Sunday, September 16, 2018

[Matt's Messages] "Special Agents"

“Special Agents”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
September 16, 2018 :: Matthew 10:1-16 

We’ve reached a new section in this book.

Matthew chapter 10 is what is often called the “Mission Discourse” or “Jesus’ Major Teaching on the Mission.” And we will quickly see why it’s often called that.

Jesus is going to send out His disciples on the first ever Christian short term missions trip. And He’s going to give them a bunch of instructions.

And many of the instructions were specific to just that trip. We’ll see that in a second. But a bunch of the instructions have an ongoing long-term application to us today.

This is the second major block of teaching in the Gospel of Matthew.

What was the first major block? The Sermon on the Mount, right?

I promise you we won’t take 5 months to get through this one!

We won’t do it all today. We’ll just make it to verse 16. But I don’t see us taking more than 3 weeks to get through all of the Mission Discourse in Matthew chapter 10.

I could be wrong, of course. There’s a lot of good stuff here to digest.

“[Jesus] called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”

Up until now, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus disciples don’t do much of anything except listen.

They are called by Him. They sign up to be fishers of men. They drop what they are doing. They leave their jobs. They begin to follow Him.

But now, Jesus is going to hand pick 12 of them and bestow special authority upon them and send them out.

This is a commissioning passage.

Now, how much authority does Jesus have?

Authority has been the key word ever since the end of the Sermon on the Mount.

“The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had...authority!” Chapter 7, verses 28-29.

The centurion was a man under...authority with soldiers under his authority, and he recognized Jesus’ authority over sickness. “Just say the word.”

But not just sickness.

The storm, right? “What kind of man is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Chapter 8, verse 27.

Or the demons? One word, “Go!” and they had to go.

What else?

Jesus has authority over death.

Jesus has authority, chapter 9, verse 6 “to forgive sins.”

How much authority does Jesus have?

All authority, it appears.

And now Jesus is delegating some of that authority.

To these twelve special agents.

That’s what I’m going to call this message today, “Special Agents.”

Because that’s something we know about these days, unlike “Apostles.”

What are apostles?

Apostles are authorized representatives.

They are people sent on behalf of someone else with some of that person’s authority delegated to them to represent that person to others.

Kind of like an ambassador?

Of course, we don’t know that much about what it’s like to be an ambassador, either.

But a lot of our favorite TV shows have special agents in them!

So, let’s run with that.

Jesus is commissioning twelve special agents to go on a mission for His kingdom.

At the end of chapter 9, Jesus pointed out the harassed and helpless crowds. He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

And He told His disciples to pray. He told them to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the harvest field.

And guess what?

Chapter 10 shows the Lord of the harvest answering those prayers!

“He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”

We don’t know exactly what that looked like, but it sure sounds exciting!

Jesus has been doing this sort of thing. Now these 12 special agents will be doing it, too.

I’ve got two headings for today’s message. Here’s number one. These special agents were:

#1. CALLED TO JESUS.

Did you see that in verse 1? “He called his twelve disciples to him.”

Now, I don’t want to make too much of that. As if Matthew was making a big point about it, but I do think it’s helpful to point out that before Jesus sends anybody out for Himself, He first calls them to Himself.

Remember, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

First, we come to Him. Then we are sent by Him.

Here, of course, they are just being gathered around. Twelve special agents given special authority. V.2

“These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”

There’s a lot there in those 3 verses! I thought about preaching a whole message just on that list.

How many apostles were there? Twelve.

How come?

We don’t know. Many Bible scholars suspect that there is a connection here with the twelve (what?) tribes of Israel, right?

Twelve sons of Jacob, therefore twelve tribes of Israel. Now a new community is being birthed and there are twelve leaders of that.

I think there is something to that. I don’t want to take it too far, but there’s obviously something about the number twelve.

Notice that they are bunched into groups. What kind groups? Well, there are clearly pairs. Two by two. Simon and Andrew. James and John. Philip and Bart, etc.

There are also 3 groups of four. And every time these guys are listed (which is 4 times in the New Testament) even though the order is different each time, Peter is always first and Judas is always last and there are 3 groups of four. Probably teams within teams.

Now, what else do you notice about these special agents who were called to Jesus?

One of the things I notice is how different they are from one another.

Jesus calls different people to Himself. Jesus loves diversity.

I mean some of these guys have nothing in common with each other.

Some do. Some are brothers. There’s at least two sets of brothers. How fun is that?

And some of them did the same job. There are at least 4 former fishermen.

But then you’ve got this tax collector in there. Or at least a former tax collector.

We saw that the last two weeks.

What kind of men were they?

Traitors, right? Sell-outs. Extortionists. In bed with the oppressors.

They were in league with the Romans!

Is there anybody on the other side of the political spectrum in this bunch?

Simon the what? The Zealot.

What does that mean?

That means he hated the Romans. And was, at least before he came to Jesus, a nationalist who probably supported insurrection.

He was anti-Romans. He wanted to overthrow the Romans.

How do you think those two got along?

My guess is that they got along just fine. Because they were both called to Jesus.

They probably had some interesting discussions. Maybe some heated conversations.

But the important point in both of their lives was that they had been called to Jesus.

Let me ask you. Is that the most important thing in your life? That you have been called to Jesus?

And can you love and work together on the mission that Jesus is sending us on even with people who are very different from you in significant ways?

The people in this room are not all the same. In fact, there are a lot of differences in this room. Politically. Economically. Racially. Vocationally. Educationally. Physically. And the rest of Jesus’ church in America and worldwide is even more diverse!

Can we work together? On mission?

Some of you here are “Make America Great Again” red cap Trump supporters. Some of you here are “I sure miss President Obama” folks. And there are lots of people here somewhere in between.

Can we love each other?

Can we fulfill the Great Commission together?

We can, if we think of ourselves as first and foremost called to Jesus.

One of these men betrayed that calling.

He saw himself as primarily called to serve himself.

And his name has now forever been linked to treachery. V.4

“Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”

You know it’s interesting. Something else I noticed is that none of these guys were rabbis before. None of them had been to seminary.

Nobody had previously trained for the ministry.

There were no “Pastor Matts” in there.

Jesus called men from the workplace, from the marketplace, from everyday walks of life.

Jesus loves to use ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

He trains them as they need it.

He loves to use ordinary people to do extraordinary things because He loves to get the credit.

Because it’s His authority. Because we are called to Him.

By the way, most of these guys, we don’t really know what happened to them after the book of Acts.

I mean Peter and John, sure, but how about Thaddaeus?

