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Sunday, April 28, 2019

[Matt's Messages] "These Little Ones"

“These Little Ones”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
April 28, 2019 :: Matthew 18:1-14

Our sermon series is called “Following Jesus,” because that’s what Matthew is all about. The Gospel of Matthew is about answering the question, “Who Is Jesus?” and when you find out the real answer to that question, your next question is, “What does it mean to follow Him?”

The Gospel of Matthew is a theological biography of Jesus Christ, the most compelling Person Who ever lived.

We’ve reached chapter 18 which marks the beginning of the fourth of five major blocks of teaching in the Gospel of Matthew. The first was the Sermon on the Mount, the second was the Teaching on Missions. The third was the Parables of the Kingdom. And now, we’ve reach the fourth which seems to be mostly about living as Jesus’ disciples in community with one another. Following Jesus as a part of His new called-out fellowship. It’s about relationships and obedience.

And today it’s about what Jesus calls, “These Little Ones.”

He keeps using that phrase again and again in the first 14 verses of this chapter.

“These Little Ones”

And let me tell you right off, Jesus feels strongly about these people whom He calls “these little ones.”

Though you might be surprised to find out who they are.

There are a lot of surprises into today’s passage!

The first surprise was for the disciples who wanted to know which of them was the G.O.A.T.

You know what that stands for, right?

Sports fans are always arguing about this, right?

Greatest. Of. All. Time.

Michael Jordan or LeBron James? (Or Maybe Wilt Chamberlin?)
Jack Nicklaus or comeback kid Tiger Woods?
Tom Brady or ___________?

[I knew that I’d get a reaction out of you with that one! I vote for Bernie Kosar.]

We don’t just fight over the G.O.A.T. in sports.

We do that with movies, too. Some are saying that Avengers: Endgame is the G.O.A.T. for superhero movies. I enjoyed it a lot, but I don’t know about greatest of all time....?

We argue about whether lots of things are great or are the greatest of all time.

Well, the disciples were wondering who was the G.O.A.T. of the kingdom of heaven.

And the Gospel of Mark tells us that they had been arguing with each other about which one of them it was!

“Jesus, which of us is the G.O.A.T?”

“I mean, it’s one of us, right?  We’re your twelve disciples.”

“There’s going to be twelve thrones, right? You’re on the top throne, of course, but who will be at your right hand?”

We just learned about a similar discussion this morning in Sunday School!

Look at verse 1.

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’”

They weren’t asking about anything little were they?

How is Jesus going to answer?

“Jesus, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’”

I don’t know what they expected to hear.

I know how our world defines greatness:

How many followers do you have?
What have you accomplished?
What many wins have you racked up?
How much money have you earned?
How many possessions do you have?
What is your status and reputation?
How famous are you?
How much power do you wield?

Those are the kind of markers that we look for in the great.

And it was similar back then.

The disciples probably had a similar idea of what greatness was.

But Jesus’ idea was very different.

They were asking about the kingdom–Jesus’ favorite thing to teach about.

But they had forgotten that Jesus’ kingdom is an upside-down kingdom, right?

Verse 2.

“He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus said, “You want a picture of greatness?”

Greatness looks like this.

Now, this is actually a shocking thing for Jesus to say.

We don’t understand how shocking it is, because we live in a society that values children, in many ways because Jesus did.

And in fact sometimes we overvalue children. Some people’s lives center around keeping children happy. Kid-centric.

But that’s not what it was like in Jesus’ day.

Parents loved their children. That’s always been true.

But society didn’t love or respect children.

Children had no power.
Children had virtually no rights.

A picture of status?
Is this a picture of someone with millions of followers?
Great accomplishments?
Lots of money and possessions?

Is this a picture of power?

No, but it is a picture of greatness. What greatness is.

V.3 again.

“He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

#1. BECOME LIKE THESE LITTLE ONES. 

If you don’t, you won't even get into the kingdom of heaven, much less be the greatest one there!

Now, don’t get Jesus wrong here.

There are ways in which we are supposed to be like this child and ways we are not supposed to be like this child.

He’s not saying that we are supposed to be childish.

We’re not supposed to be immature or naive.

And he’s not saying that we’re supposed to be innocent or sinless. Children are not innocent or sinless or perfectly pure.

Here’s what children were: They were dependent. They were lowly. They were powerless. They were defenseless. They were vulnerable. They were needy. They were humble.

What was the name of this child?

We don’t know.

He’s was just a kid.

And Jesus said (v.4), “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child [this nameless little forgettable powerless vulnerable, needy, lowly child] is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus says that we must humble ourselves.

That’s hard to do.

It’s especially hard to do if you are busy arguing about how great you are.

It’s not natural.

That’s why Jesus says in verse 3 that we have to “change and become like little children.”

It requires change, and that requires God’s help.

Our job is to humble ourselves.

Have you done that?

Have you become like one of these little dependent children?

Some people think that believing in Jesus is a crutch.

But believing in Jesus is more than a crutch. It’s a stretcher.

It’s being carried by Jesus, trusting in Him, putting all of your weight on Him.

