The Gospel Paradox

But it was easy for them, we think. They were simple, humble fishermen–what did they have to lose? Everything we have to lose today.

James and John had hired servants. Peter and Andrew had their own permanent residence in the area. They had enough economic means to be able to leave their families and support themselves for the two years they would live full-time with Jesus in his itinerant ministry.

We visited the site which traditionally marks Peter’s house in Capernaum. Etchings in ancient Greek, Hebrew, Syriac and Latin show that pilgrims visited and venerated the spot as early as the first century. It is the largest house discovered in Capernaum, and is located nearest the beach with the best view.

These men gave up everything we have to follow Jesus. Their jobs, incomes, ability to support their families personally and be engaged in their lives on a daily basis. While their servants would continue their business, these men sacrificed their closest relationships for the sake of their relationship with Jesus.

Serving Jesus

Now comes the paradox: the best thing they could do for their families and friends was to put Jesus before them. By following Jesus fully, they would one day bring his gospel to the families they loved and friends they left. By serving him, they learned the good news which would one day serve them. Their best gift to their horizontal relationships was to put their vertical relationship first: “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

The best thing I can do for Janet is to love Jesus first. The best thing I can do for Ryan and Craig is to love Jesus first. Then I have his love for them. Then I can model his purpose for them and help them follow him. The best thing I can do for our church family is to love Jesus first. When I am right with God, I can be right with you. When I put fishing for men ahead of every other priority and relationship, I serve those priorities and relationships. So do you.

Helping people follow Jesus is the highest purpose of life, and God’s will for your life. And God’s will is “good, acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1). When we are in God’s will, he meets all our needs according to his riches in glory through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19); his peace which passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7), and we can do all things through Christ who sustains and strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). There is no better or safer place in all the world to be than in the will of God.

God made us, and he alone knows what most fulfills us. He can do far more with our lives than we can. When we commit ourselves to this purpose, he rewards and uses us for all eternity. But only then.

Conclusion

Let me close with a call to commitment which is nearly 2,000 years old.

Toward the end of our pilgrimages in the Holy Land, we visited the remarkable and emotional site of Masada. This desert fortress adjacent to the Dead Sea was built by Herod the Great. An astounding architectural achievement, the fortress became the home of Jewish rebels from AD 67-73 in their revolt against Rome.

After Titus and the Romans destroyed the Temple and ransacked Jerusalem in AD 70, they turned their attention to the Zealots at Masada. It took them three years to build a ramp which they used to batter down the defensive walls of the fortress.

Now it was the last night. The next morning the Romans would stream through that broken wall and enslave the rebels inside. Eleazer ben Yoir, the leader of the rebels, gathered the group for one last meeting.

He said: “Since we, long ago, my friends, resolved never to be servants to the Romans, or to any other than God himself, who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice….

“We were the very first that revolted from the Romans, and we are the last to fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in the state of freedom which has not bee the case of others who were conquered unexpectedly.

“It is very plain that we shall be taken with a day’s time, but it is still an eligible thing to die after a glorious manner, together with our dearest friends. This is what our enemies themselves cannot by any means hinder, although they would be very desirous to take us alive. Nor can we propose ourselves any more to fight them and beat them….

“Let our wives die before they are abused, and our children before they have tasted slavery; and after we have slain them, let us bestow that glorious benefit upon one another mutually, and preserve ourselves in freedom as an excellent funeral monument for us.

“But let us first destroy our money and fortress by fire, for I am well assured that this will be a great grief to the Romans, that they shall not be able to seize upon our bodies; and shall fail of our wealth also; and let us spare nothing but our provisions; for they will be a testimonial when we are dead that we were not subdued for want of necessities, but that, according to our original resolution, we have preferred death to slavery.”

Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, records the results: “They presently lay all they had upon a heap, and set fire to it. Then they chose ten men by lot out of them to slay all the rest, every one of whom laid himself down by his wife and children on the ground, and threw his arms about them; and they offered their necks to the stroke of these who had by lot executed this melancholy office; and when these ten had, without fear, slain them all, they made the same rule for casting lots for themselves, that he whose lot it was should first kill the other nine, and after all should kill himself.