Discussing Spiritual Differences- Matthew 10:16-17, 22-23; 1 Samuel 8:7

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues;
And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.

And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

COMMENTARY

They will deliver you up to the councils, and ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake
But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another

Jesus did not mince words when he told his disciples what to expect when carrying his message into the world. And one of the points that he stressed in particular was that they were going to be rejected…a lot. Though the disciples would work miracles, though they would speak with power, though they would dedicate their lives to this work, though they would convince many of the truth, there would always remain those who would not accept their message.
Recall that even the master orator Paul, after he had borne a masterful testimony to King Agrippa, was only able to elicit a response of “almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”

For they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me
But is it any wonder that the disciples would be rejected when their master was as well? Jesus was turned away from cities, disputed against in the synagogues, and given up to death by his own people. Was it just because he didn’t know the right words to say, because he fumbled in his delivery, because he wasn’t skilled enough in the preaching his own message.
No, of course not. He and his disciples faced rejection for the simple reason that people have their freedom of choice, and some just choose to reject the gospel message and that’s all there is to it. It doesn’t have to be that the one proselyting did anything wrong. They might have said exactly what they needed to, but the person hearing the message just didn’t want to receive it.
And that is an important truth for us to remember whenever we try to champion the right. I have known those who believe that if they can just find the right, magical words they will be able to unlock anybody’s heart and that simply isn’t true. No one has to accept what you to say. Anyone is able to turn you down, no matter how perfect your reasoning is. If you feel that you spoke with the words that were given you, that the point was made, that the truth was evident to any who would see, then you have done your part. Anything after that, acceptance or rejection, is out of your control. Whatever the outcome is, you must just accept it and move along.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- John 8:32, 1 John 2:21

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.

COMMENTARY

The truth shall make you free
Yesterday I considered how the truth wants to be spoken and urges us to utter it. However it is not the truth that needs us so much as it is we who need the truth.
Truth is not some fragile being that we must protect or else will fade away. It is not Tinkerbell who will die if we stop believing in it. Truth just is. It exists independently of our involvement. Truth does not need to be stated to be true.
So when we speak the truth, it is not for truth’s sake, but for humanity’s. As Jesus attests in this verse, it is the truth that makes us free. Thus to know the truth and to not say it is to leave your brother in chains.

Ye know it, that no lie is of the truth
And this is yet another reason why those that have found moral truth must speak up, even to a world that doesn’t want to hear it. Just as it is wrong to see someone walking into physical danger and not call out a warning, it is also wrong to not call out a warning of moral dangers.
When one has found the truth one knows the truth and one knows what is not of the truth. And when one knows that what they hear is not truth, it would be an act of abuse to leave one’s fellowman so blinded. Even if the other will not hear, the one that knows the truth is still obligated to speak it so that the other can have his chance for freedom.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Matthew 7:7-8, John 7:37, John 6:66-67

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.

From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

COMMENTARY

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth
If any man thirst, let him come unto me
We must always remember that this is a gospel of invitation, not of force. It is a gospel where the disciple is meant to seek after, not be pushed ahead. It is opt in, not opt out.
When we can share the truth we should do so with passion and commitment, we should leave no question about the importance of what we are saying. But never should we try to make someone accept it and never should we punish them for ignoring us.

From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

Jesus boldly renounced sin. Jesus reproved his own disciples. Jesus chased away those who corrupted the place of worship. He was very clear and very firm in his declaration of truth. But the decision to follow him was always left to the disciple. If they wanted to leave then they could, and some of them did. But if they wanted to stay then they knew where to find him and they knew what he expected of them. It was just up to them to choose it.

Optimism in a Falling World- Summary

I think the studies that do me the most good are the ones that expand my understanding of what it even means to be a follower of Christ. The more I am able to redefine my paradigm to be like his the more I am able to walk in his footsteps. And this study absolutely made me take a long, hard look at what it really means to be a Christian. And along with that realization came another: I’m often not a very good one.
Which might sound like a self-condemning conclusion, but really it is not. Realizing how far one has yet to go is a sign that they are actually upon their way. One must first have a solid foundation in a subject before they can appreciate the full depth of their ignorance.
This isn’t what I expected to find when I began this study. I really wasn’t sure what the answer to my periodic cynicism towards the world would be, but I didn’t think it would be: the problem is in you, so become a better Christian. A sharp, yet loving reproof. An invitation to become more so that I can be more happy.
Here are three fundamental concepts that came up while conducting this study.