Is there a prettier picture than a sleeping child over the shoulder of a mom or dad?

Jesus says that we have to become like that.

You want to be great? Be like that kid!

We have to humble ourselves.

Just to get into the kingdom. Becoming a Christian is a humbling experience.

You have to say that you can’t do it on your own. And you need what Jesus did for you on the Cross or you are toast. And you know you deserve it.

That kind of honest and humility does not come easily for people like you and me.

But we have to become like these little ones.

We have to trust and become vulnerable and ask for help.

And we have to keep growing in humility.

Are you and I growing in humility?

Is there anyone in your life that would say that you are currently growing in humility?

More childlike in your faith?
More childlike in your self-assessment?
More childlike in your dependence?

If not, then you’ll never be the greatest.

Because the kingdom is upside.

Remember who the G.O.A.T. is for humility!

It’s the King Himself, right?

“[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man [AS A CHILD!], he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!”

That’s the G.O.A.T right there!

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Humility is the path to greatness.

#2. WELCOME THESE LITTLE ONES.

In verse 5, Jesus takes the discussion into a different lane. He says (v.5):

“And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.”

Now, I’m not sure if the “little child like this” is the little guy that Jesus has standing in their midst, the little object lesson guy, or if Jesus means any follower of His who has humbled themselves and become like that child.

I asked my family about it last night, and Andrew said, “Why can’t it be both?”

Maybe it can.

If you welcome a little child, a little vulnerable, dependent, powerless child in the name of Jesus, you welcome Jesus.

That’s something, isn’t it?!

Wow.

That should say something to our children’s ministry workers.

The folks back there in the nursery.
The folks back there in children’s church.
The people who work with the ABCs and the KFC’s and the MOPS kids.

When you get down on one need and warmly welcome a child in the name of Jesus, you are welcoming Jesus.

Wow.

Of course, it’s bigger, not smaller, if Jesus means every single follower of His who has humbled themselves like a little child.

If you receive a humble disciple in the name of Jesus, you are welcoming Jesus.

Because Jesus cares about His little ones.

But here’s the flipside. If you harm one of these little ones, you are in big trouble.

#3. DON’T HARM THESE LITTLE ONES. V.6

“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

Those are very strong words.

They are a warning from Jesus to all who need to hear it.

Do not harm these little ones.

It’s hard not to think here about the horror of child abuse.

If Jesus loves the little children, and you or I hurt the little children, we can expect to be hurt ourselves.

But notice in verse 6 exactly who “these little ones” are.

Jesus calls them, “these little ones who believe in me.” I think He’s talking about all of us who have humbled ourselves to become His followers.

Weak, dependent, like children, spiritual children, disciples.

Don’t harm them. Don’t harm us.

And the harm he’s talking about here is specifically leading others into sin. Being a stumbling block for them. Tempting them.

Tempting them to sin.
Tempting them to apostasy.
Tempting them to stop following Christ.

If you or I or anybody tries to lead vulnerable little disciples away from following Jesus, Jesus will get very mad about it.

He issues to warning “woes.” v.7

“Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!”

Judgment is on the way.

It may not seem like it, but it is inevitable.

Woe to the world for the evil at work in the world.

But woe to the people who are working the evil.

Woe to those “anyone [who] causes one of these little ones who believe in [Jesus] to sin.”

If you are tempted to go down that route, then you must take drastic action to stop yourself. V.8

“If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.”

Jesus has already spoken like this in the Gospel of Matthew. Remember where? Back in the Sermon on the Mount.

There he was talking specifically about lust. Here it could be just about any sin, including the sin of pride which He’s been talking about since the beginning of the chapter.

Some scholars think this is talking about church discipline and excommunication. The body here would be like Paul’s metaphor of the body. And that’s possible. Jesus is going to teach on church discipline in just a few verses. He could be saying that we need to take drastic action to make sure that those who would harm the little ones are cut off and excluded.

But I think it’s more likely that He’s saying that we all personally need to take drastic action [whatever it takes!] to make sure we don’t become the kind of people who harm the little ones. Who turn disciples into nondisciples. Who lead other disciples into sin and apostasy.

No way. No how. Not going to there. Whatever it takes.

Of course, Jesus is using hyperbole and exaggeration. Because literally cutting off your foot, hand, or eye won’t cut out your sin. That’s got to be a metaphor for intense repentance and doing whatever it takes to resist temptation.

But that doesn’t make it any less serious.

The warning is death by drowning would be better.
The warning is it’d be better to maim yourself than to burn in Hell.

Don’t harm these little ones!

And don’t hate these little ones, either.

#4. DON’T HATE THESE LITTLE ONES. V.10

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”

The word translated “look down” means to despise or hold in contempt.

Jesus is still warning anyone who needs to hear it, that He cares deeply and indisputably about these little ones.

He loves them.

He loves us, His little children.

And if He loves the little ones, then we shouldn’t hate them.

He says that these little ones have personal angels. “Their angels.” I don’t know if that means “guardian angels” here and whether it’s one for one. One for each believer.

