about God and Christ and the cross.”
So my main observation about repentance is that, just like with the new birth, it is the demand for a new inner reality. My mind, meaning my whole soul, heart, mental, and affectional thing, has to undergo this. The Old Testament word for repent is turn. But it’s an inner turning. It’s not first like I’m walking and I turn around and walk the other direction, but rather, in my whole soul, I’m loving money and I’m despising Christ. I’m loving myself and I’m hating the cross where I’m supposed to be crucified. That whole disposition has to be altered, and so Jesus is saying, “Repent. Have a different view of me and a different value of me.”
3. Believe in Me
Number three: Believe in me.
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me (John 14:1).
While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light (John 12:36).
Now, let’s camp here for a few minutes to make sure we see the bigger picture of why we need to believe in him. Trust is another good word for pisteuō. He says, “Trust me.” And you should ask, “For what? Why? What do you mean, trust you? What is my situation and your accomplishment that I need to trust you, not me? I’m doing all right.” I guess most people in Vancouver would say, “I don’t trust Jesus. I’m doing fine. I have health insurance, a job, a family, a brain, a will, and a car. I’m making it.”
So we need to ask, what does he mean? Why is he calling upon us, saying, “Trust me. You need to trust me. You need to trust me”? Why? It’s implying that we’re in trouble and he could get us out if we trusted him. It’s like a fireman. This illustration has been very helpful to me, and very inadequate. So I’ll give you the helpfulness of it, and at the end, in a minute or two, I’ll give you the inadequacy of it. See if you can think it out.
Say you’re trapped in a house that’s on fire and you can get out. The smoke is rising and you don’t know which way the door is, and it looks like flames are all around you, and a fireman, just with his unbelievable gear on, bursts through the flame nand has this big tarp, throws it around you, and picks you up while you’re terrified. You say, “We’re not going through that are we?” And he says, “Yes we are. And you are going to hold still, and you will not help me. If you try to help me, you will kill both of us. You must trust me and hold still.” That’s the picture. I love it. I love that picture. You’re hell bound and he’s coming into this mess of your life, and he’s snatching you up. He’s the only one who can do this right here, and you must hold still. So that’s the part I like.
Rescued from Perishing
Here’s what Jesus said about why we need to trust him:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Whoever believes, whoever trusts him trusts him won’t perish but have eternal life. And then you drop down a few verses. That was John 3:16, as you know, but people don’t often connect it with John 3:36 to fill out the picture and explain why we sing songs as we do. We think Paul taught this. We don’t think Jesus taught this. And here’s what he says in John 3:36:
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son (obey his command to believe) shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
Oh, I see the fire. I see the house burning now. Jesus’s worldview is not just that the whole world is dead, but that the wrath of God is resting, remaining on the world, and there’s one way out: “Believe me. I’m the only fireman who can get you out of the wrath of God.”
The doctrine of propitiation — Christ removing the wrath of God by his work — is not first Pauline. It’s first Jesus. That’s my condition. How did Jesus do it? He says,
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).
The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
What kind of negotiation is going on here? It’s God paying God so that I, the offender, may go free at the cost of his Son. That’s the payment that’s going on here. God’s wrath, God’s just and holy anger at me, is satisfied by the Son saying, “Father, let it go on me.” Some of you may have heard that sermon that C.J. Mahaney gave two years ago at Together for the Gospel on the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He used a phrase. Those of us who were there will probably not forget. He said, “It was the scream of the damned.”
He was saying, “God? No. Don’t abandon me.” That’s what we would all say in hell unless Jesus said it for us, which he did, if you believe. That’s our condition. That’s the need for him saying, “Trust me. Trust me.” Jesus’s fundamental command is, “Change your ideas about me. Trust me. Repent. Believe. Don’t think of me any other way than this way.” That’s what turn and change means. Repent. Get rid of all those wrong ideas about me, all those wrong feelings toward me, all that pushing away, and trust me. I’m here to save.” Does that sound like a burden? Does that demand sound like, “Oh, I can’t carry that demand”? It’s not a burden. It’s a lifter-up of my head. That’s what the commands are.
True Bread, Living Water
We need to say just a little more about belief. What does trusting him or believing in him involve? Well, it certainly involves believing facts. If you get the facts wrong, like if you say, “He did not die and he did not rise, but I trust him,” you don’t. Facts matter. They really matter. But believing facts does not constitute faith because the Devil believes those facts. He knows he died and he knows he rose. He knows it better than you do, so those constitute a necessary part of faith, but not saving faith.
