WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO WITH JESUS' WORDS?
"Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give you; for on him has God the Father set his seal." Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the work of God?" Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."
When I was 18 years old I was having some issues with God. I wasn't too happy with the way God was running his universe. So, to work through some of this stuff in my own mind, I got a job during summer break in a huge mental hospital on the edge of Philadelphia, called Byberry. Byberry had been written up in Life Magazine and Readers' Digest, as the ultimate Snake Pit. So a friend of mine and I decided to go down there and see if we could get jobs.
It was easy to get a job at Byberry, because nobody wanted to work there. It was the last-ditch place where patients who looked like they'd never again make it in the real world were dumped.
I soon discovered that those patients often had more sense than many of the people who were supposed to be looking after them. Some of those patients would have to be called saints of God. That summer I found my way back to faith.
But in the fall when I was back in college, I opened the gospel of John to a passage like the one above. Wow! Jesus sounds like some of those patients at Byberry! He's so sure! He's so absolute! He's so certain!
Of course, none of those patients were able to heal the sick. But is it safe to take these words of Jesus and bank on them as truth? How do I know he's not getting carried away?
"This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."
i.e. "Believe in me!"
The way we handle it in our churches is to turn Jesus' words into a kind of official religious jargon. Everybody says, "Amen." Everybody admires the beauty and poetry of his words. But to take these words of Jesus at face value, as coming through him from the God of the universe --- well, hey, that's a little scary!
So we put Jesus' words in a glass case, like in a museum. And we warm our hearts by listening to them. But we don't dare let those words get too close to us!
So here's the issue: What are we going to do with Jesus' words?
Once we begin to hear those words --- really hear them --- we are responsible for what we do with them. For those words are, in fact, like no other words ever spoken on this earth.
You can hear sermons about Jesus. You can go to movies about Jesus. You can read books about Jesus. But the only way you will ever get to know Jesus, is through his words.
John, Chapter 6, begins with Jesus feeding a huge multitude with five loaves and two fish. The people are awed by this sign from another world. Of course, they never ask, "How did he do that?…..What does this mean?" No, they said to each other, "Hey! Here's our meal ticket! Let's make him a king, and we'll never go hungry!" So Jesus withdraws into the hills to be alone with his Father.
The next day Jesus turns up with his disciples on the other side of the lake, and here comes the crowd, looking for their meal ticket.
Jesus says to them, "You seek me, not because you saw a sign of the kingdom, but you because you ate your fill of the loaves."
They don't get it. They're looking for more of that bread.
But Jesus wants to give them the real bread….
"For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Lord, give us this bread always."
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst."
He's telling them --- and us --- that he himself is the Living Bread. And the way you eat this bread is by feeding on his words.
"It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail, the words which I have spoken to you, they are Spirit and they are life."
So what are we going to do in our personal lives with those words of Jesus? He tells us in his key parable, the Parable of the Sower, that every one who hears his words --- including us --- ends up in one of four places:
Place #1: Are we going to hear those words and let them be snatched away before supper time?
Frank the Biker used to come to our Bible Study on his motorcycle. If you visited his basement flat he had a loaded rifle near the door. We'd be singing choruses before the study, and Frank's hands would be lifted up, praising God. You could see him nodding in agreement as we shared the word of the Lord. But somehow, the word never seemed to stick. It was gone the next day, and Frank would be about his favorite past-time, seducing pretty girls.
There are plenty of respectable church folks, like us, who do our duty and come to church. But the word never seems to have an impact. Years pass, and we do not change. No life from God. No joy. No power. No generosity. It seems like we hear the word, and then it's gone!
Place #2: Are we going to take hold of Jesus' words and let them inspire us for two weeks, and then watch it all wither?
Mary Jane Black had a rescue mission on Skid Row. She was young and pretty, and lots of guys were getting saved in her store-front mission. Mary Jane Black had a weekly program on a Christian radio station, and as soon as somebody got saved, she would put them on her program to give their testimony.
If, a few weeks later, the man slipped back into his old ways, well, shame on him! But that testimony really sounded great on the radio! The man heard the word. Took hold of it with joy. It grew up for a short while, and then withered away. It had no roots.
Down the street from Mary Jane Black's mission was another storefront mission run by an old, wrinkled-up lady named Sister Lee Coudsy. Sister Lee had a few front teeth missing. She spoke with a raspy voice. No radio program. No testimonies. She just made sure that these guys got the best sandwiches and the best coffee in Detroit.
And they didn't have to listen to preaching before they got their sandwiches. The food was served first, and they could leave if they chose. But Sister Lee always made sure that after the earthly bread there was some living bread to feed the souls of those who chose to listen. She wanted these men and women to be able to put down roots. She wanted them to grow into something solid and lasting.
If we hear the word and don't put down roots, we won't last. If the word of the Lord gets into my head, and falls out my mouth before it reaches my heart, it won't last.
Place #3: Are we going to let the words of Jesus be crowded out by our busy agenda?
Who of us has not been in that place? We hear the word one day, and it cuts right into our heart. It's a call from God. It's the Master inviting us to follow. "Yes, Lord! Here I am!" And we take those first steps of discipleship.
But our lives are so busy. We have so much on our plate. And we do have to have a break once-in-a-while --- to have a little fun. Nothing wrong with that.
We have the insight. We have the intention. But we have no strength to pursue the prize. So we hobble along, trying to juggle God's World, along with the cares, riches, and pleasures of this world. And we end up satisfied by neither world.
Place #4: Are we going to take these words of Jesus into our hearts and let them become our life?
Jesus' words are like seeds. They have a life of their own. If we take them in, think about them, ponder them, and then start acting on them, we change.
When Jesus says, "Get reconciled….judge not….seek God's kingdom first….pray for your enemies….be generous," he is planting seeds. We act on those words, and the Spirit comes down upon those seeds like rain and waters them. Soon our lives are producing godly fruit.
So what are we going to do with Jesus' words?
If we truly believe that these words are not the words of a madman, but the words of God, what are we going to do with them?
Are we going to hear them, and let them be snatched away before supper time?
Are we going to take them in, and let them inspire us for two weeks, and then watch it all wither?
Are we going to let those words get crowded out by our own agenda?
Are we going to take these words into our hearts and let them become our life?
Once you begin to hear those words of Jesus --- really hear them --- of course you have to decide for yourself, whether they are the words of a madman or the words of the living God.
And then, even if you're convinced that those words of Jesus are indeed the words of God, they still won't do you any good --- until you decide to put your life under their power by doing them.
Listen to how Jesus ends his most well-known sermon, the Sermon on the Mount:
"Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it."