Presence vs. Participation

And one said unto him, “Lord, are they few that are saved?”
And he said unto them, “Strive to enter in by the narrow door: for many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying,
‘Lord, open to us;’
and he shall answer and say to you, ‘I know you not whence ye are;’
then shall ye begin to say, ‘We did eat and drink in thy presence, and thou didst teach in our streets;’
and he shall say, ‘I tell you, I know not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity'” (Luke 13:23-27).

Every generation seems to have its great events and personalities, and people cling tightly to the memory of being present for them and with them. People today still talk about where they were and what they were doing when they heard that John F. Kennedy was shot, or the Challenger space shuttle went down, or when they heard about the 9/11 attacks. Many people remember fondly how they directly participated in great events of their day: a presidential inauguration, or a music celebration, or some other iconic event. Others remember fondly when they had the opportunity to hear a given speaker of some reputation.

Imagine, then, what it must have been like to live in first century Israel and to see and hear Jesus of Nazareth! Consider what it must have been like if Jesus came into your village. You saw the sick healed, demons cast out, and the blind given the ability to see (Matthew 9:35). You heard His wonderful teachings and felt a sense of pride and great expectation. You have been able to see the Son of God Himself!

Then, as with all men, your earthly life ends and you stand before the same Jesus on the day of judgment. You feel hopeful– after all, you were there! You saw Him work His power! Maybe He even recognizes you!

But then the message you hear is quite distressing– “Sorry. I never knew you, for you did that which was evil.” After it is too late, you have learned the lesson: it was not enough just to be present. In order to obtain the blessings of Jesus and His Kingdom, you had to be an active participant!

Granted, none of us have seen Jesus in the flesh or were present when He spoke as He did in Luke 13:23-27. Yet we can still hear about Jesus and the things which He accomplished. We can decide to spend our time with people who seek God and His righteousness first (cf. Matthew 6:33). We may also hear various messages about Jesus from various parts of our society and get the impression that as long as we mentally recognize that Jesus is Lord, everything will be just fine. We may feel that as Americans we are God’s new chosen people and that we will certainly enter Heaven– after all, we are Americans, there are a lot of great people in America, and surely God loves Americans enough to save them.

Holiness and righteousness are not like the cold or the flu– they cannot be “caught” by mere presence or exposure. One cannot become holy or righteous simply by being around holy and righteous people, or by just hearing the message of holiness and righteousness (cf. James 1:22-25). We cannot simply be present– we must decide to participate!

The Kingdom is not for “professors,” those who profess belief in Jesus and little more, but it is for those who do the will of the Father (cf. Matthew 7:21-23). We may feel a special attachment to Jesus or to Christianity because we have been present for its message or have experienced it in some way, but that, on its own, does not mean that we get closer to God. Instead, we must seek to enter by the narrow door– the path laid out by Jesus (cf. Matthew 7:13-14, 1 John 2:1-6). We must participate by becoming God’s humble obedient servants, seeking His will and not our own (Romans 6, Galatians 2:20). Let us strive to not just be present but also to participate in God’s Kingdom!

Ethan R. Longhenry

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