I’ve got a really good book called After Acts by Bryan Litfin that explores the lives and legends of these apostles. You’d be welcome to borrow it if you’d like to know what we know and how much we know about them after the Bible was completed.

We could note more in verses 2-4, but let’s move on.

These twelve special agents were called to Jesus and then they were:

#2. SENT FOR JESUS.

I was going to say “sent FROM Jesus” because that’s true, too. But I didn’t mean that he was sending them away from Him like in a punishment. And there’s something here about being sent FOR Jesus, as if they were sent in His place.

They are representing Him.

Let’s look at it. V.5

“These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.”

Let’s stop there for a second.

Those are some pretty special agents, aren’t they?

I mean look at what they get to do in verse 8!

I don’t think those are instructions for us today. I don’t think the church today has been given that delegated authority like the apostles had at that time.

“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.”

Who does that sound like?

That sounds like Jesus, doesn’t it? Doesn’t that sound like chapters 8 and 9 that we just got done with?

Jesus is telling His special agent to replicate His ministry.

And it’s the same message, too. Isn’t it?

“As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.'”

John the Baptist said it. Chapter 3, verse 2.

The Lord Jesus said it. Chapter 4, verse 17.

Now the apostles are to say it. “The kingdom of heaven is near!”

Why?

Because the King has come.

That’s good news, isn’t it?

The promised kingdom has drawn close.

The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Of course that means repentance is called for.

Jesus doesn’t say it in verse 7, but that was the upshot of it before, and I’m sure it still is here.

The King has come, turn away from any other kingdom!

You see how these special agents were supposed to represent the King?

To whom were they to go?

At this point, just to the Jews. To the Jew first. V.5 again.

“Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.”

Does that mean that Jesus doesn’t love the Gentiles? Or that He didn’t love the Samaritans?

Of course not. He’s already reaching Gentiles and Samaritans by this point in His ministry.

But see that word “sheep” in verse 6? I think that ties into the “sheep without a shepherd” in verse 36 of the previous chapter.

Jesus has a heart for those crowds of Jewish men and women harassed and helpless.

He is their Messiah, and for THIS TRIP, He is sending His special agents to tell them about the kingdom and to prove that it has come through miracles.

Later, the instructions will change. By the end of this book the mission will be to go to the whole world and make disciples of every nation. Even people in Central Pennsylvania!

But for now, they are to go specifically to Israel, and announce the kingdom.

And they are not to charge anything for it. “Freely you have received, freely give.”

These special agents didn’t pay any fees to receive this kingdom, they don’t charge any fees to give it away to others.

In fact, they are called to travel very light. V.9

“Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.”

Again, I think these instructions are just for this particular missions trip. I don’t think that missionaries today are not supposed to take money or bags or a change of clothes or anything like that.

Jesus envisions a short trip that won’t require a lot of long-term resources.

And He expects the people they will talk to will provide hospitality. Not a fee. Not a salary. Just these people who get to hear about the kingdom will want to provide food and room and board for the special agents of the King. V.11

“‘Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. [A worthy person is someone who receives the message of the kingdom.] As you enter the home, give it your greeting. [Shalom!] If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”

Now, again, I don’t think that this gives us timeless instructions for how to do missions or how to do ministry today.

Though maybe we ought to think our way through it.

There may be principles here about frugality and generosity and supporting those who do missions work. And principles here about total dependence on God and about looking for those who are receptive to the message of the gospel.

But what I notice most of all is that these special agents are sent FOR JESUS. They represent Him.

They take His message about His kingdom to people.

And if they are received, then He is received.

But if they are rejected, then He is the One who is really rejected. Look at verse 14 again.

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words [where did they get those words? Those are Jesus’ words! That’s the gospel of the kingdom! If they will not listen to your words...], shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”

Who brought judgment to Sodom and Gomorrah?

God did.

Jesus is saying that if these special agents are rejected, it will be as if they rejected God Himself. Because they are.

That’s really helpful to me.

I mean when I think about being rejected when sharing the gospel. I tend to think about myself.

But if someone hates me for following Jesus, it’s really Jesus they hate.

Because it’s all about Him, right?

So that should make us bold, shouldn’t it?

I mean, here we are tasked with being His own representatives!

Special agents for the King.

We may not have the authority that the apostles did.

But we are called to share the gospel with the last, the least, and the lost.

And if we are received, then so is Jesus!

And if we are rejected, so what? They are really rejecting Him.

Do you need to hear that today?

Do you need to see yourself as a special agent of King Jesus?

Not a secret agent!

We should be known for following Him.

But we should be representing Him to the rest of the world.

Does that make you bold?

Notice again just who does He think He is?!

If the special agents of Jesus are rejected, what does He expect will happen to those who reject them?

It will be worse than Sodom and Gomorrah for those who reject Jesus.

That means that Jesus sees Himself as equal with Yahweh, the God of Israel.

And now, He’s sending out His apostles. Look at how they are supposed to see themselves. V.16

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

We’re going to start there next time.

The next section talks about how dangerous it’s going to be for these apostles and for many other agents of Jesus throughout history.

Sheep among wolves.

So therefore, they (and we) need to be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.

Wise and strategic and shrewd like a snake.

And at the same time, loving and holy and pure like a dove.

Chew on that for the next couple of weeks.

And commit to being like yourself.

As you represent Jesus to the world.

Called to Jesus by faith to be saved and to be His disciple.

And sent for Jesus to represent Him to the rest of the world.


***

Previous Messages in This Series:01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem

Monday, September 10, 2018

Book Review: "A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs" by Ellis Peters

A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs (Felse, #4)A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs by Ellis Peters

I love this book.

I just re-read it for at least the fourth time--I’ve lost count. And yet I felt tears of joy well up at the triumphant end.

Edith Pargeter, the real name of Ellis Peters, was a mystery-writing genius of the first order. Very few are the authors who can create a whodunit that a reader might want to re-visit so often and with such pleasure. Come for another adventure of the Felse family, stay for the boldly drawn character development of the coast of Cornwall cast, and hang on for the twisty plot of at least (?) three graves with unexpected contents! Delightful.

View all my Goodreads reviews.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

[Matt's Messages] “Who Does He Think He Is?”

“Who Does He Think He Is?”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
September 9, 2018 :: Matthew 9:14-38 

I’ve said a few times during this series on Following Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew that we could entitle many of these messages with the same title, “Who Does He Think He Is?”

So I just went and did it for this message. That’s the title, “Who Does [Jesus] Think He Is?”

Because it strikes me, especially in this section right after the Sermon on the Mount that everything Jesus does highlights Who Jesus is. Everything Jesus does is kind of like an argument for Who Jesus is.