It says that these angels are in heaven. Not on earth.

But, He says that their angels “always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Jesus’ Father in heaven.

These angels have access to the Father!

And so you don’t want sin against these little ones, or their angels will tell the Father!

That’s how great these little ones are. They have personal angels who speak to God on their behalf when they are sinned against.

And I think those little ones are you and me if we have humbled ourselves and become like a little child.

Do you feel like a nobody?

That’s okay. It’s probably good.

But just know that nobodies are greatly loved by the great Somebody.

Don’t hate these little ones. They are loved by God!

So if one of them wanders off, what then?

Does God just say, “O well, I’ve got a bunch of others.”

In verse 12, Jesus offers a thought experiment.

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? [You might guess, “No,” but the answer is actually “Yes.” It’s a rhetorical question about love.]  And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep [restored!] than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven [not just His Father here, but our Father] is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

Again, I think the little ones are, ultimately, the trust disciples.

You and me if we have humbled ourselves and become like a little child.

What if we begin to wander?

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.”

What then?

This is like Jesus’ story about the Lost Sheep in Luke 15, but there it’s talking about lost people, pre-Christians, nonChristians.

This is talking about these little ones, true disciples who begin to lose their way.

What about them?

How does the Father feel about them?

Here this. “Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

He goes after all of His true children and He makes sure they get home.

That is so precious!

We call that the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.

“He will me fast.”

Of course, He uses us to help do that.

If the Good Shepherd goes after the wayward sheep, we should do the same.

Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”

James 5:19, “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (vv.19-20).

God loves these little ones, and goes after them, so so should we.

We’re on God’s search and rescue team.

Don’t hate these little ones, even if they wander.

Go after them! Love them like you would want to be loved.

This is so different from how world is, isn’t it?

We are called to a upside-down kingdom.

Where nobodies are greatly loved by the Great Somebody.

So we must become like these little ones.
And welcome these little ones.
And not harm these little ones.
And not hate these little ones.

But love these little ones, because Jesus loves us.


***

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
42. Great Faith in a Great God
43. The Pharisees and Sadducees
44. The Question and the Promise
45. Take Up His Cross
46. Like the Sun
47. Seed-Sized Faith

Sunday, April 21, 2019

[Matt's Messages] "He Saved Us"

“He Saved Us”
Resurrection Sunday
Titus 3:3-7 :: April 21, 2019

You’ve probably noticed that we’re going to do things a little differently today.

We are going to have a baptism this morning, John Walter is getting baptized.

But there is no water in the baptistry. John will not be dunked today.

Instead, we’re going to have a pouring. Instead of baptism by immersion, we’re going to be doing baptism by affusion. Affusion, or pouring.

Normally, when we do a baptism at Lanse Free Church, we fully immerse the one being baptized (the baptee?) into the water because the Greek word baptizo literally means “to dip under,” and all of the baptisms in the Bible were by immersion, including Jesus’ baptism.

Baptism by immersion best symbolizes our inclusion in Jesus’ death and RESURRECTION, what we’ve been celebrating all morning. As Romans 6 says, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

But.

But what if you can’t be immersed? You’re physically unable.

What do we do then?

Well, I’ve been reading a little bit in church history about the history of baptism in the first few centuries after the Bible was completed.

Scholar Tim Dowley writes in his Introduction to the History of Christianity that in the early church, “Baptism was normally by immersion either in the river or in the bath-house of a large house [they didn’t have church buildings with heated baptistries]. The person was normally immersed three times [that’s interesting isn’t it?] in response to three questions about belief in the three persons of the Trinity. From the early second century, baptism by pouring of water was allowed in cases of emergency or sickness” (pg. 30).

These baptisms by affusion were called klinai baptisms from the Greek word for “bed.” And we get our word “clinical” from klinai, meaning a hospital bed.

When you couldn’t get into the river because of some physical ailment, the early church decided to do baptism by pouring.

There’s a book written in the second century called the Didache which isn’t part of the Bible but was an early guide for pastors and disciplers in discipleship and church leadership.

Listen to a little of what chapter 7 of the Didache says about baptism:

“7:1 But concerning baptism, thus baptize ye: having first recited all these precepts, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in running water [meaning in a river];

7:2 but if thou hast not running water, baptize in some other water, and if thou canst not baptize in cold, in warm water; [How about that, John? It says we should use cold water. That’s what Keith wanted to do. He wanted to put some icecubes in one of these pitchers! But they are actually very warm and toasting. Verse 3]

7:3 but if thou hast neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

So that’s the early tradition that we’re going to follow this morning.

But before we do that, here’s a question for you.

Is pouring also a biblical picture of the gospel of our resurrected Lord?

I believe it is, and I want to show you a key passage in the Bible.

Titus chapter 3, verses 3 through 7.

Believe it or not, verses 4 through 7 are one long sentence in the original Greek!

Paul loves long sentences, and is this is a glorious one.

Paul is writing to Titus to help him to apply the gospel to the disciples on the island of Crete.

And here towards the end of the letter, Paul reminds Titus of what the gospel is.

