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
Jesus had recently been in Jerusalem and His words had caused such a stir that the Jews sought to stone Him (John 10:31,39) Now He was speaking to His disciples of going back to Bethany which was very near Jerusalem. His disciples were concerned because of the danger of going back there. The fear that filled them even caused them to ignore the need of one dear to their group – Lazarus, who was very sick. But Jesus had heard from the Father and knew there was a work to be done in Bethany. As the disciples continued to argue with Him, He told them plainly that Lazarus was dead and then added, “let us go to him.”
Thomas, who is always known primarily as the doubter, has lost credibility with most of us and his words in verse 16, “let us also go that we may die with Him”, have been labeled as pessimism. But not only has Jesus recently been in danger at the hands of violent men, he has also just said that they are going to Lazarus – a man that is in the grave. What other conclusion could Thomas, or any of them, have come to. They must have all felt that their very lives were in danger if they continued on with Jesus. And it is Thomas that encouraged the group to look the consequences square in the eye and to move forward with Jesus anyway. This is the level of commitment that a disciple is called to – to follow Jesus wherever He leads. Even if it is to death. And it is Thomas who reminded them of this.
Can we remind ourselves of this today? Here in comfortable American Christianity, can we remind ourselves that Jesus still expects disciples unto death? The death of martyrdom seems unlikely here, for the moment anyway, but does He not require of us a death to all the allurements and distractions of this world? Does He not expect from us a detachment from the amusements and entertainments that the lost chase after? If we were called upon to lay our lives down as martyrs, how could we ever do it if we have not first learned to lay down the remote control in favor of the prayer closet?
Have you ever felt that stirring in your heart that seemed to indicate that the Lord was changing the way you thought or felt or reacted to certain things? Sometimes it can feel like your entire soul is in upheaval during the process. I have been living in this condition (more or less) for about two years.
I have wondered what it all meant. Why was I so restless? I would tell the Lord in prayer, “If You would just tell me what this is all about, and what it is that You want me to do, I’ll do it”. It was a sincere prayer that I thought I meant. However, now that He has begun showing me what all these stirrings mean I realize that I was not ready to respond. For the past two years He has been working in my heart to get me ready for this.
Not long ago I was reading the story of when Jesus called Matthew the tax collector to be His disciple. It says in Luke 5:27-28:
“After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he left all, rose up, and followed Him.”
My attention was drawn to what seemed to be an unusual word order in verse 28. If I was telling the story I would have written it like this: “So he rose up, left all, and followed Him.” After all, don’t you have to actually get up before you can leave something?
But I think the Holy Spirit wanted to show me what He has been doing in my heart for the past two years. Before anyone can truly rise up and follow Christ, there has to be a leaving all that happens in the heart. Our possessions possess us. The familiar gives us a sense of security. Having something of our own allows us to feel independent. And all of these things need to be stripped away. For Christ would have us be possessed by Him, and find all our security in Him, and depend upon Him. But we are so tethered to this world, that unless He loosed us from these earthly shackles we would spend all our life desiring to rise up and follow, but never actually able to do it.
He has been in no particular hurry with me. Two years seems like an eternity to me, but the Lord has been willing to take this long to do such a work in my heart. He hasn’t asked me to leave my home and family, or to sell everything I have. But I do believe now (as I did when I was first born again), that this life of mine is no longer mine, and I cannot expect that it will be lived in a way that the world calls “normal”.
There is a battle, and for too long I have watched it from afar, fearful of the danger. But I have discovered that the safety of my hiding places is only an illusion and could possibly be the most dangerous place of all.
I thank the Lord for His patience with me and for His loving kindness and for the great blessedness there is in being a follower of His. And I look forward to what lies ahead………
The word of God is a living word that speaks to my life. When I slow down and listen, He speaks to me through it. And many times He confronts and challenges me with it. Yesterday was one of those days. I was reading Luke 21:1-4:
“And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all, for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”
It is as though Jesus is contrasting two different kinds of people. Both groups are at the temple. Both groups are giving to the Lord. But one group gives God gifts and the other gives God themselves.
The word “livelihood” caught my attention. It is the word “BIOS”, which means life. This widow gave her life. She kept back nothing for herself. She had no way to sustain herself or to meet her own needs. She was utterly cast upon the Lord. This kind of giving is uncomfortable….fearful even. But sometimes it seems that there is no alternative. The working of God upon the soul will bring us all eventually to the settled conviction that it is unreasonable and even impossible to continue with life as is. All must be laid on the altar, tossed into the treasury, placed at His feet.
Have you ever felt that way? What is one to do when it seems that God is requiring a surrender of everything comfortable and familiar for…..something unknown, unrevealed and almost certainly unexpected?
Surrender. For the servant of the Lord is there really any other answer?
After God created Adam and Eve, His first command to them was “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it….” But we find that the only thing they were able to produce was sin. As then, so now. We are born into this barren wasteland of sin and we add our own barrenness and our own sin to it. Inevitably there comes a day when we realize that we are barren and it becomes first troublesome, then heart-breaking and finally unbearable.
Proverbs 30:16 says there are 4 things that are not satisfied and never say “Enough”. One of those is the barren womb. I was reminded of Rachel’s agonized cry to Jacob – “Give me children or I die!”
