The Seduction Of Compelling Needs
Though the meaning of life is found in the beauty of Christ Jesus, we are so easily distracted by this fallen world. We have been offered the embrace of the perfect One; however, the enemy of our souls continually directs us away from beholding Christ. Being swept up into the seduction of the latest compelling need, we are left with nothing more than a yearning for practical teachings that anesthetize us with pastoral applications. Oh, what damage has been done to the Body of Christ in the name of the practical and the pastoral!
Consumed with “fixing” ourselves, we ignore the deeper answer to all our desires—the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus. Our sermon and discipleship materials are riddled with how to deal with depression, anxiety, addictions, loneliness, overeating, unhealthy diets, unhealthy marriages, insecurity, fear, rejection, dejection, and, the giant of our day—overcoming stress. Sermons on timely political issues and human need abound, but scarcely a sermon is uttered on the person of Jesus, the Father’s answer for every human condition. Why is the person of Jesus the answer to every human condition?
Rarely do I hear preaching on the glory of Christ and the wonder of His excellencies. The Father knows His glory, the angels see His beauty, and even the stones are willing to cry out on His behalf. But how quickly He is forgotten by the very ones whom He purchased with His own blood! Often I find myself weeping over the present preaching of the Church. In those moments all I can say to Him is, “I’m so sorry, Jesus; I am so sorry.” How far we have fallen from the apostolic doctrine of the early church. How far we have fallen from the unsearchable riches of Christ!
Jesus knows mankind’s propensity to live out of their most basic needs, never lifting their gaze past the crisis of survival. In Matthew 4:23–25 Jesus took notice of the multitudes. The sick and oppressed came to His preaching to receive healing and deliverance. They were like sheep without a shepherd, in touch with their basest needs but having no idea of God’s greatness and their created destiny in Christ. Steeped in affliction, they failed to realize they were the image bearers. They were the ones made for God Himself, to rule the created order through intimate communion and designed to be the very reflection of the Most High God. How far they had fallen! How sin had reduced them. “Seeing the multitudes,” Jesus gave them a higher vision and laid forth the Beatitudes, proclaiming, “This is who you are! This is what I have come to give you.”
Not many people, including Christians, are in touch with their created purpose. In fact, most live well below the “poverty line” of the kingdom. God designed us as the only creatures made for Himself, to be filled with His presence and power. Yet most live out of their basic need, never lifting their gaze past the crisis of survival. Praise God that Jesus still sees. Looking on the crowds, Jesus still calls us up higher. He invites us into our most fundamental need—everlasting life and communion with God through Him. “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (Jn. 17:3).
Offending Our Modern Sentimentality
In John 6 Jesus did something that would seem scandalous to the modern Christian. The previous day He had fed the multitudes by multiplying the loaves and fish. The crowds, satisfied by His feeding, desired to make Him their king. However, Jesus discerned that their interest lay more in receiving their daily needs than in discovering His true identity and what His life meant for their salvation. Thus He refused to feed them again.
For one moment, imagine Jesus’ refusal. Israel was under foreign domination, stripped of her resources and experiencing the horrid effect of poverty. Jesus not only refused political reform, but also closed down the “social welfare program.” In effect He shut down the soup kitchen and challenged them to seek the bread that comes down from heaven, that in the eating of it they would never die. Jesus would go no further in meeting their daily food supply until they understood that their most fundamental need was not bread that perishes, but the knowledge of God found only in Him.
Jesus remembered the first and most prominent temptation of the Evil One—getting humanity to prioritize all of life around their basic survival. In Matthew 4:3–4 Satan attempted to get Jesus caught up in such need: “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” Jesus countered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
The people came for food that spoils, but Jesus pointed them to the heavenly bread that never perishes and mandated them to eat it. He pressed them further to eat His body and drink His blood: “For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me” (Jn. 6:55–57). Just as Jesus was sustained by intimate communion with and knowledge of the Father, so we are sustained by intimate communion with and knowledge of Jesus.
Life is to be found in a living encounter with the Lord of glory and His work of redemption. Beware, follower of the gospel: the seductress of compelling need comes to lure you away from the chief desire of both God and man—the knowledge of God in the person of Christ Jesus. Christology will never be secondary to the abyss of human need, and Jesus will not be reduced to our social justice fix. Jesus will not be our king on any terms other than the complete giving of our hearts to Him, as we commune with Him and behold His excellencies. In fact, the highest honor and joy God could give us is that we would base our relationship around the subject matter of His Son, for He is the highest, who was, who is, and who is to come.
To test their hearts and see if they were truly seeking Him, Jesus directly offended the multitudes over the subject matter of Christology. Exodus 20:5 and 34:14 tells us that God is a jealous God. He will not share us with another. The idea that God would end the social welfare program to the poor to ensure the crowd’s pursuit of the knowledge of Jesus is offensive to our modern sentimentality. How dare Jesus shut down the feeding program for an oppressed people in order that they should understand Him properly! However, God knows we are prone to receive His blessings detached from a heart of covenantal love.