And we always need those reminders, don’t we?

It’s so easy to forget.

That’s why we meet on Sundays. Not just on Resurrection Sunday but every Sunday to rehearse the gospel, to remind ourselves of the gospel and of its implications for all of life. So Paul reminds Titus.

Isn’t this a beautiful statement of the gospel?

A beautiful summary of the good news of Jesus Christ.

And those words in the middle?

“He Saved Us!”

What could be better news than that?

Of course, the good news must begin with the bad news.

We sure need saving.

Listen to verse 3, and see how Paul puts himself in there (and so should we).

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.”

That’s bad news.

I don’t like to think of myself that way.

But it’s true.

Left to my own self, verse 3 is a description of what I was deep down inside.

And it’s true of everybody no matter how “nice” they are on the outside.

By the way, John is a very nice person.

I’ve always liked him ever since I’ve known him.

I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like him, and I can’t imagine why they would.

But being a nice guy will not save you.

And we all need saved.

Verse 3 is not pretty, but it’s true.

Just open the newspaper, turn on Facebook, watch the evening news, and look into the mirror, and you will find verse 3.

Foolish, disobedient, enslaved by passions and pleasures, malice and envy, hate and hating. That’s our world, and deep down that is us.

We need saving.

But here’s the good news: God sent a Savior!

Look at that b-u-t in verse 4.

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us,”

What is Paul talking about?

He’s talking about when Jesus came to Earth.

“When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared...”

That’s when Jesus showed up. That’s Christmas!

That’s the Incarnation, the arrival of the Son of God, God the Son, “God our Savior.”

The Father sent the Son on a rescue mission.

And it was successful!

“He saved us,” that is, His people. His church. His chosen ones. His disciples.

“...when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us.”

That’s the best news there ever was.

And that’s what John has experienced.

John has experienced salvation.

Jesus has saved John.

That’s why he’s getting baptized.

Not that baptism will save him. That’s already happened.

But John is getting baptized to say to the world that he has been saved.

And we as a church are baptizing him to say to the world that we, too, believe that he has been saved.

John was sprinkled as an infant. And like Keith and Dottie from New Year’s baptisms, by being baptized today, John intends no disrespect to his parents or their religious leaders for their loving him and wanting him to be baptized when he was little.

But he’s come to believe that baptism is for disciples who believe the gospel to go public with their faith and for the church to confirm and nourish the disciple’s faith.

So he’s going public in baptism today to say that Jesus has saved him.

Have you done the same?

Have you been saved?

And following that, have you been baptized?

Look at what Paul says next.

He saved us...now catch this. This is important.

#1. NOT BECAUSE OF US.

V.5 “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done...”

Not!

Listen to this. This is very important.

This is not what most people think.

Most people in the world think that you get saved by doing good works.

You get saved by doing more good than bad.

You get saved by earning God’s favor.

You get saved by doing righteous things.

And that’s just not true.

That’s not the way salvation works.

Put every good work you want to into that sentence.

He saved us, not because we went to church.
He saved us, not because we gave money.
He saved us, not because we got baptized!
He saved us, not because we cared for the poor.
He saved us, not because of righteous things that we have done.

John has done a lot of righteous things.

In fact, John has been pretty religious at various times in his life.

I’ll let him tell his own story.

But I can say this, John is not saved because of righteous things that he has done.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t do righteous things.

Paul is big on doing righteous things. The whole book of Titus is about how to do righteous things and how we should do righteous things.

But we are not saved because of righteous things we have done.

He saved us not because of us...

#2. BUT IN SPITE OF US.

Look at verse 5.

“He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”

We did not deserve it, but He did it anyway.

We deserved condemnation, but He gives us salvation.

Not because of something in us but because of something in Him.

Verse 4 called it “kindness and love.”
Verse 5 calls it “mercy.”
Verse 7 calls it, “grace.”

That’s why Jesus saves us!

Isn’t that awesome?

That’s such good news. Because we could never earn our own way.

We could never be justified by works. We could never do enough righteous things.

The first year that John was here a part of our church, we were studying the book of Galatians together. In that book, Paul taught that justification was by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.

And I think John’s eyes were opened to the gospel of grace.

Or as Ephesians 2 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Jesus saves us in spite of ourselves.

Do you believe that?

You’ve got to believe that to be saved.

Number three.

He saved us.

#3. BY WASHING US.

Did you see that at the end of verse 5?

“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously...”

Here’s where we get our pouring, right?

Is this passage about baptism?

No. Not directly. It doesn’t say anything about water baptism.

But I do think that water baptism is a picture of Titus 3:5.

The washing here is a spiritual washing.

It’s the washing away of our sins by the work of the Holy Spirit when we come to faith.

Notice that it’s “the washing of rebirth and renewal.”

The new birth and a new life.

A new way of living.

A changed life from the inside out.

And this is the work of the Holy Spirit.

When you and I come to faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and gives us new birth and new life.

It’s a spiritual resurrection inside of us.

And it washes us clean.

When I’m teaching my baptism class, we always read this verse, and then I ask the students, like John.