Well, what more is there to it? One way to describe it is to say that it is a receiving of all that Christ offers himself to be for me. He says, “Trust me as Savior. Trust me as your counselor. Trust me as your guide. Trust me as your treasure. Trust me for everything I am for you. In fact, trust me for all that God is for you in me.” When we start talking with that language, faith becomes profoundly different from what a lot of people think it is. And the verse that helps me most in this regard is John 6:35, which goes like this:
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
Whoever comes shall not hunger, and whoever believes shall not thirst. So I take it that believing is a coming-to, an embracing of, and a receiving of Christ as my bread and my soul-satisfying, living water. That’s belief.
If Jesus says to you, “I have water for you. I am water for you,” and you won’t drink it, you don’t believe him. You’re not doing the act of trusting. Trusting is the drinking. When you drink Christ to your soul’s satisfaction, that’s called believing him and trusting him. I think that’s what Jesus means by it.
To All Who Did Receive Him
John 1:12 says:
To all who did receive him (now you have the word receive), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God . . .
So receiving him and an ongoing believing of him, are, I think, the same in John 1:12. And they are the pathway into sonship, having God as our Father. So, “Believe me,” means, “Receive what I am for you. I’m your Savior. I’m your atoning sacrifice. I’m your treasure. I’m your Lord. I’m your friend. I’m your all in all. Will you have me? Have me.” That’s a command: “Have me. Receive me. Trust me. Believe me.”
Now, do you see why the fireman illustration was inadequate? I’ve heard a lot of sermons and I’ve talked to a lot of people for whom the fireman illustration is pretty much all their life, and it’s why they’re either not Christian or such weak Christian, because they think, “Okay. I’m scared of hell. I got scared of hell when I was about six. And somebody told me Jesus was like a fireman and he’d come and he’d scoop me up, and if I trusted him to get me out of the fire, he would get me out of the fire. Oh I don’t like fire, and I’m happy to trust him. I’m out. See you, Jesus.” Oh how inadequate that picture is.
The person could think, “In fact, I don’t like you at all. From what I hear from the fire department, you sleep around on the weekend. You’re not an admirable person. But I’m really thankful you got me out. I’ll write you a note, and I’ll mention you every now and then. If somebody asks me how I got out, I’ll tell them about you. I just don’t like you. I don’t want to live with you. You do not bring me any joy or satisfaction, but the memory is cool. So keep your distance.” That’s not faith. So the analogy is utterly inadequate. The statement “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” is totally different than that.
Believing Jesus is this: as he carries you out, you look up into his face and you don’t just see a competent deliverer, you see an all-satisfying friend. You see the king of the universe. You see the maker. You see everything you’ve ever dreamed about in him. That’s faith. Faith is receiving him for all that God is for you in him.
4. Come to Me
Number four: Come to me. You will see, now, how overlapping these are because the fourth one I’m going to give you is, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).
As John 7:37 says, Jesus stood and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” And Matthew 11:28 says, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy-laden.” This is not a burdensome command. This is not a weight to be borne. This is a weight to be lifted.
John 15:11 says:
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
In other word, “Everything I say to you is designed to involve you in my divine joy. So come. Come. You’re having a lot of fun, and you think it’s satisfying and you think it’s joyful, but here’s what joy is. Come to me. Come to me.” That’s why metanoia (repentance) is required because a dead person, an unrepentant person, looks at Jesus, looks at the television, looks at Jesus, looks at his iPad, looks at Jesus, looks at skiing, and says, “He’s not better.” And that’s because they haven’t been changed. They haven’t repented. They don’t believe. They’re not born again to new life. They prefer other things to Jesus. They’re blind.
Coming to Jesus is impossible for those kinds of people, which is why Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” That’s another way of saying he causes him to be born again, grants him repentance, or grants him faith.
Or John 6:65 says, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” So the demands are, be born again, believe in me, repent, and come to me.
5. Love Me
Number five: Love me. Matthew 10:37 says:
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
What does it mean to love Jesus? Oh, how many people jump immediately to define love in terms of decisions and behaviors!
I had a professor in college who assigned the book Situation Ethics in an apologetics class, by Joseph Fletcher, in which I stumbled onto the argument that everybody was oohing and aahing over; namely, that love is a decision, not an affection or an emotion because it is commanded, and you can’t command the emotions. And everybody was like, “Whoa. Fresh insight.” And I was thinking that didn’t smell right. I was just 20 years old and grew up in a Bible-saturated home, and all I could say was, “That doesn’t smell right.” I couldn’t articulate why it wasn’t right. I said, “You think that’s cool? It doesn’t smell right to me. Something is goofy here.” Well, what’s goofy is of course that Jesus can command emotions. And he does it all over the place. Read your Bible, Mr. Fletcher — which he didn’t do very much, at least not with faith.
