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With Jesus

With Jesus

One thing I know is that there is a lot I do not know. I have so much to learn. I am confident that will always be the case, at least until I reach Heaven, but how exciting when something is learned.

That happened recently. I would like to share it with you today. It leads to a very important challenge.

There is a passage in Matthew about which I have always been confused. It is in chapter 7, which is toward the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

As we know, that Sermon, which is recorded in three chapters - chapters 5 through 7 of Matthew - provides a wonderful summary of how life should be lived.

Right before what for me has been the confusing passage, Jesus taught us to ask, seek, and knock for the things we need, including spiritual things we need, and that as physical fathers provide for their children, so does our Heavenly Father provide for those who accept Jesus.

Jesus also taught that the way to proper living now and Heaven later is very narrow, meaning it is not the easy way to live, but the benefit is wonderful. The way taught by Jesus leads to life. A life of blessings now and an eternal life with God in Heaven.

Concerning Heaven - being allowed into Heaven - the confusing passage - confusing for me - has been chapter 7 of Matthew, verses 21 through 23.

Here is the passage. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven. On that day, many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from Me, you evildoers.”

What makes that passage confusing for me is that it would appear the ones being addressed will have been very active in Christian ministry. 

They will have prophesied, which most likely in this passage refers to preaching, doing so in Jesus’ name. That is a good thing, is it not? It is something He wants His people to do.

They will have cast out demons in Jesus’ name. That, too, is a good thing, is it not? In fact, in His ministry, Jesus instructed His disciples to do that very thing. He empowered them to do so.

They will have done other mighty works in Jesus’ name. That refers to other miracles. That, too, is a good thing, is it not, especially since the wording includes that the miracles, like the preaching and the casting, will have been done in the name of Jesus, which at least suggests those doing the preaching, casting, and miracles will not have taken personal credit for any of what they have done.

It seems, at least to me, that those addressed will have done everything Jesus will have asked them to do, which can make a person pretty nervous, as in, what assurance can anyone have that he or she is right with God?

Do not get me wrong. I do not question my faith. I do not doubt my relationship with God. But I have been confused about Matthew 7:21-23.

Then recently, I was introduced to a comparison based on something Jesus said that is recorded in Mark 3. 

This, like the passage in Matthew, happened early in Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus had already done quite a bit of healing. He had already begun His selection of disciples. They are listed as Peter, James and John, Andrew, Philip, and Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, another one named James, Thaddaeus, Simon, and Judas Iscariot.

Then, in verse 13, Jesus took those selected to a mountain, where they could be by themselves with Him. It was at that spot He, I think it can be worded, commissioned them, doing so in verses 14 and 15. In the commissioning, He gave His disciples a number of responsibilities.

One was to preach. Do you sense my confusion with the passage in Matthew? The ones addressed will have preached, which is what Jesus, in Mark, tells His disciples to do.

Another was to cast out demons, which those in Matthew will have done. Casting out demons is an example of performing miracles, which those in Matthew will also have done.

My confusion has been that those in Matthew - those denied the reward of Heaven - will have done exactly what Jesus instructed His people to do. So why will Jesus say He did not know them?

Here is the answer, which, again, has just recently sunk into my mind. Yes, Jesus told His disciples to preach and do miracles, including casting out demons. But listen to some very critical words. Two critical words. In addition to the other instructions, Jesus appointed twelve to be - here are the two words - “with Him.”

That is the answer to my confusion about the Matthew passage. Those who will be denied Heaven will have preached and driven out demons and done other miracles, but for them, there will be one thing missing. There is nothing recorded in Matthew about those people being with Jesus.

In fact, being with Jesus is listed in this second passage before the preaching and the casting out of demons. The placement at least suggests that being with Jesus is the first step His people are to take. The step that makes the preaching and the casting out of demons worthy of the Lord.

Knowing that, I suppose I should have been able to figure out the Matthew passage because of another phrase in it. One I did not highlight earlier. The Lord will say, “Not everyone will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he or she who does the will of the Father who is in Heaven.” As in the full will, which includes not only preaching and driving out demons and doing other miracles, but also being with Jesus.

Be with Jesus. That is the critical piece. So what does that mean? Knowing how important it is, how can we make sure we are with Jesus so there will never need to be any lack of assurance that we are right with God? So we can be confident that when we say, “Lord, Lord,” He will say, “I do know you. Come with Me into Heaven, where you will enjoy My presence forever.”

What does it mean to be with Jesus? I have given some thought and study to that since I came to understand the significance of the Matthew passage. Let me share some of what I have thought and read.

First and foremost in being with Jesus is to accept Him as the Savior. The one and only way to blessings now and Heaven later. In fact, anything and everything we do, including spiritually, is to be based or seen through the lens of that acceptance.

Thinking of preaching, anything said in favor of Jesus is beneficial to His cause, but it will have no personal effect on the speaker unless the speaker is a Christian. Concerning the doing of mighty works, right before the Matthew passage there is a warning against false prophets. It seems that at the time of Jesus, there were some demon-possessed people who were also able to do miracles. But they were doing them, not to promote Jesus, but rather themselves.

The first, most basic, most important part of being with Jesus is accepting Him as the Savior He is. The Savior He became when He died as the sacrifice for our sins and then rose from the dead on the third day after His death. To be with Jesus starts with believing in Him, but it goes on from there to include spending time with Him, which brings two things to mind. One is prayer. The other is reading and studying His word, that being the Bible. 

I will claim to be pretty good at Bible reading. Like many others among us, I have committed again to reading through the Bible this year. I have done so in the past, though last year I concentrated on just the New Testament. I read through that three times last year.

