What does the Lord really require of us?

In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus said twice to the religious folks He was talking to,

Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.

In their understanding they had equated bad things, accidents, sickness, being born blind etc., as being the result of sin in a persons life. But the message of the Bible is that all have sinned, therefore all most repent. Many in the Church today have that same kind of thinking. We are quick to judge others, even to the point of saying when things aren’t going well in a person’s life, like sickness or financial problems, they must be in sin or their faith is weak. I knew one American pastor whose Japanese wife was suffering from cancer. She was a woman of faith believing for God to heal her, but he was devastated after she died by the remarks of many sincere Christians who told him, “her faith was too small, if her faith had been greater she would have lived.” I’m sure all of know stories such as this one.

In John 9:1, His own disciples asked Jesus about the man who had been born blind, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Jesus’ answer went against all the legalistic teaching of the day. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” Many times we, or those around us, are going through things, circumstances, trials, etc., that have a God ordained purpose. God may be using a circumstance, yes, even sickness, to accomplish something in a persons life. Why? The reason Jesus gave concerning the man born blind, was so that the works of God, maybe better said, “the goodness of God,” might be revealed in him. It is also very true that God is taking the circumstances of our lives and working them for our good, to the point that we are conformed into the image of God’s Dear Son (Romans 8:28-29). Whatever we may be going through God’s goodness is being revealed to us and through us, as we are being conformed into the glorious image of His Son.

Remember the story of the woman caught in adultery? The religious leaders brought her to Jesus, testing Him. Under the law both she and the man she was caught with were subject to be stoned. But Jesus told the religious ones, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” and beginning with the oldest to the youngest they all left, convicted of their own sins. Many believe this was Mary who set at Jesus’ feet and later anointed Him for His burial. This adulterous sinner, who under the law deserved to die, perceived much more than even His own disciples who did not yet understand the events that lay ahead for their Master. She was also able to see and understand the love of the Father through the kindness of Jesus toward her. Religious people, judge and kill us, Jesus comes to set us free. Because she had been forgiven much, she also loved much.

Jesus’ words in John 9:39, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” This speaks to us much more of spiritual blindness than it does physical blindness. When the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Are we blind too?” His answer seems at first seems rather puzzling, just what did He really mean? “If you were blind you would have no sin; but now you say, We see, Therefore your sin remains.”

Was this to say that the man born blind had no sin? No, because Scripture teaches “that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The religious leaders had themselves also sinned, but in their self-righteous state they had become blind to their own condition, and could only see others through their own religious grid. Jesus taught that those who had been given much that much would also be required of them. These were the teachers, versed in the Word of God, but who lived in the letter of the Word and not the Spirit. The greater sin was in their spiritual blindness, the Promised One, the Consolation of Israel was in their midst, and their spiritual blindness caused them to miss their visitation. (Literally to miss their salvation).

What does the Lord really require from us? Isaiah 58:6-14; gives us a strong clue, but let’s look for our study look at Micah 6:8. “He has shown you O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you, But to do justly, to love mercy. And to walk humbly with your God.” How many times have we, who were saved from our sins, judged others who are still living in sin. Many times we forget the goodness God showed us, while we judge and condemn others? Maybe judging a drunk on the street, or a barmaid’s too short skirt, or here in Japan the micro minis the school girls wear. So easily forgetting the lifestyles the Lord has brought some of us from. If we’d be honest probably all of us are, or had in the past have been guilty of the same things, or maybe much worse. It would shake up most churches to have hookers off the streets come to services in their halter tops and hot pants. At Street Church in Dallas, Texas many years ago, it was common practice. The people there accepted them just as they were, because many of them had been delivered from the same lifestyle!

