Follow Along

Get new posts by email:

Sunday, February 24, 2019

[Matt's Messages] “Great Faith in a Great God”

“Great Faith in a Great God”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
February 24, 2019 :: Matthew 15:21-39

We’re in the second half of the book, and things are beginning to get dicey.

Jesus has withdrawn once already after He got some bad news. But the crowds had followed Him, and He did many compassionate miracles including feeding a crowd of 5,000 men plus women and children, walking on water, and all kinds of healings.

And He’s gotten into some spats with the Jewish Religious Authorities.

Last time, they accused Him of not following the traditions.

He accused them of not following God’s law!

He accused them of missing the whole point.

He accused them of being blind guides and weeds that need pulled up.

He accused them of needing transformation at the heart level.

And, of course, He was right.

But it was winning Him some enemies.

So, in today’s passage, Jesus takes another strategic withdrawal.

And this time He actually goes into the borderland near the outside of Israel.

And He goes into some territory that is primarily occupied, not by Jews or even Samaritans, but just by plain old Gentiles.

In many ways, it’s like a cross-cultural missions trip for Jesus.

One commentator I read this week said that Jesus went into “Paganland” or “Gentileville” in this part of chapter 15.

And guess who He encounters there?

Gentiles!

Bona-fide Gentiles, non-Jews.

It’s interesting because Matthew is the Gospel that is the most focused on Jesus as a Jew. Jesus and the Old Testament. Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament. That’s Matthew’s favorite word, right? “Fulfilled.”

But Matthew is also focused on how this Jewish Messiah is also the Messiah of the Gentiles. We’ve seen it already with the Magi and the Centurion, and we know how this book ends. Jesus gives the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.

So, it looks like Jesus might be doing a little bit of that already.

But He goes about it in a funny way. He starts by arguing the opposite with a Gentile woman.

The title for today’s message is not very clever, but I think it captures the picture that emerges from today’s story.

“Great Faith in a Great God.”

I had some really clever titles for today’s message, that I’ll share with you as we go through it, but what is central to the story is a picture of truly great faith in a truly great God. So that’s what we’ll focus on today.

It starts with Jesus’ strategic withdrawl. Matthew chapter 15, verse 21.

“Leaving that place [where He was arguing with the Pharisees], Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.”

Now, when you hear “Tyre and Sidon,” what do you think?

What comes to mind?

You should think “wicked Gentile territory.”

In the Old Testament, those two port cities were denounced by the prophets. Isaiah 23 and Ezekiel 28 and Amos 1 give those towns the beat-down for their wicked behavior.

They had some good parts to their story, too, especially Tyre because their king Hiram sent a bunch of lumber to Solomon for his building projects.

But they went downhill from there.

This is the “wrong side of the tracks” for faithful Israelites.

In Matthew chapter 11, Jesus had already named them as examples of cities that will be judged by the Lord.

But now Jesus is walking their streets.

And He comes upon a woman. V.22

“A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.’”

Okay, now.

Think about who this woman is for a second.

First, she’s a Canaanite.

You know what? Nobody would be called that during this day.

Canaanite is an Old Testament word for the people who lived in the land before the Conquest in Joshua.

Mark tells us that she is a Syro-Phoenician woman.

Matthew says that she’s from around this vicinity.

Matthew says she’s a Canaanite so that all of his Jewish readers would immediately go, “Yuck.”

She’s not Jewish.
She’s not one of us.
She’s not one of the chosen people.

And she’s a...she.

Canaanite. Woman. From that Vicinity. Three strikes, you’re out.

Let’s get out of here!

What’s Jesus going to do?

Well, this is not just any Canaanite woman from that vicinity.

Look what she says. Look what she calls Jesus.

Remember, keep your eye on the ball in the Gospel of Matthew! It’s always about “Who Is This Jesus?” v.22 again.

“A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!’”

She knows a lot about Jesus.

She knows MORE than the Pharisees do, right?

And she’s a Gentile.

And she’s one of the fiercest things on God's green earth. She's a MOM.

And her daughter is hurting: “My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.’”

“Have mercy on me!”

What a great prayer that is.

If you don’t know what else to pray in any situation, that’s a good one.

In Greek it is “Kyrie Eleison.” Some of you have sung that before. “Kyrie Eleison.” Lord, have mercy.

What do you think Jesus is going to do?

He doesn’t do anything.

V.23  “Jesus did not answer a word.”

That is so hard.

Oh man. That is so hard.

Have you ever been there? You are asking for mercy, and you don’t hear anything back from the Lord?

It’s important in those moments to not make the wrong assumptions about Jesus.

Don’t assume He doesn’t care.

When the Lord is silent, don’t despair or think that He is uninterested in your plight.

Don’t forget Who you know He is when He is silent.

Which He was right then. “Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’”

This lady was a pest.

The disciples interpreted Jesus’ silence as a desire to be rid of her. That was definitely their desire. She kept bothering them about her daughter. This Gentile Canaanite woman from that vicinity.

What do you think Jesus is going to do?

I’ll bet what He does is not what you thought He would.

He basically tells her that He is not there for her. V.24

“He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’”

This is the strangest exchange in the whole Gospel of Matthew!

I would have never come up with it in a thousand years on my own.

Jesus says, “I am on a mission right now. But that mission is to the lost sheep of Israel.”

Remember chapter 10? When Jesus felt compassion for the people who were like sheep without a shepherd so He sent His disciples on a short term missions trip to find what? The lost sheep of Israel. Same phrase.

So that’s what Jesus is up to right now, too. That’ll change by the end of Matthew, but that’s His central mission right now. Be the Promised Messiah for the Jews.

But! But! But!

Where is He?!

He’s in Tyre and Sidon!!!!

If He’s supposed to just be reaching the Jews, He’s got a funny way of doing it!

Here’s what I think.

I can’t prove it, but this is how I read this story.

I think Jesus keeps on looking at this woman to see what she is going to do next.

I think Jesus keeps on looking at this woman to hear what she’s going to say next.

And I think He’s smiling.

I first learned this story from Max Lucado in his book In the Eye of the Storm, and Lucado suggests that Jesus is smiling the whole time and even has his tongue poking in His cheek as he interacts with this lady.

I think that He’s fascinated with her faith and He’s drawing it out of her.

He didn’t send her away like the disciples wanted.

He argues with her. He says something and then sees what she’s going to say.

By the way, when you read the Gospels, watch how Jesus talks to women.

He sees women. He knows them. He talks to them even when other men of that day would not. He touches them. He cares about them. He treats women with dignity.

I know you’re going to laugh that I said that when we reach verse 26, but I mean it. I think He’s treating her with dignity even then.

He’s not going anywhere. He’s interacting with this woman in this moment fully.

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

She doesn’t take no for an answer. V.25

“The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said.”

