Kneeling Before God: the Cost

Wisdom's Friend

Kneeling Before God: the Cost

There is a lot of foolish talk about God in the world. Some are so foolish as to dare to proclaim that he does not even exist. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'” (Ps. 4:2 ESV). But even those who think that he might exist, and search for him, often do not realize the depths of what it is for which they are searching–and what it will cost them to find it and to know it. This is what God says about that.

“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you”‘” (Ex. 3:14 ESV).

God exists. He is. And “that which is, is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?” (Ecc. 7:24 RSV).

Many claim to be seeking God. Few know how deep such a quest is or how deeply it will affect their lives. It is a truly life-changing aspiration, the highest a human being can embark upon. For an example of how little aware many are of this profundity or what it will cost them to know it, look at an incident in Jesus’ life. A sincere seeker of the truth came to Jesus, wanting desperately to know the truth, the truth about the deepest realities of life.

“And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'” (Mk. 10:17 ESV).

Can we not sense here this man’s sincerity–and his desperation?–as opposed to those who asked Jesus questions out of a desire to trap him (Mt. 22:15). This man was different; we know it because he knelt before Jesus, thus publicly acknowledging his own lack and Jesus’ fullness. He was a seeker of truth; he acknowledged that Jesus had what he was seeking.

In reply, Jesus directed this inquirer to the well-known laws with which the seeker was well-familiar, the commandments of the Scriptures:

“You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother'” (Mk. 10:19 ESV).

In doing this, Jesus did not go beyond what the world’s religions teach. For all religions have their own code of conduct. So far in this conversation, nothing out of the ordinary has taken place. A sensitive person has become aware that there is more to life than pleasure and the many other things with which people occupy their lives. But there is a distinction in this man. Unlike so many who seem unaware and unconcerned about their eternal destiny, he is extremely aware of how short is life and how long eternity. He must know the answer before it is too late: What must he do to not have death be the final answer to his life? How can he live forever?

Suddenly the meeting is not merely another social encounter but a pivotal moment in this person’s life. He has broken through the crowd and dared to bare his soul and its doubts to the crowd, to all the world. But he does not care. All the philosophers and religious around Jesus, who sought him out of curiosity or for stimulating mental debate, must give way to him now; he will not be denied his moment with the Good Teacher. This is perhaps the only time in his life that he will have the chance to have his soul’s deepest desire to be addressed by the only one who can do so, and he will not be denied this crucial moment. His very life hangs in the balance on what Jesus will say to him. What is the answer, Teacher? What must I do that I have not done, so that God will accept me and I will live with the Eternal One forever?

As he kneels before Jesus, looking up to him in desperation, Scripture says that Jesus looked at him and loved him. How could he not love him? Jesus, being God, had the ability to know what was in a person’s heart (Ps. 44:21, Mk. 2:8). And in this person’s heart he surely saw the sincerity and honesty of this man’s cry for the answer to eternal life. Here was a true seeker of the truth and God. How could he who is truth (Jn. 14:6) not love one who seeks that truth so ardently? And so Jesus gave this seeker of the truth that for which he sought so diligently:

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me'” (Mk. 10:21 ESV).

And now comes the tragic truth about seeking the truth: If you truly want to know the truth, you must be prepared to accept the consequences of knowing the truth. What? There are consequences to knowing the truth? Assuredly so–just as there are for not knowing the truth. And this one seeking the truth was not prepared for those consequences. “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Mk. 10:22 ESV).

Now, why should he go away sad? He had finally found what he had been searching for so desperately his whole life. Surely he should be happy and rejoice that his search is finally over and successful. But he is not. There is a problem, a huge problem. He was one who was truly a seeker of the truth and God, yes, and the love of truth really was in his life. But that was the problem: It was in his life but it was not his life itself. It was not his first and highest love. It was part of his life but not all of it.