We are commanded to fear, to be thankful, to feel remorse, and to feel joy. Commands of our hearts are all over the place. If we ought to have an emotion and we don’t have it, Jesus can command that we have it, whether we can perform it or not. That’s how radical these commands are. So I don’t buy the argument that the command to love Jesus must be a command to do some things or decide some things because you can’t command anything deeper than that. I think it is way deeper and prior to decisions and performances. And I can show you a text that shows that.
John 14:15 says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He doesn’t say, “Loving me is keeping my commandments,” which I’ve heard sermons on. I’ve heard pastors teach that to love Jesus is is entirely equal to keeping the commandments. That’s not what the verse says, right? It says, “If you love me, something will result. Commandment-keeping will result.” Commandment-keeping isn’t the same as love. Love is the root, and commandment-keeping is the fruit. Love is an inner reality, and commandment-keeping is an external application and fruit growing out of this inner reality. So what’s the reality?
The reality is that we admire him, we enjoy him, we have an attraction to his presence, we have strong feelings of admiration for him, and we have gratitude for him.
Love for Jesus
Let me give you a picture that Jesus gave. Remember the time he came to the Pharisee’s house? The Pharisee had invited him over, and this Pharisee was very self-righteous and very happy to have a figure like Jesus for dinner, and didn’t give him a kiss when he came, didn’t wash his feet, and while they were reclining at table — you know they would put their elbow on the table and their feet are stuck out with the table spread with food — a prostitute came in. This is Luke 7:36–50.
A prostitute came in, who obviously had had an experience with Jesus of a profound kind. She bent down, her hair fell around, she was crying, and she took her long hair and her tears, and she started wiping his feet. And the Pharisee just went ballistic, right? He says to himself, “If you were a prophet, you would know what kind of a woman this is.” And Jesus tells him a story:
A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more? (Luke 7:41–42).
And the Pharisee says, “Well, I suppose the one that he forgave more for” (Luke 7:43). And Jesus says:
Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven — for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little (Luke 7:44–47).
So where does our love for Jesus come from and what is it? Our love for Jesus is a stunned, grateful, humble amazement and admiration for his mercy toward us, and an affectionate drawing in and pressing into him. It’s all about this inner reality of what’s happened to us. We love Jesus because we have seen his amazing love for us, and we’ve seen the kind of person that is overflowing in love to us, and we’re like this prostitute, if we’re alive, who are saying, “I just want to be near you and I want to show you in whatever way I can, and I don’t have much, that my affections for you are very strong.”
That’s way prior to and way deeper than behaviors. If you jump to behaviors, saying, “I’m loving him because I’m tithing,” or, “I’m loving him because I’m attending church,” or, “I’m loving him because I’m not smacking my wife around,” or, “I’m loving him because, because, because . . .” you don’t know what you’re talking about. This is way deeper than that. Way deeper.
You must be born again. You must repent. You must believe. You must come to the fountain, and when you’re at the fountain, you drink in mercy and you just love it. This is before you move any muscle in your body. All these commands are being fulfilled before you move a muscle in your body.
This is the last one and then we’ll do some gear-switching for a few minutes. Number six: Rejoice in that day and leap for joy. So there’s the command. That’s Luke 6:22. It says:
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets (Luke 6:22–23).
We are commanded by the king of the universe to be happy, to rejoice. C.S. Lewis said:
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward . . . promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.
That’s because we’re not born of God. We don’t repent. We don’t believe. We don’t come. We don’t see. We’re dead to the holiday at the sea. He is saying, “I’m the holiday at the sea, child. I know those mud pies you’re making are fun. I know they are. They’re called sin. I’m going to take you to a place where the sand is white and it stretches for miles. The ocean is gentle and shallow. The sun won’t burn you up, and you will be able to play in ways you’ve never even imagined. Come to me.” And so many people just look at their gutter and look at the Lord, and they stay because nobody can come unless the Father overcomes their rebellion.
Happiness and Self-Denial
When Jesus commands us to rejoice, is there any place for self-denial? Mark 8:34 says:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Yes, there is. C.S. Lewis said:
The New Testament has lots to say about self- denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.
Indeed it does. Jesus says, “If you lose your life for my sake in the gospel’s (that’s self-denial), you will save it.” And you want to save your life because that means eternal joy with him in the new heaven and the new earth. So yes there’s self-denial. It is both, “Rejoice,” and, “Deny yourself.” Those are two commands in Jesus’s mouth. And they’re like saying, “Be cancer free. Get the surgery.”
Self-denial is not a burden when you see it that way. His burden is light. The burden of his command for denying yourself is light, and the yoke of his command for you to deny yourself is easy when you see it this way.