She calls Him, “Lord”

The Pharisees won’t do that.

They should have.

But this woman gets it. She knows that she has nowhere else to turn.

And that He has the power and authority to do what no one else could.

She’s kneeling before Him. “Lord, help me!”

And still He doesn’t. V.26

“He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs.’”

That seems like one of the harshest things that Jesus ever said.

He seems to be declining the desperate request of a desperate mom and calling her a dog in the process!

But I think He’s smiling at her.

I think there is a twinkle in His eye.

I think that there is a tear in His eye.

And I don’t think He’s taking His eye off of this woman for one second.

And I think she sees it and knows exactly how to respond.

He isn’t calling her a mangy mutt scavenger dog like the Jews thought of them. This isn’t a racial slur.

He’s using the diminutive word for “dog” that the Gentiles used for housepets.

“I’m supposed to be focusing on the children (of Israel), not the Gentile lapdogs.”

And He keeps looking at her. Eyebrows up. Head titled forward. How will she respond to that?

And listen to what she says! V.27

“‘Yes, Lord,’ she said, ‘but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.’”

She gets it!

She says, “Oh, yeah. I know that you’re Israel’s promised Messiah. And that the Jews are getting first dibs....But there’s always leftovers, right?”

“You’ve got enough for us, too, don’t you?”

“It doesn’t have to be either/or, right? It can be both/and, right?”

“You’re great enough and big enough and glorious enough and powerful enough to give the Jews the bread but also to give us the crumbs, right? That’s all we need! Just the crumbs.”

I love verse 28!

“Then Jesus answered, ‘Woman, you have great faith [megalay pistis, great faith!]! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.”

Great faith!

She had:

#1. GREAT FAITH.

I think Jesus knew it the whole time. And He was drawing it out of her.

This was a wise and wonderful woman.

And she had great faith.

Isn’t that interesting? To juxtapose her with the Pharisees who had no faith.

And the disciples who were called (just last chapter!) “oligopistoi.” “O you of little faith.”

This Canaanite woman from that vicinity had truly great faith.

What was so great about it?

What can we learn from her great faith?

I see at least three things:

- Her faith was persistent.

She really kept at it, didn’t she?

She kept asking, seeking, knocking the way Jesus tells us to pray:

V. 22, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
V. 23, “She keeps crying out after us.”
V. 25, “Lord, help me!”
V. 27, “Yes, Lord, but!”

This is one of those times when it’s okay to say, “Yes, Lord, but” to the Lord!

When you are telling Him how awesome He is.

When you are reminding Him how gracious He is.

When you are recalling for Him how magnificently generous He is.

You can repeat that all day every day.

And we should.

How persistent are you in your prayers for the things that you know would bring glory to the Lord?

I was at the Harvest Prayer Time yesterday morning, and I was struck by the persistent prayers of that bunch of godly saints. Some of the people prayed for by name are people I’ve heard prayed for by name by those same people for the last 21 years in prayer meetings.

Amen for persistence when you know it would bring glory to the Lord.

That shows great faith.

- This woman’s faith was also perceptive.

She knew to whom she was appealing.

She had her eye on the ball.

She knew that Jesus was the Son of David, the Lord.

And she knew that Jesus had more than enough grace to meet her family’s need.

She saw that with the eyes of faith.

Are we perceptive in our prayers?

Do we truly recognize to Whom we are talking when we pray?

Did you ever change your tone of voice when you realized you were talking to someone important?

Did every stand up straighter when you realized who you had on the line?

Did you speak more respectfully?

Did you speak more confidently? More expectantly?

This woman was asking for something BIG.

Can you imagine? “My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession. Please, do something about it!”

This woman was asking for something BIG.

But she knows that she’s asking it FROM Someone big.

And that Someone Big says that her faith is big.

“Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”

- Her faith was praised.

I don’t know about you, but I would love for someday, the Lord to say to me, “Matt, you have great faith.”

I’m pretty sure He couldn’t do that now.

So, I need repent and open my eyes and heart even further.

But it’s my desire. For my faith to be praised by the Savior.

By the way, I almost titled this message, “Jesus is really going to the dogs.”

And I also almost titled this message, “Great Faith,” but I didn’t think that was enough.

Because the point of the Gospel of Matthew is not the faith of this woman as great as it was.

The point of the Gospel of Matthew is the identity of Jesus.

It’s about Whom the great faith is placed in.

It’s Great Faith in a Great God.

So, let’s go on just little bit further. After the daughter’s healing. V.29

“Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. [This is still in heavily Gentile territory. Mark tells us it was near the cities of the Decapolis, the 10 Gentile Cities on the east side of Galilee.] Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.”

#2. GREAT GOD.

Now, this does any of this sound familiar?

He sits on mountainside?

Like the sermon on the mount. He’s teaching.

And then He’s healing. And Who is He healing?

“...the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others..”

Reminiscent again of Isaiah 35.

And the people are amazed.

But look whom they praised! “And they praised the God of Israel.”

These are Gentiles!!

Jesus didn’t just heal one Canaanite woman’s daughter.

He’s throwing healing all over the place!

There’s “crumbs” landing left and right.

He’s not just the Messiah for Israel!

And then He puts on the cap on it. You thought it sounded familiar before. Listen to this. V.32

“Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for these people [“Ugh. I feel it right here in my gut. I have compassion for these Gentiles”]; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat [they have run out]. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.’ [This sound familiar? It’s supposed to!]

His disciples answered, ‘Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?’ [I almost titled this message, “enough bread.” These guys are oligopistoi aren’t they? Very little faith. Ever after all of what they have seen!]

‘How many loaves do you have?’ Jesus asked. ‘Seven,’ they replied, ‘and a few small fish.’ He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. [This is starting to sound really familiar!] Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand, besides women and children. [It’s not the same event, just told twice.] After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.”

Why did He do this whole miracle thing a second time?

I think it was because He did it in the region populated by the Gentiles.

He did it to show that He loves the non-Jews, too.

He did it to show that He is more than enough for the Gentiles, as well.

He has more than enough compassion.

Not just for the Jews but also for ... us, right? I mean we are Gentiles here, right?

Often when we read a Bible story, we think of the Jews as being us. But we’re not the Jews, not most of us.

We’re the Gentiles.

And Jesus has more than enough compassion for us.

And Jesus has more than enough provision for us.

And Jesus has more than enough power for us.

And Jesus has more than enough satisfaction for us.

This story is in here to show just how great a God Jesus is.

He isn’t just more than enough for the Jews.

He is that!

He came for them.

But He’s got plenty of leftovers for us, too.

I almost titled this message, “leftovers,” but I didn’t want you think it was about stale pizza.

How many baskets were left over for Israel in chapter 14?

12. How many tribes of Israel? 12.

How many baskets left over in this region in chapter 15?