Like last week when Jesus healed the paralytic and at the same time forgave his sins. Remember that? Who does Jesus think He is going around forgiving sins?

Or the week before that when Jesus spoke to the storm and it had to obey or when He spoke to the legion of demons and they had to obey?

Or when He was healing all kinds of diseases. All of these miracles, all of these actions are great big signposts pointing at Jesus and saying, “Look Who He Is!”

And all that time, Jesus continually keeps calling people to follow Him.

And live a life of discipleship.

Now in the middle of all of those miracles and invitations to discipleship there is a little story that is kind of different from all the rest.

Some friends, some allies, disciples of John the Baptist who was, if you remember, in prison at the time, [these disciples of John the Baptist] come to Jesus and have a question for Him.

And I don’t think it’s an attack. It’s not a trick question or a trap. At least, I don’t think so. It’s not like the kinds of tricky questions that the Pharisees ask to try to trip Him up.

They ask Jesus (v.14), “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”

Fair question. And Jesus chooses to answer their question by telling us all just Who He thinks He is.

If you remember, last week, we left Jesus at a party.

There was a big party at the house of Matthew who had just recently been a filthy rich tax-collector/extortionist.

And at that party were a bunch of current tax-collectors and notorious sinners.

And Jesus was eating with them. He was spending time with them. He was enjoying their company and loving them. He was extending mercy to them. He was calling them to repentance and faith and salvation and discipleship.

Because they needed it. He was a sin-doctor, and they were sin-sick.

But they were doing all of that over dinner. Feasting and eating and enjoying a big meal together.

And then Matthew tells us that John the Baptist’s disciples were scratching their heads.

Remember, John the Baptist was famous for eating locusts and wild honey.

He wasn’t big on lavish dinners at the Golden Corral.

In fact, his followers had been taught how to fast.

So they come to Jesus in verse 14.

“Then John's disciples came and asked him, ‘How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’”

“Are we missing something?

We are known for fasting.

The Pharisees (who tend to know their Bibles) are known for fasting.

You guys? Not so much.

What’s going on?”

Before we see how Jesus answers. Let me you ask you how you would answer that one.

Do you ever fast?

If so, why?

And if not, why not?

It’s not like Jesus never fasted, right? I mean He holds the world record. 40 days and 40 nights. We watched Him do it back in chapter 4.

And He’s taught His disciples how to fast. We read about it in the Sermon on the Mount chapter 6, verses 16 through 18.

And He doesn’t say there to NOT fast. Just don’t do it wrong. Don’t do it to impress other people. He says, “WHEN you fast, do it in secret so that your Heavenly Father Who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

But fasting was definitely not what Jesus was known for.

Or His disciples.

Instead, they’re eating. They’re drinking. They’re feasting.

And they don’t have somber looks on their faces. They’re not all sad and fasting and depriving themselves.

I mean they probably did it on the Day of Atonement like the Law said to.

But that was about it. Most of the time, they were enjoying themselves.

And WITH SINNERS!

What’s going on here?

How would you answer that?

I mean, the Pharisees were probably fasting for all of the wrong reasons. They were the poster children for doing it the wrong way.

They were fasting to be seen by others. They were the targets of Jesus’ critique in the Sermon on the Mount. They already had their reward for other so called acts of righteousness.

But the disciples of John were good guys, right?

They probably fasted out of repentance and sorrow for their sins.

John taught people to repent for the king was coming and the kingdom of God was near.

That’s probably a big part of why they were fasting.

But here’s Jesus, and He’s like, “Pass the chicken nuggets. Umm. These are good. Is this your potato salad? Can I have another helping?”

So they ask Jesus, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”

And Jesus answers by telling them Who He thinks He is.

#1. THE BRIDEGROOM.  V.15

“Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.”

Jesus liken Himself to a bridegroom at a wedding.

Do you get his analogy?

His question is should everybody be all sad at a wedding?

Have you ever been to a wedding? How do people act around the bride and the groom?

Are they all like, “It’ll be okay, man. It’ll be okay.”

Or “Man, I hate this stuff. I wish we didn’t have to be here.”

No. If they are, that’s not the kind of wedding I want to be at!

No. Everybody is insanely happy for the couple. Aren’t they?

Big smiles. Break your face smiles. Ear to ear grins.

And lots of feasting. Lots of joy and rejoicing.

Jesus says that’s what it’s like to have Him around.

We aren’t living in the John the Baptist days where the king is coming.

We are living in the Jesus days when the King has come!

Do you know who also talked like this?

John the Baptist, right? In the Gospel of John chapter 3, John the Baptists basically says that he’s the best man at the wedding. But Jesus is the groom.

He says, “You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.' The bride [which is the church, right? The people of God.] belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less” (vv.28-30).

It’d be pretty inconsistent for Jesus and His disciples to major on mourning when they are announcing the inbreaking presence of the kingdom of God!

Now is the time to rejoice. Because Jesus is the Bridegroom.

However, Jesus says (v.15 again), “The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.”

When will that be?

Well, at least at the Cross. That was a time when the bridegroom was taken away. Isaiah 53:8, “By oppression and judgment he was taken away.”

But I also think it’s true right now when the bridegroom is in heaven and we’re waiting for His return.

So rejoicing is appropriate because we have the King and we have the kingdom.

But right now lament is also appropriate. Because the King suffered and knows our suffering.

And right now LONGING is also appropriate. Because we don’t have the King right now. He’s not here right now in all of His fullness. We are WAITING for His return.

When we get to the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is going to use this language again to talk about watchfulness. He’ll liken Himself to a Bridegroom who may come at any time, and how we need to be ready for Him.

That’s Who Jesus think He is.

The Bridegroom.

And you know that’s a big deal?

Because do you know Who the bridegroom is in the Old Testament?

God Himself. Read Isaiah 62 this afternoon. Read Hosea chapter 2 this afternoon.

God refers to Himself as a bridegroom.

A bridegroom is full of love.

A bridegroom comes to get His bride.

And wherever the bridegroom is, there is JOY.

So should we fast today?

Well, we shouldn’t fast like the Pharisees. Nobody should fast like that.

And we shouldn’t fast like John the Baptist’s disciples. Because we don’t live in that era of anticipation in the same way they did before.

But we are free to fast today because we have the Bridegroom and yet we are also still  waiting for the Bridegroom.

So we have joy but we can also lament and we should also long for the return of Christ. If that’s what our fasting means, then we probably should do some of that today while we wait for the bridegroom to come.

The best book I ever read on fasting is called “A Hunger for God” by John Piper. He calls this passage, Matthew 9, “the most important words on fasting in the Bible.”