But this is not just the cry of a barren womb. It is also the cry of the barren life. Aren’t there those moments when time seems to stand still and you see your life, so much of it foolishly squandered, and you realize that it may be that more of it is behind you than lies ahead of you……and it is barren. What a panic and mad scramble this can create as we try to dig deeply into every crevice of ourselves to find something, anything that we can offer to the Lord, only to realize that there is nothing – not so much as a crumb. Our life is barren because we are barren. We are all in the same barren condition, but we have learned how to not notice that there is no fruit from our lives. How easy it is to become content with producing that plastic wax-like fruit that is created to display in some sort of centerpiece. Nice to look at but not suitable to eat. But at least it is something we can point to as evidence that we are producing something…….
Isaiah 54:1 says “Sing, O barren, you who have not borne”. Why would a barren woman sing? Her greatest desire has been withheld from her. What cause for rejoicing could she have? But the passage continues “for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married woman, says the Lord.” We labor so diligently to be fruitful, striving, trying, working….but true fruitfulness can only come out of the admission of our utter barrenness and our dependence upon Another to produce the fruit.
What joy there is in realizing that our barrenness is not the enemy of fruitfulness, but the platform for it!
Hosea 14:8 says “Your fruit is found in Me.”
And thus we come to the conclusion of our study and where else could it conclude but in Christ Himself! John 15:4-5, 8
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing……by this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit.
Shall we remain contented in this unnatural state of barrenness when Christ has made the promise of much fruit, and such fruit that is pleasing to the Father? Oh will we not come to that holy place of abiding communion with Jesus, where we have realized that all we can offer Him is our barrenness, but also that He is able and so very, very willing to produce lasting and God glorifying fruit in us.
Let the barren who trust in Christ rejoice, for the fruit of His life in us is guaranteed.
Previously we have considered a life on fire as it relates to John the Baptist. But as I close out this little series, we will leave John and take a peek into the Old Testament.
Lev 6:8-13 tells us about the burnt offering. It was the only one of the offerings that was given entirely to God. Every hoof and whisker was burned on that altar. None of it was taken anywhere else and none of it was given to the priest. It was wholly for God. Three times in this passage it says the fire shall always be burning. The priest tended the fire continually to make sure it didn’t go out and once the sacrifice was completely consumed, he removed the ashes. Notice that it doesn’t say that he sweeps or shovels out the ashes, but it says that he “takes them up” and it says the priest puts on the linen garments to do this. The only other place that it is recorded that the priest changes into the linen garments is on the day of atonement. These are the holy garments and this matter of a sacrifice offered wholly to God is a holy matter. He carries the ashes outside the camp to a clean place and there they are poured out.
But this is about something more than an animal; it is about my life. He wants it all for Himself. And He is the priest Who watches over the fire to keep it burning. It is only the totally consumed life that is poured out and when nothing remains of the sacrifice but the ashes that the fire has reduced it to, it is then that Jesus our high priest gathers them up. Do you see the beautiful picture? He is in the holy garments, carefully taking up what we have offered to Him. Do you see that it matters to Him when you offer yourself completely to Him? And He takes these ashes, which are your life, outside the camp and he pours us out into holy moments where our life intersects with the lives of others in what becomes a holy place. A life on fire is a consecrated life.
The word consecrate is an interesting word. When I looked it up I thought it would be defined by words like holy, separated, devoted. But what this word means is “to fill the hand”, as in when you would fill your hand with an offering that you were offering up to God. The definition of the root of this word is fullness. That was utterly shocking to me and a wonderful revelation. I had always thought of consecration as an act of emptying, but God sees it as an act of filling.
Maybe you’ve heard the stories of the men and women who walked with God so closely that their presence in a room changed the atmosphere. Many times I have wondered if these were just special people who were singled out because of the particular calling on their lives….or is this something that all believers can have – this life on fire, walking so closely with God that it is tangible to those around you. I was reminded of the story that Jesus told about those who were invited to the banquet that had been prepared and they wouldn’t come. They were just busy with other things. They missed it. Jesus waits at the banquet table ready to give what we need and what we desire….but there is a requirement. Would we go live out in the wilderness to seek His face? Can we let ourselves, all of ourselves, be put on the altar to be consumed by Him that we may be poured out for Him? Can we turn away from the distractions of this life, and just come to the table? If we could just see what He longs to give we would hunger for it……and we too could receive a life on fire.
Luke 12:49 “I came to send a fire on the earth and how I wish it were already kindled”
Ezekiel 24 is a very difficult passage for me to understand. The prophet’s wife died and the Lord did not allow him to grieve for her. What must it have been like for Ezekiel to obey that command? How is such a thing even possible? But Scripture records “and at evening my wife died, and the next morning I did as I was commanded.” Ezekiel 24:18
Even in his time of sorrow, the prophet was expected to represent the Lord and be faithful to his calling. There are no vacations for those who have separated themselves to God. All of life becomes focused on presenting Him to and representing Him before lost humanity.
Lord, I am too easily moved by my emotions rather than your commands. You would have me put your desires above my own, yet so often I do not. I feel the need, and even the entitlement, to indulge my feelings. Even when I know they run contrary to Your word. This is not the life You have called me to.
For you have called me to obey, in love, without reservation. You have called me to live for the One who gave all to purchase me. You have called me to forget myself and count all things loss – for You. This is the life You have called me to.
“Count the cost
Of being Mine”
Take up your cross
Lose your life for My sake
And for My gospel
Be hated of the world
And esteemed a fool
This is the lot of my disciples”
“Will you lay down your will
And will you embrace Mine?”
Is my reply
“I will follow”
Because my heart
Has thus agreed
My mind believes
It has obeyed
Yet hear this heart
It’s desires or comfort
Hear it protest
Against the unfairness
Hear it cry
How miserable it is
As it languishes in self-pity
Where now is your “Yes”?
Merciful Lord, please give me a “Yes” that penetrates to the very depths of my soul.