Commitment to Things Above

man looking at stars

How are we leading others to call on the name of Christ? I want you to think a bit about your commitment, specifically in regards to our commitment to Christ in comparison to things of this world. It’s easy to say we’re dedicated to Christ while we’re sitting here in worship, but what does that dedication look like outside these walls? There are so many things that can and do distract us from our Christian walk, and we might think we’re involved in a noble pursuit while straying from His plan for us. If we are truly committed to Christ, we will be focused on Him and determined to do His will. This focus and determination may not make our lives easier, but they will give us peace that passes understanding.

Commitment Against the Odds

In Acts 5:17, we find the apostles being put into prison, charged to not speak the name of Jesus, and yet remaining focused nonetheless. Throughout Acts, we find Christians beaten, taken from their homes, imprisoned, and even executed for professing their faith. Regardless, those early Christians had a clear idea of their mission, and they did it. Life, however, pulls us in multiple directions — we have a continual stream of news and gossip distracting us. We feel we have too much too keep up with, but we don’t see those early Christians worried about all of those distractions. They were focused on Christ alone.

Nor did they did get caught up in the political climate or of the day. They weren’t distracted by secular issues — trying to end Roman occupation, seeking better rights for Jews, fighting for freedom of religion. They worried about nothing but the message of Christ, and this single focus led to determination. Those Christians knew what they were getting into and what they were doing it for. They had a mission, and they were determined to do it. Every inch of our Christian life is an exercise in determination. External obstacles test that determination, and the extent to which we let those issues sidetrack us speaks to the level of spiritual commitment and peace we have in Christ.

Peace in Our Focus

Hebrews 12:1 – 2 calls on us to look at the great cloud of witnesses who came before us. The author encourages us to lay aside the weights of this world and to share Christ’s purpose and single-mindedness. When the Hebrew writer talks about us laying aside every weight that entangles us, he’s not talking about sin. He points out sin separately. Instead, those weights are everything that can make our spiritual journey tiresome and difficult. He’s talking about all of the seemingly urgent distractions that pull us away from Christ. These damage our peace. We have a goal that is separate and apart from the things of this world.

When we know we are pursuing Christ’s mission with determination of heart, we have peace. Peace and joy were ever present in the minds of the apostles, regardless of whatever they were facing. Again, these were people being imprisoned, beaten, and executed, yet the end of Acts 5 tells us the apostles rejoiced that they were worthy to suffer for Jesus’ name. Suffering brought joy because it testified to the fact that they were living for Christ. They knew the consequences, yet they continued to push on, with peace of heart and joy of spirit. And the church grew.

Peace in the Face of Trials

We see this peace in the likes of Stephen, who prayed for those killing him to be forgiven. Never do we see faithful Christians demanding representation, rights, or even fairness from their leaders. Regardless of all else, servants like Stephen had peace. That’s because he and others like him were focused on things above rather than the things of this world. They were more concerned about being a voice for Christ than having a voice in the Roman Senate. We too need to have such a heart. In our culture, we have grown very used to our faith costing us nothing. We have grown used to Christianity being easy in a climate that has historically catered to us. It has led us to a place where we might value our American rights and values more than we should.

We have come to the conclusion that our individual rights are the most important thing we have, but Jesus had no rights. Paul and Peter had no rights. And none of these fought for Christian rights in Rome either. Instead, they fought for souls despite marginalization and persecution. We’ve forgotten how to trust in freedom in Christ and have instead come to rely on the freedoms of this land. Because of this, we have lost peace and have replaced it with struggles for influence and authority. Take a look at this quote from an article called “Christians Don’t Need Rights:”

…Since when does your relationship with God depend on your rights as a human being? In the book of Daniel, when Darius made a law prohibiting prayer to any deities for a month, Daniel went back to his house and prayed anyway.

And then he went to a lion’s den.

And when Darius came back to get him the next morning, the first thing that Daniel said to him wasn’t, “Give me back my rights, jerk!” It was, “Oh king, may you live forever.”

