“And a scribe came up and said to him, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go” Matthew 8:19. It’s over two weeks since the new year began and more than likely you’re among those who have already let go of any resolutions you declared you would keep all year long. Like Peter insisting that he would die rather than deny Jesus just hours before he would say three times that he didn’t know his Lord and Master, we too can be all talk and no walk. After all, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. The scribe in this passage insists that he will follow Jesus wherever He goes, and Jesus points out that it is a rough path to tread. Another disciple (meaning the scribe was one) had some essential business for this life to attend to first, but Jesus says that following Him requires every bit of time, energy, resources, and focus that a person has. Like the gym you no longer visit, perhaps the declaration of your baptism is looking more like empty words. In the hymn, “Where He Leads, I’ll Follow,” the words tell about Jesus’ great life, love, and rest that is worthy of following and that we will do so from this moment forward. Will you follow where He leads or do you not mean what you sing?
“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” John 4:35. The fields white for harvest are not white heads as we look out over our congregations on Sunday morning. Churches of every stripe are facing aging populations as younger generations are increasingly not attending churches. And, of those who are in our pews, most have obeyed the gospel already. We lament that there are not many who “grow up in the church” anymore to have baby-to-believer growth, and transfer growth, the redistribution of sheep from one of God’s pens to another, is a lazy method for the Lord’s church to count on. Should we compete with other churches for those already saved or hope that they just happen to walk in? No, it’s time for each church in the new year to recognize that God’s plan all along for churches to grow is by reaching out to the lost. Our buildings sit within the harvest fields of our communities that are full of people who need to hear the gospel. It’s unlikely that they are yet “white for harvest” as the world in Jesus’ day. We may have to work before grain is ready for the sickle. Are you willing to roll up your sleeves to plant seed and tend it so God can provide an increase?
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” Romans 4:7-8. Abraham knew this blessing as he believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. This belief was not a mental affirmation of God’s promise as he submitted to circumcism as a sign of this covenant. Obedient action followed faith. So it was for David who is attributed to speaking these words from Psalm 32. When Nathan makes him aware of his sin with Uriah’s wife, David declares, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Lest we think that repentance is just mental affirmation of guilt, we should explore the godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10-11) that David undergoes in Psalm 51. So too, our faith is not just mental affirmation of who Jesus is and what He has done for us at the cross and tomb. We believe and so we submit in obedient action to baptism into Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins. It’s a sign of the new covenant made in His blood that redeems us (Ephesians 1:7). So we now can sing: “I’m redeemed by love divine, Glory, glory, Christ is mine … All to Him I now resign, I have been redeemed!” Are you redeemed?
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” Acts 4:12. Only the gospel could give Peter and John such boldness before the very body that had condemned Jesus to death. Not long before they had all deserted their Lord and Master in the garden and cowered in an upper room. Despite his determination before the cross to even die with Jesus if necessary, Peter still denied the One He had earlier declared to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” What was the difference? The poured-out Holy Spirit and a resurrected Savior! The good news of great joy was too good and the joy too great for Peter to contain. So, the inquisition became an opportunity. Jesus died for sin (they crucified Him), but God raised Him from the dead (death is conquered now through Christ). All the world had the power to do was beg them not to speak in Jesus’ Name anymore. And we know how that went! Is that how you are? Has the gospel so affected you that every interaction is an opportunity? Are you enthusiastic that God became a man to die for your sins and then rose from the dead for your eternity?
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” Isaiah 9:6. The famous poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was too burned to attend his wife’s funeral after he tried to save her when her dress caught fire. Two years later, this father of six (five as one had died in childbirth) boarded a train to DC to tend to his oldest who was near death from a battle of the Civil War and penned the poem that a decade later was set to music to become “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” In it he contrasts the horrors and despair of life to the gospel message of “peace on earth, good will to men.” Those who have experienced such tragedy find it easier to not make this world their home. Realizing the darkness and difficulty of our existence here, we find comfort, rather, in the Prince of Peace, who made peace between us and God but ironically did not come to bring peace but a sword between us and the world. Sadly, far too often we look for consolation from the world we have made our home. Have you come into the peace that Jesus offers?