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Saturday, July 21, 2018

7-21-2018        I will follow Jesus
                (left click, to select, left clilck link to listen)

Do you remember the Sunday School song “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”?  What does it really mean “to follow Jesus”.

          I have decided to follow Jesus
          I have decided to follow Jesus
          I have decided to follow Jesus
          No turning back, no turning back

          Though none go with me, I still will follow
          Though none go with me, I still will follow
          Though none go with me, I still will follow
          No turning back, no turning back
          The world behind me, the cross before me
          The world behind me, the cross before me
          The world behind me, the cross before me
          No turning back, no turning back

The song reflects our commitment to follow Jesus, that is live for Him and determining not to revert back to our ‘old ways’.  Even though I were the only one to do so, I would follow Jesus.  I’ve left my worldly ways (of sin, separation from God) and keep looking forward to the promise of the cross, that is eternal fellowship with the Father through Jesus Christ my Lord.

In the 1990’s a youth group leader at Calvary Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan, named Janie Tinklenberg, wanted an easy way to remind the teenagers in her group to remember to live for Jesus.  When faced with one of life’s dilemma, she gave them a simple question to ask themselves, “What Would Jesus Do?”  The grassroots movement spread worldwide in the 1990s among Christian youth, who wore bracelets bearing the initials WWJD.  Later, a sequel bracelet was generated with the initials "FROG," to provide an answer to "WWJD." FROG was an acronym for "Fully Rely On God."

So, to follow Jesus is to do as Jesus did.  The question then is just exactly “What would Jesus do”

Jesus is, of course, the Son of God and He did/does what He sees the Father do (John 5:19).  He was also called the Nazarene (Matt. 2:23).  Now, there are those who might argue Jesus was called a Nazarene because He was under the Nazarite vow.

The Nazarite vow

According to the “Law”, one under the Nazarite vow was separated to the Lord for a specific purpose.  He was to abstain from wine and strong drink and its vinegar, partaking neither of grapes, raisins nor liquid derived from them.  He shall abstain from anything made from the fruit of the vine or kernels or husks (basically alcoholic beverges).  No haircut during the duration of the vow, during this time he is holy unto the Lord.  He shall touch no dead body even in the event of the death of a family member.  Should someone die at his hand, he has to go through a period of week-long purification cycle with sacrifices to the Lord.  He shall also observe sacrificial rituals at the conclusion of his vow (Num. 6:1-21).

The word translated as Nazarite in this passage from Matthew is naziyr (Strong’s 5139) which means consecrated (as a prince), separated, unpruned vine or uncut hair.  The root word for naziyir is nazar (Strong’s 5144) which is to consecrate or separate for a sacred purpose, abstain from food, drink and impurity and possibly even worship.  So the one under a Nazarite vow separates himself for a sacred purpose or, at least, devotes himself to that cause.  His hair will go uncut for the duration of the vow and he may abstain from food or drink.  We may think of the forty Jews who devoted themselves to the slaying of Paul (Acts 23:12-14).  Though, they, themselves, did not say they were under any vow, they did say they had put themselves under a curse until they could slay Paul.  Still a vow.  Just the wrong kind.  

We may also think of the time Jesus separated himself, after being baptized by John.  For forty days, He was alone in the wilderness as He prayed and fasted (Matt. 4:1-11).  Now, there is no argument that for His whole life, Jesus was set apart for a specific task – to provide Himself the final blood sacrifice that would cleanse us from or sins so His vow was to redeem us. 

Now, Matthew clearly states that Jesus was called a Nazarene because He was from Nazareth (Matt. 2:23) and we may consider Jesus, that being God (He was the fullness of the Godhead – Col. 2:9), to BE the Nazarite vow.  He did come to fulfill the law, didn’t He (Matt. 5:17)?  The Nazarite vow is part of the law (Gen. – Deut.) so Jesus would have fulfilled this vow as well.  But, in the ‘natural He did not keep this vow for He did take Jairus’ daughter’s hand as He raised her from the dead (Mark 5:35-41) and at the last supper, His cup was filled with the fruit of the vine (Luke 22:17-18).  Touching the dead and drinking wine, two things forbidden in keeping the Nazarite vow.  I repeat, though, Jesus did come from Nazareth (Matt. 5:17). 