And he says, “In this age there is an ache inside every Christian that Jesus is not here as fully and intimately and as powerfully and as gloriously as we want him to be. We hunger for so much more” (pg. 38).

And that’s because Jesus is the Bridegroom.

Now, in verse 16 and 17, Jesus uses switches things up and uses two different metaphors. V.16

“‘No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.’”

The picture is pretty clear. You don’t use the old with the new or things break and go wrong.

A new piece of cloth will shrink and re-tear the mended garment. They don’t go together.

New wine will ferment and rupture a brittle old wineskin. That’s not a chemistry experiment you want to watch.

You need new for the new.

I think that Jesus is saying that the old kind of fasting (like the John the Baptist’s) doesn’t work now that Jesus has come.

The Pharisees fasting certainly doesn’t work these days. If they thought that they were impressing God with their acts of righteousness.

It don’t work that way. And never did.

But the new has come. Jesus has come. The king has come. The Bridegroom is here.

If we’re going to fast, it needs to be a new kind of fast.

One that keeps all that mind.

Does that make sense? V.18

“While he was saying this, a ruler came and knelt before him and said, ‘My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.’ [Notice his faith! Just like the centurion from chapter 8. Just like the paralytic and his friends at the beginning of chapter 9. This guy believes. And it’s rewarded. V.19] Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.”

What do you think is going to happen?

Do you think that Jesus can raise a dead girl to life?

Well, we don’t get to find out just yet. V.20

“Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.’”

Can you imagine?

For twelve years she has had this recurring problem. And as uncomfortable as it was, it also made her UNCLEAN. Right? Ritually unclean.

She might as well have been like the leper in chapter 8.

Unclean.

And she risks everything.

And she has faith!

It comes out in her courage.

“If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” v.22

“Jesus turned and saw her [notice that. “Saw her”]. ‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed from that moment.”

Amazing power! Amazing faith! She never had that problem again.

But that’s the not main story. Remember where Jesus is headed.

He’s going to a funeral, and He’s going to do something about it! V.23

“When Jesus entered the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd, he said, ‘Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.’ But they laughed at him.”

You would, too.

You don’t call in the professional mourners unless the person is totally dead.

She wasn’t just mostly dead. She was totally dead.

But Jesus says that her death is just like sleep to Him.

She’s going to get up again today.

Who does Jesus think He is?

#2. THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.

He thinks He’s the resurrection and the life, doesn’t He?

I mean He doesn’t say that here. Like He will at the tomb of Lazarus.

But that’s what He’s saying, isn’t it?

Jesus is saying that He turns death into something just like sleep.

That He can wake someone up from death.

And this ruler guy, the other gospels tell us his name was Jairus, He believes it.

Do you believe it?

Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life?

That Jesus can wake people up from death?

I love that Jesus does this not for some bigshot. I mean Jairus might have been a bigshot, but this is his daughter.

It wasn’t his son. In that culture there was a big difference.

Jesus is healing helping the last, the least, and the lost.

And the unclean.

There was nothing more unclean than a dead body.

Uncleaner than leprosy.
Uncleaner than an issue of blood.

This girl was dead. V.25

“After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.”

In John 11 Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (vv.25-26).

Verse 27.

“As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David!’ When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘According to your faith will it be done to you’; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, ‘See that no one knows about this.’ But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region.”

Who does Jesus think He is?

He thinks the same thing that these blind guys do.

He thinks He’s the Son of David.

#3. THE MESSIAH.

He thinks He’s the Messiah.

They want Him to heal their blind eyes.

This afternoon when you’re reading Isaiah 62, look also at Isaiah 35 and see what things will be like when the Son of David, the Messiah comes.

When God comes and makes everything beautiful again.

Isaiah 35:5 and 6, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.”

What does that sound like?

It sounds like what happens when Jesus comes to town.

And the same question, “Do you believe?”

Well, do you?

These guys did! And they couldn’t keep it a secret. Even though Jesus told them, too!

Jesus didn’t need the extra publicity, but they couldn’t help but tell others that they had been blind but now they could see!

They had to talk about the Messiah’s amazing grace. V.32

“While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. [Sounds like Isaiah 35 again to me!] The crowd was amazed and said, ‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.’ But [listen closely] the Pharisees said, ‘It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.’”

“Shots fired” as they say.

They couldn’t argue with the miracles.

They miracles were there.

They were facts.

But they could dispute the meaning of the facts.

They had to dispute the meaning of the facts or they would have to put their faith in Jesus as the Messiah!

Instead they said that Jesus was a tool of the devil.

Can you imagine?

Jesus is asking the same question of us today.

“Do you believe?”

The Pharisees did not.

These kinds of interactions are going to lead to arrest, trial, and crucifixion of our Lord. Jesus will have more to say about this in chapter 12.

Right now, what’s important is to see that Jesus is asking us to believe in Him as the Messiah.

Do you?

Because He’s what we need.

He’s the good shepherd.

#4. THE GOOD SHEPHERD. V.35

“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’”

We just looked at this passage a few weeks ago before the Good News Cruise. So we won’t over it again.

But we can see Who Jesus thinks He is.

He thinks He’s the answer to these poor people’s problems.

He thinks He’s the shepherd these sheeple need.

Is that how you see Him?

Is He your shepherd?

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

And here He says, “As the Lord of the harvest” to send people out to bring them in.

Jesus is everything we need!

If we have Him, we shall not want.


***

Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Stored Up Goodness: 2018 Prayer Retreat

What a privilege it is to be a pastor and to be trusted with the prayer requests of the flock!

Today is my annual prayer retreat where I try to get away and pray for every name in our church directory and lift up specific requests given me by people in our congregation.

So on my morning walk in Mr. Penn’s beautiful woods, before it got super hot, I read each card and lifted them up to the Lord, asking Him to be the answer to each of their heavy problems. I don’t know how the Lord might use my prayers this year, but I am trusting His wisdom, power, and love.

Thank you, Lanse Free Church, for giving me a front row seat to see our Lord work out His perfect plan for you.





“How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, 
which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you.”
- Psalm 31:19, NIV84



***


[And if you wonder why I would tell you that I'm a prayer retreat (good reasons and bad), read this report from a few years back.]

Monday, September 03, 2018

5 Years of Resisting Gossip

Rejoice with me!

Resisting Gossip was released 5 years ago today. Back in September of 2013, I could never have imagined all of the places it would go and the ways it has been used by the Lord. Today, my heart is overflowing with thankfulness for the blessings of the last half decade.

To name just a few:

- Resisting Gossip is now translated into 5 other languages around the world: Spanish (including an e-book), French [in both Canada and France], Russian, Romanian, and Korean. I’m excited to think that I’m getting to teach people God’s Word that I would never meet nor ever be able to converse with all over the globe.

