What is God’s ultimatum?
We live in a time and place where we can decide by vote who will lead our government. But once the votes are in and the person is put in office, unless that person breaks the law, dies or resigns, we are stuck with them for their term. Thankfully, we do get to repeat that process of electing leaders again after their terms are over, right? Well, when it comes to biblical theology and our relationship with God, things are different. As you all know, the Bible shows us that we don’t get to vote on God. God is sovereign and fully rules over all things by His authority. He is also the source of all things. But, and think about this: God has ordained something amazing that we call “free will” or, “human responsibility” or “freedom of choice.” So that, in spite of God’s ultimate ruling authority, we, who are created in His own image and likeness, are, by God’s ordained will and purposes, given a choice. We are ALLOWED to decide whether we will bow to Him and submit to Him during this lifetime, or not. What we can NOT choose are the consequences. But we are GRANTED FREEDOM to choose blessing or cursing, life or death, heaven or hell. So, in a sense, your life on earth, that is, what happens between your earliest understandings and your burial, is like an extended campaign and voting booth experience. You elect to follow the King of kings, or you don’t. You choose to either be seeking His kingdom and righteousness, and enjoying and sharing His saving gospel, and serving others in His love, OR NOT. We can choose the road we take, but we can NOT choose the destinations to which those roads lead. Those are already in place.
God has indeed given us a choice and He has also give us an ultimatum. It is “if then”. You select the “if”, and you get the “then”. Right?
In Matthew 12 we see Jesus campaigning for the kingdom of God. Opposition raises its head from the top ranks of the Jewish governing and religious establishment. As Jesus has become more well known and popular, He has become a threat to their long held positions of authority. They are measuring Him, perhaps hoping He will go away. But His influence only grows and gathers support. His words are powerful, challenging and disturbing. His miracles make His message much more difficult to suppress. Jesus also comes from the wrong side of the tracks (can anything good come out of Nazareth?). But, surprisingly, He is very effective in communicating with the masses. His unorthodox activity on the Sabbath, His claim of authority to forgive sins, His unwillingness to honor the traditions of the elders, combined with His willingness to expose the hypocrisy among the religious leadership, and His growing influence, all make Him a formidable force to deal with.
Jesus is not just popular, He is demanding, and issues ultimatums to His followers. Jesus made it clear that anyone who would follow Him MUST make a kind of commitment that could only be described as total surrender to His leadership. Listen to Jesus words in Matthew 10:32-39 (read). This Rabbi wants full allegiance from His followers! He’s talking like a dictator! Who does He think He is? King???
The Jewish leaders MUST do something. Accepting His ultimatum is not an option in their minds. They are forced into another “if, then” mode. “If we do nothing, then…” “If this continues to grow, then…” Early on they make their decision. In the first two episodes recorded in Matthew 12:1-14, we see that Jesus has already stirred up the opposition so that they are plotting His death. Look at verse 14. And I’m sure, if you asked these Jewish leaders about this, they would tell you that they were justified in doing so! They are protecting things that are more important to them than His life. They are choosing the road they will take. They think they know the destination, but they are wrong. Just picture what was happening between Jesus and these leaders that led up to His crucifixion.
If you think this last presidential election was harsh, just consider what happened in Jesus’ campaign. It is the week of the Passover and Jesus has come to Jerusalem. He enters the temple courts every day and teaches among the people. The first Sunday, He physically ran out all the money changers and began draining the swamp, so to speak. The chief priests and Sadducees send in their best debaters to torpedo His teaching, but it backfires on them. Jesus’ answers only expose their ignorance. Pharisees and teachers of the law attempt to discredit Jesus with questions, but again, Jesus comes out smelling like a rose of Sharon. Finally, Jesus begins to ask His own questions. They have no answers. It is at this point that Jesus forces their hand. He directly confronts them with divinely prophetic and royal judgments. Matthew 23 records some of the most scathing words in scripture. Remember, mind you, these are Jesus’ words against the highest leadership of His nation. Like a King, Jesus is issuing His ultimatum. Think of the vast difference between what we witnessed in our past election and what happened with Jesus and the Jewish leaders. This is tremendous. For one thing: Jesus spoke ONLY the truth, and, for another: He spoke it with the power and authority of God’s prophet, priest and Messianic King. Jesus didn’t come to Jerusalem to win an election, Jesus came to give His life as a sacrifice for the very people He was warning and blasting with the sword of His mouth.
Within the week, Jesus would be crucified. By the next Sunday, Jesus would be raised from the dead and a new age in His name as Lord and King would begin, leaving these who rejected Him under the ultimatum of God.
Ironically, only a short while later in Acts 6:7 we read these words: The word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of the priests became obedient to the faith. Did you get that? These are some of the people who delivered Jesus up to Pilate to be crucified. Now they are bowing to Him as Lord and King!
We are either with Jesus, or against Him. We either gather with Him, or we scatter. He is either King and Lord of our lives or He is not. Jesus’ term of office is forever. His gospel call is both an invitation and an ultimatum. We either seek His kingdom and righteousness first, or we don’t. We are either saved or we are lost. We are either serving Him by serving His people, or we aren’t.
Now, it is true that there is a development of maturity as a Christian, but there are no quasi- almost somewhat Christians. Like being pregnant, either you are or you’re not. You are born again of water and the Spirit or you are not. Baptism, like marriage, marks the entry into our covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. You may be newly weds, but you are either married or you are not. New Christians, like new born babies, need to grow and mature and develop their faith and walk with Christ, but seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness is either yes or no, there is no maybe. This is the foundation where the saving grace of God becomes ours as His righteousness is given to us. Jesus’ ultimatum is that He is either first place or NO place in our lives. Saying “No!” to all other gods is not optional. This is the source from which our serving mission is born as we learn to love as He loved and serve as He did.
There is another, even more serious matter to this ultimatum of God. Becoming a Christian, bowing to Jesus as Lord and being baptized in His name marks you as different from those who are not in Christ and under the King’s authority. They do not share the righteousness of God with us, nor do they share the responsibilities we have accepted. Once we turn to Christ and commit to Him, we must be willing to leave all else behind. Like entering a marriage, when we stand before God and witnesses to say our vows and we answer “I do.” When you said “yes” to your spouse, you were saying “no” to all others. Unfaithfulness in marriage is adultery. Comparing this with our relationship with Christ, once we enter our relationship to Jesus Christ, committing to Him in baptism, you are saying “yes” to the One who said “yes” to you from the cross. Then Bible tells us that it is worse for us to turn away than to never have believed! It is spiritual adultery. Peter compares it to a dog returning to its vomit, or a pig that is washed to the mud. Hebrews tells us that turning away from Jesus after receiving Him and enjoying His grace is like crucifying Him again and insulting the Spirit of grace. The Old Testament describes Israel’s unfaithfulness as adultery. It is a serious thing to begin our walk with God and then shrink back! Kendall had been reminding our Thursday morning men’s class of Hebrews 10:26-39 and especially verse 39. “We are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who believe to the saving of our souls.”
So… What’s the take home? What application can we make from this message?
- Realize the seriousness and the dignity of your God given power to choose.
- Accept the call of Jesus afresh and remind yourself and others to do the same.
- Expect opposition: Jesus said, if they hated me, they will hate you also.
- Never give up. Fight the good fight, keep the faith, finish the race.