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Pursuing God’s Purpose In Life

Matthew 16:13-32

Do you remember the scene in Alice in Wonderland where Alice comes to a crossroads and she says to her guide: “Which way shall I go?” And the guide replies: “That depends on where you are going.” Alice then says: “I don’t know where I’m going.” The guide answers: “Then you can take any road you wish. It doesn’t make any difference.”

Well, I encounter a lot of people in life who are just like Alice in Wonderland. They don’t know where they are going in life. They never get anywhere in the business of living, they never fulfill their purpose in life, because they don’t know what that purpose is. Whenever I encounter someone like that, I always try to point them to Jesus. Jesus had a purpose in life. He said: “My meat, my food, my daily sustenance is to do the will of Him who sent me.” Jesus pursued God’s purpose for His life every moment that He lived. That is why even in times of greatest trial and trouble, He could speak of being filled with a deep and abiding joy. And He promises that joy—full, pressed down, and running over—to everyone who serves God’s purpose as He did. That means that we can know the fullness of that joy if we but follow the guidelines so basic to Jesus’ way of life.

Here’s the first guideline: Jesus had a goal in life.

As I have studied His life, I have become convinced that Jesus always planned backwards. We talk about planning ahead. I don’t see much evidence of that in Jesus’ life. But He carefully planned backwards. He knew what His purpose was. Hour after hour spent with God in prayer had revealed that to Him. He knew what His goal was. He knew where He was going. Then having established that goal firmly in His mind, He then worked in reverse direction, laying down the steps that would be necessary to take in order to reach that goal. He planned backwards. And only after He had planned in reverse order did He begin to move ahead toward accomplishing the goal.

I think it’s fascinating to realize that back in the early 1960’s when President Kennedy committed us as a nation to a race for the moon, the people at NASA took a page from Jesus’ notebook. Oh, they may not be aware of that and they may not be willing to admit it, but it is true. They planned backwards. They first established as their goal the walk on the moon. Then working backward from that goal, they set down the various steps required to reach that goal. They planned backwards. So when Neil Armstrong took that first step on the moon, he could move ahead simply because first they had looked backwards, and planned accordingly. That’s what Jesus did.

Look at the scene which is before us today. Jesus had been working steadily in pursuit of His goal in life. Part of the process included communicating to His disciples exactly who He was. If His ultimate goal was to be reached, they had to understand where He had come from and why He was here. Now, in order to discover whether or not the disciples were grasping the things He was teaching them, Jesus set up a series of tests. You can see those tests at various points along the way in Scripture. One of those tests took place here at Caesarea Philippi. I think Jesus chose this spot deliberately. Even today if you go to Caesarea Philippi you will find the ruins of fourteen Syrian temples built to honor the pagan god, Baal. Not only that, but you will also find there a cave in a red rock cliff where the Greeks believed the god of nature had been born. Not only that, but in the same cave one finds the headwaters of the River Jordan and we know how important the Jordan River is to the faith of the Hebrew people. And not only that, but in Caesarea Philippi there is an enormous white marble temple constructed to honor Caesar—so the place was sacred to the Romans. Think about that. Here in this place which was so important for the pagans, the Jews, the Greeks and the Romans—here in this place which was dedicated to teaching four concepts of the Deity which were different from that which Jesus came to teach—here in that spot, Jesus turned to His disciples and said: “Who do you say that I am?” Notice please that when Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, Jesus replied: “That’s what I needed to hear. Now on to Jerusalem, on to the cross, on to Easter, on to the salvation of the world.” You see, one more step in the plan had been completed. Jesus always knew exactly where He was going.

You and I can know the same thing in life if we will diligently and deliberately give ourselves to prayer and the study of the Scripture. Then we shall come to see what God’s purpose for our lives really is and we can plan backwards and set out the steps needed to accomplish that goal in life. Then we can move through life knowing exactly where we are going.

The second guideline is this: Jesus knew that He would never reach the goal unless He took some risks.

Lord Halifax put it like this: “He that leaveth nothing to chance will do few things ill, but he will do few things.” That’s true. You see, what is true of the stock market is even more true of the Christian life. If we aren’t willing to risk anything in the service of the Lord, then we will never gain anything.

Jesus understood that. Look at the scene in Luke where Jesus cleansed the temple. That was a risky thing for Him to do. It was a necessary thing to do—He had to take the next step toward His ultimate goal—but there was great risk in doing it. Why? Because Jesus was punching holes in the carefully cultivated image of the pious, pompous priests of His day. And there was the greater risk still in that He was actually picking their pockets. Now you can sometimes hit someone square in the face with some great spiritual truth and they won’t even blink an eye. But if you hit them in the pocketbook with that same truth, you had better watch out. That’s what Jesus did. He hit them with the truth of Almighty God both in the eye and in the wallet. And look what happened. Get the picture. Here’s this strong young carpenter standing at the temple gates, flexing his muscles and crying out the words of Jeremiah: “You have turned my house into a den of robbers.” Then He proceeded to walk with that determined stride through corridors, reaching the tables there and grabbing them and flipping them over sending the coins clattering along the sidewalks and disappearing into the cracks. Then He grabbed a leather whip and cracking it before Him He sent the moneychangers scattering like a flushed covey of quail. Then he began turning loose all the sacrificial animals, so that the lambs with great bleating cries ran out on the city streets and the doves with a whirr of flapping wings soared skyward. And all the while He kept roaring out the words of the prophet Jeremiah. That’s the picture. That’s what happened. But oh what a risk He ran. It was a risk that would ultimately cost Him His life. But He knew that if He was going to achieve His ultimate purpose in life, He had to be willing to run that risk. That’s what made the difference. And that’s why He calls us not only to seek to discover what our purpose in life is, but also to run the risk. When we do that, fantastic things happen.

On February 18, 1952, a man named Roy Gabbie was driving a huge tractor-trailer truck on a highway north of Houston, Texas. Suddenly, a car pulled out in front of him from a side road. He swerved the truck to avoid a collision. The truck left the road and crashed into a tree. The weight of the trailer behind collapsed the cab, jamming the doors and pulling the roof down upon him, wedging the steering column against his chest. He was still alive, but hopelessly trapped. A crowd gathered quickly. Someone called out: “Look, it’s on fire.” Sure enough, the flames were beginning to lick up from beneath the truck, coming close to the fuel tanks. Help would not arrive in time. The people cried: “What can we do?” Nobody moved. Nobody was willing to run the risk…except one man. He walked over to the cab of the truck, took hold of the handle, now hot with the heat of the fire. With one great burst of strength, he pulled it loose. Then with his bare hands, he patted out the flames in the floor mats of the cab. Then slowly, but surely—the fire was moving closer to the fuel tanks—he slowly wormed his way up into the inside of that cab so that he was up over the pinned driver. In that position he placed his shoulder against the steering column and pushed with all his might. The steering wheel moved just a few inches. Then standing on the floor of the cab straddling the driver, he bent his head and placed the back of his neck and his shoulders up against the top of the cab. He began to push. His clothing was beginning to catch fire. His flesh was cut. But he pushed and he pushed with great echoing cries of exertion, he pushed. The roof gave way. He pulled the driver out to safety just moments before the whole thing exploded. The people in the crowd looked at him as if he were a miracle. But he wasn’t a miracle. He had the same purpose that everyone else in the crowd had. “Get the man out of the truck before it is too late.” The difference was that he was willing to run the risk. There in the moment of danger, with his adrenaline flowing, he found a strength and a power he never knew he had.

That’s what Jesus wants us to know: that if we pursue God’s purpose in life and if we are willing to run some risks in the name of the Lord, then we shall discover a strength and a power beyond our imagining.

But then there’s the third guideline: Jesus knew that God would win the victory.

There came that moment on the cross when suddenly He rent the skies with a triumphant cry: “Tetelesthai—It is finished! I have achieved the goal. I have fulfilled my purpose in life. I have done what God has called me to do. Now to God belongs the victory.” And ever since he uttered that cry, new chapters in the Book of Acts are are being written every day by men and women and young people who know themselves to be saved by Jesus Christ, who are permitting themselves to be inspired by Him, and who are daring to live their lives as He has called them to live. They have a purpose in life and they know it—to seek and to do God’s will. They are willing to run whatever risks may be necessary to accomplish that goal. They know that ultimately the victory belongs to God.

I think I can tie it all together by sharing with you the story of a man who is being called “a twentieth century saint.” My family and I have had the privilege of hearing him speak. His name is John Perkins. He was converted to Jesus Christ in 1957. He gave his life entirely into the hands of the Lord. Out of that experience he began to see what was God’s purpose for his life. He was to bring the word of God to those people whose skin happened to be black like his. He settled down in a little place called Mendenhall, Mississippi in 1960. Knowing his purpose, he planned backwards, establishing a series of goals. The first step was to reach the children. He and his wife began to travel around to the rural schools of Central Mississippi, telling the children the stories of Jesus. Before long they were reaching 10,000 children per month. Building on that foundation, he established a church. It began to grow. The Gospel was being preached and souls were being won. Then, because there were so many poor people in his flock, he knew they needed help with food. The church banded together and purchased a few acres of farmland and a small country grocery store, and the church began to feed some of those who were hungry, giving them not only the Bread of Life, but also bread for the body. His reputation began to grow. But it was risky in those days to be a well-known black man in Mississippi. One day he was arrested on a trumped-up charge. The sheriff began by beating him. Then the deputies began to play games with him—like putting a single bullet in a revolver, spinning it, putting it to his head, and pulling the trigger. Finally he was pounded into unconsciousness and left in a ditch. It was months before he recovered. But he continued to pursue God’s purpose—preaching God’s Word and telling children the stories of Jesus. Now they have the strongest church in that part of the state—always the Gospel being proclaimed, always held out first and last, everything else just steps toward the goal. The church now has developed 25 different self-help and vocational training programs for the disadvantaged—no government money or influence at all—just that church and a group of white and black Christian businessmen all pulling together—and things are being turned around. They have a Bible Institute in Jackson, Mississippi; they have a campus ministry at Jackson State; they have the first black-owned, black-operated medical center in Mississippi. Now after thirty years, John Perkins knows what it is to stand in the awesome flow of the power of God because he was willing to pursue God’s purpose in his life. Today people from all over the United States travel to Mendenhall, Mississippi to see John Perkins and his remarkable ministry called “The Voice of Calvary.” And by the way, the sheriff who so mercilessly beat John Perkins all those years ago now, teaches a children’s Bible Class at the Voice of Calvary Bible Institute.

That’s what it is, my friend, to stand in the flow of the power of the Almighty—to pursue His purpose for your life, to run the risks, and to know that He will bring the victory. I call us—you and me—to begin living like that. For then we shall be able to say with Paul: “This one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal which is the call of God to eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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