- Resisting Gossip has been a bestseller for CLC Publications every single quarter since its release. For me, those sales translate into real people I hope have been helped to win the war of the wagging tongue in their own lives.

- Resisting Gossip has been recognized by many readers and leaders as helpful in the fight for holiness and love. The gracious words of folks like Kevin DeYoung (and on video), Tim Challies (once, twice, and then thrice at World Magazine!), Joe Valenti, Deb Welch, Monergism.com, Andy Naselli, Alex Chediak, Steve Kemp at BILD, Greg Strand, Bob Kelleman, Daniel Holmquist, Todd Hardin at the Biblical Counseling Coalition, Marci Ferrell at the Thankful Homemaker, Benjamin Vrbicek at Fan and Flame, Will Turner, and Mark Lauterbach at TGC have encouraged me to no end. It’s got 67 reviews on Amazon, and all but 1 of them are very positive. I'm also very thankful for the heartening support that WTSBooks has always shown for the book, as well.

- The message of Resisting Gossip and Resisting Gossip Together continues to resonate with people through online videos [Vimeo, YouTube], live seminars, podcasts, articles, and personal interactions. I love getting to share at conferences like CCEF and Challenge, teach at retreats, camps, and schools like Miracle Mountain Ranch, and speak in local churches such as the upcoming event at Hope EFC in Fertile, Minnesota. I feel so grateful to get to be used in this way.

Into the future:

Unfortunately, the global gossip plague continues to rage on unabated. My little book is just a drop in the bucket of what is needed to effect large scale change. I knew that going in (see the “final word” “The End of Gossip” on pg. 151). But hopefully it’s a drop in the right bucket and continues to be used by the Lord to move the right people in the right direction. That’s my prayer.

The good folks at CLC Publications are making arrangements right now to offer a special 5 year anniversary sale price and maybe even release an audiobook version of Resisting Gossip this Fall. I’ll let you know when I know more about those things. What I do know right now is that I never could have predicted how this would have turned out, and I give all the praise to Jesus Christ. May He receive all the glory due Him forever.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

[Matt's Messages] "Our Greatest Problem"

“Our Greatest Problem”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
September 2, 2018 :: Matthew 9:1-13 

We’re in the section of the Gospel of Matthew (chapters 8&9) that you might call “Following Jesus the Miracle Worker.” Because right after the Sermon on the Mount Matthew tells a whole bunch of stories about the amazing miracles that Jesus did and punctuates, intersperses between these miracle stories, with Jesus’ calls to discipleship.

Last week, the sermon was called, “Follow Me.” And you know just about every sermon on every chapter in the Gospel of Matthew could have that title. Jesus is constantly calling people to follow Him.

He says those exact same words again in our passage for today. In fact, he says it to a certain tax collector named...Matthew!

That’s why our whole sermon series on the Gospel of Matthew is called “Following Jesus.” Because in Matthew, Jesus is constantly calling us to a life of discipleship.

He’s constantly showing us that He is wonderful and powerful and authoritative, with an authority unlike anyone else’s. And He uses that unparalleled authority to call us to follow Him.

In Matthew chapter 8, Jesus showed us that He has unparalleled authority over sickness (he heals leper, a paralyzed man, a woman with a great fever and all kinds of other diseases). And then He showed us that He has unparalleled authority over all of creation (He tells a storm to settle down and it actually does!). And then Jesus showed us that He has unparalleled authority even over the demonic. Even over unseen unclean spirits. When He say, “Go!” they must go.

And now in Matthew chapter 9, Jesus shows us that He has authority over our greatest problem.

You know what our greatest problem is, don’t you?

The problem that we all have.

And that we cannot solve on our own?

And it’s a greater problem for humanity than any other problem.

Matthew chapter 9, verse 1.

“Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. [At this point in His life that is Capernaum.] Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat.” Stop there for a second.

Matthew has condensed this story. In Mark and Luke we find out that these men actually dug through a roof and elevatored this guy down on ropes into the house where Jesus was staying.

They were desperate to get their friend to Jesus.

But Matthew focuses on the essential detail here.

This man can’t walk on his own.

He must be brought on a mat.

What do you think Jesus is going to do?

Can you imagine what this fellow’s life was like?

He might not have been a leper and ostracized from society, but there are no wheelchairs in that society either. There are no elevators except some friends. There are very few accommodations for handicaps in that society in that time period.

He could not get anywhere on his own.

What do you think Jesus is going to do?

He is going to solve this man’s greatest problem! V.2

“When Jesus saw their faith [the man and his friends], he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’”

Wait, what?

Is that what you thought Jesus was going to do?

From what we have read so far in Matthew, especially chapter 8, that’s a surprise.

I would have thought that Jesus would have healed the guy.

I mean it doesn’t say anything about that guy asking for forgiveness.

That’s not why they have come. At least, I don’t think so.

I think they came for the healing.

But Jesus goes for something much deeper, doesn’t He?

Jesus indicates that He is solving the deeper problem. The deepest problem.

Not just sickness but the root cause of all sickness. Sin.

Not that every sickness is caused by a particular sin. I’m not saying that this guy was sick because he sinned.

But his greatest problem wasn’t his lameness. It was his sin.

And Jesus says, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’”

Now, what Jesus has said creates a conflict with the religious authorities. They are not happy about this. V.3

“At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, ‘This fellow is blaspheming!’”

Why are they so upset?

What does it mean to blaspheme?

It means to say something utterly untrue about God.

So you can blaspheme by saying that God is the same as the devil.

Or you could blaspheme by saying that you are the same as God.

That you are God.

That’s what they think Jesus is saying.

Why?

Because who can forgive sins but God alone?

Think about it. Jesus is not just saying, “God forgives your sin.”

He’s really saying, “I forgive your sin.”

And the scribes know it. They know that’s what Jesus is saying.

Think about it.

If I went out into the parking lot and stole Rob's truck.

Would it make any sense for Jane over here to forgive me for stealing Rob's truck?

“I forgive you, Pastor Matt.”

Thanks, but it’s really Rob that needs to forgive me.

But if Jesus is acting like the offended party and is forgiving people their sins then by doing that Who is He claiming to be?

The other title we could give to this sermon series on the Gospel of Matthew is “Who Does He Think He Is?” v.4

“Knowing their thoughts [supernaturally], Jesus said, ‘Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? [Reading minds is also something only God can do!] Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'?”

What’s the answer to that one?

Which one is easier TO SAY?

It’s easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven.” Because who can tell if it’s happened or not?

