The greatest learning opportunities often occur in life when failure is forced upon us against our will. We as humans have this amazing ability to stubbornly believe that we are correct in our assumptions until we are driven to the point of failure. One example comes from the life of a young George Washington. Washington was leading an expedition in 1754 against French forces in the Ohio Valley. He built a small fort, Fort Necessity, as a defensive position against the French. The problem was that he built it on the low ground and within the range of musket fire. The result was a quick defeat and forced surrender to the French. Washington was humiliated and dejected. The failure, however, turned out to be a great experience for the young Commander. His assumptions about battle and leadership were changed and it would prove to be the only surrender in his distinguished military career.
Similarly, some of our greatest spiritual lessons occur when we are confronted about misunderstandings of Christ and His demands of discipleship, which bring us to a decision point regarding our obedience to those demands. Matthew 19 contains perhaps the most famous Scriptural occurrence of this ideology in the story of the rich, young ruler. We see a series of exchanges where Jesus gets this man to the point where he is forced to admit that the Lord does not have His heart, and that he is not willing to give it to Him because of what is required.
This young man approaches Jesus inquiring about obtaining eternal life. His question reveals his understanding that eternal life is something to be earned by performing the correct actions and going through the proper religious mechanisms. “If I give this amount, and pray this much, and attend church this often, and don’t do these certain things, then surely I can earn eternal life,” he might be thinking. Jesus challenges his understanding of righteousness when He responds, “Why do you call me good?” It is quite obvious that this fellow understands goodness as something to be earned by his actions and works, so Jesus challenges his assumptions with this question.
Jesus then questions him on his relationships with his fellow man – don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don't lie, and so on. Our Lord is slowly building a case against this man by beginning with his assumptions about righteousness, then moving to his relationships with others before getting to the real issue: the condition of his heart before God.
After the man’s self-proclamation that he is excelling in each area listed by Jesus, we then see Jesus penetrate his assumptions by targeting that which he is withholding from God. Jesus asks him about his riches, possessions, and money, knowing that this man’s life was built upon a material foundation. You see, on the surface this young man is doing everything right, but on the inside he is holding everything back from the Lord. This is revealed in the fact that he walks away sad; he was willing to give the Lord his entire exterior and none of his interior, and therein was his problem.
The most revealing words of our Lord are his last to this young man. “Come, follow me.” Jesus calls him to get rid of everything in his life that would keep him from completely serving Christ, and he simply was not willing to obey. The call to truly follow Christ demands total surrender. Perhaps the best gauge of our devotion to the Lord is how much we are willing to give up for Him. What are you holding back from the Lord? His call demands our heart, and it is when He has our heart that we are ready to truly follow Him.
In Matthew 19, the Pharisees approach Jesus to trap Him by asking Him a question regarding marriage and divorce. They ask Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?" During that period of time, there was an ongoing debate amongst Jewish religious leaders as to the meaning of "unclean" or "indecent" in Deuteronomy 24:1 (If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce...). One school of thought, which was the popular view, said that "indecency" could literally mean anything; everything from sexual immorality to burning your breakfast. In Jesus' answer, He exposes that the desires of their heart are disobedience and compromise rather than pursuing and striving for their Father's design of a lifelong union between a man and a woman.
In the phrasing of their question, they are going back 2,000 years to Moses and the Law. In Jesus' response, however, He demonstrates to them the necessity of going back before that. Jesus is saying, "Let's get back to the point of creation, before the fall of man." In doing so, Christ addresses God's original design for man, before any concessions had to be made due to his sinful nature.
In verse four He says, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."
Jesus points out a couple of things that are noteworthy here. Firstly, He references Genesis 1:27 where God created mankind in His image, male and female He created them. We must always remember that our entire being is not only created by our Heavenly Father, but in His creating us He did so in His image. How astonishing is this fact! You were created by the very hands and imagination of the Creator God, but, so much more than that, He also created you in His own image. Amazing.
There are so many issues in this day and age regarding the human body - divorce, adultery, homosexuality, abortion, and now even transgender individuals. The opinions of people on these issues are often as strong as they are numerous. But, we must always remember what Jesus says here about God's design for mankind. Firstly, it is He who created each one of us. He created your inmost being; He lovingly knit you together in your mother's womb, as David says in Psalm 139:13. God Himself designed you, and He designed you in His image. What security we find in these words of Scripture! For those struggling with identity issues, I would strongly encourage you to remember that the greatest assurance comes from the fact that God created you, and He created you in His image. What love, what hope, what assurance that ought to bring to each of God's children.
These words of Christ are ever-applicable to mankind. God's design, which is the picture of perfection for His creation, was that one man and one woman, created in God's image, would form a family unit and that bond would be untouched by any man. However, because of our sinful nature, we have fallen so far from God's design, so much so that we often cannot distinguish between our desire and God's design. We often assume the two are identical, but that could not be farther from the truth.
Hold fast to the truth that you were created by the imagination and hands of God Himself, and in His image. May we all pursue the Creator and His design in our lives, and these other issues and questions will surely fade away.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.