Now, we know that when He ‘came of age’, Jesus pleased the Father (Luke 2:40, John 8:29).  Jesus came to fulfill the will of His Father (John 4:34, John 6:38).  We see where He has already fulfilled the law (Matt. 5:17), the whole law, but especially that which He gave us through Moses (Exod. 20:1-17).

10 Commandments

            Exodus 20:1-17
1) Worship God only, 2) make/take no idols to worship, 3) don’t take the Lord’s name in vain (evil, deceptive, lying, idolatrous, vanity/lightly), 4)  remember the Sabbath (set aside to celebrate and rest), 5) Honor (respect) father and mother, 6) don’t kill (kill just to kill), 7) don’t commit adultery, 8) don’t steal, 9) don’t bear false witness, 10) don’t desire the things of your neighbor

These ten “do’s & don’ts” are a very basic description of how we can express our love for the Creator of heaven and earth.  They explain how to praise God above all else and treat our neighbor as we would like to be treated (Matt. 22:36-40), the law of love (?).  So God gives us guides for how we should ‘act’.

And He clued us in, not only on how we should act, but on what the attitude of our heart should be with the beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12). 

The Beatitudes

            Matthew 5:1-12 – blessed are:
1) the poor in spirit, 2) those who mourn, 3) the meek, 4) those who hunger after righteousness, 5) the merciful, 6) the pure in heart, 7) the peacemakers, 8) those who are reviled and persecuted for righteousness sake.  With these q;ukalities evident in our lives, we should rejoice and be glad for our reward is in heaven

How can we follow Jesus?  What would Jesus do?  If nothing else we should commit ourselves to loving God, the Father, above anything and everything else out there.  We should put no thing, no person, no angel, no demon above our Creator and we definitely should not bow down and worship any part of creation (Rom. 1:21-25).  In remembering the Sabbath, we set time aside for personal communication with our heavenly Father (mano e mano) but we also don’t neglect fellowshipping with other believers (Heb. 10:25).   And we should treat those around us as we would like to be treated (Matt. 22:39), the last five commandments od the law. 

But “doing’ these things is not enough.  God looks at our heart (Psalm 139:1-24, Jer. 17:10) so we need to yield our “attitudes” to Him as well.  We may have the permission to rephrase the “beatitudes” to say “Our lives should be (at these) attitudes”.  Or, otherwise stated, the qualities what should be evident in our heart, in our life.

Jesus says we should be poor in spirit, just what does that actually mean?  Oh, I should be penniless and have nothing in this world, right?  There’s nothing wrong with desiring to better ourselves but when that desire becomes an obsession, we’re in trouble.  I have to have it!  I have to be better than everyone else!  God knows what we need (Matt. 6:8), He even knows the desires of our heart.  He says He will even give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4), but first we have to become poor in spirit.  We have to realize who we truly are in respect to Him.  We have to come to know that God is God and we are merely a part of His creation.  Once we admit that we are nothing  and God is everything then we come to realize that we can do nothing without our Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:1-5) AND then we can do ALL things through Jesus (Phil. 4:13).  The Son helps me to reconcile who I am with the Father and I express that relationship to everyone around me.  I’m not better than anyone else but neither am I worse than anyone else.  In Christ Jesus, I can treat everyone as an equal because God directs my paths and my thinking.  In and of myself I am bankrupt but through Christ Jesus I have everything.   Once I know who I am in the Lord and I put my trust in Him, I have my place in the kingdom of heaven.