7. What is the number of perfection or completion?  It’s 7.

Everybody is satisfied, a foretaste the great Messianic banquet in the kingdom to come.

Everybody in Israel who trusts in Jesus Christ and everybody outside of Israel who trusts in King Jesus.

Jesus is enough for all.

He is great enough for all.

With lots left over!

Jesus is overflowing and superabounding with grace.

Oh, to have great faith in this great God!


****

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
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus
40. It Is I.
41. Worthless Worship

Sunday, February 17, 2019

[Matt's Messages] “Worthless Worship”

“Worthless Worship”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
February 17, 2019 :: Matthew 15:1-20

It’s been a couple of weeks since we were together in the Gospel of Matthew. You might remember, however, that chapter 14 had two major miracles in it. Jesus fed a gigantic crowd with just 5 loaves and 2 fish. And then He walked on water.

Both of those are amazing miracles!

And both of them pointed to His true identity.

Remember that the Gospel of Matthew is a theological biography. The central point of the gospel is to establish the identity of the central subject. Who is this Jesus?

We saw last time that when Jesus was walking on the water, He said, “It is I. Ego eimi. I am.”

And His disciples worshiped Him and said, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

They could tell by the miracles.

When they reached the shore, they landed at a place called Gennesaret. And they people there recognized Who Jesus was, too. And people came from all over to bring Him their sick and even to just touch the edge of His cloak and be healed.

So, you might think that when chapter 15 begins, the Jewish leaders, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, having heard what Jesus was up to, might come to Him and ask if they could be His disciples.

You might think that they would, having heard the stories of Jesus’ teaching and miracles, bow down before Him and recognize Him as the Messiah, the promised anointed leader who was to come.

That’s what should have happened.

But that’s NOT what happened.

Those leaders did come. But they came to oppose Jesus, not receive Him.

Let me tell you what the title is for today’s message. We’re going to cover verses 1 through 20 this morning under this title, “Worthless Worship.”

Jesus doesn’t pull any punches in today’s story. He tells it like it is, and it ain’t pretty.

At one point (in verse 9), Jesus will say, quoting Isaiah, that some people “worship [God] in vain.”

They are worshiping people.
They are religious people.
They are people busy doing things that have some connection with God.

But it’s actually worthless.

It’s worship, but it’s worthless.

“They worship me in vain...”

Oh friends, I don’t want that to be said about you and me.

Because it’s not just Sunday morning worship here, that He’s talking about.

He’s talking about 24/7 worship.

He’s talking about a fake godliness.

A fake, pretend relationship with God.

In today’s terms, we’d say, “A Worthless Christianity.”

I would hate for that to be true of me or anyone here that I care about.

So this is important.

We need to read this and consider how to make sure the opposite is true of us.

That our Christianity is not worthless.

That our godliness is real.

That our worship is worth something.

Do you want that?

I know I do.

There is trouble brewing.

It’s in the air. If you have been paying attention, you can see it on both sides. Jesus has been critical of the Jewish Religious Authorities, especially the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.

And they have not liked it one bit. They have even begun to quietly plot the downfall of Jesus.

It’s only going to get worse. It’s only going to escalate.

Here, they send a delegation to Jesus to ostensibly ask a question.

But it’s really an accusation. Look at verse 1.

“Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked,  ‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!’”

Now, to us that sounds like a hygiene question, but it’s not.

They aren’t asking why Jesus’ disciples don’t wash up before dinner.

It isn’t about germs or bacteria.

It’s about ritual cleanness and ritual uncleanness.

The Jews had developed some traditions about rituals that they thought you should go through before you ate something.

It wasn’t in the Law. This is not in the Old Testament. It’s not in the Torah.

The Law said that the priests needed to do a ritual cleaning before they served in the tabernacle or the temple.

And the Pharisees said, “That’s such a good idea. We should all do it every time we eat!”

And so they came up with some rules.

In time, there is an entire tractate in the Mishnah about how to do this the right way.

“Good Jews were expected to perform ritual hand washing before, during, and after each meal. A person would first pour water over his hands with the fingers pointing up and with the water reaching the wrist, then he would point the finger down and pour the water again, this time allowing the water to drip off the fingers. If one mixed up this order or poured the water both times with the hands pointed up or down, the hands were still ritually unclean. Each hand had to be rubbed with the other, but this could not be done until the other hand was clean” (CSB Study Bible, pg. 1526).

Now, again, where is that in the Law?

It’s not in the Law.

But all of the religious people were doing it.

But Jesus’ disciples were NOT doing it.

And that said to the Pharisees that there was something wrong with their rabbi!

“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!”

“What’s wrong with them?

What’s wrong with you?

Your worship is all wrong.

Don’t you want to worship the right way when you eat?!”

How is Jesus going to answer this?

How is Jesus going to defend His disciples?

He doesn’t defend. He attacks. Jesus goes right on the offensive. V.3

“Jesus replied, ‘And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?  For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' he is not to 'honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.”

Well, that escalated quickly.

Jesus answers their accusation with an accusation of His own.

He accuse them of nullifying the word of God for the sake of their traditions.

What did He mean?

He sets aside the washing stuff for a minute, kind of. He’s really kind of still talking about it. But he redirects their attention.

He says, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, 'Honor your father and mother...'”

Is that in the Bible?
Is that in the Old Testament?
Is that in the Torah?

Yes, it is. Where is that found?

That’s one of the big 10, right?

Exodus chapter 20, verse 12.

“Honor your father and mother.”

That’s something God did tell them to do.

And Exodus 21 takes it further, “Anyone who cures his father or mother must be put to death” under the Old Covenant.

This is serious stuff straight from God.

Nobody’s arguing with it.

But some people do try to wiggle out of it.

Look at verse 5.

“But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' he is not to 'honor his father’ with it.”

This is the practiced called “Corban.”

It’s really tricky.

Let’s say that you are angry with your folks and you don’t want to use any of your money to take care of them in their old age.

What should you do?

Never mind that the Law said to honor your father and your mother.

We can get around that.

Let’s have you do the Corban thing.

Let’s have you devote a big amount of your money into a religious irrevocable trustfund called “Corban.”

“This money is no longer mine. It’s “devoted to God.” It’s devoted to the temple.

When I die, the temple gets it.

Now, I can still use it for limited things. Because I’m not dead yet.

But I can’t help other people with it. Not even Mom and Dad. No, it’s devoted “to God.”

Look how godly I am!  I have devoted my money “to God.”

Sorry, Mom and Dad. It’s tough for you, I know.

But it’s the price you pay for being godly!”

Do you see what they are doing there?

Jesus did. Jesus says (v.6), “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.”

It’s not bad to have a tradition.

Traditions can be a really good thing.

But not if they get in the way of true obedience.