The Barren Fig Tree: (Luke 13:6-9)

Most Bible scholars I believe would agree that the barren fig tree in Matthew, Mark, and here in Luke’s Gospel represents the barren state, or nature, of the nation of Israel. Jesus came seeking fruit and found none. For three years He went throughout the nation and found it unproductive. Outwardly you could see the leaves of religion, but only outward signs, there was no real fruit. Jesus spoke of the religious leaders as whitewashed tombs, looking good outwardly, but inside full of rottenness and corruption. In Matthew 21:19, Jesus cursed a fig tree that bore no fruit and said, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away. There are implications to this that we will not touch on here, but must scholars whose works I’ve read, would agree this tree speaks to us of the barrenness of the nation during the ministry of Christ.

What was the fruit Jesus was seeking? Perhaps what Isaiah wrote in chapter 58, concerning the fast that God had called, or perhaps the verse we read earlier from Micah 6:8, would give us a clue. He was looking for a nation, the people of God, who would “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God.”

We can see the true state of religion in Christ’s day in Luke 13: 10-17, where Jesus had just healed the daughter of Abraham, the woman who satan had kept bound for eighteen years. The attitude of the ruler of the synagogue said it all, when he answered with indignation because Jesus had healed this woman on the Sabbath. “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and NOT ON THE SABBATH.” Jesus was anointed to set the captives free, but who had really bound her? Satan uses religion just as much as sickness or disease to keep people bound. Who really had the demon in this story, the woman who had been bound up in a religious system the last eighteen years. A religion that saw her illness as a sign of sin. Or was it the ruler of the synagogue who had kept her and many just like her bound up in religious traditions, and hypocrisy?

Perhaps many of us need to evaluate how we view those who are in sickness, poverty, or perhaps have only recently been saved and may still be struggling with old lifestyles, mindsets that have not yet been renewed. It would be good for us to remember where God’s goodness brought us from and not be so quick to judge others who don’t quite live up to our religious expectations. We know how to get them saved but many times after we get them saved, then we teach them to become just like we are, and judge them when they don’t live up to our self imposed standards. The religious leaders of Israel, the Scribes and Pharisees, would travel far and wide to find just one Gentile that they could make proselytes, and once they had won them, they would make them just as religious as they were. Matthew. 23:15 says “make them twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

Our responsibility is not just to convert them,but by God’s word and our example,teach them to live righteous, victorious, Kingdom lives. But how often instead do we get them bound up in religion, teaching them our traditions, and not the teachings of Christ? We give them God’s Word on Sundays and let them see us fight and argue with our wives during the week.We tell them one thing when we ourselves are not living it! Jesus told His own disciples do what the Scribes and Pharisees say, just don’t copy their lifestyles. “For they say and do not do.” Paul told His followers to be imitators of him as he was of Christ (Matthew 23:1-2; 1 Corinthians 11:1).

I have heard estimates that 75% of the Christians in Japan suffer from mental illness, including many pastors. But this not only happens in Japan we read just today were 70% of pastors in America suffer from depression, and 40% have affairs! Why, I ask? Far too many, pastors included, have been taught religion and works, but have never learned Christ. They know the Word they just don’t practice it. They’ve been taught about Him, but they’ve never learned to know Him. They are preached to by pastors every week, but never trained, built up in Christ, and released into their callings. They become spiritually constipated they have the life of Christ in them but never learn how to release what they have. The Church becomes their escape hatch from life in the world which they have not been equipped to handle. They are bound in religion, with no life. So again I ask, who really had the demon in Luke 13:10-17, the woman who had been bound by religion for the past eighteen years, or the ruler of the synagogue who had kept many bound in religious traditions and hypocrisy?

It would be very easy when viewing the needs of Japanese society, and perhaps very religious sounding, to say they “just need Jesus,” say a short prayer and then to leave it at that. Our usual strategy is to pray and then wait for them to come to our services so they can hear the Gospel. The truth is the Gospel has been preached in Japan for many years, but outwardly you can’t see much if any real impact the Gospel has had. This is true especially since most of the time the Gospel is preached, or contained within the walls of the Church. Many, maybe most, don’t witness outside the four walls because of the fear of rejection. Plus many are still bound up with family altars and ancestor worship in an effort to keep peace in the family. In one church we know of the pastor had told the flock not to talk about Jesus to their neighbors for fear of offending them. (The good news here is that now they are once again evangelizing outside the four walls). So the Word is preached but only to those who already know it, and then in a very controlled setting. Don’t misunderstand me not all churches in Japan are this way but many are, there are churches now that are really learning to reach out to their communities, and have broken away from dead formalistic religion, and truly desire to see Christ’s Church raised up.

