A Portrait of Jesus Painted By His Best Friend: His Purpose
It is said that there are two great beginnings in life: the day when we were born and the day when we discover why we were born.
Not long after Albert Schweitzer died, Norman Cousins, then the editor of the Saturday Review, wrote a beautiful tribute to the missionary physician. The article concluded with these words “but beyond explanations it seems to me there is something else about Schweitzer that made him what he was. The best way I can say it is that somehow or other, he seemed to understand what God wanted from him and he responded with a glad and willing heart.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have that same sense of purpose in your life and in mine? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to understand what God wants from us and to be able to respond with a glad and willing heart? Some people do that, others do not. Why? Perhaps one of the reasons is because some people have not tried to discern what God would like for them to do.
Jesus certainly understood what God wanted from Him. Jesus and His disciples were making their way toward Jerusalem. The closer they got to that city, the more convinced Jesus was about His mission and His purpose in life. It was clear to Him that His mission, His reason for being, His purpose, was to move toward the cross and to die on our behalf.
Lou Holtz, the famous football coach, now the head coach at South Carolina loves to tell about the kamikaze pilot in World War II who flew 54 missions! The humor of that, of course, is found in that kamikaze pilots were trained to fly only one mission in which they would dive bomb their own plane into some target, therefore sacrificing their life. However, this one had managed to fly 54 missions without ever having done what he was trained to do. One could say that he was involved but not committed. Jesus was not only involved, Jesus was totally committed to His mission. It was the single driving force in His life, even though He knew that every step taken toward Jerusalem was one step closer to His death on the cross. He wouldn’t be diverted from fulfilling that purpose. He wouldn’t hunt for an excuse to escape the consequences. He wouldn’t dodge either the pain or the responsibility which was being imposed upon Him. He was absolutely convinced that this was why He was born. Listen to His own words: “Now my heart is troubled and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No. It was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” You can hear His sense of purpose and mission echoing in the power of His own words.
Is it possible in this day and age to have that kind of certainty of purpose in life? The Bible tells us that it is. However, we will experience that only if we are focused on what God wants rather than on what we want. To have a great, consuming purpose in life can be most rewarding. It may be a big purpose or a small one. Your purpose today may not be the same as it was last week or last year or ten years ago. Your purpose today may change by tonight or by next year. That’s the way it is with God. But our task is not to make a firm conclusion about our purpose. Our task is to try to stay in tune with what God wants and to discern what God would like for us to do at this moment in time. And so today I’d like you to consider with me the value of being totally committed to such a consuming purpose in life.
It can give your life a sense of direction.
From an unknown poet we read these words: “There are a number of us who creep into this world to eat and sleep and know no reason why they’re bom but merely to consume the corn, devour the cattle, foul, and fish, and leave behind an empty dish. The crows and raven do the same, unlucky birds of hateful name and swallow corn and carcasses and then, if their tombstone when they die contain no flattery nor lie, there’s nothing better will be said that they’ve eaten all their bread, drank up their drink and gone to bed.”
There is a fundamental difference between existing and living. Those who live are those whose purpose in life gives them a sense of direction. A minister delivered a Baccalaureate sermon on a college campus and when he had finished he was speaking informally with a number of students. One of them was a young man by the name of Robert. The minister asked Robert what he intended to do after college. The young student said that he was going to law school. The minister asked, “And then what?” Robert said that he planned to get married. And then what? He would have children. And then what? He would work his way to the top and earn a lot of money. And then what? He would retire early and travel. And then what? “That’s about it,” Robert said. The minister, with eyes that seared the young man’s soul said: “Robert, your plans are too small. They will last you for a few short years, but then what?” Robert, you see, was not looking beyond the future job and profession to some greater purpose in his life. There are too many people who confuse ambition with purpose.
You may remember the name Paul Tsongas. He was a presidential candidate several years back. He was stricken with cancer, causing him to retire from the Senate, but then he came back to embark upon the race for President. During the campaign he was interviewed by Howard Fineman at Newsweek Magazine. Fineman opened with this question: “When you left the Senate in 1984, didn’t you say that you would never get back into politics, even if you were cured of cancer?” Paul Tsongas answered: “Yes. It never entered my mind that I would do that. But you see, people don’t understand the difference between ambition and a sense of purpose.” Paul Tsongas was right. There is a fundamental difference between ambition and purpose. Ambition has to do with drive and motivation and recognition and self-gratification. Purpose, on the other hand, has more to do with a calling from beyond the self; something that lays hold to us; something that overpowers us and governs and controls our everyday experience.
Jesus was committed to a great purpose. We all need to have that kind of purpose in life- something that is beyond fulfilling personal ambition. It is a sense of purpose that can bring direction to our lives.
And it will give you assurance that your life makes a difference.
What kind of life shall you and I live? Shall we live only for ourselves or shall we live fruitful, productive lives for others? I want to suggest to you that it is possible that much of the violence that we experience in our society today is caused by persons who feel that their life does not make any difference. Recently I was told of a high school girl who wanted so badly to be accepted into a gang that she was willing to endure the initiation rites which required her to be beaten up by members of the very gang she wanted to join. I know that doesn’t make much sense to many of us here this morning, but I can tell you apparently it does make sense to some kids. That young girl who was willing to have a gang beat her up must feel that her life makes very little difference and therefore she is willing to endure any kind of treatment in order to give her that sense of purpose in life.