“Why do we baptize with water and not mud? Or Pepsi or Kool-Aid?”

And they always say, “Because it’s a symbol of washing. It’s a symbol of cleansing. It’s a symbol of purification.”

So, John, Keith wanted us to use Gatorade, like what they pour on the coach after a football game, but I said, “No, it’s gotta be water.”

Not because this water back here is magic.

It’s not. It doesn’t do anything.

But it stands for the Holy Spirit Who sure does do something.

He washes.
He gives new birth.
He gives new life.
He changes our lives when He is poured out on us generously.

An abundant overflow.

There is no rule for how much water you use in an affusion baptism, and if John were laid up and very ill, we wouldn’t use very much.

But he’s really big and strong, he just can’t be laid back into the water, so we’re going to use an ample amount here. And don’t worry. We have covered up all of the nearby electrical cords. And these mats are very absorbent. When the dishwasher broke in the lightning strike a couple of years ago, these mats soaked up most of the water that came pouring out of it. This is very safe.

But we’re going to use a good amount of water here to symbolize the abundant overflow of the Holy Spirit who has washed John with rebirth and renewal.

But where does all of that come from?

How does it come to us?

Look again at verse 6.

Look for the Trinity there.

“He [the Father] poured out [the Spirit] on us generously through [the Son] Jesus Christ our Savior.”

#4. THROUGH JESUS.

This salvation comes to us through Jesus Christ our Savior.

The One Who died on the Cross, when love ran red.

The One Who came back from the dead and is risen just like He said.

Look what He has done. He has made us (v.7) “heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

And that’s not just the wishful kind of hope, like “I hope there is Texas Sheetcake for my birthday in two weeks.” Maybe, maybe not. I hope so.

But this is biblical hope. This is knowing with your heart that something good is coming for certain.

And we know that is.

That’s our own resurrection.

That’s new bodies in the new heavens and the new earth.

That’s eternal life with Jesus forever and ever and ever. Amen.

That’s what we have to look forward to because of Jesus.

Because He Saved Us.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Filled Tomb

Jesus was buried.

All four of the gospel writers narrate his burial (Matthew 27:60, Mark 15:46, Luke 23:53, John 19:41). The very concise Apostle’s Creed mentions that Jesus “...was crucified, dead, and buried.” The apostle Paul said that Jesus’ burial was a part of the gospel of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

During this season, we Christians love to talk about “The Empty Tomb” because our Lord is risen. But before he could rise, he had to be buried.

Before there was an empty tomb, there had to be a filled tomb.

In re-reading the gospel accounts this Spring, I was struck by the fact that Jesus–not only died but–was buried.

Death seems final, but burial even more so.

Not only did his lungs stop breathing, his heart stop beating, and his brain go flat-line, but Jesus’ vital signs stopped for so long, so persistently, that it was obvious that he was dead and gone. There was nothing left to do but bury him.

The synoptic gospels all say that Jesus’ body was buried. The pronouns shift from “he” to “it.” His body is now a corpse.

“Going to Pilate, [Joseph of Arimathea] asked for Jesus' body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid” (Luke 23:53). Jesus’ female followers tracked after Joseph and saw for themselves where Jesus’ body was placed.

There was no mistaking it. Jesus was buried. The tomb was filled.

I don’t know a fraction of the implications of the truth of Jesus’ burial, but as I meditated on it, I thought of three that seemed significant for Christians right now.

1. Salvation

It took the filled tomb to save us. Paul says, “by this gospel you are saved,” and that includes that Jesus “was buried” (1 Corinthians 15:4).

I’m not as sure how Jesus’ burial figures into our salvation as does the Cross or the Resurrection, but I am sure that it is significant. Perhaps it’s simply an extension of his death–he’s that dead. Perhaps it’s to fit into and then improve on the pattern set by his ancestor, King David, who was also buried but whose body decayed there (Acts 13:36). Certainly baptism is connected to burial; we were buried with Jesus in some mysterious and amazing way (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12).

However it works, it was necessary for Jesus to be buried for you and I to be saved from our sins.

Christ-followers celebrate the gospel because we encounter sin every day. We are sinners saved by grace who love other sinners in need of grace. We should give thanks that Jesus’ tomb was filled because it changes everything for us forever.

2. Sadness

Christ-followers also encounter suffering every day.

We look into the sad faces of depressed people. We walk with those who grieve the loss of someone they love. We talk people through bitter relational conflicts.

Life often hurts and feels like death. Dreams go into tombs.

I don’t think we can comprehend the bewildered sadness that the disciples must have felt on that silent Saturday, but it was the right emotion for the occasion.

The filled tomb allows us to be sad. It gives us permission to grieve over the places in life that are broken.

Previously, when Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, our Lord wept. In fact, Jesus– who is the Resurrection and the Life and who was going to raise Lazarus from the dead–was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11:33). How much more were tears appropriate when it was our Lord himself who filled the tomb?

The filled tomb authorizes appropriate sorrowfulness.

3. Hope

Thankfully, Jesus did not stay dead and buried. He came back to life and came out of the tomb. He is risen indeed!

