Sunday 31 October 2010 : Guild Dedication :
Galatians 3 : 6-14 & Matthew 11 : 11-19

Today’s message may turn everything you believe upside-down. I would go far as to say that, if you hear it correctly, you’ll either storm out of church mortally offended, or you’ll dance out of church, liberated for life. This next 15 minutes, then, should be interesting, one way or another.

We’re picking up where we left off a couple of weeks ago, with Jesus speaking about John the Baptist. Here Jesus pays tribute to him, that there has never been, throughout history, up to this moment, anyone greater than John. Really? What, his hearers must have thought, about Abraham, Moses, King David, Isaiah? How come this guy with the camel coat, the leather belt and the attitude, standing up to his knees in water, with dried honey and locust legs matted in his beard, qualified as greater than them?

Well, partly because men like Isaiah prophesied that he would come, and a prophet always points to someone greater than himself. Isaiah 40.3 looks forward to : A voice of one calling: In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. This certainly fits the bill for John’s ministry, as The One sent on to prepare the people for the coming of the long-promised Christ.

But also because, unlike all these great figures of Old Testament history, John would see with his own eyes, and hear with his own ears, the fulfilment of all that the Old Testament pointed to. Everything from Genesis to Malachi, in a sense, looks forward to Jesus, if only by showing, in some of the bloodier parts of Kings and Chronicles and things, how bereft of true revelation the people were before Jesus came.

Truly John was blessed, truly John was esteemed in the courts of heaven – but … and this is the bit that may very well fry your brain totally … however great John was, his standing is less than yours or mine, if we are born again. That IS what v.11 is saying! According to the lips of Jesus Himself, if you have given your heart to the Lord Jesus Christ, you have a righteousness and an empowering that men like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, Isaiah, etc, could scarcely dream of.

Even John the Baptist did not have that anointing in fullest measure because it could only be released by the finished work of Jesus at Easter and Pentecost, first His death in our place on the cross to cancel the entire massive debt of human disobedience ; to endure the curse of being hung on a tree to redeem us from the curse of the law ; to forgive our every sin and to heal our every disease, and to reconcile us to Father God.

Then His resurrection from the dead, the first fruits of the resurrection of all humanity – which, for those who put our faith and trust in Him as Saviour and Lord means the resurrection to everlasting life of a whole new quality, starting now, to be enjoyed in abundance, to the full, till it overflows, as we make the choice to love God with all we have and all we are, and express that practically by loving our neighbour with the same measure of love we apply to ourselves – and that includes a decision, made not by feelings but by faith, to love our enemies. What a stand for Jesus THAT is!
Finally, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into the church at Pentecost, without which discipleship would be but a pipe-dream. The Holy Spirit, the real personal presence of God in us, transforming our inner being from self-centred to God-centred, enabling us to walk daily in love by faith, whether we feel like it or not. Whether in the flesh we feel as happy as a dog let loose in a butcher’s shop, or as irritable as a wasp with a hangover, the Holy Spirit enables us to over-rule our flesh, and force it to shape up.

The Holy Spirit, the parting gift of Jesus to believers as He went home to His Dad in Heaven, brings God’s Word to life in our minds and hearts ; creates conviction within us as to who we truly are, God’s precious and much-loved kids ; takes root in our spirit and starts to bear fruit in our character – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control ; and – now we get controversial …

The Holy Spirit empowers us with charismatic gifts to get the job done – speaking in tongues, prophecy, supernatural knowledge, wisdom and discernment of good and evil, healing, miracles etc – in other words, since we are the body of Christ, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians, both in the collective sense as the church and as individual members of the church, with a Great Commission to fulfil, by doing the things Jesus used to do, we are also given the power to do those things. Now I know that teaching may put noses in a sling, but it’s what God’s Word teaches, so take it up with Him.

