A Good Read

From "Sermon on the Mount" by Clarence Jordan

It is one thing to enter “the narrow way” of discipline and complete dedication to Christ and the kingdom; it is another thing to keep on climbing this upward trail. Sometimes people start this new way of life with great vigour and enthusiasm, soon become discouraged by the dangers and difficulties and then sit down to wonder if they have chosen the right road. Jesus wanted people to understand that he wasn’t taking them on a picnic. He was desperately anxious that they go with him and yet he pointed out that there would be pitfalls along the way. He wanted them to count the cost and be prepared for difficulties. His warnings undoubtedly helped the disciples to succeed.

One of the things to which they were to be alert was hypocrisy.

“Keep your eyes open around pseudo-preachers,” he warned, “who approach you in the guise of sheep but inside they are bloodthirsty wolves.”

The false prophets were dangerous because they were deceptive. Outwardly they looked like one of the sheep. They had respected titles. They had been graduated with big degrees from outstanding schools. They were in high places of responsibility. No doubt they had written numerous books which made them authorities in their chosen field. They were gifted speakers who could tailor their addresses to fit any audience.

But inside they were different. While they were careful to appear as kingdom citizens, their real motive, whether conscious or subconscious, was to devour the sheep, to sabotage the kingdom movement. Its way of love and humility and sharing was such a rebuke to their way of prejudice and exploitation and greed that they just couldn’t stand it. And being smart, they knew that fifth-column, inside activity was more effective than a frontal assault.

Their first work, of course, was to separate the sheep from the shepherd, for it was next to impossible to plunder the sheep when the shepherd was around. It is quite possible that the sheep were told not to be too loyal to this shepherd named Jesus.

“Were not other shepherds around just as good as he?” they asked.

Besides, they could not know for sure that he really was a shepherd; maybe he was just a creature of the imagination.

When these false prophets had thus destroyed the sheep’s faith in their shepherd, it was an easy thing to kill their souls with such fangs as “the-time-isn’t-ripe,” or “don’t-go-too-fast,” or “it-would-be-good-if-everybody-were-for-it,” or “you’ll-get-into-trouble.” Then it wasn’t long until the fake religionists had the kingdom message and witness diluted and cooled to a point where they were perfectly comfortable just to talk about it. The sheep were all dead or wounded and the wolves were again the custodians of the status quo.

Jesus said you could recognise these people not by their bleats (for they had learned all the phrases and shibboleths) but by their fruits, their actions and their living habits.

“You’ll be able to distinguish them by the way they live,” he said. “You know, you don’t gather grapes from a bramble bush nor peaches from a chinaberry, do you? So it is, a cultivated tree makes cultivated fruit, and a wild tree makes wild fruit. It is impossible for a cultivated tree to bear wild fruit or for a wild tree to bear cultivated fruit. Any tree that does not produce cultivated fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. That’s why I told you that you could know them by the way they live.” (Matthew 7:16-20, Cotton Patch Version)

People and their institutions can be classified as Christian only insofar as they are true to the form of the original “New Testament” pattern. They must be measured on the basis of what they are and do, rather than what they say.

Lord, give us your Spirit now we pray.
Reveal yourself that we may see
your cross! And rise up to follow you.

And there must be action of more than just the lips, for the next thing Jesus warns against is lip service.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Master! Master!’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is spiritual.”

Entrance into the kingdom is not based on mere profession but on acceptance of a will and a way. A pious repetition of Jesus’ name is no substitute for a life of loving obedience to the Father. A “worship service” is of little value unless it leads to worshipful service.

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