That’s why I am so convinced that much of what we do in the ministry of this church, particularly as it is directed toward youth and children, is to give to those who are coming along behind us a sense of a consuming purpose in life that will enable them to feel that their lives will make a difference; that they can, in fact, change the world. You see, when someone catches a glimpse of that kind of purpose in life, a purpose which is much larger than themselves, an amazing miracle takes place. Their lives take on a new direction because they believe that they do make a difference.
We all know the story of Mother Teresa and her untiring efforts to care for the poor and dying. But you know that was not always the case in her life. For some twenty years she taught school for children of the wealthy in the city of Calcutta. For many years she did not seem to see the impoverished slums and the people living and dying in the streets that surrounded the well-to-do neighborhood in which she taught. It would seem that she was perfectly content with her life. And then one day all of that changed. One night, while walking home, she heard a dying woman in the gutter crying out for help. Realizing the seriousness of the woman’s condition, Mother Teresa picked her up and carried her to the nearest hospital and there she waited and waited until someone came. They told her that nothing could be done for the woman because there were so many others ahead of her in line. Mother Teresa knew the woman would not live long if she did not receive medical attention right away. So she carried the woman to another hospital where she was told that nothing could be done for the woman because she was of the wrong caste. In desperation, Mother Teresa took the woman to her own home. Later that night, the woman died in the comfort of Mother Teresa’s loving arms. But that was the turning point in Mother Teresa’s life. She vowed that as long as persons were dying without medical attention that she would devote the rest of her life to trying to provide not only the medical help, but would also make certain that those who were sick and dying would know that they were not alone- that God was with them. At that critical moment in history, Mother Teresa’s purpose in life changed- changed dramatically- and she began to tell that she was now making a difference. And oh, what a difference she made!
Try to discern what God would like for you to be doing in life, whatever that purpose may be. It may very well help you to feel that your life makes a difference.
It will give your life and assurance of destiny.
The secret of discovering one’s destiny is to believe that God wants you to do something. Now what God wants you to do may not be what you would like to do. Our destiny more often, is fashioned out of doing what we feel God wants more than what we want. I think of a young seminary graduate who received a call to his first church. It was more of a disappointment than anything else. He didn’t want to have to go where he was being called. He groused and grumbled. A fellow student actually saved the day when, in an effort to help, he said to the upset student: “You know the world is a better place because Michaelangelo didn’t say, ‘I don’t do ceilings’”. Stop and think about that. From the very beginning pages of the Bible, clear to the end we have one story after another of men, women, young people, and even children who are led by the fire burning in their souls. They were willing to do what God wanted them to do- even though they may have wanted to do something else themselves. This world is a better place because Moses didn’t say: “I don’t do rivers.” Noah didn’t say: “I don’t do arks.” Jeremiah didn’t say: “I don’t do weeping.” Amos didn’t say: “I don’t do speeches.” Ruth didn’t say: “I don’t do mothers-in-law.” David didn’t say: “I don’t do giants.” Peter didn’t say: “I don’t do Gentiles.” Mary didn’t say: “I don’t do virgin births.” Mary Magdalene didn’t say: “I don’t do feet.” John the Baptist didn’t say: “I don’t do deserts.” Paul didn’t say: “I don’t do prisons.” Jesus didn’t say: “ I don’t do crosses.”
Well, what did Jesus say? “This is the reason that I have come to this hour.” Jesus would not say: “Father, save me from this hour.” He said: “This is the reason I have come to this hour.” Jesus did not choose the task. God chose it for Him. But Jesus gave Himself to fulfilling God’s purpose in His life. The challenge is the same for us. When we give ourselves to fulfilling God’s purpose in our lives, then we achieve the assurance of destiny.
I want to close this morning by telling you about a man who discovered his divine destiny. His name was William McLaughlin. He was a law student at the University of Chicago. One Saturday, Will McLaughlin was visiting his uncle, Frank Gonzales, who was the minister of the First Congregational Church of Chicago. The congregation had outgrown the church and they were building a new one. Arrangements had been made for them to hold their Easter services in the newly-opened theater which boasted of having the largest seating capacity in the country. On the day before Easter, Will McLaughlin contacted his uncle and asked him what his sermon was going to be on the next morning- Easter Sunday. His uncle said: “I have chosen my text from the Gospel of John where Jesus said, ‘for this I was born and for this I have come into the world.’” Will McLaughlin said that he would look forward to hearing that sermon the next day. On Easter morning when Will McLaughlin arrived at the theater, he found it engulfed in flames. This was in the days before inspections were required, and consequently, the congregation was allowed to use the building before the fire escapes had been installed. Will McLaughlin immediately climbed two flights of stairs through flames in order to try to reach a group of people who were trapped in the balcony. He found a plank and pushed it across the alley to the window ledge of a neighboring building and proceeded then to help people across that rather flimsy bridge to safety. However, by the time Will McLaughlin was ready to cross, the plank had burned enough so that it gave way under his weight and he plunged far down to the pavement below. As the emergency medical personnel placed him on a stretcher preparing to carry him to the hospital, Will McLaughlin’s uncle, Frank Gonzales, was summoned. When he arrived, Will looked up and said: “Uncle Frank, I’ve been thinking about your sermon for Easter Sunday. Maybe the text fits me: ‘For this is why I was born and for this I have come into the world.’” Well, we may not all have that same high calling, but each of us can try to determine what it is that God is calling us to do right now. When you discover what it is, you also discover that your life has direction and that you do make a difference. But most of all, when you discover what it is that God is calling you to do, you discover your divine destiny.
You begin to realize, like Jesus, you are heaven-bound.