September 1, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“Come to me, all who are weary and burdened down, and I will give you the rest you desire. Take My yoke upon your shoulders and learn from Me. I AM gentle and humble in heart. You will find the rest for your souls which is your earnest pursuit. How? Because My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11. 28-30)
“Then they asked Him, ‘What must we do to do the works which God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.’ So they inquired further, ‘What sign will You give to validate this word You have given so that we will know it is true and can believe in it? What will You do?’” (John 6.28-30)
The “good” work we are meant to do…. In the sense of fairness, I would be remiss if I didn’t reiterate the biblical understanding of “good.” We first are exposed to the word in the story of Creation. There the word “good” is indicative of God’s affirmation and pleasure with the result of His creative effort carried out by the Holy Spirit under His command. What would God be affirming? His affirmation was that what was created accomplished its task and purpose as it was designed to do. In fact, left as it was, it would continue to do so. In the words of John “Hannibal” Smith from the TV series “The A Team,” ‘I love it when a plan comes together.‘ God loves it when His plan comes together. We heard it when Joseph calmed his brothers fears after their father, Jacob, died. What did they fear? Jacob was their trump card on Joseph if ever he felt the need to exact retribution for what they did to him. With Jacob no longer in the picture (although they could have called upon his memory), they now felt fully vulnerable. But, Joseph, sensing their angst in light of life and death, calmed their fears saying “What you intended for harm [evil]. God purposed for good.” How far reaching was the vision of God for every caveat and turn in the road that “free will” humanity may journey? God has seen it all. anticipated it all and made contingencies plans for the myriad of right and wrong decisions. He can most certainly will “work all things together for good.” That would include our salvation which was worked together for our good through Jesus’ teachings, modelling, humbling Himself to the cross and the grave and trusting in God’s plan for resurrection and the repurposing of our broken lives to be new creations enjoying wholeness in holiness by God’s authentic love. Yet, it was this same Jesus would turned down the title of “Good Teacher.” When it was put on Him, He turned it away saying simply, “Why do you call Me good? There is none good but God alone!” (Mark 10.18) Matthew had his version of this encounter remembering “A man ran up to Jesus and feel on his knees at His feet saying ‘Rabbi, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’ Jesus replied, ‘Why do you ask Me about what is good? There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments!” And then Jesus reveals the good work in summation of all the commandments with: “Come, follow me.” As we heard Jesus answer the disciples who asked a similar question with a similar answer over the past two days, “the good work” is further clarified to be “Believe in the One whom God has sent.” And Peter’s declaration on Pentecost leans us in that direction to when he said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you who ‘believe in the One whom God has sent.’” Yes, Jesus is the culmination of God’s good plan for redemption, salvation and reconciliation. John reminded his listening audience of this when he remembered clearly on the night when Jesus was betrayed by Judas of Kerioth Jesus saying, “I AM the way, the truth and the life. No one can enter into the presence of God the Father by any other means.”
What then is the purpose of our “good” work? Is it merely for our salvation or is it something more. Our worship is good when it honors and glorifies God who is holy. Sadly, I fear a tendency for there to be some feeling of self-satisfaction in worship as to promote the “good I am” over and against “the good I am doing for the great I AM.” No, it is something more. Yes, we are commanded to love one another (those within the circle of faith as a community in the body of Christ). Yes, we are commanded to love our enemies (as we ourselves are enemies of God because of our choices to sin and to languish in it.) Yes, we are commanded to love our neighbors (those who are not in the circle of faith but may find themselves encircled by those whose faith is in God alone through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.) And the caveat is not limited to following the command to love God first and always. Rather, the caveat is sharpened to say “as you love yourself,” or by some interpretations “to love others as you yourself have been loved by God.” From that we derive the command “do to others as you would have done to you.” Jesus called these the greatest commandments because they summed up the Law and the Prophets as expressions of the “good we are purposed to do” as those “clothed in righteousness.” And Jesus, being the “shining” example, most certainly did exactly that. What did God have to save about it? Well, at Jesus’ submission to being baptized by John in the Jordan to fulfill all righteousness, God said “This is My beloved Son. I am well pleased with Him.” Another translation would read, “This is My Son in whom my love is exceedingly great. What He has done is “good” to Me.” And then, when Jesus was “transfigured,” fully revealed, in the presence of Moses and Elijah symbolizing the fulfillment of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah), God said a repeat of the baptismal blessing with a further command. God declared to Peter, James and John “Listen to Him.” If there was any question as to the authenticity and validity of Jesus’ ministry before this time, there shouldn’t have been any after that. But, we know the disciples still struggled to believe. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t believe in Jesus but more so they didn’t believe fully in themselves. Dr. Robert Schuller wrote a book addressing this common issue in today’s word under the title “Believe in the One who believes in You.” “Good” advice, don’t you think? Sounds strangely like the good work Jesus said we are to do which is “believe in the One whom God has sent.” The further command of that would be God’s declaration “Listen to HIM!”
Why would we listen to anything else if our desire is to live the “good” life as God intended for us to have from before the beginning of all things? We are inundated by the allure of “worldly good” and “worldly goods.” Balance their worth and value with “good as we know it from God’s perspective.” Does it and do they support the design of life which God intended and stills intends? Does it and do they glorify and honor God? Does it and do they promote the greatest commands, the sanctified community of faith and the hope which God has spoken into us by His Holy Spirit? Or does it and do they exist in the “want” of what is “good for me” in the moment by moment living of the world? In God’s perspective there are only two judgments and determinations. The judgments are posited as “good and evil,” supporting God’s purpose or denying God’s purpose.” The determinations are “sheep and goats,” those whose lives support God’s purpose (sheep) and those whose lives deny God’s purpose (goats). Hmmm, I shudder whenever I see and or hear the casting of people, even that put on Jesus, with the “GOAT” title. Jesus said, “Who is the greatest among you?” It is His way of saying “Who is doing real good?” He follows up with the answer, “The One who is least among you as the first will be last and the last will be first.” Then Jesus lived it out by kneeling at the disciples’ feet to wash them. He followed it up by using those same hands to carry the cross of our salvation all the way to Calvary. The world determined Him to be least, the chief of the least in fact, by crucifying Him between two thieves. Yet, little did they know what they were doing, just as Jesus said in asking God to forgive them. You see, when Jesus was crucified as the ultimate act of good, He was put in the center of judgment and determination between a goat (the thief who despised Jesus) and the lost sheep that was found (the penitent thief who joined Jesus in Paradise that day.) The question for us might be this: Where are we on the “good” spectrum?
Father, You are good and your mercy endures forever. By Your Word and in Your Will we have been offered the “good” life through salvation made possible by Jesus Christ alone. It is Him that we follow and gain our bearing. It is by Him we shall measure out what is good and right and true for ourselves. There will be no other way, truth and life for us than Him. We are His people, the sheep of His pasture which is and always will be Yours at the Good Shepherd. AMEN.