But to become an emptied tomb, it had to first be filled. You have to have death to have a resurrection. The filled tomb sets the stage for a miracle.

Christ-followers offer hope. We see and feel sad situations for which we properly empathize, sympathize, and grieve. But we also know that the overwhelmingly sad can give way to the surprisingly joyful (John 16:20-22). Jesus specializes in turnarounds.

As we live our worship of Jesus during this season, let’s hold out hope for true change in both hearts and situations because the tomb of Jesus was filled and is now empty.


Thursday, April 18, 2019

"Unstuck: A nine-step journey to change that lasts" by Timothy Lane

Unstuck: A nine-step journey to change that lastsUnstuck: A nine-step journey to change that lasts by Timothy Lane

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A clear (if not always straight) path to lasting change.

I will be handing Tim Lane’s “Unstuck” to anybody who has felt unable to shake off old, unhealthy, and sinful ways of thinking and living to become the person the Lord wants them to be. The picture Tim paints of the change process is vivid, graspable, wise, realistic, and hope-giving. Highly recommended.

View all my Goodreads reviews.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

[Matt's Messages] “The Song of the Sick King”

“The Song of the Sick King” 
April 14, 2019 :: Palm Sunday :: Psalm 41

Today’s message will be about Psalm 41, but I want you to turn with me first to the Gospel of John chapter 13.

I want to show you why we are going to study Psalm 41 at the beginning of this Passion Week. John chapter 13.

In John chapter 12, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem riding on a donkey. We call it the Triumphal Entry, and it was on Palm Sunday, the day we are recognizing right now. The crowd greeted Jesus was “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!”

By the time you get to chapter 13, it’s Thursday night, and Jesus is meeting with His disciples in the Upper Room.

We tend to call this the Last Supper. They ate the Passover Meal. Jesus reinterpreted the meal to point to Him, especially the bread and the cup.

And John tells us that He washed His disciples feet. That’s at the beginning of the chapter, verses 1 through 17.

I want to pick up the story in verse 18.

It’s a story of a predicted betrayal.

Jesus knows that He is going to be betrayed.

And He wants His disciples to know that He knows.

He knows in advance, and He wants them to know that He knows.

This is not a surprise for Jesus. He knew this betrayal was coming.

Do you think that made it any easier?

I doubt it.

It probably made it harder in this case.

Look at John 13:18.

‘I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: 'He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.' I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.

I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.’ After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.’ His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant.

One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved [we know that’s John, the writer of this book], was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’ Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’

Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon.  As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. ‘What you are about to do, do quickly,’ Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him.  Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor.

As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.”

Did you ever notice how the Bible is full of hypertext?

You know what I mean? Like when you are on a website, and the words are blue or underlined? And if you move your finger or your cursor over that word, it’s clickable? And then if you click on it, it will take you to another place that is connected to that place? And then to other places?

The Bible is overflowing with clickable links to other places in the Bible.

It’s all connected. It’s like a giant web of connections, that when you study them long enough, you see how they are genuinely related to one another.

Did you see why in John 13, we are going to study Psalm 41?

Why we are going to click from the Last Supper in the Upper Room back into the Old Testament to the Song of the Sick King?

Look again at verse 18.

In talking about this betrayal, “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: 'He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.'”

That scripture is Psalm 41, verse 9.

Click there with me. Turn there with me. Psalm 41.

I call this Psalm 41, "The Song of the Sick King."

Have you ever sung a song about a king who was sick and wanted to get better?

Me neither, but Israel had a song in their songbook about that very thing.

King David wrote it for his director of music.

And the Holy Spirit inspired it and made sure that it was preserved and included in the sacred songs of the Hebrew psalter.

“The Song of the Sick King”

I’ve been learning a lot about the Psalms this year.

Instead of reading all the way through my Bible in 2019, I’ve set out to really study the Psalms in my personal devotional times.

There are 150 of them, and I’m taking a few days on each one.

I read a portion of a Psalm set out by Pastor Tim Keller in this little book, “The Songs of Jesus” and then he has a short explanation and then a prayer. Kind of like The Daily Bread.

And then I turn into two different commentaries to study that same passage more indepth. Derek Kidner and Tremper Longman. And see what light they have to shed on that portion of scripture.

And then I turn in the Trinity Psalter Hymnal that I bought my wife last year (and then stole from her this year) and I read and pray through their setting of the Psalm to music.

I’ve just gotten today to Psalm 50, so it was a week or two ago that I studied Psalm 41, and I thought, “We might go back to this when we get to Passion Week.”

The psalms are songs.

They are so helpful for expressing our human emotions.

For expressing our deepest desires and thoughts and feelings.

For praising God in the highest ways and also for expressing our other feelings.

The bad feelings. The painful feelings. The suffering.

The best book I’ve read so far in 2019 is this one called, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament.

It’s by a pastor named Mark Vroegop, and it’s pure gold.

Pastor Mark teaches about this painful but powerful form of prayer that’s all over the Bible called lament. It’s those prayers that are in a minor key. Those prayers that are full of pain and suffering.
There’s whole book of them in the Bible called “Lamentations.”