Traditions are bad if they take the place of God’s word.

Now that raises a few good questions, I think.

Like, can I tell the difference between what is just a tradition and what is commanded by God?

Can you do that?

I think many people don’t know their Bibles good enough to tell the difference.

In one of the commentaries read this week, the author said, “In a church I know well, a deacon I respect in most other matters rebuked a person for wearing work clothes to church (even though she had just gotten off work); another leader in the same church had gone unrebuked for sleeping with a woman who whom he was not married” (Craig Keener, pg. 262).

Which of those are commands from God?

Does the Bible say that we should dress up for church?

Other than telling us to dress modestly, the Bible doesn’t say anything about what kind of clothes to wear to church.

But God’s Word does tell us that sexual relations should all take place within the covenant of marriage. And the wedding bed should not be defiled.

Can we tell the difference between traditions and Word of God?

Another question this raises is are we making excuses to keep from obeying God?

Because that’s what this was, right?

It was obvious to Jesus.

They were trying to wiggle out of keeping God’s commands while promoting their own supposed godliness.

Do you and I do that?

Are we always on the lookout for loopholes?

For excuses?

We love our excuses in American culture, don’t we?

“It’s in my DNA.”
“My parents messed me up.”
“He makes me so mad.”
“If you had had the schooling I had, you’d act like this, too.”
“That was the alcohol speaking.”
“That was my depression speaking, not really me.”
“It’s her fault.”
“It’s his fault.”

Here the excuses are religious.

“It’s what everyone else does.”
“I have to do it. My religion says so.”

It’s using one part your religion to do something that the Bible actual says the opposite on.

Jesus calls us on our excuses.

He says, “No way. You don’t get to play that game.”

One other key question I think this raises.

Do we honor our father and mother?

That’s one of those commands that seem really important if you’re the father or the mother, but you don’t think about so much when you’re the child.

How are you doing at that one?

They don’t have to be living to be honored.

They don’t have to even be honorable to be honored.

There is a right way to do it even when they are dishonorable.

But if they are living and they are honorable, it’s all the more important.

And it’s obviously not good enough to just say that you do it, but then not actually do it.

There’s a word for that, and Jesus uses it (v.7), “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’”

Worthless worship.

Hypocritical worship is worse than faulty worship. It’s worthless.

It’s empty. It’s void and vain.

“They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

That’s it. That’s all they are.

Jesus hates hypocrisy.

He doesn’t hate religious people. But He hates fake religious people.

If they talk the talk but don’t...what? Walk the walk, right?

They go through all the motions.
They go to church.
They give money.
They dress up.
They show up.
They sing the songs.

But it’s all outward.

And the outward is more important to them than the inward.

The outward always trumps the inward.

So it’s really all fake. V.8 again.

“'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

The truth is that they have “far away hearts.” Far away from God.

So here’s what we need instead:

#1. CLOSE HEARTS.

We need hearts that are close to God.

That have a heart for His heart.

Hearts that care about what God cares about.

Hearts that want to please God no matter what.

Hearts that don’t care what it looks like on the outside. We are going to do God what wants.

That was a big part of the whole point of the Sermon on the Mount, right?

The inside-out kingdom.

It is so easy to get the outside cleaned up and to look good to other people.

To look godly to other people.

And for it just to be a big show.

This is one of the dangers for all Christians but especially for those in vocational ministry like myself.

Pastors are tempted to build up a reputation for godliness and not actually be godly on the inside.

Looking good.
Sounding good.

And missing what’s really important.

Close hearts.

Hearts that draw near to God.

How do you know if your heart is drawn near to God?

You can tell by your actions.

You can tell by your obedience.

You can tell by putting to death your excuses and doing what you know is the right thing to do.

You can tell by putting your money where your mouth is.

You might be able to fool all of the people some of the time.
You might be able to fool some of the people all of the time.
You might even be able to fool yourself some of the time.

But you can’t fool God.

And why would you want to?

Let’s put to death our fake religiosity and live out the real deal.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be the real deal.

Now, Jesus has not actually changed the subject.

He’s actually giving his answer to the question raised by the Pharisees in verse 2. “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” v.10

“Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'’”

In other words, these guys over here have got it wrong.

It’s not what you take in, it’s what comes out that matters.

It’s not what you eat with unclean hands that defiles you.

It’s what you say that defiles you.

It’s what comes out of you that is clean or unclean.

And they understood that He was attacking them. V.12

“Then the disciples came to him and asked, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?’ [Oh really! Good. I’m glad they got it. V.13] He replied, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.’”

Whew! Those are strong words.

Jesus is saying that the Pharisees are weeds.

Remember the parable of the wheat and the weeds?

These guys are weeds.

I don’t care if they are the leaders.
I don’t care if they are the ones in charge.
I don’t care if they have a reputation for being godly.

They aren’t!

So don’t follow them.

It would be like the blind leading the blind.

And do I have to tell you how that will end up?

Be careful who your leaders are.

Be careful who you follow.

Be careful who you call as your pastor.

Be careful who you listen to on the radio or podcasts or the television.

Be careful you read.

Not all pastors are good.

Some are weeds, and one day the Lord is going to pull them up by the roots.

Leave them before you blindly fall into a pit.

Dump the fake pastors before someone gets hurt.

So Peter still doesn’t get it. But he knows to ask Jesus. V.15

“Peter said, ‘Explain the parable to us.’ ‘Are you still so dull?’ Jesus asked them.”

Poor Peter!

The truth is that he was.

He didn’t get it yet.

Jesus doesn’t think it’s a parable. He means it quite literally. V.17

“‘Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.'’”

Got it now?

It’s not unclean food that makes you unclean.

It’s not what goes into you that makes you unclean.

Food by itself is not spiritual.

It doesn’t do anything to your spiritual state.

What is spiritual?

Your heart is.

And what really matters is not what goes into you but what comes out.

Now, that kind of scary.

You might be happy to hear that what really matters is not the outside but the inside.

Until you find out how dirty your insides really are.

In verse 19, Jesus basically lists the last 5 or 6 commandments, and says that breaking them comes from our dirty hearts.

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

"Where did that come from?
I didn’t mean that!
I don’t know how I ended up here."

Do you ever feel that way about your sin?

I was confessing my sin to a friend this week, and I said that I had backed into it.

I didn’t even realize how I had gotten there.

Well, Jesus knew. He knew it came from my heart.

On our own, we have dirty hearts and that leads the worthless worship.

So what we need is the opposite.

#2. CLEAN HEARTS.

We need to stop making excuses and simply repent.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

The good news is that Jesus is in the business of cleansing hearts.

That’s why His disciples didn’t wash their hands.

To get people to think about what really mattered.

Not ritually clean hands, but righteously cleaned hearts.

What’s in your heart?

