Ale & Teviot United Church

I can’t begin to tell you how much I don’t care

Sunday 1 August 2010 : Matthew 9 : 9-17

No unauthorised structural alterations to houses today, no mass suicide of farm animals, just Jesus continuing in his resolute path of doing what was right, rather than what was popular or expedient. We see him add a new disciple to the team – Matthew. It’s hard for us to appreciate just how offensive this would have been for many devout Jews in 1st century Palestine. The job of the tax collector was to extract money from the faithful for the benefit of the infidel, the despised pagan occupation force of the Roman Empire.

It was bad enough for a heathen to do that, but a Jew? That was treason. That was fund-raising for the devil. Matthew would be the target of all sorts of abuse, perhaps physical as well as verbal, and certainly he would not feature in the guest list of any respectable Jewish household. And as for this Jesus, whom many people thought – as it happened, incorrectly – might be the man to lead a holy war against Rome, for Jesus to welcome into his inner circle the traitorous taxman Matthew was outrageous.

This choice by Jesus would have put a serious dent in his approval ratings, but Jesus could not care less. He saw past the labels and the limitations that people hung like an albatross round the necks of others, to the real person inside. Jesus saw past the insults of the crowd and the outward circumstances to the untouched potential inside Matthew, and this gospel we’re studying is one fruit of that decision of Jesus that day.

Perhaps Jesus saw that Matthew – unlike many of his colleagues – didn’t trouser more than his fair share of the money but played it by the book. Perhaps Jesus saw that Matthew managed to treat hostile clients with calm respect even though they insulted, maybe even assaulted, him. Perhaps Matthew was in Jesus’ mind when He taught that those who are faithful in small things set themselves up to be trusted with bigger things.

We are not told why Jesus chose Matthew, but one thing we can say. Jesus paid more attention to Matthew’s inner heart than his outer circumstances. Jesus valued Matthew for who and what he truly was, an individual made in the likeness of God – not for what the religious bigwigs said about him based solely on what he did for a living.

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to dismiss another human being as unworthy of our concern because of one aspect of that person’s life – the colour of their skin, their ethnic origin, their accent, what school they went to, what foot they kick with, what job they do, what their marital status is, what clothes they wear, what church they do or do not go to, what social circle they do or not belong to, they drink or they don’t drink, and so on.

Or we make one thing that person did, one time – and very rarely is it a positive thing – become the definition of their whole life. One foolish act 20 years ago, and the minute that person’s name is mentioned, all these years later, we have this instant association – oh, you mean that thief, that liar, that cheat, or whatever it may be. Here is a newsflash. That wasn’t how Jesus worked then, and it’s not how Jesus works now. You want one more newsflash? We better be very glad it’s not how Jesus deals with us.

Each of us commits sin, one way or another, but Jesus doesn’t immediately dismiss us as sinners because of it. He continues to love us. Nothing we can ever do, or not do, can make him love us one little bit less, or one little bit more. When Jesus went to the cross 2,000 years ago, forgiveness was purchased for ALL sins, past, present and future ; ALL sins, big ones and little ones. Forgiveness is a done deal. And aren’t we grateful!

Now, in saying that, am I suggesting that sin is no big deal, that we can do whatever we like because it’s been forgiven anyway, so it doesn’t matter? Actually, Paul was so strong in his preaching of the grace of God released through the cross of Christ that he was accused, all the time, of teaching that sin didn’t matter. And, I suppose, in one sense it’s true that a Christian could, theoretically, go on sinning and not worry about it, because it’s already been forgiven – but I think that would be a very unhappy Christian.

If we truly love Jesus, we wouldn’t dream of deliberately going on doing the selfish and harmful things that we know cost Him so dearly at the cross. And when we do slip up, if we truly love Jesus, we want to go to Him as soon as we get back to our senses and say : Lord, I am so sorry for letting you down like that. Please help me to walk in grace and faith so I can be a better and more faithful witness to you in future.

Knowingly disobeying God is daft, because it steals our peace and our joy. It robs us of our confidence in God’s protection. It makes us feel unworthy of God’s blessing. We’ll find it hard to receive healing when we’re in a place we know we shouldn’t be – please note, NOT because God’s heart and mind toward us has changed one little bit. When God called us, our lives were a mess and it didn’t stop Him loving and blessing us then.

What’s changed, when we’re intentionally body-swerving God’s best for us, is our heart and mind toward Him – and the devil will exploit that mercilessly. He’ll jump on us like bluebottles on roadkill and hammer us with guilt and condemnation. He’ll tell us we’re failures, frauds and freaks. He’ll tell us that God won’t love us and can’t use us, that we’ve really blown it this time. Now all that is a complete load of garbage, but it’s what happens when we wilfully ignore God’s Word. It won’t undermine God’s love, God’s grace, God’s will, God’s purpose, but will undermine our faith to receive it.

So what if, today, we know – deep down – we’re walking in disobedience to God, and it’s ripping us up inside? Remember Jesus went out and chose Matthew, a collaborator with the Roman Empire. Remember the risen Jesus chose Paul, a vicious persecutor of the early church. Remember Jesus doesn’t look disapprovingly at your past. He looks enthusiastically at your future – even if you’re getting on a bit. Moses didn’t start his ministry till he was 80. And Abraham and Sarah? We won’t even go there!

