Stop Trying So Hard

Wed in the WordI finished up with the book of Mark while on vacation last week.  I enjoyed reading a book of Scripture through from start to finish one chapter a day.  Thanks to Courtney over at Good Morning Girls for walking us through the Bible that way.  Next she is starting Deuteronomy.  I would love to say that I’m over-the-moon excited for that Old Testament gem, but… I haven’t decided if I’ll be tagging along when it starts or venturing off on my own.


 

For today though, I find myself stuck in a great place.  Luke.  With Easter still firmly in my front thought {that may be like forethought} you know, the thought that is just right there waiting to be turned over & over in your mind until you’ve examined every single angle it holds and played with it until it sinks deep into your soul.  Please say you do this too.  I don’t want to be the weird one.  Again.  ha ha.  so…

Luke 23:39-43

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed [or blasphemed] at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

I very much find myself believing that those two who hung on crosses on either side of Jesus represent the whole of humanity.  You’ve got the one who is hanging there, likely beaten and bloody and dying, hurling abuse at Jesus in the midst of his their horrific situation.  And in the next breath, while meant to be sarcastic in tone most likely, he is suggesting that Jesus prove himself by getting them all out of this predicament.  “If you are really who you say you are, which by the way is why you find yourself hanging here dying, then prove it and save yourself…and me too.  Then I will believe”

On the other side of Jesus you see another likely bruised and beaten and dying fellow.  This man has clearly lived a life with less than excellent choices.  He admits that he has wronged and deserves the punishment for which he finds himself.  But in this moment, he sees Jesus.  He recognizes who Jesus is.  He understands that Jesus will reign over a kingdom.  He doesn’t ask Jesus to prove himself, he doesn’t question why the King of kings would find himself dying on a cross.  He simply believes.  And he asks him only to remember him. “I believe you are the King & I ask you to simply remember me when you are in your Kingdom.”

Such contrast.  The one who mocks Jesus and will not believe He is the King of kings unless He has proof.  The one who sees Jesus and without any proof at all believes that He is the King and will reign in His Kingdom forever.  Pride versus humility.  Proof versus faith.

We don’t know if Jesus took the time to respond to the disbeliever – it isn’t recorded in the passage.  But we do hear {read} Jesus’ words to the thief who had faith.  “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

This is the part that really gets me.  Whispers to me deep in my heart past where my thinking & logic can reach.  This man, sentenced to die for his crimes which he agrees he committed {read:: has not made great life choices}, has likely not been to church {synagog} in maybe forever, has likely not tithed or served or ever done a random act of kindness {you know, paying for the persons meal behind him at Starbucks}.  He is moments away from death, so it’s unlikely he’ll have time to join a Bible study or attend a conference or even be baptized.  He has no time to do anything other than call out in complete belief to Jesus.

If Christianity was based on weighing the “good” things against the “bad” things and hoping that the scale leaned more to the “good” side, this thief would be in bad, sorry shape.  But Jesus has no concern.  He didn’t say, “Look, I will remember you, but unfortunately I won’t be seeing you.  You see you didn’t do anything to earn your way into my Kingdom.  Not a single thing.  And look at the really awful things you did that were against my teachings.  And, by the way, I was everywhere teaching in this area, so I know you’ve heard of me before today and could have followed me sooner.  It’s unfortunate.  My Kingdom’s pretty amazing.  Paradise, actually.”  Instead, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

He didn’t do a single thing.  Not one.  No baptism, no meal delivery, no volunteering in the church nursery.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  He believed Jesus was who He said He was.  Reminds me of an Old Testament guy Abram.  {Genesis 15:6}  He believed the Lord for the absurd & it was counted to him as righteousness.  This man, hanging next to Jesus believed the absurd too – that Jesus was the Son of God with a Kingdom that would never end and it too was counted to him as righteousness.  His belief alone.

I find myself trying too hard sometimes.  A lot of the time.  I may say with my mouth, “I am saved by grace, not by works” but do I live that?  Not that I shouldn’t be tithing & serving & being kind – I should.  But I should do that as an overflow of my faith rather than a stepping stool to achieve it.  How do I know the difference in the two?  I suppose it’s all about the heart.  Do I serve with joy?  Do I give with a cheerful heart?  Do I love with grace & kindness the way that Jesus loved?  Is my “doing” out of humility?  Or do I go-go-go-go trying to prove something?  Am I wanting to win the approval of others?  Am I striving to be “better” than someone else, do more, earn more “heaven-points” {like gold stars on a chore chart}?  This “doing” is powered by pride.

It’s a battle us humans all face.  It’s in our nature.  But it’s so clear that Jesus & His Kingdom don’t operate that way.  He invited the man hanging beside Him to join Him.  Even though that man could do nothing but believe before his final breath.  Believing was enough.  Believing is enough.  Good enough.