Sunday, November 1, 2015

"Discovering the Will of God" (Matthew 12:46-50)

1.     Introduction

How do you respond to a text like this? What jumps out at you?

·        We see here something about our focus, and also possible distractions.
·        We see something about how close a relationship disciples (like us) can have with Jesus. We think of our family as those who are most intimately connected to us. Jesus here was highlighting the intimacy, relationship and connectedness that he would be experiencing with his disciples – all those who come to him to do the will of God. These ones were at least equally, if not more so, considered to be Jesus’ family.
·        We see here something about how we might discover God’s will for our lives.

2.     Discipleship

Look at verses 46 & 47. We wonder what Jesus’ family members want to talk to him about? Mark chapter 3 covers some of the background to this. Jesus was often mobbed and didn’t have time to eat or rest. Others thought Jesus was crazy or demon-possessed; others rejected him outright. Jesus’ family may have wanted to protect him, which was understandable, but, in so doing, still showed a lack of understanding of what Jesus’ mission was about. Of course he would be criticised and rejected. Of course he would put himself in challenging situations. Despite whatever Jesus’ mother Mary believed, we hear from John’s Gospel (7:5), that his brothers did not believe in him. Family members could even have wanted Jesus to abandon his ministry entirely and return home.

Jesus’ family would have believed that they were well within their rights here, however Jesus would have none of this! Remember what happened later on when Peter suggested that Jesus should not go to the cross … as if this was not a big enough temptation without being encouraged this way. Jesus responded strongly to Peter … and knocked the idea right on the head – “Get behind me Satan … for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things (Matt 16:23)! Jesus was not going to allow any family connection nor any cultural convention to disrupt his ministry to the lost ones God had sent him to; especially so when there were crowds gathered around him wanting to hear what he had to say.

Culturally, Jesus dismissing his family in this way, would have been shocking to those there that day. Jesus would have been seen to be shirking responsibility. So clearly this highlights that, from Jesus’ point of view, the most important thing there is … is to do the will of God (v.50), no matter who that puts you at odds with. This might be family, but it also might be an employer, it might be a friend, it might even be the law. In the Gospels, Jesus often took on laws, like the Sabbath laws, or the ruling religious authorities, if these got in the way of him fulfilling and promoting the will of God.

After all, Jesus himself staked his life’s purpose on God’s will. When all the implications of death on a cross started to impact on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, when humanly speaking he was contemplating alternative courses of action – what did Jesus say? Not my will, but God’s! Matthew 26:39 reads, “And going a little farther, Jesus threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; YET NOT WHAT I WANT BUT WHAT YOU WANT’.”

It was the disciples that Jesus pointed at, when identifying who it was that was doing the will of God. This is because it was they who had made the determination to follow Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew has already noted that these disciples have already LEFT EVERYTHING else behind to follow Jesus (e.g. 4:18-22). This is all a far cry from accepting Jesus just for what we can get out of it. We might start there, but we can’t stay there. This is also far more than just intellectual assent – there is an emotional and practical response required. Embracing Jesus ultimately also means … embracing the will of God.

In Luke’s telling of the same incident, we hear Jesus saying, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk.8:21). We know that these disciples didn’t always get it right, nor fully understand what was going on, but nevertheless, with only one exception, they kept going forward. They were in the game. They weren’t observers, nor critics; they were card-carrying, risk-taking, followers of Jesus. For them, there was only one way of discovering the will of God … on the journey with Jesus.

[Jesus was not necessarily downgrading his natural family, but was certainly uplifting and adopting those who had determined to follow him – his spiritual adherents. Happily, we later read, in Acts, how Jesus’ family have become believers and are a vital part of the Christian community (his brother James becoming a leader in the church at Jerusalem and a New Testament contributor); but this happened after Jesus ‘stuck to his guns’ and went through with his mission. He completed his mission of salvation for his earthly family as well as everybody else.]

3.     On the Road

How do we discover what the will of God is? And how would you go about doing the will of God? For the first disciples, the instruction manual hadn’t been written yet. These disciples could only be a part of God’s will and purposes one way. They had to follow Jesus, and be a part of everything he was doing. Jesus was their rabbi – their teacher. To be a disciple means to live under the discipline of another (in this case Jesus). For me, there is only one way still to discover the will of God, and that is being on the journey with Jesus. This involves a growing relationship with our teacher.