The testimony of the prophets declares our innate tendency to forget the Lord. In Deuteronomy Jeshurun (another name for Israel) is described as riding the heights of the earth, drawing honey from the rock, and partaking of the choicest of wheat.
15“But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; you grew fat, you grew thick, you are obese! Then he forsook God who made him, and scornfully esteemed the Rock of his salvation. 16They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods. . . . 18Of the Rock who begot you, you are unmindful, and have forgotten the God who fathered you.” (Deut. 32:15–18)
Throughout Scripture we can trace all the ways in which God was forgotten during times of blessing. After the mighty miracles worked through Moses, the people “forgot God their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt” (Ps. 106:21). The children of Ephraim “forgot His works and His wonders that He had shown them” (Ps. 78:11).
8“For she did not know that I gave her grain, new wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold—which they prepared for Baal. 9Therefore I will return and take away My grain in its time and My new wine in its season, and will take back My wool and My linen, given to cover her nakedness.”
12“And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, of which she has said, ‘These are my wages that my lovers have given me.’ . . . 13She decked herself with her earrings and jewelry, and went after her lovers; but Me she forgot,” says the Lord. (Hos. 2:8–9, 12–13; cf. 13:4–6)
The words of Jeremiah (2:2–13) are particularly heart-wrenching:
2“Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: “I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal, when you went after Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. 3Israel was holiness to the Lord, the firstfruits of His increase”’” . . . 5 . . . “What injustice have your fathers found in Me, that they have gone far from Me, have followed idols, and have become idolaters?” (vv. 2–5)
7“I brought you into a bountiful country, to eat its fruit and its goodness. But when you entered, you defiled My land and made My heritage an abomination. 8The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ And those who handle the law did not know Me.” (vv. 7–8)
10“And see if there has been such a thing. 11Has a nation changed its gods, which are not gods? But My people have changed their Glory for what does not profit. 12Be astonished, O heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid; be very desolate,” says the Lord. 13“For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (vv. 10–13)
Jesus’ difficult command to eat of His body and drink of His blood drove away both the crowds and many of His disciples. John 6:66 explains: “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” Picture this: Jesus empowered these disciples to cast out devils, heal the sick, raise the dead, and preach the kingdom of God for Him. Yet He was willing to drive them away over this issue. Jesus was to be all, or He was to be nothing! The knowledge of God in Christ Jesus was the greatest human need—and still is. Unfortunately, from that moment forward many disciples left Him.
One has to wrestle with the offensive nature of God revealed in this passage where He calls them to eat His body and drink His blood. God would rather have you leave Him than stay on the periphery forever, ignorant of who He is and who you are created to be. Why? Because you were made for intimate communion. Looking at His twelve, Jesus asked them if they too wanted to leave. Peter then gives the famous response: “Where else would we go? You alone have the words of eternal life” (see Jn. 6:68–69). Peter nails the crucial issue. Who or what are we feeding upon? Are we feeding our souls upon the One who has the words of eternal life?
Jesus pressed the offense even further by calling one of His disciples, Judas, a devil. Later Judas would betray Jesus. In fact, Mary’s extravagance in breaking the alabaster jar of perfume over Jesus helped drive Judas into allowing Satan to enter him and arrange for the betrayal. “What a waste,” Judas complained. “That money could have been given to the poor.” Could it be that Judas’ offense was related to Jesus’ demand that the knowledge of God was supreme, even over the immediate compelling social need?
Now, once again, Jesus points out the greater need for communion with God around the subject matter of Himself: “But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always’” (Mk. 14:6–7).
In the midst of the disciples, busy arguing over who was going to be the greatest, Mary was the only one who heard the Savior. She alone was listening to Him prophesy concerning His coming death. As she listened, Mary was moved to pour out everything upon Him. While no one else seemed to hear, she communed, listened, and responded in love. By giving away all, she gained everything. Jesus was her life. Mary did a good work for Him that no one could take from her.
Christ, Our Chief Joy!
Our vision statements, methodologies, and discipleship materials must once again be yoked to the chief cornerstone. We must build upon one foundation alone—Christ! Our greatest need and highest joys are found in Him. The knowledge of God in the face of Christ Jesus is our daily bread. It is our sustenance. Until our lives are rooted in the experiential knowledge of Him, we remain scavenging after food that perishes and drink that never satisfies.
Much of the Church is presently consumed with many things other than Jesus. Scurrying around to address the needs of our day and expending great energy to build our visions, we forget the one thing necessary—sitting at the feet of the One who has the words of eternal life and contains all the mysteries of both God and man. We, however, should not lose hope because the Scriptures are filled with the good news of Christ. Our present disinterest with Jesus is passing away, for the prophets through the ages have declared a change is coming. The knowledge of the glory of God will be revealed and all flesh will see it (Isa. 40:5). His glory will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14). God has something very practical and pastoral in store for us that will answer every ache in our hearts; He has planned intimate communion with you through His beautiful Son Jesus around the subject matter of Himself.