What Jesus demanded from his would-be followers was an impossible thing to do in human strength. And it does seem harsh and unreasonable. Who can leave his father, mother, brothers and sisters, children and even spouse. But what God did by sacrificing His only Son for our sins, forces us to reconsider our initial reaction. Still, it is a hard thing to do. Why did Jesus ask his followers to make such a sacrifice? What does this achieve? Is it just a test us, to see who really loves God. Maybe it is. The narrative of Abraham shows that God tests his people to see whether they really love him more than anything in the world. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son. His faith was not mere words, but he trusted God unreservedly and was ready to sacrifice his only son. This is what God wants to see in our lives.
The Jews of the first century left their loved ones as Jesus had commanded. It was not a test, as in the case of Abraham, but they left everything, for real. How could they do it? The answer lies in one thing that we do not see today, where a group of people love one another more than they love their own lives. We see this reality in the earthly families, where parents are willing to give their lives for their children and vice-versa, but not anywhere else. Simply because it is humanly impossible. But this is what God did when he changed the lives of his disciples on the day of the Pentecost by the immersion (baptism) in the Holy Spirit. Something wonderful happened and people from different families and from various social backgrounds were united as one family. This was the impact of the divine love (Agape) that was poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). They found more love in this new family than they had experienced in their earthly families. Because the divine love is the most sublime and pure form of love that cannot be procure from any other source. It emanates from God alone. Only this kind of love can unite people into one family ̶ a household of God. And when this happens then leaving earthly family will not appear difficult and harsh. But the best thing that happened in the first church, which surpasses everything else, was that God started living with them by his Spirit. This was the fulfilment of the promise given to the Jews at Jesus’ birth that his name will be Immanuel, which means, God with us (Matt. 1:23).
We miss out on this kind of ethereal joy because we have started to believe that baptism in the Holy Spirit is not essential or is not required. Many other similar arguments are given these days by well-meaning Christians. But it is incorrect. Jesus came to baptise us in the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist said this, and Jesus made it very clear (Mark 1:8; Acts 1:5). The immersion in the Holy Spirit alone can empower us to become one family. Jesus also said that when we are united as one, the world will believe that God has sent Jesus into this world (John 17:21). Nothing else will convince the world of the truth, more than the united family of God, where His love abides in abundance.
For far too long we have pursued a form of Christian faith that has degenerated into a religion. We have left Jesus out of our deliberations and have tried to interpret his words using our limited human understanding that has changed ‘The Way’ into a religion. In the early church his Spirit guided everyone and everything (Acts 8:26; 11:28; 13:2; 21:4). He decided where they should go and what they should do (Acts 15:28; 16:7-9). Sadhu Sunder Singh says, “The Master never wrote anything down, nor did he ask his followers to record his teachings. His words are spirit and life. Spirit can only infuse spirit. Life can only infuse life. The Master’s teaching cannot be contained on the pages of a book. Other great teachers left behind books to replace the living voice, to guide and help their bereft followers. But the Master did not do this, because he has not left us. He is always with us, and his living voice guides and counsels us.” (Wisdom of the Sadhu: Teachings of Sunder Singh, Plough Publishing House). Jesus emphatically said that he will be with us till the very end of the age (Matt. 28:20). Isn’t it amazing that Jesus never left us as it says above? But we act as if we are on our own. We dishonour Jesus by making him a silent guest during our conversations. We should learn to be silent before him and try to listen to what the Holy Spirit says.
These changes happened so long ago that we have started to believe that things have been always like this but is not true. During the times when the apostles and their disciples were on this earth, things were quite different. The History of the Church by Eusebius and the writings of the early church fathers provide enough evidence on this matter. Since the church drifted away about 1500 years ago the gospel of the kingdom of God that Jesus and the apostles preached has been abridged to personal salvation. This has had a devastating impact on the life of the church. Instead of following the values of God’s kingdom, Christians have started following the values of this world. And there is no difference between the life of those who believe and those who don’t.
The time has come, in fact it is way past, to reclaim the gospel of the kingdom and follow its values outlined in the Sermon on the Mount. If we wait any longer the danger is that like the Jews, we may also be rejected.
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6). We are quite familiar with this verse, but often fail to appreciate the gravity of this statement. This seemingly simple declaration did away with all the religions of the world by which people try to attain salvation. If the church leaders and theologians had understood this one simple truth, they would not have erred. The church leaders converted the Way into a religion a long time ago. They also changed the gospel of the kingdom of God to the gospel of personal salvation. We have developed an impressive theology that does away with the essential values of God’s kingdom. We have built a selective moral code that has mollified our conscience into believing that everything is alright, when it is not.
The single most serious sin that human beings can commit is to thwart the purposes of God. Jesus said to the Pharisees again and again that by their traditions they were frustrating the purposes of God (Matt. 15:2). The other thing they were guilty of was the show of their piety, which exhibited their holiness to other people. They said one thing and did exactly the opposite (Matt. 23). We can see that the pharisees made these mistakes but, somehow, cannot see that we are committing the same mistake. We claim to have repented of our sins and have received a new life, but there is no difference in our lives and that of the others who do not believe. We can see the hypocrisy of the Jews, but we are totally oblivious of ours. These are very serious matters. There are host of other issues e.g., cultural pride, wealth, greed, power, and the use of violence that need addressing.