This means, sometimes, that we have to ignore contrary voices; those people who don’t think Jesus is cool, or those activities that leave Jesus out. We need to watch carefully what it is that tends to influence us, and what we seem to give priority to, and where we spend our time, and who might be trying to hold us back (either inadvertently or deliberately).

We are much better off than the first disciples were, in that we have some written material to guide us (and some inspired written material at that). We have the whole of the New Testament (and, as well, the Old Testament / Hebrew Scriptures to give us more background material). Yet, I fear, that many still aren’t too familiar with these texts. A few comforting proof texts maybe, but not so much the thread of the whole Gospel narrative! My desire is for us all to know the Bible well, and what it is trying to show us for our daily living.

So, hopefully, we have a determination to follow Jesus in the midst of a growing relationship with him. We have an experience of salvation whereby we have been freed from all guilt and shame, and have been propelled into a new life of peace and hope. We have the Bible, especially the Gospels, to guide us in being like Jesus, and the Holy Spirit to give us more mature understanding and an assurance of God’s presence with us. So what else is there in this pursuit of doing God’s will?? The actual journey of life! What is happening out there in the world? How are we to engage with people? It is in this experience of the cut and thrust of life that we encounter the will of God. Let get amongst it … community life!

Sometimes there will be individual callings that we take up. These can then be prayed for by others. More often there are callings that we embrace together … in small or larger numbers – cooperating together, encouraging one another’s complimentary contributions. Again, we have to be aware that there will be certain voices seeking to divert us, because what we are doing does not suit them. And maybe sometimes those voices seeking to divert us … are our own, because the road is not necessarily easy, and there is always the temptation to take the easier path of least resistance).

I believe that Jesus had a growing understanding of the need for the cross, each and every day that he encountered people in deep need and distress. There was also so much darkness and injustice – he increasingly knew something had to be done to break the impasse of sin. Take for instance what happened when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time (after three years of ministry). He look down upon Jerusalem … and wept over what he saw … because the people had not recognised what made for peace (Luke 19:41-2). But Jesus was not only moved to tears, he was moved to action. He went to the temple and threw out all those who were cheating people or blocking people from being freely able to worship.

It is the more that we engage with people, that we learn how much they need to know Jesus. Even in the most jovial and seemingly together of our neighbours, if we got to know them a little better, we would discover a deep need for Jesus. And it is as we engage with people, eyes and ears fully open, that we discover more of the will of God – we see and understand where things need to change, and thus respond to the opportunities that present themselves to make a difference for others.

The purpose of life is to be useful,
To be responsible, to be compassionate.
It is, above all, to matter, to count,
To stand for something,
To have made some difference.

When we talk about the “will of God”, we are not just talking about the everyday decisions we need to make, and whether they are line with God’s best intentions for us. We are mostly talking about our life’s focus, our highest priorities, and what our lives will count for. T.H. Robinson defines God’s will as, “the supreme and decisive factor in all human consideration”. What does God want me to do? What is my calling?? What contribution am I supposed to make???This is what we want to know – this is what we strive for – this is how we want to live … in line with God’s will.

4.     Relationship

There is an intimacy of relationship promised to those who sign on to the will of God. Remember, Jesus refers to such in the most familiar of terms … “brother, sister, mother”. Such intimacy does not exist naturally, but only through a decision – a decision to follow Jesus into doing the will of God. When so many reject, Jesus clings closely to those who make a decision to be Jesus’ true friends … his spiritual family.

And there is an opening here for everyone. “Whoever” (v.50)! There is an invitation here for anyone and everyone to join Jesus’ family. And this is not just an invitation to be on the outer reaches or ‘back-benchers’ of Jesus’ family, but rather right into the centre. In politics, in government, there is often an inner and outer ministry, where the ones in the inner ministry are closer to the ear of their leader. This is NOT the case here. “Whoever”, i.e. all of us, have an invitation into the heart of Jesus’ life, mission and purpose.

We can not only experience a warm reassuring peace-giving relationship with Jesus, but also a meaningful and purposeful daily partnership in what Jesus wants to achieve – the will of God. Thus, we pray, “Your Kingdom come; Your Will be done – on earth as it is in heaven”. Amen!

Do you want to give your life to Jesus and follow him?
Do you want help in discovering what the will of God is for your life??
Do you want to talk about your contribution to church or community life???
Do you want prayer because all of this is a bit of a struggle?

May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day to day!

No comments:

Post a Comment