Where does true joy and deep satisfaction originate?
Jesus? Absolutely! The age-old Sunday School (or Medium Group) answer! Although this answer is readily offered, I do not believe it is easily grasped. In Philippians 3:11-12 Paul tells us that he strives to take hold of Christ and the promise of life because Jesus has taken hold of him. When I read such verses, my mind wrestles with the premise that Jesus’ firm hold on me does not necessarily equate to my firm hold on Him—this is why Paul tells us to hold true to what we have attained in Christ (Phil. 3:16). Let’s rephrase this concept: though I am saved by Christ Jesus, this does not guarantee that I enjoy the work of Christ in me or my relationship with Him! How can this be?
The Protestant church has been involved in a heated debate over understanding the sovereignty of God and the freewill of mankind for over 400 years; therefore, I will not attempt to solve such an issue in this devotion. Nonetheless, we will attempt to meditate upon the work of God within us and our response to His work.
In the ninth chapter of Matthew, Jesus issues two “take heart” (ESV) statements. This first is in verse 2 and the second occurs in verse 29. “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven” is the first statement. The second is: “Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.” Interestingly, Jesus issues one “take heart” statement to each sex; additionally, Jesus refers to each recipient as His child (son, daughter). Because of this, we see that Jesus’ encouragement to take heart is good for either sex and is applied to His family; that is, to those that believe in Jesus Christ. However, this is not the point of the text. But I include this note for the sake of the seething confusion of gender roles in today’s world.
I believe the point of these statements—when viewed in conjunction—is that the pairing of God’s work with a proper response on our behalf produces deep joy and encouragement. The first statement Jesus issues is a declaration that sins are forgiven. The second statement Jesus issues a declaration that a faithful response has made you well. Consequently, we see that the forgiveness God issues to us provides hope and encouragement, and our response to draw near to Him for help provides hope and encouragement. I think such a concept is often neglected within the church.
We tend, as humans, towards great effort or extreme apathy. Many say, “let go and let God”—this is apathy. Conversely, many say, “double down and work harder”—this is extreme human effort. God says, “I’ve done and, now, you come”—this is a response to the powerful work and invitation of God. You see, when we strive to be a better Christian without consciously reminding ourselves of the gospel, we find that our striving exhausts us. On the other hand, when we operate under the premise that the gospel does not necessitate our full response, our lives are marked by tolerance and indulgence in sin—this kills our joy and experience of God’s presence. What’s the proper approach?
The proper approach is the commonality of both stories in Matthew 9… EACH OF THE RECIPIENTS OF THE MIRACULOUS HEALING WENT TO CHRIST—BUT JESUS CAME TO THEM FIRST! Jesus made Himself available to both individuals by placing Himself within proximity to them. In turn, the individuals responded by entering into the presence of Jesus. The result? They both left with a transformed life! Do you see the proper response? Jesus comes close to us so we can come close to Him!
Now… let’s take this point and make it our own.
How are you responding to the presence of Jesus Christ?
Let us draw near to God because He has come close to us!