It’s harder TO DO! But it’s easier to say.

It’s hard to say, “Get up and walk” to a lame man because what if they don’t get up and walk?! V.6

“But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth [solve your greatest problem...] to forgive sins....’ Then he said to the paralytic, ‘Get up, take your mat and go home.’ And the man got up and went home.”

Wow! You see what happened there?

Jesus said the harder thing to say to prove that He could do the harder thing to do.

“And the man got up and went home.”

Imagine how that guy felt now!

Not only was he able to walk, but the man who made him able to walk just told him that his sins are forgiven.

Wow!

Here’s point #1 about Jesus today.

#1. JESUS CAN FORGIVE SINS.

V.6 “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...”

That is such good news!

Because that’s our greatest problem.

Let me give you two simple questions for applying that first point.

Two questions to ask yourself now that we know that Jesus doesn’t just have the power to change the weather or send demons into pigs, but that Jesus as the authority Himself to actually forgive our sins.

- Have you come to Him for forgiveness? 

Because He’s where it’s at.

You can’t get forgiveness anywhere else.

Search high and low, try everything out there, and you will come up short.

Church attendance, doing good works, doing penance, trying to repay those you have sinned against. Pretending that you haven’t sinned.

Anything and everything you try outside of Jesus will not work.

But Jesus can forgive your sins.

We know HOW He can do that, too, don’t we?

We know the end of this book. Where the Son of Man was crucified. He paid for our sins with blood. These sins are forgiven because they are going to be paid for. He absorbs the cost.

So when He says, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven,” He knows how much that forgiveness will cost Him.

Think about that.

That’s what this table down here represents. The ultimate sacrifice so that He can say, “Your sins are forgiven.”

But only to those who have faith, right? Only those who trust Him. V.2, “When Jesus saw their faith.”

If they had hard hearts, He might have healed the man but He wouldn’t have said, “Your sins are forgiven.”

So what about you? Have you come to Jesus for the solving of your greatest problem?

So many have asked Jesus for much lesser things.

And we can ask for the lesser things. He cares about them, too.

But do you see your sin?

Do you see how you need to be saved from your sin?

Have you come to Jesus for forgiveness?

- Are you worshipping Him as God?

That’s the point of this story, isn’t it?

We know Who Jesus is!

He claims to forgive sins, and He proves it by healing sicknesses. V.8

“When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.”

Hmmm.

I’m not sure about that phrase.

It’s good that they praised God.

We should be doing that, too, for every good gift He gives us.

But my read on verse 8 is that they intentionally missed the point of this story.

They couldn’t ignore the miracle. They were astonished!

But they didn’t worship Jesus as God.

The people of Capernaum are kind of famous for NOT believing that Jesus is Who he claimed to be.

They had all of the facts. They had all of the evidence. But they didn’t trust Jesus, they didn’t follow Jesus, they didn’t accept Jesus, and by and large, they didn’t worship Him as God.

Let’s not make that mistake here, okay?

Jesus is not just a miracle worker, He is God in the flesh. And He invites our worship.

Because He has come to solve our greatest problem.

Point #2 of 2 about Jesus.

#2. JESUS CAME FOR SINNERS.

This is why He came.

He came to solve our greatest problem. V.9

“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew [what a great name!] sitting at the tax collector's booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.”

Now, we don’t get just how scandalous that was.

Because as much as we don’t like taxes, we don’t have tax collectors like these guys.

They were kind of a like mafia.

They were extortionists.

They were in bed with the Romans. The Romans wanted taxes from the people. The people had no choice. They might pay as much as 40% of their income as small as it was in taxes.

And these guys contracted with the Romans to collect the taxes. So they had the authority and they used it to shake down the citizens for as much as they could do.

So they were Jewish but they were working for the oppressive enemy.

And they were doing the oppressing themselves.

Every time you read the word “tax collector,” you should under your breath say, “Boo! Hiss! Despised!”

They were traitors.

And they were getting rich off you by being traitors.

And there wasn’t anything you could do about it.

And Jesus says, “Yeah, I want you to come follow me. Matt, come be my disciple.”

And may even more amazingly, Matthew does.

Nobody saw that one coming.

The people that Jesus picks to be on His team?! This is crazy.

And then you know what Matthew does? He throws a party.

And He invites all of the low-lifes that He knows to come and meet Jesus. V.10

“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ came and ate with him and his disciples.”

It’s getting even more scandalous, isn’t it?

A bunch of these extortionist traitors in one place.

And bunch of other notorious sinners.

This word “sinners” comes up again and again in this story. Three times in four verses.

This party has prostitutes at it. It has pimps. It has thieves. It has gamblers. It has gang-members. It has drug dealers. It has thugs. It has those people you don’t want your kids to hang out with.

But Jesus is there.

And He’s eating with them.

And it’s scandalizing the Pharisees.

We’re going to see again and again the scribes and the Pharisees getting madder and madder at Jesus. And one day, this conflict is going to come to head. V.11

“When the Pharisees saw this [Jesus eating with the sinners], they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?’”

I doubt they were at Matthew’s party.

My guess is that they were across the street taking notes on who came and went to this party.

“Oh, them? Eww. Oh, him, too? Yuck.”

And they don’t come to Jesus. They come to his disciples. Because they want to shake the tree and see if anything falls out of it.

“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?”

Jesus is like, “I’m a teacher am I? Okay, I’ve got a lesson for you.” v.12

“On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

That’s really important.

Jesus is not condoning their sin.

He doesn’t like their sins.

He hates their sins.

He knows that their sins are their greatest problem.

Just because He’s eating with them doesn’t mean that He is accepting their sin or approving of their sin.

But He has come for sinners.

He uses the proverb, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

He’s saying that it’s not those who think they are fine who need a doctor but those who know they are sick. And in this case, sin-sick.

You have to know that you’re a sinner to get saved!

“For I have not come to call the [so called] righteous, but sinners.’”

That’s the very reason why He came.

Let me give you two application question for this point about Jesus.

- Have you begun to follow Him?

Like Matthew, I mean. Matthew left his table, left I assume all of that money on the table. He left a life of luxury.

Tax collectors ate the best food, stayed in the best hotels, got the best service. Because they had the money.

Matthew left all of that because Jesus called him to follow Him.

Jesus is saying that same thing to you today, “Follow me.”

He has come all this way to find sinners, to call sinners first to repentance, then to salvation, and then to a life of discipleship.

Have you begun to follow Him?

One last question.

- Are you seeking sinners, too?

Are you like Matthew or like the Pharisees?

Matthew wanted his sinner friends to know Jesus. So he went after them and invited them to his party.