In saying what I’m going to say I don’t want to take away the importance of teaching and some of the wonderful anointed teaching ministries we have in the Body of Christ today. But I really find it interesting to note the people who followed Jesus, and those He chose to hang out with during His earthly ministry. There were unlearned fishermen, harlots, tax collectors, perish the thought, sinners! Most of these folks would never consider going to a church meeting because they know they probably would not feel welcome, and more than likely would not understand the language spoken there. They surely weren’t highly educated, and would probably have a hard time setting in on some of our teaching meetings in todays church. The religious leaders saw the disciples as ignorant and unlearned men, but took note that they had been with Jesus. Sometimes, I know it has been true in my own life, we place a greater emphasis on learning than we do on knowing the One we’re learning about! Moses knew the God he served but the children of Israel only knew of Him. These disciples of Christ who had walked with Jesus during His earthly ministry imparted to their followers not only what they had heard from Him, but also what they had received from time in His presence. On the other hand the religious leaders knew a lot about God, but themselves never knew Him. The disciples who had been with Christ could therefore impart life, the religious leaders death, because life outside of Christ is death. The truth is we can only impart what we have, if don’t have we can’t give it.

We have to impart much more than just sound doctrine to those we minister to. We’re just not pointing them to this movement or that movement, to this stream or to that stream, we have to point them to Christ. They may not all be great theologians but if we’ve imparted Christ’s life to them then we’ve been successful. I really don’t think when we come to the Throne of Judgment Jesus will say, “Well done, Jerry you certainly had great theology.” I’m really hoping to hear, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” Bob Jones, in his testimony, wrote that when he had a death (out of body) experience and was taken to heaven that he heard Jesus ask people just one question, “Did you learn to love?” Jesus never commanded we quote verses by memory, or that we all be able to have great teaching ministries. He did command us to Love God first and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We are to communicate that love by not only word but deed. Not just to be hearers of the word, but doers also.

If the life of Christ has really been imparted to believers, they will minister. If they never open their mouth their life will be a witness. We’ve all been filled with the Spirit as New Testament believers but how many of us have really been released in our ministry gifts and callings. The life of Christ in a person can only be fully released when that person has stopped struggling with the self life and let Christ have the preeminence. John the Baptist probably said it the best in John 3:30, “He must increase but I must decrease.” This is the breaking of the alabaster flask in Mark 14:3. The flask is like our lives that must be broken before the sweet fragrance of Christ can be released. The holy anointing oil of Exodus 30:22, was a picture looking ahead the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives, it was a sweet fragrant aroma. All of our lives should be like that alabaster flask, broken with the sweet fragrance of Christ manifested to all we come in contact with (2 Cor. 2:14-15).

What our flocks need most, even more than greater knowledge, is more brokenness on the part of our leaders that we might see and experience the life of Christ manifested through them. We’ve focused too long on the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, as exciting and as wonderful as they are. We filled our flocks with the newest and greatest revelations. We’ve all been to the best conferences and can all give personal words of prophecy. We have the best singers, and our worship leaders know how to really get us pumped up on Sunday mornings. Our sound equipment is the very best, and our musicians are just little short of professional. We have great lighting so everyone can see the pastor or guest speaker on Sunday mornings.The question is why aren’t we reaching our neighborhoods and cities for Christ? Why do we have so many streams, when the Lord desires us to be a river? We’ve pursued spiritual gifts and desired love, we’ve turned 1 Cor. 14:1, around. To put it bluntly we got it all backwards. We sought for the things of God, but missed the Father’s heart. We’ve long pursued the gifts but the Giver of the gifts is knocking at the door of our heart, desiring to dine with us.

