Preparing For Christ
Summary: When we build our lives upon the only foundation that can be laid, Jesus Christ, rather than on our own designs, we will find true and lasting life that will not be taken away from us.
Martha opened her house to Jesus. She desired that He come in and be her guest, fellowship with her. Mary, Martha’s sister, sat at Jesus feet listening while Martha was “distracted.” Even thought she had invited Christ into her home, she didn’t pay Him the attention that he deserved, despite her best-planned efforts.
“All the preparations that had to be made,” although important for Martha’s hospitality to our Lord, were not part of the preparations that Jesus had in mind. Back in Luke 9:51, as the time for him to be taken into heaven approached, Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” He was on His way to die; and when the woman anointed His feet, she did so “to prepare [Him] for burial” (Mt. 26:12). Had Martha paid mind to Jesus and His needs, she would have been with him, loving him., not bustling around the house.
This isn’t to say that preparing a meal for Jesus—ministering to His physical needs—wasn’t necessary or good, but the task had distracted Martha. She needed to put it into the proper context. If we spend all of our time do-do-doing for God and not just being with him, we will miss his visitation. As Jesus told His disciples in the Garden: “Stay here and keep watch with me… Could you not keep watch with me one hour?” (Mt. 26:38,40).
It’s easy for me to feel like I need to do something for God to make Him want to connect with me, or to make me worthy to be around Him. But that is works—religion at its worst, the manipulation of God. Jesus wants to fellowship with you and me simply because He made us and He loves us; He knows that we are incomplete without Him and He wants to fill us to overflowing. Our Savior is so gracious that He asks us just to sit at His feet and be with him, to listen to Him. It is not in moving and dancing around Christ that we will learn who He is (and who we are), but in sitting and listening.
Doesn’t the Lord care that we’re doing the work all by ourselves? Of course! But Martha had to learn to do what Jesus wanted and what He needed. Christ was concerned about Martha because she wasn’t doing what would really have benefitted her. Jesus cared because He really wanted to be with Martha, which was why He came to her home in the first place. Jesus stands at the door and knocks, if anyone hears His voice and opens the door, He will come in and eat with him, and he with Jesus (Rev. 3:20). Jesus isn’t some prankster, who knocks only to run away and hide. When Jesus knocks, He intends to come in; He really wants to eat with us and be with us!
We too need to focus on what Jesus needs and what he wants us to do. In our reading from Colossians, Paul tells us what it means to not do what God wants. “Once [we] were alienated from God and were enemies in [our] minds because of [our] evil behavior.” Evil behavior isn’t always as plain as murder or adultery. The most insidious evil is the evil that parades around as if it were good—the wolf in sheep’s clothing..
Martha was alienated from Jesus by her busyness as she attempted to do what she thought best. We too can become cut off from Him by our own actions, even though they may be well intentioned, when they conflict with God’s plans.
But God has reconciled us by Christ’s body through His death. It is not without bloodshed that we are made sons of God once again. Our disobedience is costly. You may have heard that if only one man had sinned, God would have sent His Son to die for his sins. But consider that if that only one man had merely sinned by neglecting to help his brother in need, or by stealing one penny, this would still have required that Christ die for him. And Jesus loves us so much that would have done it!
See, if we think of our sin, Adam’s sin, as stealing a fruit, we’ve missed the greater part. God said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:16,17). And God said, “Thou shalt not steal” (Ex. 20:15). It is the breaking of God’s law that is the ultimate failure in every sin. The tree would have borne fruit again and a stolen penny is easily returned, but how can I redeem myself to God? I don’t even own my own flesh and blood, but have received it from God through my parents.
But Jesus died once for all to reconcile us and make us holy in His sight. And that is good news! The cross of Christ, his passion and death, has not simply covered over our blemishes. If all that happened is the blood of Christ has concealed our sin but it’s still there underneath it all, there is no profit in our salvation, and what we are still is nothing more than sinners. But Jesus loves us and has “freed us from our sins by his blood” (Rev. 1:5). Jesus did not give us a longer leash; He freed us! In Revelation, those in white robes, ‘have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14). When Cain murdered Abel, God said, “Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground” (Gen 4:10); Abel’s blood covered Cain and marked him for death. As Macbeth exclaimed, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?” But when we plunge beneath the flow of blood from Jesus’ sacred wounds, the blood covers us and makes us pure. It doesn’t stain us and make us red with guilt, with marks that no washing can remove. The blood of Christ leaves us without blemish and free from accusation.
Paul has suffered yet he rejoices in it. Paul didn’t suffer and complain about it, nor did he suffer out of a sense of personal nobility, stoic resolve, or from a belief that it would purchase his salvation. Paul truly suffered for the Church, even as he had once persecuted the Church. I imagine that one of the greatest sufferings of Paul wasn’t the beatings, hunger, or rejection that he endured. I believe that his remembrance of his persecution of the Church caused him great pain. Yes, he was forgiven and he knew it, but the words of Jesus, ‘Why are you persecuting me?” must have forever echoed in Paul’s ears. His great love for Jesus must have broken his heart every time he saw the Church of Christ subsequently persecuted.
Paul says that he “fills up in his flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.” This can be understood as Paul himself participating with Christ in Christ’s afflictions, because Jesus’ body, the Church, has not undergone the full extent of it’s suffering. The Body of Christ continues to suffer afflictions, and we can choose to willingly associate ourselves with these “scandals” or we can distance ourselves from them. We can say, “It’s not popular to be pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-abstinence,” and kowtow to the world, thus shirking the afflictions of Christ. Or we can proclaim the truth of God and with rejoicing accept whatever hell the world heaps upon us.
It can also be understood as Paul filling up what his own flesh lacks in regards to Christ’s afflictions, as he tries to live out the life of Christ in his own body. Each of us struggles against the flesh. God has lavished love upon us and we are called children of God (1 Jn. 3:1). But we still struggle to snuff out the remnants of the sinful nature. We live in a world of death, and too many Christians are satisfied to live like zombies, like living dead—having had the sinful nature put to death in the waters of baptism, but continuing to walk in the deeds and desires of the sinful nature. Lukewarmness will get us nowhere but spit out. But when we fill up in our flesh what’s lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, when we mortify our bodies and live by the Spirit, we live like children of God—and that is what we are! The family resemblance should be apparent! Even as Jesus suffered and died, so we also should suffer and die. As Jesus died for us, we must die for Him. Jesus told us that in this world we would suffer tribulations. By accepting these trials for the sake of His Body, we won’t be worried and upset and distracted.
Jesus said that Mary would not have the better part taken from her. Jesus rejoices when we are with him, and He will never leave us or drive us away.
As we spend more time with God, we may find that it feels like God leaves us alone and that every prayer bounces off the ceiling. But He is faithful. Even in our darkest times, if we remain true to God, He shall keep us. In these times—to show us the full extent of our love for Him—He tests us and permits us feel alone. But He does this to open our eyes to how much He loves us even in the hard and lonely times. If God never gave us times of trial, we would be untested, unrefined. Gold ore unrefined is of little worth, little more than a rock that could have been precious and treasured and beautiful. But when gold ore is put through the fire, when it is burned and boiled and skimmed and tested, it becomes truly beautiful, truly a treasure, truly precious.
When we build our lives upon the only foundation that can be laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11), we must decide how we shall build. If we choose to build with untested materials as wood, hay, and straw—with works righteousness that appear strong as wood, with good intentions that seem decent fodder like hay, and with the praise of those around us that is comfortable bedding like straw—, if we build with these materials, our lives will be burned up in the fire. But if we build with gold, silver, and costly stones—with golden faith that firmly counts on God’s grace, with hope gleaming like silver that lets us say no to the world and despise things temporal and hold fast to things eternal, and with jewel-like charity that glorifies and sparkles with God’s own love whatever it adorns—if we build with these, our work shall survive and be shown true. Those who are of the world build large mansions in wood. And we may only build the tiniest of homes in gold. But when the two are tested only one shall be approved.
This message by Rev. Jon Lipka is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project , You can read more at sermon central