sing "Footprints of Jesus"

[Matthew 19:16-30] - When the young man comes to Jesus, the Lord doesn’t challenge his question: “What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” In fact Jesus obliges his question and urges him to keep the commandments. Jesus had been teaching that he did not come to abolish the commandments, but to fulfill them. When you read through Matthew’s gospel and what Jesus teaches you find that Jesus is very serious about doing good. He intends for his teachings and the commandments of God to be lived out and put into practice. He concludes the Sermon on the Mount with the parable of the wise and foolish builders. The foolish builder builds on loose soil and his house collapses, but the wise builder builds on the rock and the house stands even during a storm. The wise person is the one who takes what Jesus says and puts it into practice!

This is what disappoints the young man who wanted to inherit eternal life. He wasn’t expecting that the inheritance of eternal life would so radically change his life. When Jesus lists the commandments, it is easy for this fine young fellow to state – even modestly – that he has kept the commandments since he hasn’t broken any of the rules. But if he is going to follow Jesus into the Kingdom of Heaven he has to do more than follow the rules. He has to do more than “keep” the commandments (that is, not violate them), he has to do them. The good work we are called to is more than “not bad” it is active. Jesus wants us to take his teachings and put them into practice. That is good work!

Jesus calls his disciples to a righteousness that surpasses the scribes and Pharisees. [Matthew 5:20] Now they were the ultimate rule-keepers – how could we ever surpass their righteousness? Simple – you rediscover the meaning of righteousness. Righteousness isn’t about “not doing bad,” rather it is about actively “doing good.” The scribes and the Pharisees followed the rules, but the disciples of Jesus follow the Lord. Jesus warns us to do what they teach but not what they do because they do not practice what they preach!

What are we supposed to do with Jesus teaching? What’s the best way to understand it and teaching it to others? Jesus concludes one of his better known teachings, the Sermon on the Mount, with a fairly simple answer to these questions: do what I told you. [Matthew 7:24] The wise person is like the builder who builds on a good foundation. The house built on the rock will stand. Putting Jesus’ teachings into practice is building on a good foundation.

The reason that churches, households, and individual lives collapse is sometimes because people want to follow Jesus but only so they can have a little insurance for the future or for the bad times. We need religion in our lives because it helps us over our bad feelings or it might make the kids behave or keep them out of trouble. We want the insurance but we want to build our house on the edge of a cliff looking over the ocean. We want to build our lives on our own plot and according to our own plan. But Jesus isn’t interested in selling insurance. He’s a carpenter and he knows how to build a good life, a good home, and a good church.

Doing Good Works
Look at the banners in this auditorium and notice that we recognize this. We understand that disciples of Jesus should be eager to serve other. We strive to prepare for works of service to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). We intend to excite one another to Love and Good Deeds (Hebrews 10:24). We know that following Christ involves baptizing and teaching others so that they too can inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (Mark 16:15-16). Finally we recognize that God made us in Christ to do Good Works (Ephesians 2:10).

This text is good for us to reflect on for a moment. We are God’s work – his creation. He crafted us and designed us. Most craftsmen and creators have a purpose for their works. So it is with God. In Ephesians 2:10, Paul says that we are created in Christ Jesus – suggesting that we have been re-created – to do good works which God has already prepared for us. We are supposed to “walk” in these good works. What does that mean? It means we get with it and get active doing what God designed us to do and what he prepared for us to do. We “walk” behind Jesus following in his steps. We are God’s work (creation) to do good work (deeds). That is what it means to be human, that is what it means to be a disciple. What are the good works God has prepared for us to do? We will discuss this in more detail tonight but I want to briefly demonstrate how the teaching of God’s Word has everything to do with good works ...

Iglesia de Cristo – In 1987 in Fort Smith, the Latino school population was half of a single percent (0.05%). Today, it is almost 20 percent. But according to one report, the Latinos who are new to America do not always consider us a friendly people. Sometimes that’s because we, as a people, say things like: “If they come to our country, they ought to learn English!” That’s well and good, but who will teach them? I think God wants us to be friendly and hospitable. He wants us to do more than just wish our neighbors all the best. For three years now we have encouraged a ministry that meets on Johnson Street. Oscar Nolasco has been baptizing and teaching. We need to pray for leaders in that congregation. We can help them by building a place of worship (they are renting right now). If we follow Jesus, don’t you think his footsteps will lead us to the growing Latino section of our town? In Matthew 25 the Lord praises those who were righteous: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me?”