What’s coming out of your heart?

What do you need Jesus to do?


****

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
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus
40. It Is I.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

"He doesn’t carry a club for nothing."

Slogging Along in the Paths of Righteousness: Psalms 13–24Slogging Along in the Paths of Righteousness: Psalms 13–24 by Dale Ralph Davis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dale Ralph Davis is my all-time-favorite Old Testament commentary writer.

His books are a perfectly delightful concoction of pungent wordsmithing, scholarly erudition, homespun storytelling, and warm-hearted piety. They are how devotional-level commentaries ought to be written.

Felicitously, this year, I’m slowly working through the Psalms each day, and I had not yet read Slogging Along in the Paths of Righteousness which tracks the second twelve Psalms in the Psalter. [Tell me that he’s writing on the next twelve!] So Davis has been my close companion for Psalms 13-24.

I don’t have time to write a full review, but here’s a taste from Psalm 23–a psalm that could easily be too familiar and overexposed to really hear. But Davis, while not introducing novelty is always fresh. He offers his own translation:

'Your club and your staff–they comfort me.' In part, the club and staff comfort because they are tokens of the shepherd’s presence–much as a hammer, saw, and tape measure imply a carpenter is near. But the shepherd also uses the club and staff; the staff to guide or control the flock, the club to beat the daylights out of the sheep’s enemies.
We may need a corrective here; we need to remember that a shepherd’s work was hard and dangerous, and shepherds had to be ‘tough hombres.’ In his encyclopedic "Treasury of David," C. H. Spurgeon includes a quotation from J. M. Porter, who described some nineteenth-century shepherds he observed, apparently in northern Transjordan:
"The shepherds themselves had none of that peaceful and placid aspect which is generally associated with pastoral life and habit. They looked like warriors marching to the battlefield–a long gun slung from the shoulder, a dagger and heavy pistols in the belt, a light battle-axe or ironheaded club in the hand. Such were the equipments; and their fierce flashing eyes and scowling countenances showed but too plainly that they were prepared to use their weapons at any moment."
Let this percolate in your gray matter. Let us realize that Jesus Christ, our Shepherd, is no emaciated weakling. Our shepherd is a warrior, as shepherds had to be. No one can snatch His sheep out of his hand. The muscles of Jesus’ arm are flexed to defend His flock; He doesn’t carry a club for nothing. He is obviously enough for whatever the valley throws at us.
Amen!

[I have slightly slightly edited the long quotation, deleting the parenthetical references and adding some paragraphing for clarity on this page.]

View all my Goodreads reviews.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

[Matt's Messages] “The Creator and His Creation”

“The Creator and His Creation”
Reflections on the 2019 EFCA Theology Conference
February 10, 2019 :: Genesis 1, Revelation 21

Thank you for sending me this week to the EFCA Theology Conference. This was my fifth year in a row getting to attend this national conference of EFCA pastors and church leaders and theologians who care deeply about thinking deeply about God and His Word.

Thank you for praying for me, especially on Wednesday, as I answered questions as part of a panel that was doing a Q&A on the proposal before the conference this summer to change a word in our doctrinal statement. I was nervous right up to the beginning of the hour, but by the end, I wished that I had gotten to answer more questions! I know that was your prayers. So thank you!

The conference had a lot of other parts to it than I will share with you this morning, but the seven main sessions were all about The Doctrine of Creation. It’s theological significance and implications.

And it was a really really good conference!

The teaching was rich and expert and excellent and careful and thoughtful and coherent.

I was really glad that I got to participate, and I wished that you all could take it all in, as well.

So, I thought, what if I gave them just a few of the highlights of things I learned or was struck by?

So, that’s what we’re going to do today.

Normally, when Christians start talking about the Doctrine of Creation, the discussion almost inevitably goes over to the questions of WHEN and HOW?

“When was the world created and how was the world created?
When were humans created and how were humans created?

How old is the Earth?
How old is humanity?”

Questions like that.

And those are good questions that must be wrestled with especially in light of the current somewhat contentious consensus of modern science on those questions.

There is tension there.

But that’s not what our conference was about.

Those questions were there and running in the background, but they weren’t in the foreground at this conference. Just one of the 7 talks got into it.

Trinity, our school, has been studying the doctrine of creation from multiple angles  as part of a three year project funded by a 3.4 million dollar Templeton grant.

And this conference was part of the fruit of that project.

The point of our conference was theological.

The theological significance and implications (practical) for the doctrine of Creation.

So the chief questions were more like: WHY and WHO and SO WHAT?

Those are tied to WHEN and HOW, of course.

But they are more fundamental and more meaningful for our every day lives.

As I said, there were seven main talks about the Creator and His Creation, but I want to give you the whole thing in just three big biblical ideas.

Number One:

#1. GOD MADE ALL THINGS GOOD.

Let’s look at Genesis chapter 1, verse 1.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

The first sentence in the Bible, and what a sentence it is!

Our statement of faith starts here, too.

In Article One it says, “We believe in one God, Creator of all things...”

When Moses says “the heavens and the earth” that is what is called merism.

A merism is when you give two contrasting things and you mean those two things and everything in between.

Day and Night
A to Z
From Soup to Nuts

What that means is heaven and earth and everything that is between the two.

Which is...everything!

It is all things!

God made all things.

If it’s a thing, and it isn’t God, it was made by God.

Just let your mind be blown by that.

That’s what we spent the week thinking about.

Being a creation of God.

Being in the creation of God.

Do you think of yourself as a part of creation?

Do you think of creation at all?

And God didn’t just make all of creation but He made it all good.

That’s the refrain of the song of Genesis chapter 1.

I won’t read it all to you, but again and again it says, “God saw that it was good.”

“God saw that it was good.”
“God saw that it was good.”
“God saw that it was good.”
“God saw that it was good.”

And then when He had made everything including us, it says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

Now, this is something I needed to hear this week.

I needed to be reminded of how good creation is.

How pleasing. How right. How precious. How wonderful. How well-designed.

How good creation is.

The Hebrew word is “Tov.”

As in “Mazel Tov.”

Tov, Tov, Tov.

I needed to be reminded because the world has been corrupted by sin.

This world is broken. All things are not as they should be.

I don’t have to convince you of that.

All you have to do is watch the news.

Go to a hospital or a funeral.

But that comes in at Genesis 3.

That’s not how things were designed to be.

That’s not how things were at the beginning.

God made all things good.

Now, what are the implications of that?

We could spend the whole morning just on that!

But here’s one. God deserves all of our worship for making all of the things–including us!

Worship!

What kind of a God can make all of this?

I talk to a lot of hunters who worship God in nature.

They go out there in the woods, and they say, “How can anyone doubt that there is a God when they see that?”

And they are led to worship the Creator God in His Creation.