Jesus laid down a few conditions before his followers and said that they can’t be his disciples, or they can’t enter his kingdom unless they fulfil them. One of those conditions was obedience. Jesus warned his followers that unless they obey his commandments, they will not find his favour on the judgement day, even if they had called him their Lord and performed great signs and wonders in his name (Matt.7:22-23). This was the result of following a religion rather than obeying Jesus, as mentioned above. There are seven conditions that Jesus put forward before the crowd that followed him. We have just discussed one here to show the serious consequences of not living by them.
God simply wants us to love him and love one another. This is only possible if we submit our lives completely to him and follow the values of his kingdom that Jesus outlined in the Sermon on the Mount. We may throw our hands up in despair and say that it is impossible, and that we can’t live by these lofty values. But Jesus promised that he will send a Comforter, the ‘Holy Spirit,’ who will help us fulfil these demands. The new life in Jesus Christ lived by the help of the Holy Spirit is the only way we can find God’s approval. Jesus is the Way. Saint Catherine of Siena Said, “All the Way to heaven is Heaven, because He said, I am the Way.” We need to make sure that we are following Jesus and not a religion.
It does not matter which national party comes into power, because all we should care about is that the kingdom of God is established among us. We do pray for those who are appointed to govern the nation, so that we may be able to worship God in peace, as Paul says in Romans 13, but our focus should be the kingdom of God.
Unfortunately, we align ourselves with the right or the left and start following their policies because of our stakes in the world. Whereas, Jesus asked us to leave the world and its things, so that we can follow him. But due to our vested interests, it is impossible to obey Jesus’ command. Jesus also asked us not to store-up our treasurers on earth but to store them up in heaven. He warned, that our heart will be where our treasure is. He also said we can’t serve two masters – God and mammon. If we love the world and its things the love of God is not in us, said the apostle John. Against all these warnings, we still have become so involved in world and its things, that the kingdom of God takes a second place.
The direction in which the kingdom of this world may go should be secondary. For us, the focus must be that God may freely rule over us, as we carry out his will in this world. God decides the agenda for our involvement in the world, and not our material possessions.
The church strayed away from the gospel Jesus preached a long time ago, and it’s still far away from it. We think the gospel is about our personal salvation and have added it to the other blessing of life, unwittingly subscribing to the prosperity gospel. Jesus said that we can’t follow him, unless we leave the world and its things, but we disregard it or justify it by clever arguments. Apostle John says that if we love the world and its things then the love of God is not in us, but we don’t see this as a problem and have an answer for it. These answers may be able to pacify our conscience, but it won’t help us before the Almighty God. He gave his life to change us, and unless that happens everything else is false. Our lives which are very similar to those who don’t believe, are a proof of our failure. Going to the church and the bible study are not going to help, if we remain unchanged or change superficially. It must change completely, and this can only happen, if we live according to the values of the kingdom.
Jesus described the values of his kingdom in the beatitudes and in all the parables. Almost all the parables are about the kingdom of God. Jesus preached about the kingdom throughout his ministry and he lived by its values. When he rose from the dead and was with his disciples for forty days, he talked to them about the kingdom of God. He also said that seek the kingdom of God first and then the other things will be given to us as well. Doesn’t it strike to us as strange, that we hardly talk about this and have neglected the most important thing for which Jesus came into the world. We have turned it into a religion or have become self-righteous like the pharisees. All the churches from one end of the spectrum to the other, have stumbled like the Jews had. They have failed to see, what matters the most.
The good news Jesus announced was that the time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near. Jesus established this kingdom after his resurrection. Most of the Jews couldn’t understand this except for a few, who formed the first church at Jerusalem. They lived as Jesus himself lived, and the kingdom of God was amongst them. Their values were completely different from the world around them. They shared everything they had with others and there was a great joy and rejoicing among them. It was not the abundance of material things that gave them the joy but the absence of selfishness and greed that had enslaved the whole world. They were free from the bondage of sin and God lived among them through his Spirit. The kingdom of God must be established in this world, among those who believe in Christ Jesus. This is what Jesus proclaimed, lived and died for.
When we repent and are forgiven, we must crucify our old nature and destroy the desires and passions of the flesh. This will remove the cause of sinning. We sinned because our sinful desires prompted us to do wrong things. This must be dealt with. It will cleanse our hearts and remove what is evil and dark within us, allowing the Holy Spirit to fill our being with the divine love. Equipped with humility and the love of God, we will unite as a community of God’s people, and be able to witness the power of God at work among us. We will be able to show Christ and not just talk about him. This is the true conversion that has the power to unite us into the body of Christ. We will begin to share our lives and our material resources with others, like the early church.
The kingdom of God must begin among his people in this world. This is the whole purpose of our salvation. Jesus said to the little group of disciples, that it is the sweet pleasure of God to give them the kingdom. It was not offered to the big and the powerful but to the meek and the lowly, who were overlooked by the world. It has always been the case and even today the kingdom of God is for those who are meek and lowly. Anyone who humbles himself and genuinely repents, will find the kingdom of God in this world.