Have we learned to love? Have we really taken Jesus seriously when He said, “this is My commandment, that you love one another?” If we don’t love one another, how hard then will it be to really love those outside the Church, or at least what we call the Church? Do we understand that IF we don’t love the brothers that the world will never know we’re His disciples? We desire more and more revelation, and we’ll leave one Church for another if someone seems to have a new revelation or teaching, but we’ve never learned to love the brothers. John said, “He who loves God must love his brother also (1 John 4:21). I cannot condemn others and say I’m there, that I’ve arrived. I recognize my own shortcomings and say, “I’m guilty Lord.” Before we can fully reveal the love of Christ to the nations, they must see that love revealed in us, and throughout His Body.

How do we really feel in our heart when we see the young man with red spiked hair and nose rings? Or maybe the homeless man going through garbage cans? Our reality check may not just be the first thought that comes to our mind, but how do we try to show them love? Not just preach to them, but really show them love, that we care about them just like they are? Too many times we turn our eyes so that we don’t see them, instead of a smile or a nod to show them we acknowledge that they even exist. How many times I’ve committed about that haircut, or how silly that outfit looks, with out stopping to ask myself, what is the condition of their heart? Do I then really love and care about that person? These are the ones Jesus would go to first, before He would ever enter the door of our religious establishments, He would go to the same kinds of outcasts and sinners He went to the first time. The sad part is that if He came to our town we might just be to busy having Church that we, like Israel, just might miss His visitation.

What does the Lord really require of us? Regular Sunday morning attendance, a daily devotional, an hour of prayer a day, things that take our time and require a sacrifice on our part? Jesus told the Pharisees to go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Probably His point of reference was this verse, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). David a man after God’s own heart recognized this truth in Psalms 51:16-17, he expressed the same understanding. God is not just looking for our sacrifice of time or money, He’s seeking the depths of our hearts, and showing us what’s there (He already knows).

We all have to start somewhere. Jesus taught to love your neighbor as you love yourself, so we all might ask ourselves who is the one, or ones, closest to me? With me it’s my wife Kazuko. Kazuko and I apply the principal Christ gave His disciples in Acts 1:8, first to Jerusalem the ones closest to us, then to Samaria our immediate neighbors, and then to the ends of the earth in our desire to share with others the love of Christ. If I can’t express Christ type love to my own wife. If all I can do is take her for granted expecting her to meet my needs, but never caring about hers, then how can I ever express love to those outside my family? We all have to start somewhere, let’s check our hearts. How is our home life, once we’ve asked the Lord for an abundance of grace to deal with our own personal lives, then it’s time to take the love of Christ first to our Samaria, and then to the utter most parts of the world.

How many pastors have you heard of who apparently loved the flock, giving all his time, all his efforts to serve them, but sadly neglected his own family? Far too many of these pastors eventually lose the ones most meaningful to them, because they neglect this simple principle. How easy it is to take our loved ones for granted as we busily do the Lord’s work. Yet, is it not the Lord’s work also to meet the needs of his own household as much as it is to meet the needs of others. How many pastors that are so busy taking care of their flocks know that Paul told the elders at Ephesus that they were to take heed for each other, meaning the other elders in the city, even before their ministry to the flock (Acts 20:28). When the elders are taking heed of each other, there is a safety net, a balance that helps individual pastors from getting out of balance. In one situation I knew of back in the early 90’s where there was a plurality of elders laboring together they were able to help one traveling evangelist keep his family together. He was focusing more on going and ministry and with all his focus on ministry was neglecting his own family. He had a tremendous ministry going to the nations. Yet,they literally set him down until he could get his own family situation in order. Because of their submission to each other and the respect they had gained through relationship, he submitted to their wisdom. His marriage was saved and he was eventually able to go back out with a new perspective of ministry.

May the Lord not only give us His perspective of the lost ones around us, but of our own families as well. Both our spiritual family the Body of Christ, but our natural families as well. May we more fully come into the understanding of the love of Christ that passes all human knowledge, that we in turn can share that love with those around us, no matter what their lifestyle, or circumstances might be. May we in Christ, learn what the Father really desires from His own, “to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.”