What do I mourn?  I grieve my ‘natural’ losses in this world.  I also regret that I was once a lost soul.  Not that I miss it but that that’s the way I had been, existing in a separated state.  Then I met Jesus.  I mourn that on occasion I still trip, stumble and even fall but I rejoice that upon repentance, Jesus picks me back up sets me right, once again.  I mourn the souls who are still lost and floundering for they have yet to meet our Lord and Savior and may not experience eternal heaven.  I understand both worldly and spiritual loss, mine or others.  The loss of loved ones and blessings.  But I am comforted knowing that Jesus comforts me (John 14:14-18).  He is with me and will never forsake me (Heb. 13:5).

 Meekness doesn’t mean that I am a little mouse pushed about by anyone and everyone.  I do know to Whom I belong so I don’t look down at those around me for in a time in my life I may  have been even worse off than they.  Nor do I fearfully shake because of those, who seem to have a better state in life or may be more powerful than me.   I know Who watches over me - always.  So I am humble, yet I am strong.  And as my love grows in Jesus, that love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).  Jesus is the most assertive individual that we should consider being like.  Knowing the sin that abounded there, Jesus cried upon entering Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44).  He had no problem reaching out to a repentant heart with forgiveness (John 8:3-11) and He had no hesitation blasting those hardened hearts that stood against Him (John 2:13-16).  Knowing how to and treating others equitably not only assures my place in eternity, but Father will also give me my portion here in this world (Luke 18:29-30).  Everything may not always be peaches ‘n’ cream but they will work out for me (Rom. 8:27-29).
I’ve discovered that as I grow closer to the Lord, I hunger after righteousness, His righteousness more and more.  Doing things according to His will, according to His law and His statutes.  I desire to be more and more like Him with each passing day.  And I know that as I seek Him, He will fill me, helping me to walk closer with Him. I find myself longing for the time that I will be with Him.  Sweet, eternal bliss.  I can relate to where Paul says it is better to be with the Lord, but more needful to be here (Phil. 1:21-25).  There is work to do and I certainly am not perfect.  I still make mistakes but I am moving in the right direction (with the leading of the Holy Ghost- John 16:13).     

 As He molds my life more into His image, I find myself being more merciful towards others.  Father shows me where others are at so I can forgive them as they come against me, recognizing what is spiritual attack and what is not.  No matter in what form, no matter how subtle or how strong, Father reminds me that He forgives me as I forgive others (Matt. 6:14-15).  I may not like how people treat me nor do I always understand exactly why they treat me that way, but I do realize that there is a lack of God’s love in their lives.  I do shake the dust off my shoes (Matt. 10:14) towards those who have crossed over to the ‘dark side’, that is sold out to Satan with little or no hope for repentance and won’t hear the Word of God.  However, I realize there are those who lash out simply because of their own hurt.  Jesus showed mercy to those who would repent and He knew those who would not.  I do know that He expects me to forgive those whom I encounter if I expect to be forgiven.

Pure in heart is seeing this world through the eyes of Jesus.  In our court system a man is innocent until proven guilty.  Even though we are born into guilt (Rom. 3:23, 5:12-19) God desires that none should perish and that all would come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).  Consider that Adam is the progenitor of all mankind.  There was no other man before Him.  Adam was called the son of God and we are his offspring.  So when we see others, we should see them as brothers, “prodigal sons (and daughters – Luke 11:15-32) encouraging them back into the God’s fold.  Not only do we have the promise of eternal fellowship with the Father through our Lord, Jesus Christ, but as with Moses, we shall ‘see’ God.  I’m not promising a physical encounter (though in eternity that will happen – 1 John 3:2) but I am saying that our spirit will connect with His Holy Ghost in ways that we will experience the presence of the living God in our own lives.