This is the crux of the whole matter, not only for this person of long ago but for every one of us today. We can truly want to know the truth about God and reality and life, but not want to deal with the consequences of having this knowledge. For knowledge always brings consequences. Just ask Adam and Eve. But if we are not willing to accept the consequences of knowing, then it is better not to know at all. For to whom much is given, much is required (Lk. 12:48).

“It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them” (2 Pt. 2:21 NIV).

“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin” (Jn. 15:22 NIV).

Jesus had come and spoken to this seeker of the truth, who had conscientiously kept all the commandments–a claim which Jesus did not dispute with him. Yet Jesus said that even though he had kept all the commandments, thus seemingly satisfying God’s law, something was still missing. How can this be? Isn’t that the covenant God had made with his people: Do these things and you shall live? (Lev. 18:5).

Yes, this is true. But there is more to this covenant than obedience, as important as that is. That obedience must be given by man to God, but it must not be relied upon for eternal life. For that is to trust what man does rather than what God does. That is to trust the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law, and, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6 WEB).

The world is concerned about outward appearance. Both the publican in Jesus’ parable (Lk. 18:9-14) and this seeker of truth now before him really were faultless, in human terms, in keeping the law. That was why Jesus did not argue with them concerning that area. Instead, he put his finger on the one area in which they did lack (Jas. 2:10), an area that neither they nor the outside world could see because it was hidden away in their heart, and only he who sees into the human heart can expose such sin that undoes all outward compliance with the law: loving something more than God. In each case, the person came before God proud of his obedience to God’s commandments. His trust was in himself rather than in God. Yet, in the case of the man kneeling before Jesus, even this obedience had not brought him peace. Why not? What did he still lack? That was the very question that plagued his heart. He had to know.

Jesus sensed the unspoken question of lack, and answered it with the truth about the man’s heart, thus exposing who he really was. Yet that truth was spoken in love by Jesus (Eph. 4:15). He did not wish to add to the condemnation which the man felt in his own heart, but to free him from it. So he told him how to be free, to replace what was his present first love in his heart, his wealth, with love for God, and to come and follow him (Mk. 10:21).

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 Jn. 2:15-17 NIV).

There it is. Love for God and his truth lead one to come to Jesus for eternal life, whereas love for the world or anything in it will prevent the attaining of life eternal in him unless that love for the world is replaced by the higher love for God.

Who can find God? Certainly not the casual seeker, one who does not consider this inquiry to be the supreme quest of life. God is the ultimate, supreme Lord of all that exists. As such, he does not take lightly those who take him lightly, but speaks words of disdain to their presumption of coming before him as hypocritical seekers of the truth.

“You defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, declares the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you” (Ezk. 20:31 ESV).

And what are these idols which insincere seekers of the truth worship and which turn God away from them? Anything other than complete and total honesty and sincerity towards the truth and wanting to know it. Such idolatry is far more common than most people realize. For many are they who claim that they want to know the truth, but, in fact, they prefer deception and lies to knowing the truth (Is. 30:10).

For God is truth (Jn. 14:6), and when one comes to him, that truth knocks at the door of the soul (Rev. 3:20), seeking intimate relationship with that seeker of truth. But when that knock is unanswered and truth is refused entrance, then that unopened door is witness to the fact that the seeker was not sincere in wanting to know the truth after all (Jn. 3:19-20).

No, there cannot be a half-hearted search for the truth and the God who is truth. There is no higher quest for our lives. This is because the object of our quest is the highest object of all that exists or can exist. The nature of the goal determines the nature of the quest. God is under no compulsion to let himself be found by just anyone who claims to be a seeker of truth, but he has promised that he will honor any search that is in accord with who he is, that is, the ultimate, the highest. Highest demands highest. For those who search not half-heartedly but whole-heartedly, God issues this promise:

“You shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13 WEB).

Nevertheless, though God is not under any compulsion to honor half-hearted searching for him, he often does so anyway; or even more compassionately, he lets himself be found by those who do not seek him at all.

“I made myself available to those who did not ask for me; I appeared to those who did not look for me. I said, ‘Here I am! Here I am!’ to a nation that did not invoke my name” (Is. 65:1 NET).

If this were not so, how could any be saved? For who among us self-centered human beings ever really, totally seeks anything other than that which will benefit us? Who among us ever totally forgets self and seeks to honor and benefit someone else?

“For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 2:21 NIV).

Those words of Paul are an indictment of the whole human race. Though he spoke otherwise concerning Timothy, saying that he was the only one among Paul’s friends who did not fit that description, we can be sure that it was only the spirit of Christ within Timothy that eliminated him from the universal failure of human beings to get out completely from under their own self-centered focus.

But whether it is Timothy, or the man kneeling before Jesus who was seeking the truth, or anyone else seeking God and truth, the search must be whole-hearted; we must seek with our whole being, all that we are.

“You must love him with all your heart, soul, and might” (Dt. 6:5 TLB).
“You must love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength” (Dt. 6:5 NET).

This is the cost of coming to know God. It requires all that we are, our very being. Even so, it is free in the sense that we cannot do anything to force God to reveal himself to us, nothing to earn knowledge of him. Even our total surrender of our entire life to him in such a search does not qualify us to know him; it simply enables us to know him; it prepares the way, much as John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus to come (Mt. 3:1-3).

And then, once we finally find ourselves before this Jesus, he who is the truth and gateway to eternal life and that life himself, what then? Then comes the fire. The Holy Spirit of God comes to the heart of the sincere seeker of God and burns away all pretense, all false ideas of one’s self and God. This is consequence of knowing the truth.

When God’s people were freed from slavery in Egypt, they wandered in the harsh environment of the desert wilderness, during which time they had this same, required meeting with God, just as the man kneeling before Jesus. Anyone who desires to know God must come to this crucial juncture. There, at the mountain of God, came the moment of truth, the moment when the fire of God came down and revealed to them who He is and who they were:

“Moses summoned all Israel and said: Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our fathers that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. The Lord spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. (At that time I stood between the Lord and you to declare to you the word of the Lord, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain)” (Dt. 5:1-5 NIV).

Notice the mention of the laws of God and the command to learn them and follow them. But notice also that the revelation does not stop there. It says that there, on the mountain, God spoke to the people face to face out of the fire. The world is more than ready to accept a religion that requires rules to be obeyed. This appeals to the legalistic mind of man, the same mindset that drove the devil to argue with God over the body of this same Moses (Jd. 1:9). For that is the devil’s way. Since he does not have the power to defeat God, he seeks to wrangle what he desires from him through legal means. That is why the religions of the world are so full of rules and teachings–very legalistic–because they are based on the false way of the enemy of God, who is very legalistic, rather than on the one true way of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Obeying a religion of rules has always been the choice of the world because it allows one to escape the fire of God that pins one down to the truth of the sinful nature of the human soul. That fire is so fearful and awesome in nature that the human soul instinctively draws back from it. That is why Moses said to the people who sought God, “You were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain” (Dt. 5:5).

But the mountain is where God is. Therefore, though seeking God, if the seeker refuses to go up to the mountain because of fear of the fire that will expose his own heart of darkness, then there will be no successful answer to the quest for God. For the mountain that requires total dedication to reaching the goal at the top of that mountain is the same mountain that is encircled with fire that must be gone through to reach the prized goal at the top. There is no other way than through the fire.

“We went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance” (Ps. 66:12 NIV).

That is the reward for those who do not draw back in fear from the fire of God, the fire that exposes and reveals their true nature to themselves. For those who overcome their fear through loving God more than their own lives, there is the great reward of finding their lives all over again, only this time it is eternal life.

“But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Heb. 10:39 ESV).

The man who thought he would go to any lengths to find eternal life and knelt before Jesus, unafraid of Jesus’ examination of his life regarding obedience to the commandments, found, in the end, that he was not, after all, willing to pay the price for knowing God. It was just too costly for one who loved something else more than he knew. He did not know his own heart. But when one seeks to know God, then knowledge of one’s own heart comes with it; in fact, it comes before it, for who will seek out God and his salvation unless he first knows that he needs this salvation? And who would think that he needs salvation unless the depths of his own heart first are exposed? Thus the need for the fire of God. It exposes and burns away that which cannot stand the heat and fire of total truth: God.

“Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord” (Jer. 23:29 ESV).

No wonder, then, that the people who saw the mountain on fire with the fire of God trembled before Moses and said, “We have even heard his voice from the heart of the fire. Now we know that a man may speak to God and not die; but we will surely die if he speaks to us again. This awesome fire will consume us” (Dt. 5:24-25 TLB).

The fire of God will consume all who pass through it. But that is something to be desired, not shunned. Is that not why the seeker came and knelt before Jesus?For is that not the real cry of our hearts, to be delivered from ourselves, our sinful hearts? For all those who surrender themselves to this flame, they will finally then find that for which they have been seeking for so long. For this ultimate prize, knowing God, no price is too great to pay.

“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev. 12:11 ESV).

For out of death comes life. There is no way to find the eternal life which the kneeling seeker sought in Jesus than to come to an end of ourselves so that Jesus can become all to us. One life must be laid down and die so that the greater life can then sprout up and live within us. Every time a sinner repents and accepts Jesus as Savior, this cycle repeats itself; the death of Jesus on the cross and the subsequent resurrection from that death is repeated anew in each conversion of a sinner to new life in Christ.

“As he is so also are we in this world” (1 Jn. 4:17 ESV).

And notice, too, how the passage about the people in the wilderness meeting God and his fire at the mountain mentions more than once that it is not only the fire but “the heart of the fire”, a face-to-face encounter with God. Both of these phrases imply something far deeper than simply coming upon God in one’s life. It is one thing to hear of a mighty warrior and lord second hand, through the words of others. It is something entirely different to come face to face with this one before whom all tremble simply from hearing his name. That is the difference between hearing about God and hearing him speak personally to you, face to face.

“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5 NIV).

Those are the words Job uttered after coming face to face with God.

“When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Lk. 5:8 NIV).

Those are the words of another man who came face to face with the God of all creation–the same man who, twice, in other places and times, declared with all his heart that he would never leave this God (Jn. 6:68, Jn. 13:38). Like Peter and he who knelt before Jesus, there is something about this man Jesus that compels sinful human beings both to be attracted to him and repelled by him. For when we are truthful with ourselves, we know that we need this Savior sent from God. Yet our pride and selfish nature also reacts violently to his presence. For sinful man cannot abide in the presence of the Holy God unless that same holy God cleanses that which cannot abide in his presence. This he does through his Son, Jesus the Christ–if only we will bow the knee and accept him as our Savior.

So we have three instances here of kneeling before the Lord of all creation:

One, the seeker of truth kneeling before Jesus and going away sad and emptier than before he came, because he could not let go of that which he loved more than Jesus.

Two, the disciple who was torn between wanting Jesus in his life and suffering agony when he was because that presence made him painfully aware of his sin, so painful that he cried out in despair for Jesus to depart from him. Yet he knew that that would be even worse pain, so he persevered and endured the pain so that in the end, he obtained the prize of being with him without fear forever in eternity.

And third . . . wait, where was there mention of a third kneeling before Jesus, the Lord of all creation? That third kneeling has not yet occurred. But it is coming. We have God’s Word on that. At that time, there will be no choice. ALL will kneel before Jesus as Lord of all creation because that is the proper and fitting and right thing to do, and at that time God will restore all that is proper and fitting and right.

“God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11 NIV).

Friend, where are you with God right now? Have you knelt your knee in surrender to him as your Lord and Savior? Or have you turned your back on him and walked away because you love something or someone more than him? And just what or who is it that you love than can possibly compare with him who gave his life for you?

“He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me isn’t worthy of me” (Mt. 10:37 WEB).

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Mt. 16:26 ESV).

Don’t be a fool. There is a God and he has given you time to accept the one way he has provided to make you clean and acceptable to him, through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ.

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:14-19 NIV).

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