By Pastor Glenn Pease
Marguerite Higgins, Pulitzer Prize winner for international reporting, stood by a marine during the Korean War. It was 42 below zero, and the soldier was weary and covered with frozen mud. She asked him, " If I were God and could grant you anything you wished, what would you most like?" He stood motionless for a moment and then raised his head and replied, "Give me tomorrow." In a fear-filled world of uncertainty where there is a big question mark about whether or not man has the sanity to prevent a nuclear holocaust, this is a common choice-give me tomorrow.
On the other hand, Peter Bagdanovich, the well-known director of The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon, was asked why he makes all his movies of the past. He replied, "I like any time better than now. I just don't like what is happening today. The music bores me, the cars are ugly, the people are dull. So I retreat to the past." In a decaying world where so much of what was once good is being lost by the modern mania for the new at any cost, this is the choice of millions-give me yesterday.
Each of us can identify with both choices, for they are the only two directions anybody can go to escape today. Retreat to the past, or march forward into the future. Each choice has its values that can be defended, but Jesus in the Sermon On The Mount rejects them both. Instead, Jesus chooses to third alternative, the one the other two are trying avoid. He says, don't escape to yesterday or tomorrow, but stand fast, and live for today. Now is where its at.
The Lord's Prayer in chapter 6 is a now prayer. Give us this day our daily bread. All of its petitions are for now. Hallowed be your name-now. Thy kingdom come now. Thy will be done on earth-now. Forgive us and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, not eventually, but now, today. The Christian life is a now life. Jesus began this sermon with the beatitudes, and you will notice they are not past or future, they are present. Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the meek; blessed are the merciful, etc. All of them deal with the now and not the some day. Not, blessed will be, but blessed are. The Christian life is to be a blessed life now.
The whole emphasis in this sermon on prevention is based on the now principle. You do not wait until your anger becomes murderous hatred to deal with it. You control it when it is developing right now. You don't wait until lust is boiling passion to deal with it. It is not, get them while they are hot when it comes to emotions, but get them while there warm, or even cool. You don't give the germs of evil a chance to develop and create infection, but you go after them now. Catch the disease in its early stages, and stop it before it progresses. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country, and their souls as well. Now is always the best time when it comes to prevention. The best time to do anything is between yesterday and tomorrow.
In this passage Jesus gives some specific examples of how the now principle is applied. The gist of them is this: Little problems don't tend to fade away, but tend to grow and become bigger, and so deal with them now when they are small, and not later. If you have a bad relationship developing with someone, you don't wait until resentment has time to fester and make healing hard. You don't say after I worship God on Sunday, I'll try to patch it up on Monday. That is the give me tomorrow choice, and Jesus says don't make that choice. Drop what you were doing, and settle the matter today. Now is always the best time to do what prevents evil from building a stronger wall. "Don't let the sun go down upon your wrath." Why not? Because you are choosing procrastination as a method of dealing with sin, and it is not a wise choice. Deal with your anger today, and prevent all of the sorrow it can produce when you let it go another day.
In verse 25 Jesus says, don't wait until you get to court to settle a conflict. This is obviously a case where the accused knows he is guilty. Do the right thing now says Jesus. Quickly agree with your accuser, and settle the issue out of court. If you procrastinate and let the thing drag on into tomorrow, you will suffer the consequences tomorrow. Get your punishment over today by settling the issue today. This is the only wise choice. There are endless court cases that waste years and millions of dollars, and magnify the miseries of everybody involved, that could have been settled in an hour if people were wise enough to choose the now way.
The whole point of Jesus in the radical statements of verses 29 and 30 about gouging out your eye, and cutting off your hand, is not to promote mutilation of the body, but to give emphasis to the importance of the now and prevention. Don't wait for the future day of judgment to let God deal with your rebellious body. Deal with it yourself, and do it now. Bring it under your control, and choose to regulate its activities now. It is folly to wait. The wise are into the discipline of today. In chapter 6 Jesus deals with all of the anxieties of life, and He says in verse 34, summing it all up, "Don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough troubles of its own." Just seek God's kingdom and His righteousness today, and life will be okay.