It’s never too late to change direction. It’s never too late to tune into God’s plan for our lives. It’s never too late to renew our minds from the Word of God, to change our way of thinking, and so change our destination. Let’s have the guts to realise that if we’re out of step with God, one of us needs to change, and it’s not going to be God! Amen?

But I think we also need to remember that, just as Jesus gladly forgives and forgets our misdeeds, so in the same way He wants us to cut others some slack as well. In fact, our willingness to see past someone’s past and give them grace is a very powerful sign and witness of real commitment to the Kingdom of God. Any fool can be religious, but if it doesn’t work itself out in a better to attitude to other people, it’s as phoney as a £3 note.

In v.13 Jesus reminds His impeccably religious audience of an Old Testament teaching, Hosea 6.6, that God desires mercy rather than sacrifice. In many ways, what Jesus was proclaiming, they should already have known. The Old Testament makes it clear that a form of piety with no substance in terms of extending love, mercy and compassion to others, was deeply offensive to God. Why? Because phonies, hypocrites, make-believe believers, damage God’s reputation and are a turn-off to those He wants to save.

Listen to the self-righteous response of the Pharisees when Jesus went round for pie and beans at Matthew’s house, and all sorts turned up to join him. The Pharisees twisted on about this man eating with tax-collectors and sinners. Hang on – Jesus came with a call and a mission from God to save the world! How could He possibly do that, how could He possibly reach out to the lost and hopeless, if He avoided them like the plague?

In the gospels we quite regularly find Jesus hitting the hut, or I’m lovin’ it, with the sort of people the Pharisees would rather eat thistles than be seen within 100 yards of. Jesus the Good Shepherd actively went out to find the lost sheep. Do we take a similarly generous attitude to people that are different, people that are now where, perhaps, we were maybe 10, 20 years ago? Or do we stick on safe, unchallenging ground, with birds of a like-minded religious feather? If so, how can we fulfil the Great Commission?

Jesus memorably replied to the Pharisees : Listen, chums, it’s not the healthy that turn up at the doctor’s surgery – it’s those who are sick. I think the implication of that was a bit more subtle. Underlying it was the spiritual truth, still totally valid today, that there is no way He can help people who refuses to recognise that they have a problem. I think Jesus must, even now, weep when He sees so many people – even, in too many cases, church people – so much in denial of their spiritual disorder.

People who are terrified to confront what the real live Jesus is saying to them today, because they’ve built this respectable religious façade, active in church and community, and are hiding from reality behind it. Deep down, they know there’s more, but to go for it and embrace the fullness of Christ’s love and power in their lives might cost them ; might make people think they’re wacky ; might shatter the self-image they’ve carefully constructed for themselves. If I let Jesus in, I might end up raising my hands in worship, dancing in the aisles, speaking in tongues, healing the sick. Perish forbid!

If that scenario comes uncomfortably close to where you are today, can I encourage you by saying you’re not the only one here who knows what that’s like. Some of us have already fought that battle, and realised it was one we were better to lose and let Jesus win – and, you know something, we haven’t grown three heads. Yet, anyway!

Sadly, the most vitriolic attacks against people who are 100% out there for Jesus, and who stand firm on the power of His Word, not the nonsense of the world, whether they be internationally famous TV preachers, or ordinary folks in ordinary wee churches who have totally sold out to Jesus, don’t usually come from total heathens – they couldn’t care less one way or another – but from people who claim to be Christians.

Claim to be Christians, and may indeed be very respected and prominent figures within the church, but are actually embarrassed and offended that these other people have a joy and a peace and an anointing that’s foreign to them ; shocked and horrified that people are being healed from cancer, or miraculously delivered from mountains of debt,  that dozens or hundreds are making public commitment to Jesus in a single day.

But not in their church, please. Not in their beautiful, orderly, dignified, respectable church – therefore all this born-again, spirit-filled, word-faith stuff must be wrong, must be of the devil – oh no, wait a minute, we don’t believe there’s a devil, ah well, it must be a sign of psychological disturbance. Can’t have the lame made to walk, and leave redundant wheelchairs all over the sanctuary. Can’t have demons getting cast out in the middle of the service – too noisy, too messy, disturbs the peace. These custodians of decency and order wouldn’t have enjoyed Jesus doing pulpit supply, would they?

Can I offer a bit of gratuitous advice to those who worry what other people will think of them if they go all-out for Jesus? Don’t rent space in your brain to what they might say. Kenneth Copeland, still a powerhouse for the Lord at 73, is often asked what he thinks abut the negative stuff churned out about him, sometimes in the secular press, more often by so-called evangelicals who seem to have lost the love aspect somewhere.

Ken’s response is exemplary : I don’t care. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I don’t care. That’s his attitude to noises off, to sniping from the sidelines, to those who have no evidence of blessing or anointing or Holy Spirit power in their own lives, their own ministries, their own churches, and are envious of what they see in those who have what they don’t have – but they’re not willing to pay the price to receive it.

If you’re walking in God’s plan for your life, if you’re enjoying God’s best in your life, if you’re exemplifying prosperity and health of spirit, soul and body, if you’re passing on God’s love freely and gladly to others, what does it matter what anyone else thinks or says? Your response should be, like Kenneth Copeland :  I don’t care. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I don’t care. If your motormouth critics have anything more substantial than candy floss between their ears, the penny will eventually drop that you’re doing something right, and they’re not – and they’ll want to know more about it.

Well, I had intended to get a bit further this morning, but we’ll leave it there for today and come back to this next week. Don’t miss the next exciting instalment!

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