Hope Chest logo Hope Chest, CURE – Last year as we were searching for property to serve as a building for Iglesia de Cristo we found a building from which we could serve the poor. Now the number of those seeking assistance at the Hope Chest is increasing everyday. Poverty and disaster create different needs but when they combine the problem is truly staggering. This happened last year on the Gulf Coast. The disaster from the hurricanes magnified the problems of poverty. Through CURE, we have been partnering with other disciples to help the disciples on the Gulf Coast to do good works.
If you listen to Christ’s teaching then you know as well as I do that there is no excuse for not helping the poor. But we still find excuses and perhaps that is because the problem is so large. So we hesitate wondering if our efforts make any real difference. We begin to feel that unless we can unleash government-sized, military backed aid on the problem then we will never make a dent in the problem. So we call our efforts a drop in the bucket or twig on the pile. And then we question if God will go with us in our efforts. Will God go with us when we go “to the hungry hopeless side of town?” We can quit worrying about that. The truth is that God has been waiting for us to meet him there. If we follow the footsteps of Jesus don’t you think his path will lead us to the poor, sick, and hungry? “I was naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, hungry and you fed me.”

Tutoring, KFC, Children’s Worship, Nursery, FLOCK, GATEWAY – [Matthew 19:13-15] None of us would ever want to keep children away from Jesus. One of our strengths as a congregation is reflected in the ministries we have devoted to young people – from nursery to young adults. No, we would never say we want to keep children or young adults from Jesus, but do we really take to heart what Jesus said when he said “the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these?” What does that mean? Does this congregation offer “services for young people” or do we serve young people? Serving children is difficult – especially when their parents don’t come here. It can get frustrating when children act like children.
Teens and LFC – Like Jesus we can invite them to follow. They are ready. Notice that Jesus says, “Don’t stop them!” Young people don’t know “not to come” to Jesus unless an adult stops them. Jesus’ disciples thought that he should spend a little more time with adults and that the kids ought to stop bothering Jesus – he had a long day and was awfully tired. But if we follow the footsteps of Jesus, I think we will find ourselves walking alongside children, teens, and young adults who are eager to follow Christ. Maybe we should cheer them on. We need each other on this journey as we follow Christ – young and old need each other; women need one another; men needs one another; women and men need each other. We too often isolate, but Christ calls us to be one!

Men’s Ministry and Family Ministries - Paul Shirley and Mat Griffin have a marriage class starting soon. The women of this congregation have a retreat planned this weekend. Some of the young women, one of them is one of our newest members, have taken the initiative to organize this. I am pleased to see the spiritual maturity of our women – whether it is on the retreat or in their WINGS classes, or study classes, or other fellowships. They show it in their dedication to spend time with their Lord and Creator and in their fellowship with one another. They are encouraging each other to love and good works. They are preparing for works of service. They are putting Christ’s words into practice. Brothers, when will we have a men’s retreat? (Someone will say, “When you plan it preacher.” Isn’t it great that the women don’t have that excuse!) We have a Men’s class starting in February. No, that won’t fit everyone’s schedule, but we have as many options as we have men who will lead. We can do this, brothers! If we follow the footsteps of Jesus I think he will lead us to a quiet place where we can pray and rest with him.

Connections - In a family the size of West-Ark it is easy to think that someone else is available to do the good works. But that’s not really how a big family works. Have you seen the news on the Duggar family in Springdale. They have 16 kids. How does a family that large manage? They assume that everyone can help somewhere because they know that everyone is needed. In our church family, each one of you is needed somewhere. More than that, God has prepared something for you to do.

Following Jesus is joyous and adventurous. So why is it that some will give up anything to follow Jesus and others find that hard to do. I think it is because those who are unwilling to sacrifice confuse following Jesus with following the rules. No one wants to give up something just to follow the rules. There’s no reward or adventure in that. But following Jesus goes somewhere! There’s a destination and journey worth taking. Following Jesus is a quest that is fulfilling and meaningful. There is a lost verse to the song we sang before this sermon ("Footprints of Jesus") that expresses this idea:

Then at last, when on high He sees us,
    Our journey done,
We will rest where the steps of Jesus,
    End at His throne.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 29 January 2006

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