And that’s exactly right.

You know my favorite place on God’s green Earth, right?

Cook Forest State Park.

I can see the glory of God in what He has made.

Trees, ferns, river, stones, wild-life, hills, trails. Beautiful!

There is very little light pollution there.

On a clear night, I like to go out to this one field and just look at all of the stars. You can see like the whole Milky Way.

Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

Now, get this.

The world needs God, but God does not need the world.

The theological/philosophical word for that is “contingent.” The world is contingent, but God is not.

The world depends on God, but God does not depend on the world.

Even if there was no world, there still would be a God.

But if there was no God, there would be no world.

God made all things good, and that means that He deserves all of our worship!

That means giving thanks for all of our gifts.

When we pray before a meal, we thank the Lord for His good provision.

But we should give thanks just for existing at all!

Because we wouldn’t if it wasn’t for Him.

And don’t forget, we were made by God through Jesus.

John picked up this these in His Gospel

“In the beginning [what] was the Word [who we know as Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

All things were made through Jesus.

Paul said it this way in Colossians 1, “For by him [Jesus] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

I guess He deserves all of our worship!

If He wasn’t holding us all together, we would all fly apart!

God Made All Things Good.

Metal? Stars!  Hot.  Cold.  Wet.  Moist.  Fire.  Nuclear Fission.  Atomic Particles.  Brain Cells.  Mountains.  Weather.  Blood Vessels.  Continents.  Snow.  Mice.  Microbes.  Blue Whales.  Tomatoes.  Eggs.  Galaxies.  Moons.  Meteors.  Tidal Waves.  Northern Lights.  Dirt.  Milk.  The Big Dipper.  Softness.  Scratchiness.  Lukewarmness.  Humanity.  Grasshoppers. Light Waves.  E=MC2.  Gorillas.  Giraffes.  Deserts.  Palm Trees.  Mexican Jumping Beans.  Caves.  Windstorms.  Ponds.  Fresh Air.  Falling Leaves.  Corn Cobs. The Milky Way.  Combustion.  Eyelashes.  Uranium.  The Smell of Skunks.  The Color Purple.  The Fabric of Reality. 

God Made All Things Good.

Number Two.

#2. GOD MADE ALL OF US IN HIS IMAGE.

Drop your eyes down to verses 26 through 28.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’”

God made all of humanity in His image.

Last year, we learned the Latin phrase for that: “Imago Dei.” Remember that?

The image of God.

We were made special. The capstone of creation.

And were made to image God in the world.

There are so many implications for that.

One is just the sanctity of life, right?

What the folks from the PRC are always talking about, “You matter to God.”

Human life is sacred.

We can’t trash humans.

We aren’t allowed to just treat humans like trash.

Especially the most vulnerable.

We’ve seen in our culture just recently an abhorrent disdain for human life.

Made in the image of God.

One of the speakers, Paige Cunningham, is the director of Trinity’s Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.

And that’s one of the things she talked about–humans have an intrinsic dignity because we are stamped with the very likeness of God.

And, of course, that goes for humans of all races. This is Black History month, and I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the disgraceful ways that African-Americans have been treated over the last 400 years.

How different the story could have been if they had been treated as the image-bearers they are!

We tend to love and respect and care for those people who look the most like us.

But God says that fundamentally all humans look, in some way, like Him[!]. That’s more basic, and that should govern how we treat each other.

Including how we talk to one another.

Like on social media?

Remember when you say something on social media about someone else, even if that someone is a politician or a celebrity or your opponent or your enemy, they are first and foremost made in the image of God.

James says, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” And that's whether you a trashing President Trump or Speaker Pelosi or someone else.

Let that guide your typing on your phone.

God made all of us in His image.

Both male and female.

Did you catch that in verse 27?

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

One of the talks was about human sexuality.

That humans come in two different sexes: male and female.

And that is good. That is tov.

And all of the implications of that.

Marriage, for example.

God has designed marriage to be a covenantal relationship between one man and one woman.

And sexual relations are to be exclusively practiced within that covenant of marriage between one man and one woman.

That is tov.

Sadly, our world is not tov in so many ways.

On this side of Genesis 3, we see gender dysphoria. Where a person can feel greatly distressed about their biological sex and feel a mismatch between their biological sex and their own mental identity.

On this side of Genesis 3, we see same-sex attraction. Where a person is drawn romantically and sexually to people of their own sex instead of to the other sex.

And on this side of Genesis 3, we all need to have great compassion for people who are experiencing those things.

Because on this side of Genesis 3, we are all sexually broken, just in different ways.

We all feel the effects of the Fall.

We can’t celebrate that sexual brokenness.

But we can have all kinds of compassion for others.

And walk alongside them.

And, by God grace, point them towards God’s good design.

Tov.

The speaker about this said something really profound. He pointed to Jesus who was male and is still male today.

And he said that Jesus was fully human and fully sexual as a male but not fallen in any way.

Fully human and fully sexual.

And yet Jesus never "had sex."

He didn’t have to "have sex" to be fully human or to be fully actualized or even fully male.

Think about the implications of that.

Our culture doesn’t get that. Not at all.

Our culture thinks that having sex is life.

But as good as sex is, and it was designed by God, so it’s really good.

It isn’t that important.

It’s not where life is.

Just look at Jesus.

That re-calibrates singleness, doesn’t it?
That re-calibrates celibacy.
That re-calibrates sexuality.

You can see how much there was to think about this week.

God made all of us in His image.

And when He did that, He gave us work to do, didn’t He?

There was a whole message on our responsibility to care for the creation that He gave us.

So what Jared does over there in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

What we should all do as we care for this world that He has given us dominion over.

Don’t let the politically far Left be the only people talking about caring for this world. God told us right here that we are to be the benevolent rulers, protecting and cultivating and caring for this creation. We are stewards of it, and will be held accountable for what we did with it.

And there was a whole message on The Doctrine of Creation and Human Work.

Do you remember a few years ago I got fired up by a teacher who said that we pastors don’t do enough to prepare our people to be disciples of Jesus in the workplace, and I preached a series of messages called “Working for the Lord?” Remember that?

That same guy did this talk at the conference.

And he gave me another great idea for how to see our work as worship and to highlight your work for the Lord on Sunday mornings.

Starting today, we’re going to have regular interviews and prayer times on Sundays that we’re going to call “Jesus at Work.”

And I want to do the first one right now.

I called Laurie last night and asked if she would serve as a guinea pig for this.

Laurie, if you would come up here?

I’ve got three questions for you, and then we’ll pray for you.

1. What will you be doing this week at work?
2. What are joys and challenges in your work right now?
3. How can we be praying for you as you do your work this week?

We were created for work.

Not just work for compensation, but work for contribution.

Work as our worship. Serving the Lord as His image-bearing creation in His creation.