I will admit I need to grow in praying. I say that, not as a true confession time, but to hopefully get across it is OK to admit areas of spirituality in which we need to grow. I do a lot of praying with people, but not as much as I should do privately.

Jesus wants us to be with Him. That includes accepting Him as Savior. It includes spending time with Him in prayer and Bible reading and studying so we can learn His thoughts and His ways. It also includes obeying the commandment to “love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Heart. That was considered to be the seat of emotions. Everything we feel, everything we love, everything we are interested in doing should be centered on how God can be pleased by what we do. We are to center our emotions - our hearts - on being excited to pray and to read the Bible and to be at church for services and other activities, knowing being here pleases the Lord. 

Soul. That refers to all that is within you. The very fiber of your being. All that keeps you going spiritually. With all your soul you are to love the Lord.

Mind. That refers to everything we think.

Let me mention that keeping thoughts on the goodness and the love of the Lord can be difficult, what with all the news we hear from so many sources. I am still not convinced that things are that much worse now than they have been in the past, at least internationally, but we hear about things so much quicker. And with news cycles being 24 hours a day we certainly hear about bad things over and over again.

That can be discouraging. Plus the immorality that is all around us is disturbing. So yes, it can be difficult to keep our minds on the positive things of and about Jesus. But we are to work at it. That is part of being with Jesus, which He taught His disciples to be.

Strength. Effort. Energy. The things we do are to be pleasing to the Lord. Things that will draw us ever closer to Him. We are to love the Lord enough to put forth the effort to make that happen.

Related to the commandment to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, there is another commandment from Jesus. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” That too is involved in being with Jesus because obeying Him is necessary to have a close relationship with Him.

It often takes strength of heart, strength of soul, and strength of mind to be able to love others. Especially others who are difficult to get along with. But obedience to all of Jesus’ teachings is part of being with Him, which is so important because being with Him is necessary to receive blessings now and reach Heaven later.

One more explanation. Kind of a summary of what we have been talking about. What it means. The explanation is provided by Billy Graham who was once asked by a troubled person about following Christ. The person asked Graham, “What does it mean to follow Jesus?” For our wording, what does it mean to “be with Jesus?” The person added, “My life is very busy. I cannot imagine taking a couple hours every day to pray, like I guess saintly people are supposed to do.”

Billy Graham explained that not everyone is given a ministry of prayer. I will add that we are all to pray. That is part of being with Jesus. However, it was Graham’s point that not everyone will spend two hours a day praying. He told the man, “Some men and women may be called by God to do exactly what you say. Over the years I have been humbled to meet some of them. When I get to Heaven, I am sure I will discover just how important they were in God's work.”

But not everyone does that, which means there are, according to Graham’s explanation, other ways to be with Jesus. 

For instance, he said, being with Jesus means being committed to Him as our Savior and Lord. We talked about that earlier in this message.

It means wanting Him to be the master of our lives instead of trying to run our lives ourselves. Graham asked, “Have you turned over the control of your life to Jesus?”

Being with Jesus also means to seek to obey Him every day. Jesus knows what is best for us and has told us in the Bible how He wants us to live. We need to read and obey what is in the Bible. Graham asked, “Is it part of your life every day to obey Him? Are you allowing the Bible to shape your mind and heart?”

Being with Jesus also means seeing others through His eyes. Graham pointed out that Christ loved the world so much He was willing to give His life for our salvation. Graham asked, “Is the Holy Spirit filling you with His love?” Are we seeking to touch others for Him?

Graham added that the Bible, in Ephesians 5, instructs us to follow God's example and walk in the way of the love of Christ. That is what it means to be with Jesus.

*       *       *       *       *

Preaching in the name of Jesus is very important. Casting out demons in the name of Jesus is very important. Doing mighty works in the name of Jesus is very important. All those things are pleasing to the Lord, but, to explain my earlier confusion as to why those things are not enough, I have learned that the first step in being effective in any and all those ways, not only for others, but for ourselves personally, is to be with Jesus, which is the first step of doing the will of God.

Will you join me in understanding the importance of being with Jesus? Will you join me in striving to put into practice what it means to be with Jesus? What a wonderful reward we will hear as Jesus will say to us as He said to His disciples, “Yes, I do know you. Come with Me to Heaven? How wonderful it will be to hear those words from Jesus, described in our hymnal as the Solid Rock, which refers to what Jesus taught right after today’s first passage, right at the end of His Sermon on the Mount.

Back to Matthew 7, this time verses 24 through 28. Everyone who hears Jesus’ words - the words of the Sermon, including the passage about needing to do the will of God, which includes being with Him - and does what Jesus said will be like a wise man who builds his house on rock, thereby giving it a strong, sturdy, steady foundation. When rains fall and floods rise and winds blow, such a house will stand.

The opposite is also true. Those who do not hear and obey Jesus’ words will be like a foolish man who builds his house on sand. When the rains and floods and winds come, that house will fall.

The challenge is to build our lives on the words of Jesus. Including the critical teaching to be with Him so that all we do in everything will be pleasing and acceptable to Him.

The Solid Rock.

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,

I rest on His unchanging grace;

In every high and stormy gale,

My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,

Support me in the whelming flood;

When all around my soul gives way, 

He then is all my hope and stay.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

Lord, You give us wonderful opportunities to serve You, including preaching and doing Your miracles. As we know from Your own earthly ministry, that will often be accepted by those affected, but not always. As our closing song has it, there will be storms, floods, and wind that will come our way. But we can survive - and all we do for You will be valuable - if we will do the very important thing of being with You. Help us to be with You, including accepting You and praying to You and reading Your Bible and obeying You and loving You and loving others. Give us the desire to be with You. Amen.

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