What Japan’s Oldest Man Taught Me

Last week, news outlets broke the story of Sogen Kato, who was said to be Japan’s oldest living man at age 111. Throughout the years, officials would check up on Sogen’s well being but were always turned away by family members. This year, someone grew suspicious and police investigated. What they found was not Japan’s oldest living man, but instead the mummified body of a man who is estimated to have been dead for about thirty years. For thirty years he has been lying in his pajamas in bed. Needless to say, there was no “Oldest Living Person” award given. Reality affected reward. No rewards for what people thought was true the last 30 years. All of that was irrelevant in light of the truth.

It reminds me of the words of Jesus to the church in Sardis in Revelation 3: “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to dies, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.”

Jesus has never been concerned about appearances. His own reputation was on the line with the kind of people he hung out with (Matt 11:19). In fact, he had sharp words for those content with appearance. He called the teachers of religious law white washed tombs (Matthew 23). The outside looked good. The inner reality was rotten filth. Stinging words for those who tried to be religious. Hypocrites. Filthy. Rotten. Dead.

It’s so easy to settle with the idea that as long as we can make people believe in appearances, we’ll be alright. The problem is, there is One who sees deeper, as things really are. He is not fooled. Activity does not mask the true condition of our hearts. He sees the motives, the secrets, the lies. He smells the stink and boy do I stink sometimes.

The answer is not found in a superficial deodorant of trying harder. Our own efforts accomplish nothing. Our hope is in clinging to the power of the Gospel. What Jesus did on the cross is not only about our future, as in the future hope of heaven, it’s about our now. Christ broke the power of sin. He saw us for what we were, desperate rebels and died for us anyway, not because we’re all that, but because He is. He saves us not that we can pretend to be something, but so that we can truly BE what we pretend to be. Why pretend when Jesus makes it reality?

Have you ever been content thinking you have “enough” Jesus to get by? We get content in what we know and in essence stiff arm Jesus as though we only want Him getting so close. We keep Him close enough in case we need help and to have some comfort, but don’t want Him so close that we’ll be uncomfortable. Following Him has a cost. It’s easier to love God with some of our heart, some of our soul and some of our mind. And all that talk about taking up our cross and following Jesus, that’s just figurative, right? Until we pick up our cross, we’ll never experience the life Jesus died to give.

Maybe this article is more about unrest in my own soul. I want more. Normally that would sound like a selfish thing. The problem though is not wanting more, it’s what we want more of. I don’t want to be easily pacified by life’s comforts. I want more of Jesus. I want more understanding of the Gospel. I want more boldness. I want more love. I want more hatred of the sin I excuse. I want more of Him and less of me. I need more of Jesus.

Officials came to Sogen Kato’s room and reality became evident. The same is true of us. Reality will be evident. We can only pretend so long. There is One whose not playing that game. Reality affects reward. What people think of you will be irrelevant. Don’t waste time. Draw near to the one who raises the dead to life. The Official will come to your door. Maybe sooner than you think.

“Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” Revelation 3:3

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