Each Feast seems to bring its own unique lesson. Sometimes it is one sermon that speaks directly to you. Mental curtains lift and intellectual light bulbs go on, culminating in a sort of spiritual "Aha!" Sometimes the lesson comes through the events of the Feast themselves, as circumstances work together to create an illuminating picture. Sometimes, however, the lesson comes in the form of another person.
My family and I attended the Feast in Corpus Christi, Texas. As usual, we staked out our seating on the first day and rarely deviated from it. About the third day, an elderly woman seated herself behind us. We exchanged pleasantries, and over the next few days a very encouraging story emerged that touched me in profound ways.
The woman was lively and alert and thoroughly charming. She spoke with frankness and strength. We eventually learned that she was 91 years old. God had called her into His Church at the age of 76; encouraging proof that He has a time and a plan for each of us. For 25 years prior to that, she had been a charter member of a Presbyterian church. She'd been very active in that congregation, not only playing the piano, but teaching the adult Sunday School class as well.
Defending Her Faith
She told us that as a requirement for leaving the Presbyterian faith, she'd had to stand before the congregation, friends of some 25 years, and give her reasons. She'd been required to defend her faith and her choices in a public arena. The courage of such an act, and at such an age, was deeply moving.
Her husband hadn't shared her new beliefs. Nevertheless he'd stood with her as she faced their congregation. It was evident in her voice that this had brought her enormous comfort. The commitment of a husband to his wife was tremendously inspiring. He'd stood with her to face possible condemnation, sharing in her burden, but not her choice or her conviction. It was a reminder of the commitment that Christ has to us, individual members of His Church, collectively His intended bride. He took the burden of our sins upon Himself; sin brought about by our choices, not His. Yet He did not leave us to stand alone.
In her final statement to them, she'd reduced her reasons for leaving to one simple fact. She told them that she could no longer go on pretending that the Bible doesn't say what it says. That she could no longer ignore plain scriptural evidence contradicting doctrine she was expected not only to accept herself, but to teach to others. She could not do it, and she would not do it any longer.
Before this she'd had a conversation with her minister, in which she asked him why they were keeping Sunday, despite a clear biblical directive to keep the seventh-day Sabbath. His answer surprised her. He said that he knew Saturday was the biblical Sabbath, but getting everyone to change would just be too hard. Her simple reply was a sterling example of faith. "Well, it's not too hard for me," she'd told him.
Something about this minister saying that he knew what was right, but felt it was too hard to accomplish, struck a bone-chilling chord. I had a vivid mental picture of standing before Christ our Creator, at the day of judgment, and saying to Him, "Yes, I knew what You required of me...but it was just too hard."
There is a well-known story in the Bible that amplifies this lesson. It is the story of Jesus and the rich man, and God deemed it important enough to be included in three of the Gospel accounts. It contains one of the most often quoted verses in the Bible: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24). The story is normally used to illustrate the danger of riches. And perhaps that is the paramount lesson. But the story has much more to tell us.
In Matthew 19:16, a rich man asked this question of Christ: "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" Christ replied that if he wanted eternal life, he should keep the commandments. The man asked Him which commandments, although he undoubtedly knew, because when Christ elaborated by naming specific commandments from the ten, he acknowledged that he had been keeping them from his youth. Obviously he'd wanted no misunderstanding, but sought a clear mandate as to what was required of him.
The man then asked Christ what he yet lacked. What still stood between him and eternal life? Christ told him to sell all that he had and give it to the poor. According to Matthew 19:22, "When the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions."
The Deal Breaker
He understood what was required of him, he knew what was at stake, but still he walked away, sorrowful, because it was more than he was willing to give. It was too hard. He had found the deal breaker.
As tempting as it is to disdain this man and his choice, we really can't afford to. Because the lesson is too sobering. This was not a hardened and rebellious man. He kept the commandments of God, and had from his youth. Assuming he was truthful in that claim, and bearing in mind Psalm 119:172, which says, "All Your commandments are righteousness," he must then have been a righteous man. Flawed perhaps, but striving to obey God's law. Much like most of us? He was a righteous man with limits as to the commitment he was willing to make.
Would an honest search of our hearts find limitations there? Things too hard to do? This is a deadly serious question for God's people at any time, and especially at a time such as this. More troubled times are coming. A time is coming that will challenge all of our previous conceptions of hard. At what point would we walk away from the challenge sorrowful? What would constitute a deal breaker? The death of the American dream? Our children's safety? Persecution? We had better know.
Endurance Without Limitation
Christ Himself said, "But he who endures to the end shall be saved." He made this statement not once but twice, in Matthew 10:22 and Matthew 24:13. Both times He uses it in the context of persecution, from the world, for His name's sake. The dictionary defines "endure" as "to suffer without yielding." It's a stark statement when read this way: "He who suffers without yielding shall be saved." Christ warns us that we will have suffering, but if we want eternal life, we must not yield.
We must predetermine that nothing God requires of us will be too hard. To do that we must remove all limitations. There are courageous people of the Bible who set us this example. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego did not allow a fiery furnace to become a deal breaker (Daniel 3). Job offered up everything, saying "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" (Job 13:15). And Esther did not fail in God's will for her, instead saying, "I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!" (Esther 4:16). All of them prevailed because they determined within their hearts beforehand that they would do what was required of them, without limitations, regardless of the consequences.
If we desire the Kingdom we can do no less. In Romans 8:18 Paul said, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." Hard things will be required of us in the future. Hard things are being required of some of us now. Our local prayer lists make that sorrowfully clear.
But there is good news, although the rich man left without hearing it. The disciples expressed doubt that anyone would be capable of being saved. Jesus assured them that "with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).
When hard things are required we can remember this. We can recall that Paul said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). We can remember Job and Esther and three Hebrew men who would not bow. We can remember an elderly woman who said, "It's not too hard for me." Because if we seek eternal life, there must be no deal breakers. UN