If what we believe is right, then are the rest of the millions of people alive today all wrong? How are we supposed to equate our beliefs with the rest of the world? How can we know what truth is? Have you ever seen a greater emphasis placed on belonging?... on compromising to 'get along?'... on the accumulation of material wealth as evidence of being right?
If ever there was a day and hour when we need to know what truth is, it is now. Jesus said, "I will build my church." That right there takes it out of the hands of men, doesn't it? We can fall all over ourselves trying to please leadership, trying to do the 'work of the Lord' ...but how much are we really accomplishing if we are the ones coming up with the plans? How much evidence is to be seen that God is behind our efforts, sincere though they may be?
The word church is generally understood to come from ekklesia (Strong's Concordance #G1577), or called out ones. This is shown to be a derivative of two other Greek words, G1537 ek ex, denoting origin, and G2564 kaleo, ; to "call." It is very difficult to separate in our minds; God's intention, from our conceptions. We have centuries of tradition to substantiate the many religious systems that hold control over the people. What does it really come down to, when you take a step back and bring an objective eye to it? We have thousands if not millions of churches, each with their own set of beliefs and teachings, separated from all the other churches that think or teach differently. Yet how many times do we question what we have been taught? Do we ever consider that while it is easy for us to accept that those who think differently from our way of thinking are wrong, then the same thing would hold true of us from their perspective? That it is possible that we could be just as wrong in our mindsets? Well, that's a pretty unnerving thought... "how could we be wrong?"
Yet we have no problem seeing the error in the teachings of those who believe differently from us, do we? I have to ask myself, how does what I believe stand up to what God intends? After all, isn't what God thinks all that really matters?
Mathew 20:16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
And Matthew 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen. What are we to understand from Jesus' words here? What is He saying? Many are invited, but few are selected? Doesn't this correlate to the parable He gave in the previous verses 2-13, of those invited to the marriage of the King's son? Isn't there a real danger of our being so enamored with our 'works' that we could fail to recognize the summons of the King? Because we are convinced that we already are doing what He wants us to do...' we have 'this great ministry,' we are 'highly respected' and others 'look to us for guidance,' how could this possibly apply to us?
How can we NOT apply this to ourselves? Why is it that we will readily receive the words of men, but we do not feel the need to hear the voice of the King of kings and Lord of lords?
What are some of the other things that Jesus said? John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. How many times have you read this verse? What is the first thing that our mind jumps to? Is it not the end of the verse, 'that He will raise us up at the last day?' How much attention do we give to the opening, 'that no man can come to the Father unless he is summoned?' Except the Father draw him, is in essence being chosen. To draw is... to take for oneself, that is, to prefer.
Our problem lies in trying to fit the omniscient, omnipotent creator of all things, into the limited confines of our very finite mind. God is so much greater than even our wildest imagination can comprehend, that our attempts to 'manage,' 'predict,' or to 'speak' on His behalf are futile and doomed to failure before we even start.
Religion is defined as being:
Religion, beliefs and worship: people's beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature, and worship of a deity or deities, and divine involvement in the universe and human life. To get religion is to stop flouting the rules, regulations, customs, and expectations of society (informal) to become a believer or join a religious organization, and, usually, start to lead a life that follows its teachings.
Doesn't this dictionary definition of religion pretty well summarize the institution's that man has built, in the name of God? When Jesus stated..."That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," was He speaking in terms that our minds could easily comprehend?
Consider first to whom He was speaking. Peter was one of His disciples. Jesus chose Peter. He called him out from among the other fishermen, to come and "follow after Me." What did Peter do to deserve being singled out? Nothing. We can never earn, deserve, or cause God to be obligated to us in any way. Was Peter perfect? Not at all. Of all the information in the Word of God concerning Jesus' followers, we see in Peter all of the weaknesses prone to the natural man. He acted impulsively; he spoke without thinking. Of all the disciples, he is the one we can most readily identify with. Often his intentions were good, but his understanding was still darkened. Even though he walked for three years in close proximity to Christ, witnessing the teachings and miracles Jesus did, yet he still did not understand most of what He was experiencing. It is undeniable that Jesus chose Peter.
When Jesus declared that "thou art Peter,' he was referring to the new man that Peter was to become in Christ. Peter was still human and would still stumble and make mistakes. Christ was alluding to what Peter was to become, by the operation of the power and Spirit of God within his heart. Our perspective changes when we come to the realization that it is all God.
Jesus said, (John 15:16 ) Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
Here again, we see evidence of selection on God's part. Have you never wondered what our Lord meant when he said, I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them (John 17:9-10 ). He is making a clear distinction in this statement. There are two kinds of people to whom he is referring here. Those that are His, and those that are not.