As I grow closer to the Father, I find a desire to bring peace into people’s lives.  To become a peacemaker, helping souls to reconcile with the Almighty God.  He will bring a peace into our hearts that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7).  A peace so deep that we can know that no matter how bad a situation seems, God will see us through.  THEN we will find ourselves being called the children of God by both the angels in heaven and men on the earth.  Look at family portraits.  Children resemble their parents.  As children grow, they reflect the values of their parents.  And as His children and as we grow, we will truly become a reflection of our heavenly Father’s love.
We will all be persecuted for righteousness sake.  As Jesus was crucified.  The apostles and the early church were martyred for their stand in supporting Jesus and the values He expressed.  Even today there are those who are driven from their homes or even executed for refusing to denounce Jesus.  We don’t see this much in the western world, but it does happen.

However, we do know that those who live for this world won’t take much of a liking towards us as we follow Jesus.   We may not be literally martyred for Jesus (lose our life) but we will surely be persecuted, teased, taunted, spoken ill of, because of our faith in Jesus.  Even as the woman possessed with the spirit of divination taunted Paul and his companions “These are the men of God …” (Acts 16:16-18), people may speak the truth, but in a derisive fashion, trying to ridicule or belittle our relationship with Jesus (spiritual warfare – Eph. 6:10-12).

Because of some of what we have just said and in spite of some of it, we should rejoice and be glad because we aren’t the only ones who have been slighted.  As we represent God, the Father, the world will stand against us at the guidance and direction of their father (Satan) (John 8:44), just as he has persecuted God’s people throughout world history.  But great is our reward which comes from heaven, from God, our Father.  Paul and Silas were arrested, beaten and put in bonds in the dungeon.  What did they do?  They prayed and sang songs to God, they expressed joy in the midst of their tribulation (Acts 16:22-35).  Overnight, Paul and Silas were set free from their bonds then in the morning they were delivered from their prison. 

So.  Because of and in spite of these things I will follow Jesus.  We need to understand that walking with Jesus has its downside but it also has its greater rewards.

Yes we will be persecuted for living in God’s righteousness, His love, standing apart from the rest of the world (though we are in it), but the rewards of abiding in God’s love are immeasurable.  He watches over us.  He protects us.  He provides for us.  All we have to do is live in His love, abide in His love.  When a woman is in the process of delivering a child into this world it is the most excruciating experience she has ever known.  Likewise, I can speak through personal experience, passing a kidney stone is much like giving birth (I’m told).  The pain is horrendous. But once the baby is delivered or the stone is passed, the pain is quickly forgotten.  Mom has the joy of that new life in her arms.  The rest of us are just relieved that our agony is past.  And believe me, that is cause for joy (with the stones).

All the ills of this world may be a big pain the tush (gluteus maximus) but God does pull us through.  He delivers us in the situation and we know that eventually the woes of this world will be completely gone.  Once we’re literally with Jesus, it’s all behind us.  Can we suffer a little discomfort today to walk with our Lord forever?  I don’t know about you, but even though I may trip, stumble or fall in this world.  Whether I’m the most popular guy in town or not.  Whether I am rich or poor.  No matter in what state I find my life.  I have decided to follow Jesus.

So we see that following Jesus is keeping the “law” and living in the beatitudes.  They go together.  One can keep the last five commandments of the law, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t desire the things of your neighbor in word and deed.  One can even display what looked like an allegiance to the Father, the first five commandments.  But remember, Jesus blasted the scribes and the Pharisees for their hearts not being with Him (Isa. 29:13, Matt. 15:8).  But when God’s true love is abiding in our hearts, we discover that we keep all the commandments, not because we’re supposed to, but because we want (desire) to.  We also discover that our attitudes be at a place where I desire to keep the “be-attitudes”, that is “live” in them, allowing God’s love to flow through me.   

So how do we follow Jesus?  Keep God’s Law (of love) and apply the beatitudes into our own lives.  Jesus was/is love personified and we should be a reflection of that love.  You’ve heard the expression “like father like son”?  As Jesus resides in us via the Holy Spirit making us the “children of God”, we should be the image of God’s love in this world.   Is it easy?  I don’t think so, but we should be continually striving to be so.         (left click, to select, left clilck link to listen)


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