One more point this morning, and then we’ll go.

And by the way, we’re going to do prayer corners again this week.

And the folks in these prayer corners would love to pray for you about your work this week.

God cares about your work.

God made all of us in His image, and put us to work.

#3. GOD WILL MAKE ALL THINGS NEW.

The conference wrapped up with a message from my friend Mike Wittmer on the Doctrine of Creation and Human Destiny.

And what Mike said was so encouraging because He said that the creation is going to be restored to what it was supposed to be “tov” and even better.

We’re not just going to go to heaven someday, but we’re going to get a New Heaven and New Earth!

Turn to Revelation chapter 21. Look at the first 5 verses:

“Then I [John] saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. [That was the goal all along. Immanuel, right?] They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. [God with us!] He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ [Genesis 3 will be undone. The curse will be reversed. V.5] He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’”

My friend Mike said, “Notice that it doesn’t say, ‘I will make all new things.’ It says, ‘I will make all things new.’”

It will be this world but resurrected.

Mike called it "the Consummation."

“No more death or mourning or crying or pain.”

All of the goodness, the tov, of creation, and none of the bad.

And because of Jesus, it will not just be like it was, it will be redeemed, restored, resurrection, refreshed.

God will make all things new.

What’s the application of that?

Live for and long for that day.

Live for it.

Everything we’ve talked about this morning and more.

Worshiping God for making all things good.
Living out God’s good design in human sexuality, human dignity, human stewardship because of the image of God in humanity.
Working for the Lord in His good creation.

Living for the Lord as His good creation.

And also longing for that day to come when all will be restored.

That’s why the Bible ends with this last prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Come to make all things new.


****

Questions for Group Discussion

1. Read Genesis 1:1 and make as many observations as you can about that one verse. How foundational is it to everything that we know and believe?

2. What did God make? What does it mean that His creation was made “good?” What are some of the implications of that truth?

3. Read John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:15-17, and Hebrews 1:1-3. What do you learn about Jesus’ relationship to creation in these passages?

4. Read Genesis 1:26-28. What are a few of the implications of the truth that we are made in the image of God? For example, reflect some on the implications for human work, human stewardship, human sexuality, and human dignity. How might you live differently this week because you remember that you are an image-bearer and so are all of the people you interact with?

5. Read Revelation 21:1-5. Do you long for the return of Christ? What do you long for most? How can we pray for each other this week in light of what we’ve learned today?

Sunday, February 03, 2019

[Matt's Messages] "It Is I."

“It Is I.”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
January 6, 2019 :: Matthew 14:22-36 

It’s in the all the Bible story books.

We love to tell it to our children.

We love to make application of this story to our spiritual lives.

I can think of a bunch of songs about it. Book titles. Even memes and jokes.

Jesus walks on the water.

It’s the quintessential miracle story about Jesus.

And, just think, it actually happened.

I think sometimes that we can turn this story into a metaphor, and we can miss the fact that it was first of all history.

This isn’t just a story about somebody so wonderful they could “quote unquote walk on water.” This is a story about a time that a man really did! In fact, for a short amount of time, two men really did!

But that’s getting ahead of the story.

First, we need to get our eyes on the ball.

What is the ball in the Gospel of Matthew?

It’s the identity of Jesus, right?

Matthew is a theological biography of the most compelling Person Who ever lived.

The key question that Matthew is always answering–through his genealogies, his stories, his reports of Jesus’ teaching, the miracles, the parables, everything–the key question is “Who is Jesus?”

And once you know, believe, and receive the answer, you are invited and compelled to follow Him. To follow Jesus.

So, Who is this Jesus?

This story at the end of Matthew 14 takes the answer to that question to a whole other level.

And the answer can be captured in a very short little sentence in verse 27.

Jesus says it. He says, “It Is I.”

That’s proper English by the way.

We tend to say, “It’s me.”

But the correct first person pronoun in a predicate nominative is “I.”

[I had an English teacher for a mom! So I had to know.]

Your English versions have it correct. “It is I.”

The Greek is “ego eimi.”

And it makes all of the difference.

Those little words are just as, if not more, important than the miracle itself!

Jesus said, “It is I.”

This story begins with the humanity of Jesus.

It’s going to progress quickly to the divinity of Jesus.

But, I think because it’s going to go there, Matthew starts by painting for us a picture of a very human Jesus.

He wants to be alone.

If you remember, last week, Jesus wanted to be alone, and it didn’t work.

He had heard some bad news, and He wanted to go to a solitary place.

But the crowds found Him.

And He was compassionate. He healed their sick and eventually fed a gigantic crowd.

But He still wants to be alone.

He wants some time alone to pray.

So He sends everybody away. The crowd and His disciples. Verse 22.

“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side [of the Sea of Galilee], while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.”

Don’t miss that.

In all of the excitement that is soon to come in this story, don’t miss Jesus’ need for time alone with His Father.

And if Jesus needed time alone with His Father, how much more do you and I?

“...he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.”

Do you get alone with God to pray?

Now, I don’t know if Jesus was planning to walk across the Sea this whole time or if He had another plan and decided on the spur of the moment.

He definitely hadn’t told anyone what His plan was because they are sure surprised, but it’s interesting to what they had expected Him to do. How did they expect Him to meet up with them? Perhaps He would catch a later boat.

Jesus’ disciples were in the boat. Jesus was not. V.23

“When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.”

Do you get the picture?

When you cross reference with the other gospels that have this story in it, you find that the boat was about 3 to 3.5 miles from the shore.

More than from here to Kylertown on the water.

And there is a great big headwind that is rocking the boat and probably giving the disciples distress.

And it’s night time. V.25

“During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.”

Can you imagine?

That is as crazy as it sounds!

The fourth watch on the Roman clock was between 3 and 6am.

And Jesus walks right up to them!

Never mind that He was walking on the water, how does He walk right up to them without a GPS?

It’s a windy night on the lake, the waves are up and down and up and down.

And the wind is howling.

And the waves are up and down and up and down.

And Jesus comes walking right up them!

The Gospel of Mark says that He was going to pass them!

Who does that?

The disciples have only one answer. It’s a phantasm! V.26

“When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It's a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear.”

AHHHH!!! Like something out of a horror movie.

We don’t have categories for this!

You and I are like, “Well, He just fed 20,000 people. Who do you think it is?”

But my guess is that if we were in the boat, we’d be like, “Ahhhhh! What is it?”

And this is when Jesus says what He says about His identity. V.27

“But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.’”

“It is I.”

That makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

It isn’t a ghost.

“It is I.” It is Jesus.

It isn’t a monster.

“It is I.” It is Jesus.

It isn’t something to be scared of but somebody to find your peace in.

“It is I.” It is Jesus.