That’s an Old Testament example that we see mirrored throughout the lives of New Testament Christians in the Bible. Jesus and His apostles accomplished all they did without freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to vote, or the right to bear arms. Yet we have seen Christians become more and more concerned with these things at the expense of time spent on spiritual things and at the cost of Christian conduct. Jesus’ church thrives in times of trials. Yes, our lives may become harder. Yes, we may feel marginalized and treated unfairly. But that is what being Christ-like is about. Let’s get our eyes focused on things above, commit to focusing on spiritual things, and get to work with joy and peace in our hearts.

lesson by Donn Koonce

Closer to the Cross

three crosses

What does it mean to you to be closer to the cross? We often think about that question in terms of our relationship with Christ, and that’s a great way to think about it. But what about the people who were close to the cross at the crucifixion? Think of it this way: if you had been there two thousand years ago, why would you have been there? How would witnessing the events of the cross have affected you, and how should it affect all of us who wear the name of Christ?

Prepared for the Cross

We know that Jesus was prepared for the cross, and He tried to prepare His followers as well. He prepared through doing the work of the Father. He kept the end of His journey forefront in Him mind. In the hours leading up to the crucifixion, our Savior was sleep-deprived and distraught, but He knew what had to be done to overcome. He was determined.

As we now look at the accounts of the cross, think about where you are spiritually and where you might have been when Jesus was on the cross. Would you have been a mere onlooker, or might you have been there as a follower? If you had been there as a follower, would you have been prepared? How would these events have affected you if you were as faithful then as you are today?

Luke 23:32 – 49

Two others — criminals — were also led away to be executed with Him. When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided His clothes and cast lots.

The people stood watching, and even the leaders kept scoffing: “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked Him. They came offering Him sour wine and said, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!”

An inscription was above Him: This is the King of the Jews.

Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at Him: “Aren’t You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!”

But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!”

And He said to him, “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”

John 19:23 – 37

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took His clothes and divided them into four parts, a part for each soldier. They also took the tunic, which was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it, to see who gets it.” They did this to fulfill the Scripture that says: They divided My clothes among themselves, and they cast lots for My clothing. And this is what the soldiers did.

Standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple He loved standing there, He said to His mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

After this, when Jesus knew that everything was now accomplished that the Scripture might be fulfilled, He said, “I’m thirsty!” A jar full of sour wine was sitting there; so they fixed a sponge full of sour wine on hyssop and held it up to His mouth.

When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” Then bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.

Since it was the preparation day, the Jews did not want the bodies to remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a special day). They requested that Pilate have the men’s legs broken and that their bodies be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man and of the other one who had been crucified with Him. When they came to Jesus, they did not break His legs since they saw that He was already dead. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows he is telling the truth. For these things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled: Not one of His bones will be broken. Also, another Scripture says: They will look at the One they pierced.

Our Response to the Cross

Time and again, the Bible writers entreat us to draw closer to God. Hebrews 4:16 calls on us to confidently approach the throne of grace, and James 4:8 says God will draw closer to us when we draw closer to Him. This relationship is deeper than words, however. Isaiah 29:13 warns us that we cannot simply draw near to God with our lips while keeping Him out of our hearts. Drawing closer to our God and Savior should deeply affect and change us.

Drawing closer to the cross also helps us better understand His love for us. It gives new depth to John 3:16, which tells us that Christ went to the cross because of God’s love for us. We are precious to Him. The love He demonstrates toward me is self-sacrificial. It is complete, and it is deep. It is a love I should seek out and hold to while imitating it in my own life.

When we have a deep encounter with cross, it will increase our commitment to Christ. When we have a deeper understanding of what the cross means to us, we will want to do more for Him. Proverbs 3:3-4 tells us we should God’s wear God’s words on our heart, and doing so makes it a refuge in times of trouble. This is a commitment built upon love and derived from a sincere appreciation for His death on the cross.

Closeness to the cross will also increase our sense of responsibility. Romans 6:12-14 speaks of responsibility when Paul says that we should crucify self to be closer to Him. Greater commitment leads to a greater sense of responsibility. It helps us understand that we are different from the world, and this sense of responsibility becomes a fire in our hearts. It drives us to want to share the cross and what it means to us with others.

All of this will finally increase the grace we have toward others. When I understand His love more deeply, and I grow more committed and more responsible to imitating my Savior and sharing His love and teachings, then I will be more graceful in how I interact with others. This will, in turn, hopefully lead them to see Christ’s love in me. As Paul writes in Philippians 2:3-4, let us always look after the needs of others and count others as more important than ourselves.

Your Response Today

How will you allow the cross to affect your life? Where is your commitment, responsibility, grace, and understanding of God’s love? Are these greater today than yesterday? Put yourself in the shoes of those who stood and watched Jesus die for our sins, and let it touch your heart. Witness that love, and let it change you for the better. Then take that love and let it compel you to share it with others.

lesson by Donn Koonce