Friday, 9 November 2012

"No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

During the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus, many people experienced the power of His words and felt compelled to act upon His exhortations, however many such committments were based only on the flesh. No committment, however well intentioned will ever succeed if it is not powered by the Lord. One such example is of the man who said to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:61-62. At first glance this text might seem frighteningly difficult to face in lieu it's apparent sterness. But face it we must, and make no mistake, Jesus is definately speaking in absolute terms about the subject He is teaching.

     Knowing our propensity to lapse and falter, Jesus seems to be setting a standard for "fitness" to enter the kingdom of God that no man can ever hope to attain, and in one very important sense that is absolutely true. But who wouldn't want to say good bye to their family before they headed off on the mission field with Jesus? If however, that same person was made to understand the magnitude of God's choice in first saving them and then placing them in His service, it would be equally clear that such an insignificant concern would never prevent one from obeying his new Master fully. No one who has ever served in the military responds to his or her commanding officer with these words, "Yes sir, but first...". If it's important, then your commanding officer will tell you its important. This text and others like it are designed to prove the true nature of a persons standing before Christ as their supreme Lord and God. As rank is assessed, where does God's fall in your sense of the chain of command? Is there something more pressing that you need to attend to before you obey God?

     Unlike the service we might render to our country, the service of Christ goes much deeper. His requirements are much more stringent and He demands absolute allegiance. In fact it is actually saying that a man or woman cannot even enlist of their own choosing, but they must be chosen for service. Those who are not chosen, but rather latch on to Christ in their own strength quickly find out how ill prepared they are for real spiritual warfare. Those who are chosen are equipped by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit to do what they could otherwise never do. Those who are not chosen quickly exibit an ever shifting chain of command, usually with themselves at the top. As their duties increase, so do their excuses for being absent. With their lips they call him Lord, but in their feet, they deny Him. Like the five foolish virgins who began to follow Jesus, only later to discover that they had embarked on a journey that their flesh was incapable and unwilling to finish, the plowman of our text is also certain to fail. If you set out to follow the Lord Jesus in your own strength and you are not genuinely born again, sooner or later you will run out of steam and it will be evident to all, including yourself that you are not "fit for the kingdom of God". For the rich young man of Mark 10:17 it was sooner, for the offended disciples in John 6:60-66, it was sooner, but for the wicked wedding guest in Matt. 22:11, and the five foolish virgins in Matt. 25:11, they discovered that they were not "fit for the kingdom of God" later.

   So then, this text is designed to test the true nature of a person's conversion, not a christian's temporal failure in obeying their Master's command. We should observe first of all, that we are are not able to "fit" ourselves for the Kingdom of God. God must do it for us. Like the wedding guest in Matthew 22:11 who was not fitted with the proper "wedding attire" and stuck out like a sore thumb, the garments of true Christ wrought righteousness cannot be sewn together from any fabric of our own making. The loom for these garments is found in Heaven. Those wedding guests who were "fit" for the wedding were clothed in a righteousness not their own. A rigtheousness given to them by the King. The text concludes with the King confronting the defiant guest about his unacceptable clothes (self righteousness) and we read that the guest was "speechless". If you manage to resist the Holy Spirit right up to the end of your life without acknowledging His standard for righteousness, then you, like the unsaved wedding guest, will be likewise "speechless" before a holy God. The wicked guest was speechless because he was guilty, and he knew it. The guest knew that the King required a perfect righteousness, and even though his "righteousness" was not up to the heavenly standard, he never the less chose to wear a sin covering of his own making. Rather than go to God early and ask Him to pay for his sins, the wicked wedding guest instead tried to enter heaven through his own self righteousness. He was therefore not "fit" for the kingdom of God. It is wise then, before we jump to conclusions and assume that God is being unduly harsh toward poor sinners who are just trying to "do their best", that these folks first repudiated God's plan to "do His best" for them and demonstrated it by open defiance.