From the Root to the Fruit
Now I will shift gears and move to the last little piece here. Those are samples of what I call basic demands. First, be born again. You need life. You’re dead.
Second, repent. Have everything in you and the way you assess Jesus turned around and changed. View him and value him in a different way.
Third, believe. Trust him. Trust him as treasure. Trust him as water. Trust him as bread. Trust him as Savior. Trust him as Lord. Trust him as guide. Trust him as sex counselor. Trust him as financial counselor. Trust him as your goal in the universe. Trust him.
Fourth, come to him. Don’t turn to those other things. Come to him.
Fifth, love him. Cherish him. Value him. Admire him. Be grateful to him. These are all internal. We haven’t moved a muscle yet.
And then, sixth, rejoice in him. Delight in him. Find him as your satisfaction. You have not yet moved a muscle, and he’s all over you to be for you and to satisfy you and to forgive you, and to take away the wrath of God from you, and all your sins get canceled out — before you move a muscle.
These are the commands. This is what Jesus demands from the world. And then, the question arises, “All right. But there are other commands. ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself’ is different.” And it is indeed. So are the commands to love your enemies, to pray for those who persecute you, and to do good to those who abuse you. That’s a new category. And it is, indeed. And my closing question is, how do these initial ones relate to those?
What’s happened here, by grace, is that now we’ve been united to Christ. His death has become our death. The wrath he bore is gone from me. We have forgiveness. He bore our sins and we’re forgiven. I had an idol that was feeling good and it was killing me, and he stripped it off of me and he gave me himself, and so I have him as my treasure. Sins are gone, wrath is gone, and Christ is there, all without moving a muscle. All I did was receive, receive, receive. It was so free. It was bought by the new-covenant-establishing blood of Jesus. And only when that is clear, do these other commands begin to be possible. I’m just going to give you two examples of how they are possible and how the connection with Jesus actually works.
1. The Unleashing of Radical Love
Number one: the care and provision of our Father in heaven is secured by the blood of Christ, through faith, and unleashes radical love. It goes like this. This is John 1:12 again:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God . . .
So now we have God as our Father by believing. He’s not wrathful anymore. He’s totally loving and caring and provides for us — all for faith alone. What effect does that have in Jesus’s mind? Listen to this:
Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys (Luke 12:32–33).
Do you see the logic? Your Father desires and takes pleasure in freely giving you the kingdom — eternal life. Therefore, sell. Give. Live with abandon in the cause of love. You don’t need to be greedy. You don’t need to be afraid. He’s got your back all the way to the end. He’s going to provide every need. Seek the kingdom first and his righteousness, all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33). That is, everything you need, you get.
That’s not prosperity teaching because you might get prison. John the Baptist got everything he needed until the end. He was a great man. Christ never left him. God never left him. The Father never left him. He had everything he needed. You’ll have everything you need, but if you start gathering up treasures on earth, you will be saying, “My Father is not enough for me. These promises of Jesus, bought with his blood, I don’t think I can count on them.”
The Fatherhood of God
Here’s another way that the fatherhood of God, which we have by faith alone through Jesus, works:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7–11).
Jesus is saying, “Do you believe me and him?” And then he says:
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Get it? That’s risky. Whatever you wish that others would do to you, make that the measure of how you treat others. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is one of the hardest commands in the world, because we all know that we want everybody to serve us. We don’t want them to hurt us. We want them to compliment us. We want them to give us surprises. And Jesus says, “I know that’s the way you are, so I’m making that the measure of how you treat people.” It’s an absolutely slaying command, and the way Jesus says it’s possible is, “Don’t you know that you have a Father, who when you ask, he gives? And when you seek, you find him? And when you knock on his door, he opens? And just like you, as you won’t give a snake to your son if he asks for bread, he won’t give you anything bad for you when you ask him, but only what’s good for you. Therefore, treat others like you’d like to be treated.”
Do you see the connection? It stems out of obedience to those first commands, which means receive, rest, enjoy, and know you’re cared for. Blood-bought fatherhood is all over you from an omnipotent God. Therefore, take some risks and love others like crazy in ways you couldn’t any other way if he didn’t have your back and promise to take care of you all the way to the end.
2. The Unleashing of God-Glorifying Love
Here’s one last way it works. The first was that we have the Father whose omnipotent care for us was secured by the blood of Jesus so that we trust the words, “Whoever receives me, receives the one who sent me” (John 13:20). Therefore, we have a Savior and we have an omnipotent Father. He’ll meet all our needs, and therefore we can treat others way better than we think we could otherwise because he will take care of us when they don’t. And we can just overflow with love to others. Oh, if the church would be this way.
