Jesus and the two ways
Do you ‘believe that’ there is a God?
Do you ‘believe that’ Jesus is real?
Do you ‘believe in’ Jesus?
How much do you believe? How much do you need to believe in order to get into heaven. You’ve heard about Jesus and his message, you like what you’ve heard, and now you want to get into a right relationship with the King of kings Jesus Messiah and with all of the other people who are your fellow citizens of his new kingdom.
You want to be part of this amazing thing that God is doing. You want to help make God’s vision for this world come true. You want to help make it real.
What do you do?
How do you transfer your citizenship from the old kingdom or idolatry, fear, jealousy, racism, consumerism, hedonism, egotism and all the other nasty isms to the new kingdom of love, gratitude, peace, generosity and all the other fruits of the spirit.
It starts with a decision. You have to decide that you don’t like the old kingdom and you don’t like the old you.
Our reading this morning is part of a longer section called the sermon on the mount. It is full of twos. Two ways of looking at things, two ways of living, etc.
In Matthew 6:19 Jesus says: “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”
Jesus says there are two ways of living and you have to decide which way you want to live. Do you want to live his way, or the world’s way. The first step in doing this is to realise that your way is the wrong way, and it leads only to bad things.
It means thinking deeply about what you hear with your heart. Hearing in this deep way is more than listening. It is thinking. But it is more than thinking alone, it means thinking about things in the light of Jesus.
The light of Jesus shines brightly enough that we can see all the flaws of our life.
This leads to a deep desire to get away from the old life and be cleaned of the dirt that we have accumulated. This is what Christians call repentance.
It isn’t immediate change in everything. It’s a new longing to change, and a new way of looking at everything. From the way you think about God to the way you treat your wife; from the way you vote to the way you think about shopping; from what makes you happy to what makes you sad. Or mad.
It invokes a deep sense that you might have been wrong all along, about so much of your life, and it involves a sincere desire to be corrected and connected to all that is good.
Once you repent, that is the start of a way of life. Repentance goes on because we are always less than we could be.
Having decided you are already on step two. This is the step of faith, of believing. It is the step of trusting Jesus. It is the flip side of trusting yourself less, to trust God more.
This is not ‘believing that’, it is ‘believing in’. We don’t believe this or that thing about Jesus, we believe in Jesus. We don’t believe this or that thing about the Good News, we ‘believe in’ the Good News of the kingdom of heaven. How much do you have to believe in Jesus? Are you disqualified if you have a certain number of doubts?
Jesus said the amount you need to believe is as big as a mustard seed. That is to say, you need only the very smallest amount of faith. But he also said that if you say you believe but don’t put your belief into practise then your faith is empty, it is dead.
What counts then is living out your faith in love, even if it is a very small amount of faith, as Paul explains in Galatians 5:6.
Or as Jesus says in our reading this morning “A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.”
Your choice out of two, good tree or bad tree. Faith that is alive or dead faith.
The third step is accepting, or receiving. If you apply for a passport and when the postman turns up with it you send him away and refuse to accept delivery you will not have the passport.
It is the same with your new life in the new kingdom. We have to be ready to receive what God wants to give us, to accept from him all he has for us – forgiveness, love, hope, strength, encouragement, perseverance. In fact all the things we need to live in his kingdom of love. And more, for we need to receive God’s spirit.
So step three to immigrating is to be willing to receive God’s Holy Spirit and allow the spirit into all parts of our life and our heart. Because entering the kingdom is not about what we do, it is about what God does and what Jesus has done. We cannot earn it, we are given it by God’s grace.
And the fourth step is to declare that you have taken the first three steps. To give notice to your friends and the world that you have quit the old life and taken up a new life, that you have renounced the old kingdom and sworn loyalty to a new king.
The way this is traditionally done is by baptism. Baptism is the symbolic purification by washing, ceremoniously expressing your belief that you were dirty and now want to be cleansed. It is repentance – washing away your old life, burying it under the water. It is faith – I trust Jesus Messiah enough to leave the old kingdom and follow him into his new kingdom. And it is receiving – receiving God’s spirit and all he wants to give me.
There are some views on how much water is needed, and whether the water should be in a river or a bath or a jug. And on whether you should be immersed in the water or sprinkled with it. But it probably is the case that what really matters is the state of your heart as you receive baptism. It is your sincerity and commitment to the new kingdom and to the king who is willing to accept you as his citizen.
The next move after baptism is a culmination of the other four. It is a move that lasts your whole life long.
Your next step is to learn how to follow Jesus every day, in every circumstance.
Now that you have given up the old way of life, you must start living the new way of life.
As Jesus says in our reading this morning: “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the flood waters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”
We are launching out on a new way of life in a new kingdom. In this new kingdom we cannot continue with the old way of life that we rejected at step one.
We are now learning to practise everything that Jesus has taught, and all that the Holy Spirit teaches. We are learning how to make all the right choices that Jesus outlines in his sermon on the mount, where he shows us that there are always two ways but only one of them is God’s perfect way.
As we live like this we are gradually able to do things we could never do, to live a new way of life we could never have lived before. We are in a new country learning a new language and new customs. At first it is unfamiliar, but in time we learn the ways of peace, gratitude, generosity, love, faithfulness, truth, openness, trust and so on.
Patiently and with practise, we live as Jesus taught by word and example. Helping each other along the way. That’s what we are doing today.