Matthew 11:6 And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. Jesus spoke many times about offences. He states in Matthew 13 in the parable of the seed sown on the different types of soil, that those who were stony ground would at first receive the seed joyfully, but when persecution arose they would fall away and become offended. The people of his hometown were offended by his teaching, and great was their unbelief. Jesus offended the religious leaders of his day, so much so that they finally succeeded in having him crucified.
Jesus warns us in Matthew 24 of the things which shall be in the last days. We are seeing these signs evidenced all around us in today's world. Among them he states: (Matthew 24:10) And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. We must be careful to hear what the Spirit is saying to us. Too often we have heard passages of scripture repeated so many times that our sensitivity to the Spirit behind the words becomes calloused. There will be many who are greatly offended by what God does in this generation. So much so that they will betray and hate one another. This has occurred to varying degrees down through the ages, but in this last generation, the separation will be complete.
To refer back to the opening verse, consider Mathew 26:33,34 Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.
We are all familiar with Peter's betrayal in the garden, and how he suffered for his weakness. The Lord knew beforehand exactly what was going to happen. And He accepted the Father's will above His own. We are called to do no less. When Jesus said "thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" he knew that Peter and all the other disciples would not be able to stand with Him in His darkest hour. Nor did He expect them to. However, after Jesus was crucified and rose again, things forever changed.
The days and weeks following that fateful night in the garden was a very troubled and frightening time for those who had been called and chosen to follow Christ. What to believe? where to turn? what to do now?... their thoughts and emotions must have churned within them. But the Lord never says anything just to be talking. He had told them that He must go away, so that the comforter could come. He promised to never leave them or forsake them. They had to learn to stand on faith, they had to believe... in order to come into the reality of His promises. In the upper room they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and no longer walked by the seeing of their eyes or the hearing of their ears, or their darkened understanding. Faith became their greatest asset, by faith they became the living epistles that Jesus had called them to be. If you need a spiritual booster shot, read the 11th chapter of Hebrews, and place yourself in the same situations, you may well face something similar one day.
How can we be willing to settle for less? The Church is not a building... or an institution, or a religious mindset. The Church is the Lord's Body. We are His habitation... Psalms 132:13 For the LORD hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation. (Again, there is that selection.) Paul enlarged on this in Ephesians 2:20-22 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit. How awesome is that?
My friends, we are called to something far different than religion. We are called to do far more than to stop flouting the rules, regulations, customs, and expectations of society. It is unfortunate, but for modern man, the word Church evokes mental images of steeples and cathedrals, clergy and priest, ritual, tradition and formality. What we refer to as 'the early Church' did not attach any such connotations to what they were doing. They were engaged in a 'new life' ...a total change of their ways. It was the established, organized, religious leaders that instigated and supported the persecution of those who were called and chosen to believe in and follow Christ. It was the religious leaders that demanded the blood of the martyrs.
Even the apostle Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, boldly stepped out from the religious mindset in which he was well trained. He fully approved the stoning of Stephen, and himself persecuted the early church... fully convinced that he was doing God great service. But when Jesus confronted Paul on the road to Damascus, he was forever changed. He counted all that he had thought of as righteousness, all of the works he had been so diligent to perform, as dung. His entire perspective was changed. Why? ... because he had encountered the person of Christ, as a reality, and could never go back to the religious mindset he had known before.
Peter was transformed from a simple fisherman, to a man who walked in such an anointing of the Spirit of God that people were healed simply by his shadow falling on them. That is a far cry from the way he started out. We are given a warning of what is to come from him in 1 Peter 4:17-19 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.
What are your expectations? What do you believe? Are you religious, or are you walking in a relationship with God? Do you find things Jesus said offensive? Are you willing to suffer for your beliefs? We should all ask ourselves questions like these. The world is rapidly changing. Never before has there been the threat of terrorism hanging over the heads of people worldwide. We have seen the evidence of radical believers... those who believed so strongly in what they were doing that they were willing to die for it. During WWII some of the Japanese airmen would use their planes as weapons, knowingly going to their death in an attempt to stop the Allied Forces. That was shocking and considered very radical in the 1940's. Today, we have radical Muslim's throughout the world, in country after country that strap bombs onto their bodies and go in and blow themselves up, in order to kill as many of those they consider their enemies as possible. Do you think for one minute that anyone would do such things if they were not totally committed to their cause? Such commitment to belief is hard for most of us to conceive of. It is lunacy to commit such acts. Yet it is currently happening on a daily basis.
How committed is the Church? and to what? Organized religion has become a laughing stock in the world today. For the most part they don't practice what they preach. They have allowed compromise and complacency to overtake them. They employ the tactics of the world in an attempt to win the world, and the world sees right through it. Religion is Big Business today, raking in millions of tax free dollars, while those that Jesus commanded the Church to go to, the poor, the needy, the destitute, the widows and orphans continue to go without. Mega Ministry leaders live in million dollar homes, run multi-million dollar "ministries," and proclaim they are doing God great service. Sexual promiscuity and perversion is as rampant in the Church as it is in the world. Some denominations have capitulated to the point of allowing homosexuals to be ordained as ministers to preside over the people. Humanism and new age thinking and attitudes have replaced Christ's commandments. Compromise is the calling card that gets the greatest acceptance. Don't make waves, don't rock the boat, don't be a trouble maker. It is hard to imagine Paul being accepted in today's world. Can you imagine him walking into a Church on Sunday morning and saying this?