And remember, the wind is howling, so I think Jesus is yelling this at the top of His lungs. “It is I!”

And that makes all of the difference.

“It is I! Ego Eimi!”

I don’t think that they would have caught this at the time. I’m not even sure that He said it in Greek at the time, because He might have been speaking Aramaic.

But Christians have caught this afterwards in Matthew’s rendition. The Greek words “Ego Eimi” can also be translated...“I Am.”

As in what God said at the burning bush?!

That He is the “I Am.”

What Jesus intimated at another time, when He claimed that “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).

And they knew what He was saying then. Because they picked up stones to kill Him.

Who walks on the water?!

Who does that?

Listen to Job chapter 9, verses 4-8.

“[The Lord God’s] wisdom is profound, his power is vast. Who has resisted him and come out unscathed? He moves mountains without their knowing it and overturns them in his anger. He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble.  He speaks to the sun and it does not shine; he seals off the light of the stars. He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.”

Who does that?

Listen to Psalm 77.

Asaph cries out to God in verses 18 and 19. “Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.”

Who walks on the water?

On His own power?

“Ego Eimi! It is I. I am.”

That’s Who Jesus is!

I’ve got four points of application for us today.

And they all flow out of understanding Who Jesus really is, and that if He is in our lives, then it makes all of the difference.

Here’s number one.

#1. TAKE HEART.

Did you see that “It is I” was in a word sandwich?

There are two commands on either side of “It is I.”

“It is I” is in the middle.

“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Do you see how “It is I” changes everything?

If it’s Jesus, then we have nothing to fear.

What are you afraid of right now?

Right it down on the back of your bulletin?

What are your biggest fears right now?

I know you’ve got them. We all do.

If you don’t, you’re lying to yourself.

What are you afraid of?

It might be legitimately scary.

These guys were in a boat on the sea at night in a howling wind.

That’s scary.

What are you afraid of?

The word translated “Take courage” in the NIV is the same as in John 16:33, one of my most precious passages. Where Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. [There are scary things out there.] But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

It is I.

Take courage. Don’t be afraid.

Say that to your fears this week. Say, “It is Jesus.”

“He’s right here. And He’s the Great I am. And I am His.”

Take Heart.

Now, this next part of the story is only told to us by Matthew in his gospel. The other gospel writers don’t give us these details. Matthew has the scoop.

Simon Peter shows great promise as a disciple.

He decides he wants to imitate his master. Look how he says it. V.28

“‘Lord, if it's you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’”

“If it’s you!”

“Since it’s you!”

“If you are really Jesus, and you are really walking on the water.

Then let me come out there, too.”

That’s amazing, friends!

And even more amazing, Jesus says, “Alright! Come.” v.29

“‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.”

#2. STEP OUT.

If Jesus says, “It is I,” and then He says, “Come,” then what should you and I do?

We oughta come!

Faith, real faith acts out.

If you really believe in Jesus, then it will show by your actions.

You will trust Him and you will obey Him.

And you will imitate Him. And you will follow Him.

Now, I don’t think that most or any of us are supposed to walk on water.

That’d be fun. I guess.

But that’s what Jesus says come to us about most of the time.

Most of the time He says, “Come follow me” and share the gospel, forgive someone who sinned against you, serve the poor, use your gifts to minister to others.

Those things aren’t as miraculous as walking on water, but it’s the same Lord asking us to do it.

Step out.

Where do you need to step out in ministry and following Jesus because He’s saying, “Come?”

It might be as scary as walking on water to do what Jesus calls you to.

But He never asks us to go somewhere He isn’t already.

I’m nervous this week about sitting on that panel on Wednesday morning.

Answering questions, perhaps from people who disagree with me and want to express their concerns.

I’m nervous, but I’m going to step out in faith and follow Jesus.

And listen well and try to respond well and love well.

Because Jesus says, “Come.”

Of course, we all know what happens next. Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus. V.30

“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’”

Whew. That was a close one!

I don’t know about you, but I totally identify with Peter.

I’d like to think I’d get out of the boat, but I’m sure that I would see the wind and waves and be afraid.

And Jesus rebukes Him–but it’s gentle.

He calls him, “oligopistoi”–“You of little faith.”

We’ve seen this phrase before in Matthew chapter 6 and chapter 8. We’ll see it again in chapter 16 and chapter 17.

This is one of Jesus’ favorite little phrases for gently rebuking those He loves.

He is saying that Peter has faith, but that he needed more of it. He needed to keep on believing.

#3. KEEP ON.

To keep on trusting.

“You’re learning! Good job getting out of the boat. The other guys didn’t do that.

But why did you stop trusting? Why did you start doubting?

Oligopistoi, why did you stop?

Remember, ‘It is I.’”

Do you need to hear that today?

Maybe you’ve gotten your eyes off of Jesus recently.

Are you looking at the wind and the waves?

Keep on looking at Jesus.

“Fix your eyes on Jesus.”

It is Him!

Don’t look inward to see if you have enough faith.

Look at Jesus and put all of your faith on Him.

And don’t stop.

That’s where we begin to sink, when we take our eyes off of Him, when we start doubting that He is enough. That He is the Great I Am. That He is “ego eimi.”

I love verse 32.

“And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. [Just like that. Just like back in chapter 8, when Jesus told the wind to settle down and settled down. V.33] Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”

They didn’t know all of what they were saying, but they knew that Jesus was something special.

And they worshipped Him.

#4. WORSHIP HIM!

This Person is the most important Person Who ever lived.

He is a man (remember how needy He was at the beginning of this story), but He is not just a man. And He is not just any man.

He is the Son of God.

Keep your eye on the ball.

This is what Matthew is all about.

Who is Jesus?

“Truly [He is] the Son of God.”

Worthy of our worship.

Worthy of everything we have said and done here this morning and so much more.

The chapter ends with some more people recognizing Jesus and with Him healing some more people just like He had earlier in the chapter. V.34

“When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.”

Which sets us up for next week because some of these people who touched Him were very unclean. And that doesn’t seem to matter to Him. And that raises some questions that Jesus will answer from the heart.

But right now it’s enough to just see what those disciples saw.

They saw not just a healer. Not just a powerful man.

But the Son of God Himself, the I Am, worthy of all of our worship forever.

****

Questions for Group Discussion

1. Re-read Matthew 14:22-36.

2. Do you remember when you first heard the story of Jesus walking on the water? What details about the story jumped out to you this time?

3. What do you think Jesus meant when He said, “It is I.” (Greek: “ego eimi”) What significance did it have in the moment? What did Christians understand about it later?

4. What difference does it make that Jesus said, “It is I?” Pastor Matt suggested four applications. Which one spoke the most to you? Why?

5. How can the group pray for you as you seek to apply this passage of Scripture to your life this week?

****

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
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus