Responding to Jesus

Phil Cullum – September 20, 2022

Some people are coming closer to Jesus; some are walking away. Still others responded, for or against, a long time ago and are not budging.

If you aren’t at a standstill, the direction you are going makes all the difference. And that is true whether you are among his followers or not. If you are outside, are you heading in? If you are inside, are you moving outward or “further up and further in,” in the phrase of C.S. Lewis?

I am struck by the contrast between two men who became acquainted with Jesus. One moved closer; the other moved away.

Matthew 19 tells of a young man who was a sincere searcher, looking for something that was missing in his life. He talks with Jesus, hoping to find that missing something. He professes his current righteousness, but, knowing there was still a hole in his life, asks Jesus, “What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:20, ESV)

Jesus’ response was what he needed, but not what he expected: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21, ESV)

You are approaching this all wrong, Jesus is saying. You are trying to make yourself someone God can love. You should be making yourself into someone who loves God. That requires turning your attention away from the things you love so that you can love God supremely, away from your prestige and power (for as Luke 18:18 reports, he was a ruler) and away from the financial cushion (“sell what you possess and give to the poor”) that he was depending on for his safety.

From now on, his focus was to be the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Depend on Jesus, not on the things that formerly propped him up.

In response, the man turned away. As Scripture says, “When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” ( Matthew 19:22, ESV)

He turned away from Jesus, sensing the loss he would sustain, but not recognizing the plentitude he would gain.

The second event occurs in Acts 9. Here is another searcher, an Ethiopian, who also wanted to be closer to God. He had turned to the writings of Isaiah, and was reading in chapter 53. A man named Philip was commissioned to go and talk to him, and so he did.

The passage in Isaiah pointed to Jesus. Philip shared the explanation of how Jesus was portrayed in the passage. The Ethiopian said, in effect, this is who I have been searching for. I need to have Him in my life. I want to follow him with my life. And as Acts 9:38 reports, he came to Jesus in faith and was baptized into him.

And how did that man respond to his meeting with Jesus. Acts 8:39 reports, “[he] went on his way rejoicing.”

One man walked away from Jesus in sorrow; the other came to Jesus in joy.

That’s the way it is in this world. Running away from God produces sorrow, sooner or later. Running into the arms of God produces joy.

It’s interesting that both of these two results are shown in the life of one man in a story Jesus told, the man we call “The Prodigal Son”. At the beginning of the story he runs away from his father and the result is unspeakable misery. At the end, he returns, and finds unimaginable joy.

Which way are you moving, to Jesus or away? When you are moving toward Jesus, you are also moving toward wholesome living, peace with God, and eternal life. It’s the inly direction that makes sense.

Phillip Cullum – September 2022