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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

“That we may die with Him”

Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”- John 11:16


Life is filled with uncertainties. Life is filled with risks. How will you deal with that? Life in Christ is lived by a faith that helps us wade through the sea of darkness. But there are times, even as a Christian, when we will have to choose to follow Jesus based on very limited circumstantial evidence. There is a time in every Christian’s life when they will have to risk all and follow Jesus. At some point, maybe at many points in life, we will have to step in line behind Thomas and say, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” If we refuse to do that, the consequences could be tragic.


The story is told of a dissatisfied man.[1] He had inherited a farm but felt tending it was more of a burden than a blessing. He was looking for anyway out from under this “burden.” He had little appreciation and saw his life as an aggravation. So frustrated and dissatisfied was the man that he took the matter to the Lord in prayer. He prayed and prayed, “Lord, get me out of here! I hate farming!” As time went on and nothing happened he approached the edge of despair. He began pleading with God to show him a sign of the way out. His prayers became expressions of his panic.


One day, as he was plowing in the field, he looked up into the sky. He stared at two particular clouds as they floated conspicuously across the sky. Then in astonishment he perceived the clouds seemed to form two letters. “I see a ‘P’ and a ‘C.’ My sign? Thank You Jesus!” But what did it mean? It didn’t take him long to interpret the “sign” in the clouds to mean, “Leave your farming and Preach Christ.” “Hallelujah!’ he shouted, “I’m finally set free from this curse of farming.” The dissatisfied man sold his farm and everything with it at a price that was far less than its true worth. He just wanted to get out of there.


The dissatisfied man turned preacher left and went to Bible school. There he struggled to pass his classes. Learning the Bible seemed to him drudgery. He was hell bent to “Preach Christ.” He lost interest in his studies. He didn’t seem to have any staying power. He struggled and stalled. He was confronted with another dead end of dissatisfaction. He decided to quit. “But not all is lost” he thought, “I have met the perfect pastor’s wife.” He married and moved on leaving school before graduation. He justified his decision by reasoning there were too many lost souls that needed him to save them.


At the urging of his wife he found a church that would have him as pastor. The church was desperate and so was he. A “perfect match” he thought. Soon he was caught up in the busy-ness of ministry. He was obsessed with “ministry.” But a preacher is not necessarily a pastor. And as hard as he preached Christ to the lost, no one ever seemed to listen to what he had to say. No one seemed to ever get saved.


The man turned pastor labored and toiled in ministry to the “bride of Christ.” But he neglected his own bride. This soured the mood of “the perfect pastor’s wife.” Their marriage was in trouble. They thought that children, “a blessing from the Lord,” would bring them together. So they jumped into parenthood and family. But the little blessings only added stress to their lives. They just seemed to get in the way. They were a nuisance to the Mom who was thought to be a perfect pastor’s wife. They were a nuisance to the Dad who was the dissatisfied farmer preacher pastor. They just didn’t have the time or interest to be parents.


No matter what this dissatisfied man did it seemed out of sync with everything around him. This led to more dissatisfaction and more emptiness for not only him but for his wife too. That led to anger. They fought with each other. They fought with their children. They fought with the congregation. They fought with their neighbors. There was no blessing. They struggled to pay their bills. They struggled to make ends meet. They seemed to be opposed at every turn. Life was misery.


Dissatisfaction is contagious. The dissatisfied man led to a dissatisfied woman. Dissatisfied parents led to dissatisfied children. The children grew and couldn’t wait to leave home. And when the last one did leave, “the perfect pastor’s wife” had nothing to hold her to the dissatisfied farmer preacher pastor husband and father. She didn’t feel she even knew him. And she didn’t care. All she knew was that she was dissatisfied. It was her time to live for herself. So the dissatisfied woman left the dissatisfied man. And the man who was a dissatisfied farmer, preacher, student, pastor, husband, and father sunk deeper and deeper into greater and greater darkness.


The dissatisfied man had long since stopped praying or reading his Bible. He was a preacher and pastor in title only. His heart wasn’t in it. He settled on using online sermon outlines. He didn’t have the time or interest to seek the Lord for his own sermons. He settled to “preach” a company line. He was tossed to and fro with every wind and wave of doctrine. He had long since stopped trying to “Preach Christ.” He didn’t pray but he did shake his fist at God.


If the dissatisfied man did have a time with God it was only to complain. And his complaints took the form of, “Why are You doing this to me? Why doesn’t anything go my way? Why has life been such a struggle? Why do I feel so empty? Where is Your peace? Why have You forsaken me?” And then finally he shouted at God, “I can’t take this anymore! I hate You!” The dissatisfied man’s faith was hanging by a thread.


The dissatisfied man became bitter, left the ministry, and lived the rest of his life in resentment toward God and anger toward everyone else. He lived on scraps. It was a sad story. Finally he died. Finally it was time to go before the Lord. The dissatisfied man had some questions to bring up to the Lord. He wanted some answers. And in “righteous” indignation he was determined to confront God with his questions.


He passed from this life to the next. He was ushered into the presence of the Lord. There he was forced to bow in God’s Holy Presence.  He tried to hang on to his proud indignation but that was hard to do while bowed in the presence of the Sovereign of the universe. As his turn came to be addressed by God he was summoned not by the sound of an angry ogre but by a powerful calm and controlled voice. It was a voice that soothed and oozed with grace, mercy and love.


The man’s name was called. He was brought forward. He nearly melted in the gaze of the Lord. Then the Judge said, “Hmmm, I see you’ve had a rough time in life. A lot of starts and few finishes: farmer, preacher, student, pastor, husband, father, and man. Much dissatisfaction. Much depression. Much division. Much disappointment. Many defeats, few victories. A divorce. What’s this, you shouted at Me in prayer and said, ‘I hate You!’ Well you may hate me, but I love you. Thank Me for your sake that My grace is sufficient. At least you received My gift of salvation. And I’m still glad that you’re here. But what have you to say for yourself?” 


The dissatisfied man gathered his strength and lifted his head. He said, “I was born into a cursed farming family. I prayed and prayed to You for freedom. Then finally one day You gave me a sign in the clouds. A “P” and a “C.” Your call to “Preach Christ. And I answered that call. But my life as a whole has been miserable even after I answered Your call. I just don’t understand.” With this the Lord opened His Book of Life. He turned to the man’s name and looked at the record. Then He said, “Hmmm. You’re right. I did answer your prayer in the clouds of the sky that day. But you seem to have misinterpreted My message. That sometimes happens when a person such as yourself trusts in himself and not in Me. That sometimes happens when someone rejects my blessings and obsesses over their own lusts like you did. That is what happens when a person fights My will like you did. That’s what happens when people like you think they know better than Me.” The weight of God’s words was heavy on the man. The LORD paused to let the dissatisfied man catch his breath.


Then the LORD continued, “You see, I indeed sent you the sign of “P” and “C” but My word to you was ‘Plant Corn,’ not ‘Preach Christ.’ My plan for you was that you be blessed from working My land. If you had only been open to My will and plan for you I would have blessed you with complete and full satisfaction. From My blessing of your harvest you were to provide financial support for My Great Commission. Many souls would have been saved. I provided grace for you to do that. I had great plans for you. I wanted to use you so mightily for My glory. But you weren’t open to that. And so you read into My sign what you wanted. The result is that you were indeed out of sync in life. You sowed selfishness and reaped dissatisfaction. You and those you touched missed so much. If only at some point you would have come to Me in full surrender and just listened to Me, I could have turned things around for you. Oh, you would have been so blessed by what I wanted to do in and through you. Too bad, I had so much more for you than you were able to grab on your own. The blessing that could have been yours was passed on to another.”


There was a heavy silence when the Lord ended His words. The dissatisfied man was dumbfounded by God’s truth and reality. The Lord’s revelation explained his life exactly. All he could initially muster in response to His Lord was, “O LORD, I see.” Then, after another moment, the dissatisfied man submitted, “Forgive me Lord for my selfishness and dissatisfaction. Forgive me for seeking my will and not Your will. Forgive me for being more concerned with representing me and not You. Forgive me for a wasted life. Forgive me for not loving You and trusting You the way I should have. Forgive me Lord, my sin, in Jesus’ name, by His blood, forgive me.”


The Lord forgave him. He forgave him with a final word. “Yes, in Jesus’ name, by His blood, I forgive you. You have believed in My Name by the Gospel for your salvation. And salvation is by My grace not your works. But you will pass into eternity naked with no evidence of God-glorifying fruit. In fact, people have looked at your miserable life and questioned My grace, My wisdom, My love. Your dissatisfaction, pride, self-serving attitude, and self-centered living have robbed you of My blessings. I can see here that you have finally died to self.  But had you died to self earlier, your final chapter would not have been such a sad epitaph. Had you died to you and followed Me your life would have been abundant and not such an abomination. Go now into eternity.” With that the dissatisfied man walked into eternity. Eternal life with Jesus for the dissatisfied man was still so wonderful. But it would have been better to have been able to offer Him a life of thanks.


Our life can be better than that dissatisfied man. It can be better if we follow the example of Thomas. Thomas is so real. Thomas is so practical. Later in John’s gospel he misses a resurrection appearance of Jesus and insists on seeing and touching Jesus for himself before he will believe that Jesus had risen from the dead (John 20:24-29). Thomas was not one to dwell on esoteric ideas. Thomas was not the kind of person who looks at a cloud and sees letters in the sky. Thomas is a meat and potatoes man from the show me state. He was a man of faith and loyalty to his Lord.


When Jesus announced He was going to see Lazarus, Thomas knew that meant going into a life threatening place where Jesus would be vulnerable to His enemies. They might take Him and stone Him. Thomas and the others knew that. They knew following Jesus was not comfortable, it was costly. When we look at Thomas’ response we see he didn’t fully understand what Jesus plan entailed. None of the disciples did at this point. But he followed Him anyway. We can learn a lot about following Jesus by looking at Thomas.


Even though Thomas didn’t quite understand Jesus’ plan and even though accompanying Jesus meant putting his own life at risk, Thomas was willing to die with and for Jesus. Thomas wasn’t a perfect disciple. But neither are we. There are no perfect disciples. Thomas had a faith that believed in Jesus through times of unseen outcome. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for the belief in things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Thomas didn’t see the end of Jesus’ plan. But he was willing to die to his own plans in order to be with Jesus and be a part of His plans. Even though they aren’t revealed to us, it’s likely that Thomas had hopes, dreams, aspirations, goals in life. He was human. But he was willing to physically die with Jesus. His physical death meant he was willing to die to the things of this life.


How about you? Are you willing to trust Jesus even though you don’t know what the final outcome with Jesus will be? You may be willing to physically die for Jesus like Thomas. Peter said he was willing to physically die for Jesus too (John 13:37). But later Peter kept his distance from the arrested Jesus (John 18:15-27). Later Peter denied His Lord three times. Thomas departed from Jesus’ side in the end too. But here Thomas is willing to die with Jesus. We need to come to that place as well.


We may not be called upon to physically die. But we will need to come to that place where we are willing to follow Jesus even if we must die to the things of this world. His call on us will bring us to a place of crucifixion and death.  To count the cost of following Christ means to be willing to pay the price of all we hold dear that isn’t Christ. We have to die to our dreams, hopes, expectations, aspirations by being willing to lose them for the sake of God’s will in our life. We have to go to our personal Gethsemane like Jesus. Jesus asked the Father to take the cup from Him. He asked the Father for an alternative to the cross if possible. There’s nothing wrong with questioning God or asking Him for something. But like Jesus we must end our request with “nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).  We must submit, “not my will, but Yours be done.”


Like Jesus, we need to get alone and get quiet with the Father. We need to get still and listen to the Father (Psalm 46:10). We then need to seek His will in all that we hold dear to us. We might ask, “Father, I would like to get married. But not my will but Yours be done.” Or, “Father, I want to pursue this career. But not my will but Yours be done.” Or, “Father, I want ________. But not my will but Yours be done.” We have to come before Him as a living sacrifice with open hands, open mind, and open heart and seek His will (cf. Romans 12:1-2).


God’s will for us must be our top priority. We must decide to truly follow Jesus. We have to die to “me” and live to Thee. Why is that so? Because if we “Preach Christ,” when we were called to “Plant Corn,” life will be miserable. If we compromise and do something that contradicts God’s word or His expressed will, that which we thought would be a blessing will turn into a curse. Let me provide a more practical example.


In our day we see more and more Christians disregarding God’s truth. One area we see this is in the area of marriage. There is the same-sex marriage abomination. But even in normal marriage arrangements we see a departure from God’s truth. For instance, we see Christians open to being unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6). We see Christians, especially those who are getting further up in age, compromising and marrying people who don’t know the Lord or who know Him in only a very superficial way. We see a redefinition of what a “Christian” is in order to marry unbelievers. Or we see the manipulation by affection to drag people to church and act like a “Christian” before the wedding only to see such an artificial “Christian” evaporate in absence to the church after the wedding. Lowering God’s standards to get what you want always leads to frustration and dissatisfaction. You’d be better to die with Jesus.