Cynicism is a Product of Despair)

Some of us are naturally more optimistic than others. Some see the glass as half full while others view it as half empty. Yet I am convinced that pervasive cynicism is not anyone’s natural state. Each of us begins this life as children, and children as a whole are far more believing and optimistic. They have to learn to see the world more darkly.
At some point each one of us has our brightness broken. To one degree or another each of us was mistreated while still innocent. At the very least, every small child comes astray of someone having a bad day sooner or later. But it isn’t just what others do to us that break us, either. There are also the times we violate our own conscience. Through each of these processes we feel guilty and dirty, our souls are distressed, and we cannot correlate the promise of eternal joy with how wrong we feel inside. In this we come to understand what it truly means to be in hell.
And so long as we cannot see our own way to brighter fields we’re never going to be able to see it for the world either. If forgiveness seems inaccessible for what we have done, if our wrongs are more than we can ever do, then surely it is the same for the world’s even greater evils. In short, it does not seem humanly possible for that which is broken to be made whole once more.
Moroni 10:22- And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.
Matthew 18:3- And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Believing in Others is a Product of Being Saved)

But of course there is a message of hope for those caught in such dire straits. When I began this study I really hadn’t intended to cap it off with yet another examination of Jesus Christ’s atonement, yet it found its way to the heart of my research even so. Because at the end of the day every worldly problem has its root in those fundamental problems of a fallen world and moral compromises. And those both have their solution in his atoning sacrifice.
If we ever want to have more hope in the world, then we first need to be able to have hope restored in ourselves. And if we want to have hope in ourselves, then we need to stop seeing our happy ending as being dependent on our own actions, and instead let it rely on the actions of one who has already succeeded. Then we start to see our triumph as a sure thing, and our hope becomes unshakeable.
When the reality of these facts truly sinks in for our own selves, then it is easy to see that the same sure triumph is available to all the rest of the world, too. We stop seeing other peoples’ problems as being their responsibility to solve. Just as with us, we know it has already been solved for them if they will just accept it. There no longer remains any question of whether they are now “too bad” or “too far gone” to make their way back. I mean, yes, they absolutely are too far gone to bring themselves back, but now we know that that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are never too far gone for him to bring back.
1 Corinthians 15:56-57- The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Matthew 19:25-26- When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

The Salvation of Self Must Come First)

Of course feeling reclaimed from our own guilt and despair isn’t just a one-time thing, either. We will feel the reality of Christ’s redeeming love once initially, be filled with hope for all mankind, but then need to refresh those feelings many times over throughout our lives. In my case the old pessimism comes over me gradually when I am not paying attention. I have thought that I was still in a good place, but then suddenly looked all about me and wondered how I had wandered once more into fields of despair.
I began this study by trying to focus on the despair and not on where I stood. I began by looking at the external and not the internal. But at least I was looking, and over the past couple weeks my focus has gradually shifted back to where it needs to be.
And this leads me to the final point of this study. If I ever look at the world, see naught but wrong, and cannot fathom of any way to correct it, then my first instinct should be to consider what is amiss in myself. I cannot help lift anyone until I first stand on firmer ground, just as Jesus could never have pulled Peter upwards if he had also been floundering in the Sea of Galilee.
Matthew 7:5- Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Luke 22:32- But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

Optimism in a Falling World- Luke 9:52-56

And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him.
And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.
And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?
But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.

COMMENTARY

And they did not receive him, and when James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?
Yesterday I considered Jonah’s desire to destroy the wicked. Today we see an example from Jesus’s own disciples to do the same. Because Jesus and his followers were denied access to a city, James and John sought to kill all the inhabitants with fire.

But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.

James and John might have believed they were serving the spirit of justice, yet Jesus avowed that they were serving another. What they sought was simply vengeance, and Jesus’s purpose was not to bring vengeance, but salvation.
I believe that many of those who hope for the destruction of the wicked take their cues from the stories of the Old Testament. It is in those early books that we read accounts of the earth being flooded, of fire and brimstone consuming cities, of the armies of the Lord stamping out other nations. In these stories there is a definite immediacy between evil actions and divine retribution. One could not go to war against God without quickly enduring the consequences of that action. But what is forgotten is that this was the Old Testament and the earth was in a fundamentally different situation than it is now. Mankind had been expelled from the Garden of Eden and the atonement had not yet been made. Things were far stricter, and there was little to buffer between sinful acts and the holy justice administered in return.
But Jesus Christ had come to be that buffer. Jesus Christ had come so that the immediate justice for evil works could be born out in his own body instead. Divine justice still applies, even to this day, but now it is executed in him, while mankind is given a second chance.
Thus today we now live under the New Testament. And that means that if we look at the evil in the world today and crave punishment for the guilty, we are denying the fact that that punishment was already endured by our Savior. We are therefore looking for a double punishment, one carried out upon Christ and one carried out upon those he died to save. That isn’t justice at all. Like James and John, we are not comprehending what manner of spirit we are of. It is a cold, cruel, and evil spirit, one that has nothing to do with Christ.

The Epic Life- Matthew 16:21-23, Luke 14:26-27

From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.
But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

COMMENTARY

Jesus began to shew unto his disciples, how he must suffer, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
Then Peter began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be.
But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me.

If anyone has ever had a divine purpose to fulfill, certainly it was Jesus. He was born for a very specific cause and all the world depended upon his completion of it. Jesus needed to do what he was here to do or else all of us would be forever lost.
Of course one can see how Peter was well-meaning in his arguing against Jesus fulfilling that role. Peter’s perspective was limited. This was the death of his friend being talked about, and how could he be expected to approve of that? Peter was full of all manner of good intentions, but his suggestion that Jesus not go through with his calling would be the most heinous crime to humanity imaginable! Peter’s friend would be saved and the whole world would be damned.

If any man hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

As Jesus had testified earlier, it was essential for him to bear his cross and fulfill his role, regarding it higher than his brother Peter. And when Peter tried to dissuade him, Peter had to be reminded of the hierarchy of Jesus’s love. In the moment that Peter tried to pull Jesus off of his divinely-appointed path he was not a true friend.
Of course a disciple can have families and friends and love them. But Jesus’ point is that when we have found the wonderful, epic life that God has given us, when we have found the cross we must bear and the path we must follow, then friends and family must be made to understand that that is what we are going to do! And if they try to dissuade us in that, they must be made to understand that even if their intentions are good they are doing us no favors by trying to derail our destiny.

The Epic Life- Romans 7:14-15, Acts 9:1, 4-6

For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

COMMENTARY

For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord
And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks
Yesterday I mentioned that we might be kept from our great life only by a decision that we are unwilling to make. I suggested that we come across an action that is essential for us to do, but which feels like it would break us to make.
I believe Paul’s words describe that situation very aptly. “What I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” These sentiments apply both ways between our spirit and carnal natures. These sides of us are in constant conflict, despising the actions of the other, doing the things that the other forbids.
Saul had a life as a persecutor of saints. He hated the gospel of Jesus, he spent all of his energy to destroy it. But through it all he “kicked against the pricks,” wounding his spirit, denying the epic life that he was meant to live.
For him to live that great life would require him cross that fundamental divide and break the man he was. He must become the very thing he hated: a disciple of Jesus. Amazingly he did it, and Saul (the part that hated Jesus and would not follow him) had to die along the way. Saul ended, and now began the great and epic life of Paul.

The Epic Life- Matthew 19:16-17, 20-22

And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

COMMENTARY

And, behold, one came and said unto him, what shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
And he said unto him, if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?

Here is a story of a young man who is on the cusp of entering into a great and epic life. He is seeking the greatest life of them all, in fact: eternal life. And he has apparently already been seeking it for years, given his statement of faithfully following all of the mosaic commandments. Yet for all this he feels that something is missing. He is basically good, but he is not extraordinary. He knows there is something better out there for him and he sincerely wants to find it.

Jesus said, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and come and follow me.
But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

So Jesus details the one thing he has left to do: give up the last of the world and become a disciple. Both the end of his old life and the beginning of his new in the same moment. After all, how did he hope to have a new life while still holding onto the threads of the old one?
Sadly, this was a task that the ruler was not willing to face. And he went away sorrowful, still the same man as before, or perhaps even worse for having seen his greatness and turned from it.

Solemnity and Joy- Luke 10:38-42

Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

COMMENTARY

But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things
Martha was very dedicated to taking care of the business of her home and serving her guests. Furthermore, she was feeling flustered because her sister was seated at the feet of the Savior instead of being as busy as she was.
I have always felt that Jesus’s response to Marth is very compassionate. I do not know the actual tone of his voice in the moment, but the doubly-repeated name is often used in the scriptures when showing great care and affection to the one being addressed. Beyond that he also shows immediate recognition for the care she has been showing to her duties.

But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part
But then Jesus makes a definitive statement that what Mary is choosing to do with her time is greater than what Martha is choosing to do with hers. The fact is Martha is preoccupied with her chores by choice. She could also be choosing to sit with her sister and Jesus.
Sometimes errands are the right thing to prioritize, but sometimes they are a distraction. Sometimes we need to work hard and clear out the clutter that is blocking God’s light from reaching us, but sometimes the light is already there and we need to stop agitating and just bask in it!

Solemnity and Joy- Luke 5:29-34

And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them.
But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?
And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.
I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?
And he said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?

COMMENTARY

But their scribes and Pharisees murmured saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? Why do the disciples of John fast often, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?
Thus far I have considered a few examples that call for solemnity and sacred introspection. But just because solemnity is called for in some situations, does not mean it is always the right thing for every situation.
The Pharisees criticized Jesus and his disciples for having a moment of joy, for not remaining forever in a state of solemnity. These verses do not describe the behavior of Jesus and his disciples in great detail, but there is nothing to suggest that they were being crass or profane, simply enjoying a moment of innocent levity. It bothered the Pharisees, and I have certainly known a few stiff-collared Christians that it would bother as well. Our view is too narrow if we do not appreciate the role of joy in this gospel, too.

Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?
Jesus’s response was to describe his presence with his disciples as being similar to a groom with his loved ones during the wedding. It was a time of celebration and excitement, a time for being happy, and all the more so when this particular groom was also the son of God! How could one not flow with happiness when they were able to talk and eat with their own Savior?
I am sure that when Christ comes again there are going to be moments of tearfully acknowledging his sacrifice for us, and there will be moments of solemnity as we watch him heal the sick and wounded, but unquestionably there are also going to be moments of vibrant celebration! And that is not only permissible, it is right.