Why Are We Here?

Orazio Benanti is a well-read leader at the church in Milan.  He works for a company that makes pharmaceuticals, and his job is to keep their machinery running smoothly.  He once told me that the key to his job was preventative maintenance, and he went on to explain that this meant he was to keep an eye on all parts of the machinery and try to anticipate how long parts could be used and then upgrade or replace them right before they were ready to break down.  He had had a good track record in keeping the machinery functional, and the company had been very pleased with his work.

Now listen to a set of questions: “What's for lunch?  What's on TV tonight?  What extra money did we have this month?”  Now listen to this next set of questions: “How do we think about how we live? What is life really about?  Why are we here?”  The first set of questions dealt with the immediate and real objects like food, a television, and money.  The second set of questions dealt with what's more long-range and mental matters like our thoughts, our outlook, and our philosophy for living.  Some researchers in the mid-eighties discovered that Americans focus more on asking the first kind of questions than on the second kind until a crisis takes place.  When a break down in our lives occurs, we are suddenly forced to reevaluate our situations and to ask those more serious questions.  Why are we here?  That's an enormously important question.

You know, “… some people have a talent for taking complex thoughts and packaging them in just a few words.  Have you ever noticed how the salad dressing bottle often has this line printed on it: 'Refrigerate after opening.'  Now most of us would have probably said, 'After you open this bottle the first time, make sure you keep it cold by putting it into the refrigerator.”  We would use 20 words, but on the small label, someone expressed our idea in just three words” (Hazelip)!  You know, Jesus was sort of like that person who writes labels.  “He could capture a world of thought in the shortest number of words” (Ibid).  Why are we here?  Let's listen to His answer to that question.  Maybe we too can practice some preventative maintenance before breakdowns in our lives force us to consider this question again.

There is one particular saying that Jesus repeats several times in His ministry that addresses this question.  The first time He says it is found in Matthew 10:39 as he is preparing to send out His disciples on a mission: “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.  He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”  Then at the mid-point in Jesus' ministry after Peter confesses that He is the Messiah, He says something similar again in Mark 8:34-38: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34-38).  Again the saying comes towards the end of Jesus' ministry while He is talking about the end of the world in Luke 17:31-33: “In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away.  And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back.  Remember Lot's wife.  Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.”  In His last public speech, Jesus addresses the issue as well in John 12:24-26: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.  He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also.  If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.”  By putting all these passages together, we can derive a six part answer from Jesus as to why we are here.

First of all, Jesus says that we are here to serve others.  Isn't that what He means when He says we must deny ourselves, we must let our grain of wheat die, and we take up our cross?  “We quit dwelling on our own lives and we quit seeing life in terms of what we can get” (Hazelip).  We focus on how to serve others.  Couldn't this be what is meant by the expression to take up our cross?  Why did Jesus carry His cross?  Well, it was to be place of His execution. But then why His execution?  Because, as Mark tells us in 10:45: “Jesus came not to be served, but to serve [to serve whom: God and others, right?], and to give His life a ransom for many.”  He was carrying His cross to ransom us, wasn't He?  He endured the cross' shame and pain because He knew that this was the only way to bring redemption, and salvation, and reconciliation to all people! And surely you noticed, that even while bearing that cross, He was continuing to serve others: He comforts women who were mourning for Him (Lk. 23:28-31); He forgives His persecutors (Lk. 23:34); He gives assurance to a penitent robber (Lk. 23:43); He provides for His mother's welfare (Jn. 19:26-27).  Jesus had served others all His life, and when His darkest hour came, He continued to do so!  The disciple of Jesus cannot be self-centered or self-indulgent.  Christ's follower has to die to self daily.  One commentator put it this way: “Christians do not put their emphasis on getting the best out of life for themselves, but they realize that they have been given life to spend it for others, to burn themselves out for others” (Morris). Someone else puts it this way: “Do all the good you can, by all means, in all places, at all times, to all people, for as long as you can” (Wesley).  We are here to serve others.

Secondly, Jesus says that we are here to combat evil.  This also is a part of what it means to take up a cross.  When we take Jesus' stance for what is right, we will be opposed.  Jesus even tells us: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you” (Mt. 5:11-12). Yes when we combat evil, we can expect there to be others who are wicked who won't appreciate our efforts at all.  Here's another thought on the cross found in Col. 2:15: “Having disarmed principalities and powers, Jesus made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it [or through the cross].”  “Principalities and powers allude to Satan and [his demonic forces].  Paul is describing Christ's victory on the cross over the powers that opposed Him and that were against God's people.  To describe this victory, Paul uses the spectacle of a military triumph, when prisoners of war were ... paraded before the populace behind the conquering general.  Satan and his forces thought the cross would be their victory and Christ's defeat.  In reality, at the cross, the Lord overcame His foes, took away their weapons, and paraded them [as helpless before others].”  The point is that the cross was a means of combating and defeating evil.  When we decided to follow Christ, we immediately become part of His army and dedicate ourselves to combating evil too.  It may be that our persecution may also be our victory.  There was once a missionary in Africa who tried to reach a certain tribe.  After a rebellion against the government, some rioters killed this missionary and threw his corpse into a river for the alligators to eat.  A little later, the chief of this tribe appealed to the government for help during a civil war.  The policeman sent to help them had been converted by the missionary only two months before his death.  Before going to the tribe, the policeman overheard someone who told him about this tribal tradition: 'If the blood of man flowed in the river, then the people must listen to that man's message.'  When the policemen arrived, he called for a meeting of the entire tribe.  He told them how a man's blood had been shed in their river, and that man had left the policeman a message.  The message was about God's Son, Jesus Christ, who came into the world to save sinners.  And you can probably guess the rest of the story!  We are here to combat evil!

Thirdly, Jesus says that we are to honor Him. According to what Jesus said, we can honor Him by following Him, by upholding His teachings, and by serving Him.  Matthew said, “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”  Where will following Jesus take us?  It will take us to all kinds of people—from poverty to nobility, all kinds of places—from mountain tops to crosses, all kinds of situations—from joyful to uncomfortable, and all kinds of persecutions—from ridicule to abuse.  Someone else said it this way: “Discipleship means being so committed to Christ that when He bids us to follow, we will change, risk, grow, and leave our [comforts and pleasures] behind” (Rowell).  To honor Jesus is to follow Him.  Mark said: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words is this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”  The positive side of this is that we defend Jesus and uphold His teachings.  Someone put it like this: “The world and the cross do not get along too well together, and comfort and holiness do not share the same room.”  Satan wants to keep our loyalties divided, but Jesus said that people are really either for Him or against Him (Matthew 12:30).  An old hymn has it right: “I'm not ashamed to own my Lord nor to defend His cause, maintain the honor of His word, the glory of His cross! ... Then will He own our worthless names before His Father's face, and in the new Jerusalem prepare for us a place!”  To honor Jesus is to uphold His teachings. John said: “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also.”  Jesus taught that no person can serve two masters; one will prevail and dominate in our lives. Maybe this prayer should become our prayer too: “Teach us, Lord, to serve You as You deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight [for right] and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for any reward save that of knowing that we do Your will [in all circumstances]” (Rowell).  To honor Jesus is to serve Him. Jesus once said in John 5:23: “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”  We are here to honor Christ!

Fourthly, Jesus says that we are here to develop souls. Remember Mark's questions: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”  Even though the Bible uses the word “soul” about 750 times, we don't talk much about it.  It's that immaterial part of our being that is immortal.  It is that non-material part of our ego in contrast to our body.  Because of the influence of science, which deals with the observable, people of today don't like to discuss much, the things that they cannot see.  About the only time we hear the word “soul” is at a funeral.  Jesus has taught that we can possess our souls and that we can find rest for our souls (Luke 21:19; Matthew 11:29).  And here He tells us of the soul's tremendous value and that we should guard against letting Satan offer us something in exchange for it.  Someone has rightly observed: “We spend all kinds of time nurturing, exercising, and caring for our bodies, which will only last for a lifetime, while we starve, shrivel, and ignore our souls, and they will last for an eternity” (Rowell).  The Russian philosopher, Alexander Solzhenitsyn said it this way: “The meaning of earthly existence lies [in other words, this is why we're here], not in prospering, but in the development of the soul.”  Are we developing our souls and the souls of others?  Proverbs 11:30 tells us: “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.”  James 5:19-20 encourages us: “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turn him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”  Hebrews 13:17 admonishes us to be obedient and submissive to our elders because they watch out for our souls as those who must give an account.  According to 1 Pt. 1:9, the goal of our faith is the salvation of our souls.  Remember, all people are valuable because they have real and eternal souls! We are here to develop souls!

Fifthly, Jesus says that we are here to think “Eternity!”  In Mark, we saw that Jesus says He will come in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.  In Luke, we read: “In that day [the Judgment Day], he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away.  And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back.  Remember Lot's wife.” Material things won't have much value when Jesus returns if our hearts have been set on heaven.  Otherwise, if we get too attached to what this world offers, we'll be like Lot's wife who couldn't tear herself away from her beloved Sodom.  In John, we noticed how Jesus states: “... he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  Isn't Jesus encouraging us to remember that there will be an eternal dimension beyond this life?  Our secular world shouts at us through all forms of media: “Think only here and now! Don't ask the long-range questions! Focus only on your present needs!”  Worldly voices want us to think that only today is reality. Isn't it wonderful how Jesus and the Bible shatter such a devilish and depressing perspective!  I'm going to ask a question and would like to see you raise your hand if it applies.  Here's the question: How many of you have ever visited Koforidua, Ghana?  Well, it's an interesting place.  It's nickname is Koftown.  And it has a unique public transportation system, a unique sewer system, and unique city ordinance for auto mechanics.  One of the preachers there is named Gyan Mante.  Bro. Mante and I have written to mutually encourage each other for about 20 years now.  So what does Koftown have to do with eternity.  Just this—you've never seen the place, but you can believe that it really does exist because I have been there and seen it personally and have kept in contact with one of its citizens for many years.  In the same way, Jesus came from eternity to this earth.  He's been with God and He knows that eternity's real; He's experienced personally, and He wants us to have eternal life and think beyond our brief lifetimes.  Listen to His fantastic opening words in His prayer found in John 17:1ff: “Father, the hour has come.  Glorify you Son, that Your Son may also glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.  And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.  I have glorified You on the earth.  I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.  And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was!”  Jesus was from eternity, He offers eternal life to all people right now, and He points to the time when eternity will begin once again.  Just as surely as you believed me that there really is a Koforidua, Africa, you can believe Jesus that there's more to existence than only the here and now.  Eternity is a reality, and it's going to begin anew when He comes again.  We are here to think “Eternity!” and to prepare now so that we can embrace it with all the righteous!

Lastly, Jesus says that we are to please God. Jesus says in John: “If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.”  One commentator said that disciples must be willing to sacrifice themselves and the things of this world to follow Christ, and in so doing, God will honor them eternally (Pack).  Another said: “As God honored His Son, so will He honor all who serve His Son” (Lipscomb)!  God will reward us in the same way that He has rewarded Christ IF we will always seek to be pleasing to Him.  “Every Christians should have a passion to please God.  We are to delight in honoring Him. It is our own greatest pleasure to please our Redeemer.  We all begin the Christian life with this intention ...” (Sproul).  Let's fight together and not allow Satan to steer us off this course.  Let's keep each other accountable in our efforts to please God.  Hebrews 11:5-6 makes an interesting affirmation: “By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, 'and was not found because God had taken him'.”  Now you probably recall how Enoch never died; that's a pretty unique experience for a human.  But now notice what else the passage adds: “for before he was taken, he had this testimony—that he pleased God.”  Everybody in Enoch's world knew that he was a man who was trying with all his heart to please God. They could testify that this was his lifestyle!  And then verse 6 says: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Do we believe that God exists?  Are we diligently seeking Him?  Do we believe that He will reward us?  Could our tombstone have these words engraved on them: “She or he strove to please God”?

Victor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist who was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz.  He sewed a manuscript of his recent book into the lining of his coat, only to have the coat removed after his arrival.  He was given the rags of gas chamber victim to wear. He realized that now he would have to live out what he had written in his book and what was written in God's book.  He believed that if a man had a purpose to live for that he could survive all the hardships that came his way.  His mission at the camp became that of reminding the men there of their families, their past achievements, and their dreams of what they would do when they would be free.  His continual reminders helped many a man to endure all the hardships that the Nazis were putting on them.  He concluded that he who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.  Jesus gives us a why to live!  He explains repeatedly that we are here to serve others, to combat evil, to honor Christ, to develop souls, to think: “Eternity!”, and to please God.  If these goals have not been a part of your life, wont' you give them some serious thought?  Jesus once said: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).  Jesus wants you to have an abundant and meaning life.  Are you following His game plan?  Do you need to practice some preventative maintenance before the crisis hits?  Are you trying to avoid the serious questions?  Jesus is calling you to a productive life filled with significance! “Whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel will save it.”  Won't you accept His invitation and commit yourself to living out His teachings?