The Pharisees were too “good” for that.

They were too pure for that.

They wouldn’t ever eat with “sinners.”

They would never eat with “those people.”

Who are “those people” for you?

“Those people” who nauseate you.

“Those people” who are beneath you.

“Those people” whom you love to complain about on social media.

They don’t have their act together.

They don’t act like you.

They believe all of the wrong things.

They disgust you.

In verse 13, Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 and says, “Learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy [or love or grace, hesed in the original, mercy], not sacrifice.”

God is looking for a heart of love, not just for outward obedience. Not even for sacrifices and offerings if you don’t love others.

God is after those who do not deserve it!

“For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

And that’s good news for you and me. Because that’s what we are.

But we have to own it.

And we have to see that He didn’t just come for us.

He came for other sinners, too.

And what we doing about it?

Are we seeking out the sin-sick, as well?

And introducing them to the Savior?

Or are we just congratulating ourselves for having cleaned up so nice?

I think that so often we misjudge whom Jesus is seeking.

We think that otherwise nice people, clean people, respectable people are where it’s at.

But Jesus is going after the hard cases. He is.

[And, by the way, that includes all of the nice, clean, respectable people who come to realize what their truly greatest problem really is!]

But Jesus is going after the hard cases.

He is not a cushy doctor who is just doing routine check-ups.

He is an ER doctor with his sleeves rolled up and blood up to his elbows saving the most desperate cases from their greatest problem.

In fact, He is the doctor who takes on the sickness Himself to cure the patient, dying in the process.

Jesus came for sinners.

He is the answer to our greatest problem.


***

Previous Messages in This Series:01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me

Sunday, August 26, 2018

[Matt's Messages] "Follow Me"

“Follow Me”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
August 26, 2018 :: Matthew 8:18-34 

Our sermon series on the Gospel of Matthew is called “Following Jesus,” because that’s what Matthew wants us to do.

Matthew wrote his gospel as a theological biography of the Lord Jesus Christ–the most compelling person that ever lived and ever will live. Matthew set out to introduce us to Jesus and to hear Jesus’ call to discipleship.

And that’s what we’re going to hear again today. In verse 22, Jesus says, “Follow me.” And that’s what I want to make the title of today’s message.

“Follow Me.”

It’s not the first time that He’s said it in the Gospel of Matthew.

Back in January, we memorized Matthew 4:19. Remember that?

“‘Come follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’”

He calls us to follow Him and to persuade others to follow Him, too.

Today, I have only one point to make. Just one.

I’ll say a bunch of other things, but I’ve only got one central thing to get across. Just one slide up there. And here it is:

FOLLOW JESUS BECAUSE THERE IS NOTHING AND NO-ONE MORE IMPORTANT.

Jesus calls us to follow Him first and foremost because there is nothing more important and there is no-one more important in all the world.

So those are the stakes this morning.

There is nothing more important than following Jesus.

Let’s see how this plays out in Matthew chapter 8.

Two weeks ago, we jumped to the end of Matthew chapter 9, the end of this bigger section of Matthew, and there, when Jesus saw the crowds He felt compassion on them. 

But here, in chapter 8 verse 18, when Jesus sees the crowd that day, He decides to get away. V.18

“When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.”

He is not running away, but He is getting away. He’s taking a kind of retreat.

When we left off last week, Jesus was giving them all a foretaste of the kingdom at Peter’s house in Capernaum. He was casting out evil spirits, healing all the sick including Peter’s mother-in-law. He was exercising great power and authority.

But Jesus didn’t want them to get addicted to His miracles, and He needed a little time away. So He told his disciples to get a boat together and set off across the Sea of Galilee.

But before they can go, Jesus interacts with two potential new followers. V.19

“Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’”

I don’t know about you, but that sounds really good to me.

That sounds like something we ought to be saying to Jesus.

It sounds like something we might sing on a Sunday morning in a hymn or a worship song.

“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

But Jesus doesn’t seem that impressed.

It may be because he’s a teacher of the law, a scribe.

And we know from the Sermon on the Mount, what Jesus thought about the scribes in general.

And it might have been because this guy had his focus on what he was going to do for Jesus not how worthy Jesus was.

I will follow you wherever you go. Yes, I will.

In fact, he might have been saying, “Jesus, this is your lucky day. I am going to follow you wherever you go! I see that you have all of these fishermen and other “lower-class” folks. But now you have me. A teacher of the Law. What are going to do today, Jesus? I hear we’re going for a sail across the lake.”

Listen to Jesus. V.20

“Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’”

What do you hear there?

I hear Him saying, “Are you really going to follow me? That’s good, because there is nothing more important than following me. But it’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be cushy and soft and comfortable.”

This is serious stuff.

Jesus is not discouraging the man from following Him.

He’s disabusing him of his mistaken notions of what it will be like.

Following Jesus is more important than our comfort.

Now, Jesus Himself is comforting. He promises us rest. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

But at the same time it’s a hard road to walk.

Following Jesus is a hard road to walk. A narrow road, He called it.

What are you willing to give up to follow Jesus?

Ask yourself that question.

What are you willing to give up to follow Jesus?

Have you ever thought about how we who are Christians follow a homeless man?

My Savior was a homeless man.

And He has not promised me an earthly home.

He often provides them. But that’s not the promise.

The promise is an eternal home.

And between now and then there will be trouble.

“II have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

In other words, we should follow Jesus, but it’s going to be hard. And yet it is absolutely worth it. ...

We don’t know if this guy kept on following Jesus or not.

We do know that Jesus is looking for real followers.

Not just the ones who say they are going to follow Him and then bail when the going gets tough.

What are you willing to give up to follow Jesus?

I hope the answer is everything. Because He’s worth it.

But so often we hold onto thing. We hold onto our comfort. We hold onto our money. We hold onto our family.

That was the problem of the next guy. V.21

“Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’”

Which sounds totally reasonable to you and me. Right?

Let me do this funeral thing first and then I’ll be right there, Jesus. V.22

“But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’”

Whoa. Those are strong words!

Why did Jesus get so salty with him?

There are two possibilities. One is that the man is asking for basically a year off of discipleship so that he can follow all of the traditions of caring for your deceased parents. That included the funeral and then actually digging up the bones many months later and putting them in an ossuary. And settling the estate. Gotta make sure the money is all there and in the right place. And, then I’m all yours, Jesus.

The other possibility that I think is even more likely. The man’s father isn’t dead yet. And maybe he isn’t even sick!

This guy is asking for a indefinite deferment of his discipleship.

He’s putting it off.

He’s putting Jesus off.