Here’s the second one: Our great reward in heaven is the person of Christ which is secured by the work of Christ, and unleashes God-glorifying love. That’s one passage. So let me say it again. We have a reward. It’s coming. Right now, we know in part. We see in the glass darkly and Jesus is beautiful to us. He’s satisfying to us. He vindicates himself as our friend and our Savior and our Lord again and again by the way he helps us, but we see so little of him now. One day it will be face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). In John 17:24, Jesus prays, “Father, I desire that those whom you have given me might be with me to see my glory.” One day we’re going to see him face-to-face, and that will be totally satisfying, and he will be with us forever. There will be no more sinning on our part, and no more cloudiness between us and him, and we will be totally satisfied unlike anything here could satisfy.
Now that’s the reward, and here’s the way it works to produce radical obedience to the impossible commands of Jesus. Matthew 5:11 says:
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
It’s the ground of your present rejoicing in pain, persecution, and rejection, and slander. Is somebody slandering you today? Did the wife say something that you don’t think is true? Did your kids say something disrespectful? Is a colleague spreading rumors? Is your church not honoring you? He says, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Great Reward and Great Love
Now here’s my question, which is harder, to rejoice when you’re slandered and persecuted and reviled and lied about — whether somebody near or far — or to pray for the enemies who do that? Which is harder? Rejoicing is harder, because praying is something I could decide to do whether I feel like it or not. I can say, “God, bless those enemies I hate.” I can say that. I could even mean it, probably. I think I could. I might not feel any affection for them at all, but I’m told that I should want them to be saved and to join me in heaven, so I’m asking for that.
But when I face off with them at the office? The emotions are just ugh. But this says over here, “Do the impossible. Rejoice in the context of their slander.” It’s not that the slander is good, but you’re rejoicing. When that slander and that persecution is coming, you’re rejoicing. That’s impossible unless the logic of this text works.
The key is the reward, and that’s the first eight or 10 commandments. He is saying, “I’m offering myself to you. Be born again. Repent and recognize me for who I am. Believe in me. Trust me. Come to me. Drink from me. Eat from me. Get used to me. I am totally satisfying in the midst of pain, and someday we’ll be together.” I assume that if he says over here, “Pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), and he says over here, “Rejoice in that persecution” (Matthew 5:12), and that the second one is harder and it’s enabled by confidence in the reward, then that’s the way this would be enabled, which means love for our enemies flows from confidence in our reward.
The Easy Yoke of Christ
This leaves me one last observation that sort of brings it all together for me, and we’ll stop. If you keep reading Matthew chapter five, it goes like this. In Matthew 5:12, he just said, “For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” And then he continues:
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
This is where we started: God-glorifying obedience. And now he’s just moved from you being persecuted, having an unbelievably great, all-satisfying reward in heaven that you’ve tasted now, and therefore you are rejoicing now in persecution, and he says, “You’re the salt of the earth. You’re the light of the world. Let your light shine in good deeds like loving your enemy, and God will be glorified.”
Now here’s my last question. What’s the salt and the light? Or it would be better to say, what’s the tanginess and the brightness of the Christian life that cause people to see it and give glory to God rather than you? It can’t just be good deeds because unbelievers stop and help people change a tire when it’s cold, unbelievers build hospitals, and unbelievers do all kinds of philanthropic things. Raw, good deeds are ambiguous. Well, what is it, then? I would argue that the flow of the thinking from Matthew 5:11–16 suggests it’s your inexplicable joy in persecution while you do good deeds. The world can taste this and they cannot explain it.
Your kid was just born profoundly disabled. Your own health is in jeopardy. Your husband has just been given notice of losing his job. It all happened within a few months. And you are bringing things to me that I need, and you seem to be helped by something I can’t explain in the joy that is sustained in your life. It isn’t the soup that she brought that is the light. It’s the whole context of what makes this person tick. This person will think, “Where is your reward if it’s not in your kid and it’s not in your husband and it’s not in your health? Where is your reward?”
Jesus is saying, “Rejoice in me, and out of that indomitable confidence in the reward that my work secures and is my presence.” So now we’re at the work in the present, the person of Jesus, back where we started. He is saying, “My work secures this reward. My presence with you is that reward. Out of that, render God-glorifying obedience to the command to love people, and in doing that, you will find that my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Until we’re born again, until we repent, until we come, until we taste, until we rest, until we delight, until we’re satisfied in Christ as our reward, the burdens will feel heavy. But if we find the kind of joy of Matthew 5:12, if our eyes are opened, then we will say with Jesus, “Your yoke is easy and your burden is light.”