Our holy objective in marriage should not merely be to find someone who will allow us to follow the Lord. A spouse should be someone who will advance in the Lord hand in hand together with us. And God will supply such a person if we trust Him. God brought Eve to Adam. God will bring a suitable spouse to you. If you say, “Okay, where is my spouse? I don’t see them.” Well maybe you need to look harder. Maybe you need to look more at the heart than the body. Or maybe God has Someone better for you to be with; Himself. It’s better to die with Jesus.


Some might respond, “Wait a minute pastor. I know believers who have married unbelievers and they’re okay.” “Okay,” what does that mean? Will the unsaved spouse be able to join with the saved spouse in fellowship in the holy presence of God? Will an unsaved spouse relate to the things of God? If you have children are you sure the unsaved spouse will agree to allow them to be raised in the counsel of the Lord? Will their view of “raising them in the counsel of the Lord” be like yours? “Love” and passion may tempt you to overlook the spiritual shortcomings of a spouse before marriage, but you will regret it when you want to go deeper with the Lord. Can two walk together unless they are agreed in such eternal things? (cf. Amos 3:3). Why would you settle for less than God’s best? Are you willing to die with Jesus?


“But they will get saved by my influence?” you retort. Truthfully, you don’t know that.  In seeking a spouse there is the trap of overlooking flaws or problems that are evident and revealed by God in prospective spouses before marriage. A person does this because they presume they can change the unsaved into the saved. Sometimes there is the fantasy of thinking that a wedding certificate will miraculously change a person into to something they have never been. A wedding will not change anyone; it is designed as a rite of passage for those already devoted to God. Will a uniform make you a player? Maybe for Halloween, but not in real life. You cannot save anyone. Only God can save a person. You do not know if someone will be saved. Only God knows that. And if such a disregard of God’s truth does work out in the end, it will be in spite of you not because of you. Thank God for His mercy and grace but don’t use that as an excuse for sinful presumption.


Marriage is a wonderful thing; if it’s pursued in God’s way in God’s timing. If it isn’t God’s will for you to be married, then maybe He wants you all to Himself. That’s not a bad thing. He loves us so much. He deserves our trust. He knows what is best. The bottom line is whether or not you trust Him enough to run your life. Jesus is enough. Surrender to Him. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). Die with Him.  


The decisions we make and figuring the cost of following Jesus should take place in counsel with the Lord. We need to get quiet before the Lord and seek His will. He will guide us with His peace (cf. Colossians 3:15). God works in orderly not disorderly ways (1 Cor. 14:33, 40). It is the enemy that wants you to compromise. Satan knows if he can get you outside the parameters of God’s word you will be more vulnerable. If we pursue unscriptural relationships, careers, work involvement, or anything else, it will consume our time. It will rob us of our precious quiet time with the Lord. Think about that.  Anything we rush into, force ourselves into, or do without seeking the will of the Lord or waiting on Him will result in dissatisfaction, discouragement, and distance from the Lord. Nothing is worth more than spending time with Jesus. Nothing is worth more than following Jesus.


Life is blessed and faith is built by following Jesus at the cost of death to our will and acceptance of His will. That is prerequisite to experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised us. Some may see that as too risky or not to their liking. It’s easy to surrender all to Jesus when you have nothing. But as life goes on we begin to accumulate things that become more precious to us. As time goes by and age becomes a factor, we are tempted to take things into our own hands; to bend corners; to compromise. We start to get fidgety. We consider preaching when we should be planting. The older we get the greater the calculated risks become. It becomes harder and harder to hold to the cost we once counted. But think about it. The Jesus you are turning to and forsaking all for is the same Jesus who went to the cross and died for you to redeem you from your slavery to sin. And He did that while you were still a sinner (Romans 5:8). He loves you unconditionally. He loves you just the way you are. And He loves you too much to leave you the way you are. He is devoted to finishing what He started in you (Phil. 1:6). When He’s finished with you, your life will be a beautiful poem to His glory (Eph. 2:10).


The closer you draw to Jesus, the more clearly you will sense His will. The closer you come to Jesus the more sensitive you will become to His beating heart. That beating heart of our Lord beats for you. That beating heart of Jesus brings comfort and satisfaction. That beating heart of Jesus reduces the risk because you are assured of His dependability.  Don’t be a dissatisfied farmer who willfully turns preacher. Be a satisfied whatever-God-calls-you-to-be. Follow Jesus like Thomas did. Pray, “Lord, I don’t know all of Your plan. But I’m going with you even if it means I die.” That’s a life journey worth taking. That’s a life blessed by the Lord.



[1] Story idea is adapted from a Newton Stein Sermon Illustration

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