And about a third of the Psalms have lament in them, as well.

Did you ever notice how sad the psalms can be?

They can be really joyful, for sure. That’s the major key. Hallelujah!

But the Bible is about all of life, not just the joyful parts.

And there are songs in the Bible’s fullest book of songs that give voice to suffering and pain.

And Psalm 41 is one of them.

Actually, it has both praise and lament in it.

It’s kind of a mix of the two.

But because of its sorrowful lament, Psalm 41 was perfect for the Man of Sorrows to reach back into when He was pondering the pain of His betrayal.

Let’s begin reading it together.

Verses 1 through 3 of the Song of the Sick King.

“For the director of music. A psalm of David. Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the LORD delivers him in times of trouble. The LORD will protect him and preserve his life; he will bless him in the land and not surrender him to the desire of his foes. The LORD will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness.”

#1. BLESSED ARE THE KIND.

Now, this song does not start out sad.

It starts out confident.

It starts out with a confident declaration:

“Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the LORD delivers him in times of trouble.”

We sing that, can’t we?

What good news that is.

This song starts with blessing.

The Hebrew word is “ashre,” which is a lot like the word “makarios” that we learned about last year in the Beatitudes.

Remember “flourishing?”

“Good for you! Congratulations. Way to be!”

Blessed is he who has regard for the week.

Or some translations say, “Who consider the poor.” “Who treat the poor properly.”

David is talking about the lowly. The people at the bottom.

Perhaps they are sick. Perhaps they are unpopular. Perhaps they are oppressed. Perhaps they are literally poor or just weak and lowly.

David says that the person who is kind and generous and merciful to people like that are the kind of person that the LORD loves to bless.

In other words, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

Right? What Jesus taught in Matthew 5:7.

The pattern that David is pointing out is that God is generous to those who have been generous, especially when you are generous to those who can’t pay you back.

Now, this is not something that you earn by being generous.

Tim Keller points out that the opposite is also true. This works the other way around, in that we can only be merciful and generous because God has already shown us mercy and grace.

We don’t earn it.

But if we have gotten it from the Lord, we will pour it out on others, and in the process, we’ll find that the Lord is pouring it out on us again.

But if we don’t pour it out on others, we can’t expect to see it either.

“Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the LORD delivers him in times of trouble. [Like what?] The LORD will protect him and preserve his life; he will bless him in the land [That’s very Old Testamenty] and not surrender him to the desire of his foes [his enemies]. The LORD will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness.”

Now, we get to why David is singing about this.

David is on his sickbed.

David is on his bed of illness.

And David believes that God is going to raise him up again because he’s been kind to the lowly, considerate to the poor, and shown regard for the weak.

He’s singing about himself.

Do you find that strange?

We don’t always think like this, but it’s really just praying back to God His own promises.

“This is how you operate God, I’m asking you to operate like this now.”

Before we get to his actual prayer for healing, it’s important to stop and ask each of us ask ourselves the question, “Do I have regard for the weak?” “Do I show consideration for the poor?” “Do I help out the lowly?” “Am I loving the people at the bottom?”

Not perfectly.

We’ll see that King David did not think he did this perfectly.

But he believed that he did do it.

How about you and me?

Do we help out those who are poor and needy and can’t pay us back?

David expected the blessings of the covenant to come to him because he believed that God was faithful to keep His promises. Enough to sing about them and enough to pray from them. V.4

“I said, ‘O LORD, have mercy on me; heal me, for I have sinned against you.’”

See? He doesn’t think he’s perfect.

He knows that he’s a sinner.

I don’t think he’s saying that this sickness is because of a particular sin.

I think he’s saying that he knows that he doesn’t deserve healing. He’s a sinner. He doesn’t deserve anything good.

But he knows that God is merciful especially to those who have been merciful, as David knows that he has been.

And so he asks, “O LORD, have mercy on me; heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
And then...this song takes a turn for the worse.

This song of confidence grows dark and sad.

And full of lament.

There are 5 verses in a row that are full of pain.

We don’t sing enough songs about pain.

We like to skip those verses, don’t we?

I mean, I do. Who wants to feel pain, much less sing about it?

But pain is real. Suffering is real.

The Bible is not Candyland.

The Bible is not fake.

The Bible is not the wonderful world of Oz.

The Bible is full of all of the realities of reality, including the painful realities of reality.

“In this world, you will have trouble,” Jesus said.

And you probably need some songs to sing about life being hard when life gets hard.

So He gives us songs like Psalm 41.

Verse 5. “My enemies say of me in malice, ‘When will he die and his name perish?’ Whenever one comes to see me, he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander; then he goes out and spreads it abroad. All my enemies whisper together against me; they imagine the worst for me, saying, ‘A vile disease has beset him; he will never get up from the place where he lies.’”

David put that in his song.

By the way, we don’t know when this happened.

The Bible doesn’t tell us a lot more about this particular occasion, this particular situation.

And that’s alright because it is easier to apply to a lot of our own situations.