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written. The just shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them (Romans 1:16-32).
No, according to today's standards, Paul would be labeled a homophobic, unloving, a racist and a troublemaker, even a terrorist. He would not be welcomed in most Churches today, any more than the Gospel of Christ is welcomed. Self sits enthroned in the hearts of men. We are seeing the escalation of evil on a scale that we could not have imagined fifty years ago. It's evidence is daily played out in the news on our television screens. Fear is a strong motivator today; fear of the unknown abounds. As believers in Jesus Christ, are we not charged to strive to "enter into His rest?" How does resting in God cohabit with the fears all around us? The writer of Hebrews had something to say about this 'Rest.'
Hebrews 3:14-19 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end; While it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? And to whom swore he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
What connection could the preserved account of the Israelite's journey through the wilderness have with these, the last days? The answer is borne out in the following (4th Chapter of Hebrews):
Hebrews 4:1-16 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.
And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today, after so long a time; as it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Joshua had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.
There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
Isaiah 8:13 Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. Is it possible that we have much rhetoric, but very little understanding, of Who God Is?
Is it possible that we have been so taken in by the smooth talk, the pleasing stories, the images that have been painted of God, till what we think we know is little more than a fairytale... and has little to no connection to reality? I am speaking of spiritual reality here. When we look at all the varied religions and belief systems held by men today, is it not true that there are many similarities between them? How tempting is it to just embrace those things that we want to believe. We hear much these days of the love of God, but very little concerning God's wrath. The Bible speaks much concerning both of these attributes of God. How balanced is our relationship, if we are only willing to embrace those things that are pleasing to us? Have you never considered Jesus' words in Matthew 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
We would do well to honestly consider to whom these words were spoken. Jesus said this to those who stood before Him saying, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?" Are we so vain as to think that this does not equally apply to those living today... busily engaged in doing the Lord's work?
God is moving over the face of the earth today. His Holy Spirit is searching the hearts of the people, to see who will serve Him, who will obey, and who will not. Mankind has devised many clever scenarios as to what is going to happen in the last days, and multitudes are fully convinced that they have it all figured out. Yet if this is true, then where is the great revival we have been told to look for? Where is the mighty man or woman of God tearing down the enemy's strongholds? Where is the body of Christ in the earth? What does the world see when they look at what presents itself as being the Church?
Division; cliques; elitists; pedophile's; adulterers; lovers of money? Where is the outrage, where is the shame, where is the repentance, the righteous indignation? We are only righteous in our own eyes, just as the leaders of the synagogues were righteous in their own eyes, when they stood face to face with the Son of God. They did not recognize Him for Who He was then, any more than multitudes recognize His Spirit today. We should be deeply offended, but at what? Don't we need to be offended at the things which God finds offensive? And how are we going to know what offends God, if we are not walking in a vital, living relationship with Him?
No longer is it permissible to trust in carnal reasoning. No longer can we fake it, setting ourselves up like white-washed sepulchers, deceiving others. Why? Because God is the One with Whom we have to do... not men. "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God." That would be us people, individually. This prospect is hard to comprehend if we have been taught and believe that we will never have to suffer anything; that we will be caught away before anything really bad can happen to us. Or if we believe that God is only love, and that everything bad in the world is the work of the devil. If that be the case, then what manner of God are we talking about here... because the devil seems to be getting the upper hand. Genocides, wars, rapes, murders, bombings, school shootings, famines, natural disasters, the list of atrocities great and small taking place worldwide everyday is overwhelming.
How many times has something totally unexpected befallen you or someone close to you, that had every appearance of being the work of the devil? And how many times have you said or heard someone in all sincerity say "God wouldn't do that?" Well, maybe not the god you've been taught about, the one who is just barely hanging on by his fingernails... but the God of the Bible does whatever He wants, without consulting anyone.
I know that many of you have been through much suffering... things that you never could have anticipated, things that you did not understand, at least at the time. There are many today who have come to a place in their walk with God where they can readily identify with Job, with Joseph, with David, with Jeremiah, with many of those saints whose lives are recorded in God's Word. And as you were going through your own winepress, you no doubt had the "friends" who staunchly declared to you, "God wouldn't do that." Well, if you have stuck it out, you can with full assurance declare that "God Did Do That," and what appeared to be for evil He turned to your good.
Romans 11:33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! We have a choice before us today my friends. What are we going to believe? Like it or not, our eternal destiny depends on our decision... and Eternity is a very long time. May we get our priorities in order.