As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. John 6:66 NASB
Jesus is many things and one role I don’t often put him in is the winnower or the refiner — separating out the bad from the good. Yet, this is something essential in his kingdom and more personally, in my walk with him. Out with the old, in with the new. It’s one thing to dismiss entire populations of unbelievers — those atheists, Muslims, cultists, or self-gratified — but entirely another when two followers are walking shoulder to shoulder and the Holy Spirit knife comes between them. One trusts and believes, the other doesn’t and stubs their foot, stumbles, and departs to nurse his wound.
Jesus spoke unambiguously about the priority of the value of loving God first: it is more important than even the most sacred of earth’s relationships — our families:
Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Matthew 10:34 NASB
In another place, Jesus spoke about the children of the kingdom being mixed with those who were not:
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away… Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.” Matthew 13:24-25, 30 NASB
He spoke passionately about wanting to make this separation:
I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! Luke 12:49 NASB
He is a refiners fire:
But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness. Malachi 3:2-3 NASB
When he sits in final judgement at the end of the age:
And He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Matthew 25:33 NASB
There are distinctions in the kingdom. But what is being distinguished? Those who believe and trust with those that do not. And what a subtle and often hidden line this is between us all.
In John 6, Jesus spoke some difficult words. Even today they cause many to scratch their heads. But there were those who were following for reasons other than real faith. They forcefully pushed their agenda. And in the timeline of Jesus life, he was about to be marched to the cross — where all the sheep would be stumbled and scattered. Timing is everything in the kingdom. And this was not the time for these self-designated unbelieving disciples to accomplish their agenda.
Everyone has a mixture of heaven and earth in their heart. Our Father and Refiner is extraordinarily measured and patient with the process. Sometimes the fire is gentle heat — a wise word that helps me see an area in my heart not yet yielded to him. Other times the fire is more intense — it’s a circumstance that I cannot understand and causes emotional pain and makes me question the love and faithfulness of my very good shepherd. Any time there is a distinction made, it’s a risk that my heart will lean away rather than lean toward Jesus. To stumble. To fall. Personally, I believe that our Father takes these moments very seriously and is fully intentional in the process.
On a personal note, this past week I was convinced of a direction I should be taking, believing that I had heard from the Holy Spirit specific encouragement. I was confident and assured that I heard from God. Sure enough, circumstances bore this out. Things were going exactly as I was expecting. Until suddenly — they weren’t. Abruptly I pulled to a stop. What had I heard? What did I have confidence in? If I hadn’t heard from God, how did I mix this up? If I cannot trust my ability to hear and act, what may I trust? I have been a believer for 40 years, so being able to hear my Father’s voice is pretty important at this stage in my life. Yet here I am, stumbled.
One thing is absolutely certain to me, God loves me and wants me to be a child of his kingdom. He wants to speak to me and he wants me to hear his voice. And He is absolutely trustworthy and good to me. Yet being a believer or unbeliever is not something determined magically — it’s a condition, a choice I make in my heart. Becoming a lover of God or an enemy of God is something that is nurtured. It begins as a seed in the heart an is watered and grows. I realize that I have allowed two ways of thinking in my own heart, and they grow side by side. So even though I may be stumbled at times as I endure this process, I forcefully take what I know and cling to the kingdom. I will not let go. Just like the three Hebrew children responded to the king who was about to kill them in a fiery furnace:
Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. Daniel 3:17-18 NASB
Fire separates. Purges. Refines.
If I want to be a son of the kingdom, I want the fire. No one wants a polluted mix of gold; a diamond that is blemished with coal; wine with the aftertaste of vinegar; or a warm garment with a gaping hole. If I’m afraid of the fire it’s most likely because I love something attached to my flesh. I owe my Father, my God, my Savior, a whole person and unmixed love. He will never change, he’s the refiner. But just like his disciples do here in John 6, I land on the rock of Jesus, “Where do we go, you have the words of eternal life.”