One last illustration of this theme is in 7:12. Jesus gives us the Golden Rule that sums up the Law and the Prophets. "Do unto others what you would have them do to you." That is the essence of the victorious life. You live in the here and now, and you do today in your relationships with others what you want them to do to you. The Golden Rule is golden because it is a rule as relevant as the golden sun that shines today, and each day. It is a rule for living, not in the past, or in the future, but today.
The priest and the Levite, who walked by the wounded man on the road said, give me tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow I will not be so busy, and I can get involved in such an inconvenience, but not today. The Good Samaritan was good, and what Jesus expects the Christian to be, because he was a now man. He responded in love now, because the need was now, and tomorrow would too late. Jesus is not saying we can do everything at once, but He is saying we can do something at once, and it is this strategy of living in the now that will fulfill the past and enrich the future.
If the new year is to be a year of growth and progress, and a year of pleasing God by doing His will on earth as it is done in heaven, then it will have to be a year in which we grasp the importance of the now life. When does a decaying world most need salt? Now! When does a dark world most need light? Now! The popular song of the 70's said, "What the world needs now is love sweet love." If now is when I have lost my keys in the dark, now is when I need the light. Tomorrow's light is of no value. If now is when the road is icy, now is when we need the salt. The point is, the need is always now, therefore, the solution, to be relevant, must also be always now, and so the Christian life must be a now life.
Christians fall into the same traps everybody else does. The trap of the good old days, or of the glorious days of the future. Both can rob us of the real, which is the now. We tend to think of teaching and learning as preparation for the future. It is that, to be sure, but we miss the best of what education is unless we see its value for the now. All we can know of God and His will is for today. It is like our daily bread. It is not for the future only, it is for living today. It is now food so we can live for God today, and enjoy our relationship to Him, and the more abundant life.
Yes, it is all good for the future, but it is also good for today, and it is only by redeeming the now that we can prepare for the future. The great French General, Marshall Lyoutey, asked his gardener to plant a tree in Algeria. The gardener objected that it was a slow growing tree and would not mature for a 100 years. In that case the General said, there is no time to lose-plant it now. Waiting is not the solution, for now it the time to get moving. Robert Browning was right when he wrote, "Put in the plow and plant the great hereafter in the now." Not all of us get into the mating game, but rare as the dodo bird are those who escape the waiting game, the putting off of life until tomorrow.
A New York psychologist sent out letters to 3,000 men and women picked by random from the phone book. The letter asked only one brief question, "What have you to live for?" The answer was to be very brief. He was shocked that 2,000 of them responded with an answer. More shocking was the nature of the answers. Over 90% of them were just enduring the present while they waited for the future.
They were waiting for their marriage to improve.
They were waiting for their children to grow up.
They were waiting to become grandparents.
They were waiting to retire.
They were waiting to take their dream trip.
They were waiting always for something good and exciting to happen. Practically everyone was giving up today, waiting for the golden tomorrow, and never stopping to recognize that today is the tomorrow they waited for yesterday.
It is not wrong and foolish to hope and dream, but when this becomes the dominate focus of life, it is a foolish choice that robs people of God's best. We all have many things we must wait for, and it is legitimate to do so, and necessary, but to neglect the now in our hand for the tomorrow in our heart is to have a short in our head. Jesus is saying, get wired right and recognize that today is the day of salvation, and today is the day of sanctification and service, and today is the day to enter into all the blessings that God wants us to experience. Must we wait for everything? Is life all in the future? Not so, says Jesus. He came that we might have abundant life; not just hope for it in the future, but have it now, in this life, today.
The future is bright with God's promises, but the present can be made bright with the fulfillment of His promises. The poet asks a good question-why not now?
There's a song that faith can sing,
Why not now?
There's a hope a friend may bring,
Why not now?
Hoarding the sunshine does not pay,
Joy was meant to give away,
Why not share your gifts today?
Why not now?
There are burdens love may lift,
Why not now?
Kindness bears a golden gift,
Why not now?
Earth has never known a creed
Like a pure unselfish deed,
Hearts are aching, give a heed,
Why not now?
Alfred Grant Walton
The list could go on and on. Each of us could add specifics for the coming year. If I am ever going to read the Bible through-Why not now? If I am ever going to share my faith with my friends or neighbors-Why not now? If I am ever going to obey Christ in some area of my life-Why not now? Now is always the best time to do what is good and right and pleasing to Christ. There is no better time than now.
Reality therapy is a new concept which says, so what if you had a rotten past that conditioned you to all kinds of negative behavior and thinking. Right now you are a free and responsible person able to choose what you want to be. You do not have to be bound by the past. That is what the message of the Bible is about too. God has given us the ability to choose an alternate path. Our grandfather and father may have walked in a certain path, but we are free to choose a different path. That is what Jesus is saying over and over in this sermon. You have heard that it was said by men of old, but now I say to you. Jesus says, there is a new and a now way to go that fulfills the old, and is superior to it.
Christians are to be realistic and recognize that now has the greatest potential for life. I can't change the past, and I can't claim the future, but I can choose the now, and in the now reap the harvest of the past, and sow the seeds for the future. God wants us, not wishing for the past, nor waiting for the future, but working in the now.
In the name of God advancing,
Plow, and sow, and labor now;
Let there be when evening cometh,
Honest sweat upon the brow.
And the master shall come smiling
When work stops at set of sun,
Saying as He pays the wages,
Good and faithful man-well done.
Victories do not come to those who will someday conquer, but to those who conquer now. The alcoholic who wins the battle is not the one who says, "I will stop someday," but the one who says, "I will stop now-not forever, but today, and thus, day by day, victory in the now will be the way to go into the future." Someone said, "If you want to know what you were in the past, look at yourself now. If you want to know what you will be in the future, look at yourself now." Now is the only time you can deal with realistically, for now is all you really have. Wise is the man who recognizes this, and Jesus expects His followers to be wise now people.
When is the best time to do what is right? Jesus says, the answer is now. The Pharisees said, not so, for there is a time for everything, and they legalistically ruled out doing what is right and good if the now was not convenient. Wait till tomorrow was their advice to Jesus when He healed people on the Sabbath. Don't do it now, for now is to be devoted to keeping other rules and regulations. They wanted to keep life all compartmentalized, but life will not cooperate. Just as children today won't always get sick between 9 and 5, so problems in life never confine themselves to the convenient time for solution. Jesus said, you deal with the now problems with now solutions, and He healed people on the Sabbath, because they needed healing on the Sabbath. He was a now healer, and not a later healer.
One of the reasons grandfathers are often more loving than fathers is because grandfathers are more often now people, and fathers are more often later people. Loving people are now people. I have been in both roles, and I know that now is better than later. Parents just do not realize how fast their children grow up. Grandparents do, for they have been there, and that is why they tend to be now people, for they know it is so true, its now or never.
Jesus is trying to help us learn this lesson before we waste a good chunk of our life. If we will just believe Him, and become people who focus on the now, we will be more effective Christians. The way you live with eternity's values in view is by recognizing that anything that is a good goal to achieve in life, is a goal you must strive for now. And unknown author wrote,
If you have hard work to do, do it now.
Today the skies are clear and blue,
Tomorrow clouds may come into view,
Yesterday is not for you; do it now.
If you have a song to sing, sing it now.
Let the notes of gladness ring
Clear as song of bird in Spring,
Let every day some music bring; sing it now.
If you have kind words to say, say them now.
Tomorrow may not come your way.
Do a kindness while you may,
Loved ones will not always stay; say them now.
If you have a smile to show, show it now,
Make hearts happy, roses grow,
Let friends around you know
The love you have before they go; show it now.
Jesus practiced what He preached, and refused to even wait a day to meet needs that were now needs. Many whom Jesus healed could have waited another day. Some of them had already suffered for years, but Jesus said, when it is in your power to meet a need now and do good, love demands that you do it now. To wait for the sake of a law, a tradition, a ceremony, or custom, is to say that all of these things are of more value than a person. Jesus rejects that value system. Nothing is Christlike that treats persons as secondary to anything, or to anyone, but God Himself. With this kind of value system, where you put people first, you become a now person living the now life.
This being the case, Satan's most successful strategy is to get the Christian to miss God's best by procrastination. It is not only the thief of time, it is the thief of every good value God has for your life. If you wait until it is convenient to do the will of God, you will seldom get it done. The most persistent temptation of life is to wait for a more convenient time. Satan well knows that time may never come.
William Wilberforce played a major role in destroying the slave trade in England. Many of his closest friends came to him suggesting that he shelve the matter until the Napoleonic wars were over. He was wise enough to see the folly of waiting. If it's God's will to fight this evil, then it has to be fought now, was his attitude, and he tackled it, and got the job done. He may not have done so had he waited.
It is faith in the ultimate victory that enables the Christian to be an optimist in the now, even when the now is negative. Ralph Waldo Emerson had this kind of faith. When fire was destroying his priceless library of rare books, many of them autographed by world-famous authors, he stood and calmly watched it perish. His friend, Luisa May Alcott, came to his side to console him, but he responded, "Never mind Luisa, what a beautiful blaze it makes! We'll enjoy that now."
The now life makes the past and the future relevant and practical, for it takes the values of these two zones we cannot touch, and applies them in the only zone we can touch-the now. The now life reaches back into the past, and takes all that God has done, and reaches out into the future, and takes all that God promises to do, and with all of this faith and hope, builds a foundation on which one can stand with a sense of security and optimism knowing that nothing can change what God has done, and nothing can alter what God will do. Charles Elliot spoke with the mind of Christ when he said, "The best way to secure future happiness is to be as happy as is rightfully possible today. Today is a precious gift. Use it well."
The question is often asked, "Why are there so many unfinished saints?" Why is it nearly 2000 years after grace has been merited to sanctify tens of thousand of worlds like ours, so few have become mature in Christ, able to live the victorious Christian life? The answer is, because we do not listen to Christ in this Sermon On The Mount. Nor do we listen to Paul who makes it clear in II Cor. 6:2, "Now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation." People tend to live too much in the past, which can never return, or in the future which may not even be, and so they miss the only place they can live for Christ-the now.
C. S. Lewis in Christian Behavior points out that good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the things you do in the now, and everyday little things, are of great importance. He writes, "The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed up. And apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible." This is what Jesus is saying in our text. The victorious life is the now life. It is the life where you don't just drift, but take decisive action to prevent evil in all of its forms from gaining power in your life. The only way you can promote a good harvest is to prevent the weeds and bugs that will hinder the harvest. The only way you can promote your own happy future is to prevent now those evils that can rob you of that future.
It is of interest that modern psychiatry is catching up with Jesus, and recognizing that the solution to the messed up mind is not in the past, but in the now. Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist, said, there is a difference between the psychology of Freud and myself. He finds the basis for neurosis in the past, in childhood. I find it in the present. I ask, what is the responsibility from which this patient is retreating? Why is he dodging out of life into illness?" Modern psychiatry is leading people right back to the Sermon On The Mount.
Live the now life that Jesus describes. Act now to deal with your inner sins, and prevent external acts of evil, and you will not get your life messed up. It is simply a matter of recognizing what even the pagan poet that Paul quotes recognized, which is, "In Him we live and move and have our being." The Eternal Now-The Triune God is our ever present context of living. In God all is now, for there is no past or future in eternity. It is always now, and if we could only be aware of this, and deal with all of our problems and weaknesses now, we could prevent so much of life's sin and sorrow.
Jesus ends the Sermon On The Mount with a story about a wise and foolish man. The future held the same thing in store for both of them. It was rain, wind, and the flood. The difference between them was what they did in the present. The wise man built on the rock, and the foolish man on the sand. It is the choices you make now that determines how you will fare in the future. The only way to prepare for the future is to choose to do what is wise in the now. Jesus practiced this, and if you read Matt. 8 you will see He was no arm chair philosopher. He left the mountain on which He preached this sermon, and that very day he lived the now life. He healed a leper, and a paralyzed servant of a Centurion. He raised up Peter's mother-in-law, and then that evening he ministered to a host of sick and demon possessed people.
Joseph Wood Krutch wrote, "All postponements are potentially dangerous, and to postpone life itself is the most stupendous of follies. One can no more live in the future than one can live in some good old days of the past. One must live now or not at all, and not to live at all is the greatest of mistakes." Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the famous pastor imprisoned by Hitler, did not know he would be executed by the Nazi's in 1945, but he knew it was a real possibility. Yet, shortly before he died he wrote this poem to God-
"With every power for good to stay and guide me.
Comforted and inspired beyond all fear,
I'll live these days with you in thought beside me,
And pass with you, into the coming year.
That is the way Christ wants us all to move into the coming year. It is with the attitude that whatever the future holds, be it good or ill, I choose not to escape into the past or the future, but to live the now life.