Greater Things Than These

Something that was said in the communion service at my church last week got me thinking. Someone mentioned the passage in Matthew 25 in which Jesus separates the "sheep" from the "goats". Whenever I hear this passage, I think of a similar one in Matthew 7 which seems to say the opposite.

The first passage says that whether we go to heaven or hell depends on how we treated "the least of these". (Absolute heresy, I know. I can't believe we read this in church.) The second seems to say that doing great thing on earth isn't enough to get us to heaven. What matters is whether we are known by Jesus, which is somehow related to doing the will of God, whatever that means. (How could doing miracles and driving out demons not be the will of God?)

After I puzzled about this for a while, it reminded me of 1 Corinthians 13. (Most things do, it seems.) The Love Chapter, as it's called, begins by saying that all the big flashy stuff that we admire - speaking in tongues, prophesy, knowledge and understanding, great faith, miraculous power, sacrificial giving and martyrdom - are utterly worthless without love.

I know this passage well and I love it, and I'm also quite familiar with the "Lord, Lord" passage, but their message is still shocking and counter-intuitive to me. If you could perform miracles, foretell the future or cast out demons in Jesus' name, I'd think highly of you. I'd want you to be my pastor. I'd support your ministry, read your books, quote you and imitate you and praise you to my friends. If you could do this stuff I'd be your disciple and hang on your every word, because you'd have to be incredibly close to God to wield power like that. Right?

Not according to Matthew. In his book Jesus is disgusted with many of whom I would be in awe. These are prophets, miracle-workers and exorcists, and Jesus called them evil-doers and opposers of God's will. But those known to Jesus, his sheep, are workers too - servants of the hungry, the thirsty and the sick, of strangers, beggars and crooks. Why is one group accepted and the other damned?

Both the sheep of Chapter 25 and the evildoers of Chapter 7 were apparently judged according to what they did. Both did things we would approve and admire, and yet one group is welcomed and the other banished. The only way I can make sense of this is that the hell-bound of Chapter 7 got caught up in the flashy stuff and missed the real point. I have no idea how these evildoers had such privileged access to God's power, but it seems that they completely misused it.

Obviously there's nothing wrong with doing the miraculous, after all, Jesus did many miracles during his ministry. But it seems that he thought the compassionate part of his ministry - talking with Samaritans, touching lepers, eating with prostitutes and crooks - was the more important part. Jesus knew that displays of supernatural power stick in our minds ("Jesus - wasn't he the guy who walked on water and raised that dead girl and fed thousands with a handful of bread and fish?") but maybe he thought his displays of extraordinary compassion were the highlights of his ministry.

I've always been pretty skeptical about Jesus' claim that his followers would do "even greater things than these". Sure, the apostles did some cool stuff - healing cripples and whatnot - but that all petered out pretty quickly. I don't know of a single Christian in the last 19 centuries who could hold a candle to Jesus in terms of signs and wonders. But now I wonder if Jesus might have counted feeding millions of hungry kids around the world as greater than feeding five thousand, even though we don't use his miraculous methods. Maybe Jesus' plan to change the world doesn't involve superheroes of faith who move mountains and put the legions of darkness to flight, just a bunch of unremarkable people who do what they can to help the needy.

And maybe it's not the great speakers and healers and the leaders of successful ministries that we should look to for spiritual insight. Maybe it's the ones who are serving soup to bums and hanging out in nursing homes who best understand the heart of God.

6 comments:

Rayne Star said...

I don't know about being known by Jesus. I strive to be known by God. I think Jesus, Moses, Abraham, Muhammad, Noah,...these were all mere prophets of God. These were the men he sent to tell his story. They weren't always believed even when they could do miracles. I think that before the books were written the people had to be told of this God. He chose certain men and made them prophets. He gave them special powers at times, because it was necessary. There was no internet back then, but news of a guy who parted an entire sea spread kinda fast. After the books there was no need for the prophets. We were left to our own devices. Our job as human beings, creations of God, is to serve him. That's really all God asks of us. He tells us how to. There are very specific rules for how to live in each of the three books. The most important lesson, I believe, is love. God tells us how much he loves us, his children. He tells us about a home he has prepared for us, servants, eternal bliss and paradise. All we have to do is survive here believing in him, loving him and living as he tells us. Here's the kicker though. He gives us free will. That's the one power he gave us. Free Will is a bitch. We have to power to live as we desire. However, God alone has the power to see in your heart. (the beating one, and the proverbial one) He alone decides who stays and who goes. You are judged based on how you lived your life, and your intentions. He alone decides if your intentions based on good or bad. Just doing good because you think you have to isn't really good enough. You need to belive that what you are doing is right down to your core.

That's what I think anyway.

Jacob said...

Free will is a bitch.

Timothy said...

Brilliant post Jacob, thanks =)

Jacob said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The problem is your knowledge about who Jesus really is. HE is God. There is 1 God and his name is Jesus. You need to be filled with the Holy Ghost evidence in speaking in other tounges.

This is all simple biblical truth. Its in the word of GOd. Find it.

Anonymous said...

If you are searching, than consider my reply!!!

Firstly, Recognize the authority in "JESUS" name. He has all authority in heaven and earth.
Thus, His name has power DESPITE who is using it. In regards to those in the first portion mentioned in Matt. 7:22, The answer is very clearly in the verse prior. (v.21. ......WHO DO THE WILL OF MY FATHER........)

You might also look at what the lord said was what they did wrong. (.....Work iniquity. v.23)

According to webster, Working without "rectitude". ( The quality of being straight) They Did not walk cositently in their life with Gods word.

Try this once, consider the words of "Watchman Nee" (A Chinese marter with a few books on the shelf)
...are you using what you see as a measure of weither the BIBLE is true? Paul says " recon yourselves......" (Like a checking account) look at the situations you "see" with the bible as the standard for "how it should be".

Trust me, you'll save yourself alot of headaches.

But please don't follow the sin of Eve.....questioning what god said!!!

Shane