And here’s the thing. John the Baptist did not experience all these outpourings of the grace of God, because He died before Jesus did. In that sense, even the most humble born-again believer has – according to scripture – greater anointing, responsibility, authority and power than even John the Baptist had. And I believe it’s about time the church started to rejoice in the fullness of that grace, and stopped arguing about it. Listen. If we don’t have it, it’s not because God didn’t give it, it’s because we didn’t receive it, and that’s a very special category of not-very-bright!

And since we’re on a roll this morning, now is perhaps the time to emphasise what this bit of teaching from Jesus should make very clear. The difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament isn’t just a blank page between Malachi and Matthew, it’s a whole radical new way in which God relates to His people. I am fed up hearing well-meaning but ill-advised comments about needing to go back to the 10 Commandments. That is absolutely and utterly 110% wrong and an insult to Jesus.

The 10 Commandments were an interim measure put in place in the hope that God’s people might see for themselves that, in and of themselves, they were incapable of pleasing God and earning God’s favour by their own efforts. Even just 10 rules were too many for human beings to obey under their own steam, as it proved over and over again ; even when consequences were set out for breaking the rules. We looked last time, did we not, at the curses section of Deuteronomy 28?

Trust me, ladies and gentlemen, you do not want your destiny to depend on obeying the 10 commandments or relating to God by legalism. Ah but that’s not what I meant. We believe in Jesus but we should obey the commandments as well.
Well, let’s see what that one-time arch-legalist and Pharisee of Pharisees, Paul, had to say about that. Romans 11.5-6, Amplified Bible : At the present time there is a remnant (a small believing minority), selected (chosen) by grace (by God’s unmerited favor and graciousness). But if it is by grace (His unmerited favor and graciousness), it is no longer conditioned on works or anything men have done. Otherwise, grace would no longer be grace [it would be meaningless].

You can’t have grace and works together. That’s what Paul teaches in Romans 11, and again in Galatians 3.13f, where Paul describes the whole Old Testament mindset of obeying the 10 commandments, or else, as a curse, as well as all the stuff that came with the inevitable failure to obey the Law. We base our relationship with God either on the free and unmerited grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who died to set us free from bondage to the 10 commandments and all the other works of the law, and receive all the wonderful benefits we outlined earlier as a free gift.

Or we act as if Jesus had never turned up ; as if Christmas, Easter and Pentecost were just dates when the Post Office isn’t open ; and in foolish pride we try to please God by our own efforts. A covenant of grace sealed in the blood of Christ, offering eternal life of the highest order, or a covenant of works ignoring Christ, offering frustration, judgement and death. Folks, it really is as simple as that. Christ-righteousness, or self-righteousness. Grace, or law. Faith, or works. Life, or death. You choose.

I am not arguing for tearing the Old Testament out of your Bible, not at all. In there, you find many wonderful promises, which Jesus came and fulfilled by the hundred. The Old Testament is the background against which Jesus ministered. Without that historical context we’d find it difficult to make sense of some of the things He said and did. But we must always read it in the light of the New Testament, and remember that it’s Jesus, not our goody-goody works, who is the Amen to the promises there.

Far too many people in today’s church still haven’t realised that Jesus alone is the key to unlock all God’s gracious and supernatural provision for His people. They think everything depends on their limited human ability. They speak piously of the need to be very humble in the face of all the problems in the world, and recognise that God moves in mysterious ways. That’s like the behaviour of the characters Jesus refers to in vs. 16-18 : clinging to empty, meaningless shadows of religious observance that can never bring life, instead of letting go of all that dead stuff and embracing Jesus, the one and only source of true life and health and peace and fulfilment.

It’s not humility, it’s plain unbelief. Humility is recognising that God is always right. There’s nothing mysterious about His New Testament ways as they unfold in Jesus. And so it is time for the Kingdom to advance forcefully, to serve an eviction notice upon the devil and all his works, to tackle head-on and boot out the lingering curses of poverty, disease, stress, fear, depression, broken homes and relationships, and to do so in the power that Jesus Himself released, the power of the Holy Spirit. We are called to be that New Testament Kingdom people. Let’s rise to the challenge. Now.