Monday, October 20, 2014

The Miracle Berry of Christianity

Life of Christ 138

The miracle berry
          Jesus and His Apostles are traveling through the remote rural region along the Galilee Samaria border in the weeks before His death. In just a few days they will travel east, and join the caravans of Jews flowing out of Galilee along the Jordan River route to Jerusalem for Passover.
          Jesus is discussing the case of a rich man who would not be convinced of his sin. I wrote about a similar occasion in Life of Christ 107. Flowing from this conversation Peter mentions that they, as Apostles, have given up everything to follow Christ. 'Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?' (Matthew 19.27).
          Jesus' response is that the Apostles would receive great rewards in Heaven (Matthew 19.28), but also here on Earth in this life. 'And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold' (Matthew 19.28). A twin passage in Luke 18 makes plain that Jesus meant prior to Heaven, 'manifold more in this present time.'
          There is, with many people, a fear that if they commit their lives fully to the Lord He is going to ask them to do something incredibly difficult. In essence, many people are afraid that God will ask them to be miserable for Him. Now, it is true that God has the right to ask me to be miserable. He created me, and thus owns me. In addition, He redeemed me, and thus owns me twice over. But the idea that God will spend my life in a way that makes me miserably, lonely, sad, and unhappy is not fair to God.
          It is in this context, that of God being good to His servants both in the next life and in this one, that the infamous story of Matthew 20.1-15 is set. This passage troubles many a saint for it appears to make of God an unfair taskmaster. After all, the boss pays the guy who worked one hour the same as the guy who worked twelve hours. In other words, God will spend my life in service for Him, and reward me with parsimonious stinginess in this life.
          Does God have the right to do that? Without equivocation, yes. But to view God that way is to view Him unfairly. He does not withhold from us rich blessings; He bestows on us rich blessings. It is not that God will unfairly pour out a wonderful blessing on some guy who does not deserve it at all, since he has not served Him much. Rather, it is that God will be so good to all of us, those who have served Him for a long time and those who have not.
          We do not serve a harsh, unkind, unfair, cruel, stingy, taskmaster of a God. We serve a loving, kind, gracious, generous, thoughtful, warm, giving God who loves to pour out blessings on us – both now and later.
          If you do not believe this just sit down and count your blessings. Go ahead; I dare you. It will not be long before the grateful Christian is singing, through tears, 'God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, He's so good to me.' Do not look in fear at God, afraid that He will ask you to spend your life in some terribly uncomfortable, unhappy, torturous way. 'O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man who trusteth in him' (Psalm 34.8). Beloved, let us fix firmly in our mind, as a permanent truth, that God is good – all the time.
          In West Africa you will find a berry that is sometimes called the miracle fruit. It is small and red, and when eaten it changes the taste buds on your tongue for a time. Every bitter or sour thing you eat tastes sweet instead. The New York Times said, 'The berry rewires the way the palate perceives sour flavors for an hour or so, rendering lemons as sweet as candy.'
          So it is with us. When we fix in our minds a permanent view of the goodness of God even the bad things that happen become palatable. As we dwell upon the goodness of God we need not fear that He will make us miserable in our service for Him. Instead, that service becomes sweet indeed, no matter where it takes us or what it asks.
Matthew Henry, 1662-1714
          Matthew Henry, the seventeenth century Welsh preacher who is quoted in sermons more than any other man probably, was robbed of all he possessed once. He wrote the following reaction in his journal: 'Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.'
          God does not ask His servants to give up everything, endure a life of misery, and then walk on golden streets. That is the devil's lie. God asks His servants to give up everything, yes, and He offers us Heaven at the end. But in the meantime, He pours out His goodness upon us with a prodigal liberality.

          Taste, and see.

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