   Now that we understand somewhat better what it means to be made "fit" for the kingdom of God, lets look at another clause in the text. What are the spiritual implications of the phrase, "no one who puts his hand to the plow"? To help us get our minds around what it might mean to put our "hand to the plow", lets first take a look at a later text in Luke which parallels this same idea. In Luke 14:28-30 we read, "For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish". It is important to consider that if you choose the path of defiance, chief among those who will be mocking you in the end will be the Lord himself because, you will no doubt remember, it was in defiance that Cain worshipped the Lord with an unacceptable sacrifice, despite overwhelming evidence that he was unable to produce a righteousness which is acceptable to God. The man who finds mercy on the other hand, is the man who after "sitting down and counting the cost" discovers that he does not "have enough to complete it" and thus abandons his folly quickly and runs to Jesus who has more than enough, not only to start, but also complete his faith, and seeks to be set on a perfect foundation. Before a farmer ever puts his hand to a plow, many other considerations and preperations must be made first, so that he is able to rightly count on reaching the harvest. Putting one's hand to the plow is tantamount to saying, "I have thought this through and I am able begin and also to finish". However, with respect to the subject of eternal life, the unsaved man must never, in his own strength, put his hand to this do so would be madness. But on the other hand, if Christ, who is the Author and Finisher of our faith, were to put your hand to this plow, then you would be certain of success. This is because Christ Jesus has the sufficiency to make you righteous before a holy God and the strength to carry you through to the end. You see, if Jesus is the one who puts your hand to the plow, then He will supply all your needs so that you will be able, with absolute certainty, to complete your course. It is this spiritual accounting process that is suppose to drive us to Christ. If we are good accountants, then we will surely find ourselves in private despair as we pour over the numbers, because it is then that we discover our self-righteous bankruptcy. Every person who has ever been born again has had to come to this point in self assessment. The only thing that seperates them from you is what they did next. This is what seperates the serene from the eternally sad. The man or woman who, upon discovering their bankruptcy, flees to Christ Jesus...that person gains eternal life.

   In conclusion, I would call as one final witness to these things, Mark's account of Jesus's dealings with the rich young ruler in chapter 10:23-31, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” Notice, notice, notice that Jesus says simply, "how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God"...He doesnt really single out just the monetarily rich as facing this great difficulty. For one simple reason, we are all "rich" in our own vanity. We are all "rich" in  our own imaginations about God's favorable approval of us. We are pretty confident that we know how this thing works. Do we really? We readily boast of our ability to appease an infinately holy God through our own self-produced good works, never once considering all that might entail from God's perspective. Indeed, the phrase for which this entire text hinges are "those who have wealth" or rather, those who THINK they have wealth. True and lasting wealth beyond all measure was standing right in front of him in the person of Jesus, who was offering to share His wealth with him. But the rich young ruler could not see it. He was rich in possessioins, but he was poor spiritual eyesight. If for example, you owned the entire world for a few short years and afterward you went to hell...would you have considered yourself rich on earth or poor? The answer is: POOR! Insanely POOR! But surely you are not of those who will not listen until they are in hell? Are we so foolish to think ourselves able to wipe our entire sin debt clean when we can't even remember the sins we committed last week?  Full and perfect payment for all your sins must be accomplished by Someone who has a full and perfect memory of them. Someone who can go all the way back to your birth and all the way forward to your death bed...yes, even the sins you have not committed yet. That Someone is God. Only God has perfect knowledge of all our sins, and therefore only God can pay that debt. Before you go on in this folly, ask youself this: Are you a better man than Cain? He thought he was capable of offering a better sacrifice to God than the one God had already prepared to offer to Himself. What was Cain thinking? Are you willing to gamble, like Cain with your own soul? Don't play the fool...listen to God and live. Let Jesus pay for your sins, and in His own divine power carry you through this life and present you to God blameless! Until men see clearly that their self-produced righteousnesses are like filthy rags with God and their spiritual spreadsheet spells bankruptcy, they will continue to test God's holy standard for salvation and take their eternal place among the insanely poor.