7 November 2010 : Matthew 11 : 20-30
The Jesus we meet today is not chuffed at the reception He has had around Galilee, and He is not backward in coming forward as to what He thinks about it. What exactly has been going on? Basically, the people Jesus has poured out His heart to, the people in whose midst He has taught so faithfully the life-changing gospel message, and has so freely healed the sick and performed signs and wonders, don’t want to know.
It’s as if there’s a great big sign round their necks – DO NOT DISTURB. The mindset of the people of Galilee, Jesus’ own home turf, was : I’m comfortable just how I am. Don’t ask me to change. I’m content with what I believe. Don’t ask me to think.
They would insist, with some indignation, that of course they believed in God. After all they were members of the synagogue. They went, they paid their tithes, they did their religious bit. But that religious observance never really went beyond a superficial level. They weren’t truly open to revelation. Their minds were as closed as a railway that Beeching got his hands on, their hearts as hard as last month’s Gregg’s pie.
How do we know this? Because the Son of God was right there in amongst them, living in their midst, walking up and down their streets, fulfilling the prophecies set out in the scriptures they read so solemnly every Sabbath day, and doing so out in the open for all to see and hear. There was nothing Jesus ever said or did that could not be traced back to an Old Testament promise. All Jesus did was to bring to pass what God had said would happen, and the evidence was there in the scrolls read at worship.
Despite all that, despite the miracles happening to people they knew, on the streets of their own community, they did not believe. More precisely, they would not believe. The more Jesus proved who He was, by what He said and what He did, the more angry and resentful they became at Jesus for challenging their smug complacent attitude.
How ironic. These silly religious folks would beat themselves up and tie themselves in knots trying to do things and tick legalistic boxes in the vain hope of earning God’s approval by their own efforts – and all the time there was One right there, breathing the same air, shopping in the same market, walking down the same dusty street ; One whose name and family background they knew [or at least thought they did] ; One whose face and voice they recognised instantly ; One who, if they but accepted Him, would gladly, freely and unconditionally give them more than they ever dreamed of.
It must have broken the loving heart of Jesus to say what He said in this morning’s lesson about these communities He knew so well, about these people whose homes He as a self-employed builder and general craftsman, had worked in, whose furniture He had built with His own hands, the same hands that made the universe. Jesus never came to condemn or judge anyone. John 3.17 tells us : God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him.
I want to you to note carefully two very important things I’m about to say. One. God never excludes anyone from the circle of His love and His saving power. 2 Peter 3.9 says : God is patient with you. He does not want anyone to be lost, but he wants all people to change their hearts and lives.1 John 2.2 : Jesus died in our place to take away our sins, and not only our sins but the sins of all people. 2 Corinthians 5.19 : God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.
Hebrews 9.12 : Christ entered the Most Holy Place once and for all. His sacrifice was his own blood, and by it he set us free from sin forever. Is anyone here in any doubt whatsoever, even from just those four scriptures, that the declared and unmistakable will and purpose of God is to reach out to and embrace with His forgiving, reconciling healing life-giving love every single human being who has ever drawn breath? That is the plain and simple message of the Word of God and you’d need the spin-doctor from hell to get you to misunderstand it. Point one, God never rejects anyone.
But – point two. Many people reject God. Jesus Himself acknowledged this to be the case, even as He prepared to make the sacrifice for all sin for all people for all time. Jesus remarks on this with bitter disappointment in Matthew 7 : You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to destruction is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to true life. Only a few people find that road.
Here’s the situation. God wants everyone to enjoy a wonderful life, a life without end, a life spent in fellowship with Himself, secure in the knowledge that we enjoy His love and blessing. Not only does God want it, but God has paid the price to make that new life freely and universally available, through Jesus dying on the cross to pay for our stupidity and selfishness and to break the curses attached to human disobedience.
Sounds good. Sounds brilliant. But, sad to say, most people in Galilee and Jerusalem 2,000 years ago – and, I dare to suggest, most people in the Scottish Borders now – seem to have chosen not to take up that option. Why? One word – pride. You see, life as God intends for us, life as Jesus has purchased for us, comes only one way, and that is total submission to the Lordship of Jesus. And that is the choker for many of us.
At a certain age, we became church members. It was what you did at that age, a rite of passage. Maybe we were told that we had to join the club to get married in the church, to have our children christened in the church, to gain our get-out-of-hell-free card.
Maybe we were told that it was the done thing to turn up regularly enough to keep our names on the church roll, stick some money in the plate often enough to make sure the place was still here when the time came for us to check out of this earthly life. Maybe we were given the idea that signing on the dotted line and paying our subscription now and again as fire insurance was all that was expected of us. Or maybe we did dip our toe at least a little deeper into the water. But not too far.
Maybe, if truth be told, we quite the enjoy the experience of coming to church on a fairly regular basis, meeting up with people we are comfortable with, going through an order of service we are comfortable with, belting out hymns we are familiar with, and in all this familiar comfort zone finding a sort of oasis from what can seem at times a pretty hostile and threatening outside world.
And if that’s where, in all honesty, some of us are at, all I would say – and I say it in genuine love and concern for you – is that God has so much more for you than you’re presently experiencing, that God wants you to enjoy the journey of life so much more, and experience so much more joy and peace, and exercise so much more power and authority, and make so much more of an impact for the Kingdom on those around you.
What God wants to pour out in you and through you really is all good, and I would encourage you today to raise your level of expectation. Jesus didn’t go through all He went through just so you could white-knuckle it till He comes for you, bounced around like a cork in an ocean storm, just as fear-filled and fatalistic in the face of economic recession, health problems or family issues as the atheist next door.
If you are not walking in total health and prosperity of spirit, soul and body ; if you are beset by anxiety or stress ; if you are renting space in your head to bitterness, anger, resentment, insecurity or inadequacy – you’re missing God’s best for you, which is a shame because the price of your deliverance was paid in full on the cross. But it will take regime change. Decide to ditch the mediocre struggling life you now have under your own steam, a mere existence you know isn’t really working. Bin it. Kill it off.
Then choose to enter into new life with Jesus in charge, Jesus who loves you so much that He gave His life for you, Jesus who is with you always and who will never let you go or let you down. That’s what Jesus called being “born again” – some people don’t like that phrase but it was Jesus who said it – then determine to grow up and mature.
Get into the Word of God on a regular basis and allow what God says to renew your mind. Lay aside, once and for all, any and all opinions that don’t completely agree with what God’s Word teaches ; any and all beliefs that don’t completely agree with what God’s Word teaches ; any and all emotions that don’t completely agree with what God’s Word teaches ; any and all attitudes toward other people or toward yourself that don’t completely agree with what God’s Word teaches.
Once you find yourself submitted to, and agreeing with, what God says about you in the New Testament, and for the true born-again believer it really is all good. Jesus has promised He will never lay unreasonable burdens upon you. Yes, He will encourage you to aim high, but He will also equip you to do it. He will call you to be generous and forgiving, but in His grace and strength. He will give you opportunities to witness to family, friends, neighbours and colleagues, but He will give you the words to say. Be smarter than the folks in Galilee. Don’t waste your life trying to exist by your own limited human ingenuity. Invest your life in Jesus, and you will blossom and bear fr