We don’t know exactly what happened to David, but we know what it’s like.

Do you have enemies like this?

Two-faced enemies.

They come into to David’s hospital room, and pull back the curtain, and say, “O man, David, I’m sorry. What’s wrong? What’s your prognosis?”

And then they pull the curtain back and go out into the hallway and say, “You’ll never guess what’s going to happen to him! He’s going to die! He’s got a deadly, devilish disease. He’s on the way out.”

I wrote about this psalm in my book on resisting gossip. That’s what these are enemies are doing.

And it hurts.

Can you hear how much King David hurts when they are doing this to him?

He’s sick, and this is how they are treating him.

I hear the voice of Satan in their words.

But it gets worse.

It’s not just David’s enemies who are treating him like this when he is down.

It’s even his close friend. V.9

“Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”

#2. BETRAYED IS THE KING.

Have you ever sang a song about being betrayed?

I think there are bunch of relationship songs like that.

Country and Western Songs about your girlfriend leaving you and taking the truck and the dog.

And I think that all of Taylor Swift’s songs are about this, right?

But this isn’t angry as much as it is hurt.

This is lament. This is singing out your pain.

And singing out your pain to your God.

“Lord, this hurts.”
“Father, I hate how this feels.”
“Dear Lord, why does it have to be like this?”
“How long, O Lord?”
“Why, Lord, why?”

“God, this is the worst.”

Have you prayed like that?

Why not?

I’ll bet you’ve felt those things.

The Bible invites us to pray like that.

Jesus prayed like that.

I’m not sure exactly what it means when David says, “he has lifted up his heel against me.”

Some commentators think it meant that he has turned his back on David, and so David is seeing his heels.

But I think it’s more likely that David is down, and his friend has lifted his foot up to crush him when he’s down.

Have you ever experienced betrayal like that?

King David knew what it was like to be betrayed.

And King Jesus does, too.

John 13:18 quotes this verse right here, verse 9 and says that Jesus fulfilled it.

Great King David was betrayed.

And Great King David’s Greater Son Jesus was even more betrayed.

He filled up that verse with all of the fulfillment that you could imagine.

Do you remember how Judas did it?

He kissed Him.

He betrayed Jesus with a kiss.

He marked Jesus out with the symbol of intimate friendship.

The one that had shared His bread!

That very night, Jesus and Judas had shared a piece of bread together.

And, you know what, Jesus died because of it.

David is going to pray again in verse 10 that he be raised up to health.

And he clearly believes that he will be.

But Jesus did not get to escape the Cross.

Judas betrayed Him, and He went to trial.
He went to crucifixion.
He went to the grave.

“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
“Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?”
“Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?”
“Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”

And well it should.

In verse 10, the Song of the Sick King grows confident again.

Actually, it is confident all the way through, but he’s just sung about his pain for 5 verses. Now, he’s going to reiterate his faith in the Lord one more time. V.10

My enemies have whispered...
My close friend has betrayed...

“But you, O LORD, have mercy on me; raise me up, that I may repay them. I know that you are pleased with me, for my enemy does not triumph over me. In my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever. Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.”

Verse 10 sounds a lot like verse 4.

God hasn’t done the healing yet. David is still praying for it.

But he believes it is coming.

And asks God to have mercy on and raise him up to health so that he can repay his enemies.

Whoa.

Didn’t see that coming.

It sounds vengeful, and there definitely is an element of that.

But remember, David is the king.

It’s David’s job to execute justice.

And what his enemies are doing is actually treasonous.

It’s not a joke. They are hoping the king will die and spreading news that he soon will.

And somebody in his inner circle has lifted up his heal.

David has to deal with that, or he wouldn’t be a good king.

This is not vengeance, but it is vindication.

It is justice on the way.

Which should probably remind us of the justice that King Jesus will one day bring.

David knows. He knows that God is pleased with him.

He knows that the Lord delights in him.

He knows that his God has good in store for him when this is all over.

How much more should you and I be confident in the Lord’s love for us, on this side of the Cross?

How much more should we rejoice that our enemies (the world, the flesh, and the devil) will not triumph over us because of the Cross and the Resurrection?

David knew that he was not perfect. He admitted that readily in verse 4.

But he also knew that he had a basic integrity of heart. He was a man after God’s own heart. He knew that he had a heart for the heart of God.

He knew that he had a real relationship with God and that it showed in how he treated others.

So, he knew that he was going to be upheld and set in the LORD’s presence forever.

How much more do we know that that’s our future, as well?

Jesus died, but He did not stay dead.

We’re going to celebrate that big time next Sunday!

King David just got up from his sickbed.

King Jesus got up from the grave!

His betrayal was greater, but His vindication was so much greater than we could ever imagine.

#3. BLESSED BE THE KING OF KINGS.

Verse 13 doesn’t just end the psalm, it ends the whole first book of the Psalms.

Did you know there are 5 books of the Psalms?

Psalm 41 is the last psalm of book 1.

And each book ends with this kind of high praise.

You know why?

Because the LORD is worthy of it!

“Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.”

And everybody said?

Amen and Amen!