Have you ever been the first to do something? Maybe you were the first in your family to go to college. Maybe you were the first person to try out a new dish that the cook in the house prepared for supper last night. Maybe you got to be the first to ride a new roller-coaster. Maybe you’re just going to be the first to post a comment, below.
There are a lot of opportunities to be first, but maybe fewer (in some cases) than there used to be. Many more places in this world have been explored and documented, compared to 500 years ago: Mountains have been climbed, islands have been visited, and even the oceans have begun to yield more of their secrets. YouTube is bursting with people doing crazy new things (many of which should never have been tried in the first place). Even outer space has had its share of firsts. (I’ve personally wondered if my own “great ideas” are completely original, or if someone else – somewhere on this earth, in the span of history – had the same thought before me. If you already envisioned the idea for this article, just leave your name in the comments, along with the date when you came up with it.)
Still, we try to push boundaries. New records are set. New ground is broken. New frontiers are explored. We strive to be the first, the best, the greatest.
In the book of John, Jesus fed 5000 people (John 6:1-14). After getting away from the crowds, Jesus walked on the water, meeting up with His disciples in a boat (John 6:15-21). When the crowd looks for Jesus the next day, they don’t know where he went. It appears that only the boat that the disciples took was missing. However, when some finally find Him on the other side of the sea, they ask Him a logical question:
When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?”
John 6:25 NASB
This is great! Jesus just fed 5000 people with a little bit of food, and they are wondering how he crossed the sea.
When striving to be first (in a good way), we may travel into a territory where the Gospel – the specific story of Jesus Christ and the relationship with God that He offers – has not reached. We may think that we are bringing good deeds and a great message into a broken place that has never heard the good news of Jesus – along with His love and sacrifice for all people.
To an extent this may be true, and followers of Jesus are called to spread good works and good news. Matthew 28:19-20 was Jesus’ mission for His disciples, and His message is still valuable to the inhabitants of the world today.
Still, even when meeting with people groups (whether in a tropical jungle, or in an urban jungle) that haven’t heard about Jesus, we are likely to still find evidence of God’s work when we arrive. This might be His general blessings (and the message of His creation), which show the nature of God, as described in Romans 1:18-20. (Regrettably, in some cases, the world also bears evidence of the sin that has taken its toll on what He originally created). Or, we might find that God has already arranged for the way to be prepared for our part of His plan (like John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus – see Matthew 11:7-10).
Just as we may be surprised to find that Jesus was already in a place that we entered for the first time, there is often evidence of His involvement in our own lives. In the early church, observers were trying to understand some incongruous – but impressive – behavior of two of the apostles:
Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.
Acts 4:13 NASB
Did Peter and John somehow become learned orators because of a crash-course in public speaking? Were they able to share truth with others because they had gone back to school for their G.E.D.? No, they were career fisherman. Instead, their lives were changed not by their own efforts, but Who they had spent time with.
I can hardly think of a better compliment (except maybe that of Matthew 25:21) than to hear that others looked at me, and could only explain my positive actions by noting that I had spent time with Jesus.
That is the blessing that I pray you will experience in your life, this week Look for where God is going ahead of you, having already set the stage for your part in His plan. Then, don’t try to be artificial – just show others what Jesus has done for you, and live a life that reflects the impact that being with Jesus has had on you.