In either of those scenarios, it’s Dad first and Jesus second. Right? V.21 again.

“Lord, FIRST, let me go and bury my father.”

You are important, sure. But this is my Dad!

Have you ever said something like that to Jesus?

I know I have.

You are important, sure. But this is my Sleep!
You are important, sure. But this is my last one (my last dollar, my bite, my last year, my last chance).
Jesus, sure you are important. But first let me...

That’s why Jesus is so up in his face.

“But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’”

He’s not saying that we should dishonor our father and mother. Jesus is big on honoring them.

But that is not more important than following Him!

That’s the priority of the spiritually dead. Let them put second things first.

We need to put first things first. And Jesus is our first thing.

Follow Jesus FIRST AND FOREMOST because there is nothing and no-one more important.

I think it’s interesting that the very next thing they do is follow Him. V.23

“Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. [Of course, they didn’t know what they were in for.] Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.”

Now we know why He needed to get away. He was TIRED.

There is a furious storm. The Greek word is the one for earthquake. There was an earthquake of a storm attacking their boat, and Jesus is asleep.

I love how that shows Jesus’ humanity. He was tired. He needed sleep. He was so tired that he could sleep through a violent storm with the waves coming in over the sides of the boat! V.25

“The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We're going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.”

Can you imagine?

How about the rebuke from Jesus?

“You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”

In the Greek the phrase is “oligopistoi.” “You of little faith.” Jesus used it already in the Sermon on the Mount when He was talking about worry.

Oligopistoi? Why are you so afraid?

The answer is because we know about the storms! We can feel the wind and the waves.

Now, they were right to turn to Jesus. So they had a little faith and it was directed toward the right person.

But Jesus thinks that they should have known by now that they wouldn’t drown in any boat that He is in.

That’s not how He’s going to die!

“Don’t you know who is in your boat?”

I don’t think they did.

When the wind and the waves quieted down, they just stood there gaping at Jesus. V.27

“The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’”

Don’t miss that.

And don’t make it all mythical.

This is not about the “storms in your life.”

Jesus can calm the storms in your life.

That’s true. And I guess it’s even an application of this story.

But this story is history.

Jesus actually talked to the storm, and it had to obey Him!

Who does that?

Only God.

Only the Creator does that.

Listen to Psalm 89:8-9, “O LORD God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O LORD, and your faithfulness surrounds you. You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them.”

Who did that? Who alone is like that? Only God.

Follow Jesus because there is no-one more important.

Following Jesus means putting your faith and trust in Him.

It’s believing that Jesus is God incarnate, God-in-the-flesh.

Believing that the wind and waves obey Him.

Jesus is not just a great teacher.

He is a great teacher. On Back-2-School Sunday, we can safely say that there was never and will never be a greater teacher than the Lord Jesus Christ.

And we just studied one of His greatest teachings, the Sermon on the Mount.

But He is not just a great teacher.

He taught with a greater authority than anyone ever before Him.

And His authority is not just over words and concepts and ideas and truth.

It’s over matter and energy!

It’s over creation itself.

And that should cause us to worship Him in reverence and awe.

That’s why we are here today. Because we worship Jesus.

He is worthy of our worship.

There is no one more important.

One more story. And this is a weird one.

They get to the other side of the lake, and they meet up with two demon-possessed men. V.28

“When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way.”

Matthew is the only gospel writer that tells us there were two of them. Probably one was the more violent and scary and so he got all of the attention from Mark and Luke. But Matthew tells us that there two. And nobody could pass that way because these two guys were possessed by evil spirits.

Unclean spirits and living among the dead in the tombs. Very very unclean! Very very powerful.

But not too powerful for Jesus. V.29. The demons speak.

“‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’ they shouted. ‘Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?’”

Notice the answer to the question of verse 27.

The demons know.

The men asked, “What kind of man is this?”

And the demons say, “This is the Son of God.”

And they have a question for Jesus. Are you here to torture us before judgment day?

One of the commentators I read this week said, yes, that’s why He’s there. To give them a little taste of their own medicine and to give them a little taste of the judgment to come. That’s His prerogative. V.30

“Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding [even more unclean!]. The demons begged Jesus, ‘If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.’ [I don’t know why. But it’s okay with Jesus. V.32] He said to them, ‘Go!’ So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water.”

Yes, the same lake that the disciples just thought they were going to drown in.

It’s now full of deviled ham.

[Sorry, not sorry.]

This is a strange story.

It teaches us that people are more important than animals.

It teaches us that there is an appointed time for demons to be punished.

It teaches us that demons know that Jesus is the Son of God.

All important items.

But I think, most importantly, it teaches us that Jesus IS the Son of God.

That He has authority and power not just over the wind and the waves but over the unseen spirits that inhabit the heavenly realms.

Even the unclean impure evil demonic spirits are subject to Jesus.

What does Jesus say in this story?

What speech does Jesus make?

He just says one word, right?

“Go.”

It’s just like in verse 26. He just stands up and rebukes the storm and it goes, “Sorry.”

And gets all quiet.

He just says to these demons (the other gospels tell us that there are a legion of demons and 2000 pigs). He just says one word. And it’s all over.

There is no one more powerful than Jesus.

There is no one more important in the whole world than Jesus.

And He says, “Follow me.”

Here’s the scary thing though. Not everybody does. Look at verse 33.

“Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.”

Will you please go away?

That’s what they said to Jesus.

It doesn’t say why.

Perhaps they were scared of Him.

You should be.

They were scared of the demon-possessed guys. And this guy says one word and all pig hell breaks loose.

Imagine the squealing violent scary sight that was when those pigs went and drowned themselves!

But I doubt they asked Him to leave because they were scared.

I think they were mad.

I think they had just lost what was most important to them.

Their pigs.

Their money.

That was their bank account. Jesus just sent all of their bank accounts to the bottom of the sea.

He just tossed all of their wallets into the lake.

He just hit delete on all of their accounts.

“Will you please just go away?”

I think their story is in here as a cautionary tale for you and me.

Because they encountered Jesus and decided NOT to follow Him.

There song was, “We have decided to NOT follow Jesus. Please turn back, Jesus. Please turn back.”

They had decided that there was something more important than Jesus.

Today, Jesus is inviting us to follow Him.

But to do that we have to count the cost.

We have to ask ourselves what we are willing to give up.

You see salvation is absolutely free. But it is not easy.

Salvation is by grace through faith and not by our good works.

But Jesus saves us to do good works.

And He calls us to follow Him no matter the cost.

He is more important than our comfort, than our family, than our money.

There is nothing earth and no-one in the universe more important than Jesus.

And we have Him, then we have everything.


***

Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside