Mitchell was born and raised in a very devout Protestant Evangelical home. He went on to graduate high school with honors without a hint of rebellion. He then went and got a bachelor’s degree in business. Then, to please his parents and his God, he got a Master’s of Divinity from a very conservative, well respected Seminary in the heartland of America.
Jacoby was a classmate of Mitchell’s in high school. He was raised by a strict mormon family. Unlike one of his best friends, Mitchell, Jacoby rebelled hard starting in junior high, and it continued well past high school. Hs drinking and drug use got so bad, he almost flunked out of college. But he barely graduated. After college, his demos kept him from keeping a job very long, and he bounced from job to job and from relationship to relationship.
Finally, now in his 30’s, Jacoby received his 5th DUI, and he spent some time in prison– his lawyer had run out of tricks. He had to pay for his crimes.
In prison, Jacoby had a crash course in sobriety. When he got clean, he decided to jump back into the religion of his youth, and he again joined the Mormon church.
After 18 months in prison, Jacoby got out and started working several jobs. One of the reasons why was to pay back his debts to society, and the other because it kept him out of trouble. Every spare moment of his time was spent aiding the poor, or reaching out to those in prison.
Several years later, now 37 years old, Jacoby heard of a new business firm opening in town, and he decided to apply. He was overjoyed when he was called for an interview.
To his surprise, he bumped into his old friend Mitchell who was also applying for a position at the firm. They both recognized each other instantly when they saw each other in the waiting room. They hit it off and decided to meet for coffee the following wednesday afternoon at lunch.
They both received offers of employment at the firm, and were working in the same department. They decided not to make the coffee lunch a one time thing, and met every Wednesday at lunch for coffee. At these lunches, Mitchell decided he was going to use the time to convince Jacoby of the error of his ways, bring him out of Mormonism, and bring him to Orthodox Christian beliefs. This, to Mitchell’s dismay, never happened. But Jacoby never got angry at Mitchell. Nor did he ever try to convert him. Jacoby truly felt blessed to have a friend that cared about him enough to share his concerns.
This continued on for years. On the year of his fortieth birthday, Jacoby was offered a huge promotion as a thank you for his hard work and dedication that he had shown all those years. But this promotion would take all of his free time away, and he would no longer be able to serve the poor. He felt like he couldn’t do this, so, turning down financially security for a job he’d be excellent at, Jacoby choose to live humbly, and the promotion went to the Companies second choice, Mitchell. Because of the demands on his time, and, more importantly, the policy from the Company that said fraternization with those below him was against the rules, Mitchell had to stop meeting his friend for coffee.
Mitchell, now blessed with way more money than he needed, was abe to tithe 20% of his income to his local church. At this church he served as the head deacon. He was also in charge of Sunday school as a whole, and taught the high school kids. His lessons were full of high theology and biblical understanding and the glories of Orthodoxy. His church held theology and bible memorization contests with surrounding churches, and Mitchell’s kids won every time for dozens of years.
In stark contrast, Jacoby, who spent all of his time ministering to the homeless, and tutoring for free in an underprivileged neighborhood, barely had any time to attend his churches meetings, and had even less money to tithe to the LDS church, so he rarely did.
One day, while helping a prostitute Jacoby had met in a shelter out of a terrible living situation, Jacoby was shot by her pimp, and he died en route to the hospital. His family had no money, so the Company held a small funeral. His old, frail parents wept and thanked their God, that their son had come back to the faith and refound his salvation with the LDS church. For some reason, even though he didn’t want to, Mitchell didn’t preach. He just kept his head down,and left as soon as the service was over.
The next day, overcome with grief that he hadn’t preached the true gospel, Mitchell went to the house of Jacoby’s parents, and tried to convince them to turn from their heresy, unless they join their son in eternal conscious torment for an eternity in Hell. They, less than politely, rejected his offer of true salvation.
The following Sunday, Mitchell announced to his church that he was starting “Jacoby Ministres.” He was never again not going to preach the true gospel to the lost. He felt guilty that he hadn’t converted his friend, who was not burning for eternity, and the only reason he couldn’t convince the parents of his friend was because he didn’t get them at the funeral.
He and his wife launched the ministry the next Saturday. Every week for the rest of their lives they preached on busy city streets. Eventually their kids, grandkids, and great grandkids joined them. All of them becoming great preaching evangelists. They also followed Mitchell’s lead as teachers of Orthodoxy in Sunday school.
Mitchell lived until the age of 93. He died peacefully in his sleep, surrounded by friends, family, people he taught, and people his ministry had gotten saved. The funeral was enormous, and they were all overjoyed that he was now with the Father in Glory.
One thousand years later the Lord returned and woke up everyone from their soul sleep. He, the great judge, started His judgment. The last two people in line were Jacoby and Mitchell. Jacoby, now knowing that his concept of God was completely wrong, and his friend was correct, awaited judgement mortified. Everyone that he loved from his tradition had been sentenced to the Lake. He knew what was coming.
“Lord,” Jacoby said as he approached the throne, “I now that I was wrong about You, and that, combined with my rebellious youth have made me guilty. I will save you the trouble. I will go.” Jacoby turned and headed towards the fire, but with every step he took towards it, the Lake seemed to get farther and farther away. A gentle, loving warmth grabbed his shoulder and lovingly turned him around. As he was turning, Jacoby’s body started to glow. All bodily pain disappeared, and he received a perfected, transfigured body.
“Jacoby, my friend,” the Lord said with a loving, compassionate smile on his face, “you have diligently search for me your whole life. Even in your years of rebellion, you had a compassionate heart. Even though your answers to the questions about me where wrong, you were one hundred percent in love with me. You were my friend. Welcome to my home.” With that Jesus led Jacoby into eternity.
When the Lord returned from ushering Jacoby into the new Earth, He approached a shocked, but utterly confident Mitchell. “Man, is this a merciful Lord or what” the thought. “If he allows such a one as Jacoby in, I have only a short wait until I get my crown.”
The Lord approached Mitchell. He stopped in front of him and looked closer at him than He had at anyone else. There was a faint look of familiarity about Mitchell that Christ couldn’t quite place. After what seemed like an eternity to Mitchell,the Lord finally spoke up. “My friend, I truly do not know who you are. I feel like I should, but I just don’t. I’m sorry to say this, but you can not join Us. Please proceed that way.” Jesus raised His arm and pointed to the Lake.
“What,” an indignant Mitchell screamed. “How could you let a cultish pagan in with You, but not me? My ministry converted more people to Orthodox thinking than any other ministry in my city!”
“Mitchell. Friend,” Jesus said patiently. “Knowing the answers means nothing without living the answers. The only person I wanted you to convert was your friend Jacoby. But you abandoned him for what? Financial security? I’m sorry, friend, but you did give your sacrifices. But our friend Jacoby gave mercy. Now, you must leave.”
Against his will, Mitchell was pulled into the Lake. The unquenchable flames brought utter anguish to Mitchell, and he felt the full weight of his sins crushing him. He wept, he hissed, and cried in bitter anger towards Jacoby, God, and himself.
After a while, as those whose punishments were over and the punishment for sins was paid, the population of the Lake slowly started to dwindle. Mitchell, who mercifully didn’t suffer as long as others seemed to know his time was coming to an end. He looked out at the New Earth and cried out to his friend Jacoby. Jacoby heard and looked. As he did he saw his friend Mitchell’s body turn to ash, and his soul float above the pile. A strong wind blew– it scattered the ashes and his soul dissipated. Mitchell was gone. He was totally annihilated.
Jacoby turned to the Lord and wept bitterly at the eternal destruction of his friend. The Lord, filled with compassion, bent down and wiped away all of Jacoby’s tears– the last tears he ever shed.
In the three years that the Lord Jesus walked this earth he told many stories. Many parables. He also asked many questions. One of these parables, followed by a question can be found as follows:
“28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he repented and went. 30 And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him” (Matthew 21: 28-32, RSV)
What do we ultimately see Jesus saying here? To find this answer we first and foremost need to discover who He was talking to. Matthew 21:23 answers the question. Jesus was approached by the chief priests and elders and His authority was questioned. He is still talking to these Chief Priests and Elders when He tells this little story, and asks His question in our passage. Why is Jesus talking to this group of people vitally significant in understanding this story? It’s because these two groups of people were, in their time and day, the ones with all of the correct answers. But, throughout the New Testament, the correct answers play second fiddle to the correct actions. In short Orthopraxy > Orthodoxy. James tells us what the essence of true religion is (James 1:27). John tells us that the core of what God is is Love and that if we loved (and in turn ultimately believe in) this Love, we would follow His command, and live in perfect love.
What is this command (there’s only one)? What is this Perfect Love? It would be really easy to answer that with the Golden Rule of loving God and Neighbor/Enemy. But I think it’s even simpler than that! Perfect Love is: being willing to die, in any way, for your friends. I offer three verses by John that discuss this:
- I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11
- Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13
- By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 1 John 3:16
Clearly our command is this: If we want to love, we must be willing to die. Does this mean physical death? Absolutely it does. But does is always mean physical death? Not necessarily. In the previous story, all God needed of Mitchell was to minister to Jacoby. This would have been the death of his finances. Finances are a big deal here in the West. There are many idols we may not be willing to give up for the gospel. Our Constitutional freedoms, and money. We have a worship of guns. We’d rather see our children slaughtered in school than have a heavy vetting system in place to prevent the slaughter from happening. We ignore the poor as a whole in this country, Our vets, who we say we respect by never kneeling for a national anthem, are coming home psychotic and ending up homeless en masse. Changing these things would require the death of some of our freedoms. Are we willing to love enough to do that?
Another thing that I see tying into this passage is who I chose to give salvation to in the story. I choose a Mormon in this story to be the one that Christ recognizes as a friend for a very specific reason: because their view of God and Jesus is DRASTICALLY different than Protestant Evangelical thought. While it would be easy to see the story as a hyperbole: an exaggeration to show the truth, it sadly holds more truth than it should.
Not only are we judgemental of those like the LDS, we take our fellow travelers on the Grace Train, and say, because their thoughts on God and the nature of Salvation are different, they are not believers! We do this to the Orthodox faith, and the Catholic faith. Some say that if you don’t believe our soteriology then you aren’t saved. Some say if you don’t speak in tongues, you haven’t been regenerated. This is nonsense.
Other than living in Orthopraxy > Orthodoxy, we have turned the Gospel into a set of theological beliefs one must accept in order to truly be saved. We have taken a scandalously easy yoke of repent and believe and turned it into a yoke than screams of the Law 2.0. Look at all of the things we burden new believers with. We take the joy of Grace, and add, in no particular order: Inerrancy, Penal Substitutionary Atonement, Virgin Birth, Historicity of Adam, Creation is 6 literal days, women are second class citizens, not worthy of leadership positions, full immersion in baptism or it doesn’t freaking count!, etc.
What’s funny, is that in the book of Acts, which is the only record of the Gospel being preached to unbelievers that we have, the essence of the Gospel is: Jesus wants to be your Lord. It’s a groovy choice. You should make it.
All of that other stuff is baggage, and the best way to fly is when you’ve only got a very small carry on with you.
I would encourage you, in light of the scandal that easy Grace, to shake the necessity of the baggage, and just jump on the plane traveling light. Not everyone needs to agree with you. Diversity in thought makes this life worth living.