13 February 2011 : Matthew 12 : 22-30
Once again we see Jesus engaged in a difference of opinion, to put it mildly, with the religious establishment. This is a recurrent theme throughout the gospels, and as we noted last time it is the street-map to the cross. What has happened here?
First, Jesus has performed a mighty miracle. Nothing new there, then. By this action of love and power, Jesus is making a very strong claim to be listened to. Here’s a point we need to bear in mind. Though our standing with God, our righteousness, owes not one tiny little bit to any actions of our own but is 100% down to the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ who went to the cross in our place, our standing with people is affected by our conduct toward people. And because of who we are and what we are in Jesus, this means that our reputation and the reputation of Jesus are inextricably linked.
Paul describes the church as ambassadors of Christ. What are ambassadors? They are people who represent one sovereign nation in and to another nation. I think it was Bill Winston who spoke of visiting a dirt-poor Central American country, where the people ground out a miserable existence, and keeping body and soul together on a daily basis was a demoralising uphill struggle. In the midst of the slums and shanty towns of that nation there stood a handsome building, the residents of which dined handsomely on fresh produce flown in daily. Amid the poverty, they lived in luxury.
The ordinary people of that poverty-stricken nation would look through the high fence surrounding that building with a real sense of longing that they too could share in that prosperity over the wall. It was obvious to them that the people on the other side of the fence had a better life, and the people wished they could have it too. That building was the United States embassy. It spoke to the people of that other nation – it may have been Haiti, I don’t recall for sure – of the wealth and prosperity of the USA.
Now I know that picture immediately creates a certain moral ambiguity, but if you stick with me and follow the reasoning through, I’m sure you’ll agree that two things arise out of that scenario. First, when we see someone who has something good that we don’t have, the natural reaction is to think : how can I have that too? Second, from the other side of the fence, as it were, when we see people who don’t have the good things we have, we ought to be very powerfully motivated to share our blessings.
Let’s translate that into spiritual terms. You and I, as ambassadors of Jesus Christ, are called to represent the Kingdom of God to and in the kingdoms of this world. We are called to represent Kingdom values of love, compassion, generosity and power in the Holy Spirit, to put into effect the policies pursued by the Kingdom of God, in and to a society, a culture, a world without Christ – a world creaking and collapsing under the dead weight of greed, lust, hatred, perversion, negative thinking, wacky beliefs – the policies pursued by and, I may add, ruthlessly enforced by, the kingdom of darkness.
Listen to what Paul writes in Ephesians 6 : be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Whether we like it or not, we are in a spiritual war, and there is no neutral territory, no politically correct safe middle ground.
In our text today Jesus spells it out [v.30] : He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. It’s quite simple. We’re either with Jesus, or against Jesus, and we get to choose. We choose to receive the grace poured out at the cross, the grace that sweeps away all the garbage the devil has thrown at us, the grace by which our every sin has been forgiven, our every disease has been healed, every aspect of the curse of the Law cancelled – or, by default, we live under the Law.
We choose the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and receive righteousness, right standing with God for eternity, because of all that Jesus is, and all that Jesus has done , or we condemn ourselves to have to try to earn God’s favour by our own performance, and that is a hopeless, soul-destroying task. I want you to be absolutely and totally clear on what I’m about to say. You can’t afford to miss this, OK?
There are precisely two ways of relating to God, and only two – law or grace. That is what Jesus teaches, that is what Paul teaches, that is what Peter teaches, that is what John teaches, that is what the anonymous writer to the Hebrews teaches. We have the choice to opt into grace, by faith and trust in the person and the finished work of Jesus, and know the freedom of having every debt paid by His blood, and knowing God in a personal way as Father, Saviour, Redeemer, Healer, Provider and Friend.
Failing which, the default position is law, relying solely on our own performance, and needing to perform perfectly every moment of every day, because whoever breaks one bit of the Law has broken it all. Those who do not choose to relate to Jesus as Saviour and, through Him, to God as Father will inevitably have to relate to God as Judge.
There is, and this is a good time to mention it, a provision under the covenant of grace for the children and grandchildren of believers to be counted as righteous because of our faith – see, for example, Psalm 103.17, Acts 2.39 – and that assurance of inherited grace is tremendously comforting for those of us whose descendants have not, as yet, accepted Jesus, but in order to walk in the fullness of God’s overwhelming blessing in this life, as God longs for us to do, there has to be a personal commitment of faith.
All of which brings us back to this ambassador business. There ought to be something so different, so attractive, about your life and mine, that the people around us long to know what we have that they haven’t and to receive it for themselves. In their spiritual hunger, a bit like the people staring through the gates of the US Embassy, they ought to be looking at us and longing to be like us, because the love, peace, joy, generosity, radiant health, wholesome relationships and general goodness in our lives shines out.
And on the other side of the coin that fullness of Christ in us should lead us to be very proactive indeed in doing whatever we can to bring the love and power of Jesus to bear on the lives of the people round about us, so that they also might know Him as He truly is and have their lives transformed by Him.
Note also that ambassadors act with the power and authority of the nation that commissioned them. Our obedience to Jesus releases the same supernatural power and authority that Jesus exercised, and that should be no surprise to us because Jesus has promised in John 14 : Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
So often, Jesus ministered to people first and foremost by addressing their immediate physical needs, whether it was feeding the 5,000, stilling a storm, turning water into wine, or getting rid of illness and disability. He did that BEFORE these people were “saved”. His miracles were signs and wonders to transform their lives for a time on this earth, pointing to the greater reality of total salvation for eternity.
We read in v.22 of this demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. Question. Was this man a member of the church, a regular attender, a generous giver? Had he done anything at all to earn or deserve attention from Jesus. Absolutely not! He was demon-possessed! He was in all likelihood someone who was despised, feared and shunned by the local community.
He was not “saved” when Jesus came along. Jesus healed Him completely and utterly by grace. Then, I imagine, after Jesus had turned his life around, he believed, big-time. He would be the most committed and effective evangelist in the parish. He would have had 20 times more faith than all these pompous self-righteous muttering religious gasbags whose intelligent contribution we see in v.24. It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.
In terms of stupid comments, the Pharisees could come up with some crackers, but this is one of the real classics, and Jesus must have been this close to laughing out loud in their soor-ploom faces. Were they really so dumb as to think that the devil would shoot himself in the foot by giving some of his minions their marching orders so that God would get the glory? The devil may be thick, but he’s not THAT thick!
Jesus points out to them, in no uncertain terms, that they needed to use their heads for something other than a hat-stand. What they were saying just didn’t make any sense, and anyone whose IQ was at least as great as their shoe size could see that. In fact, what Jesus had done was to storm through the enemy fortress and release a man who, for so many years, had been held captive by demons, his life trashed by these crispy critters who had robbed him of hope or purpose.
And be sure that when Jesus did that, Satan wouldn’t extend a congratulatory hand, nor offer to crack open a bottle of 20-year-old malt to celebrate the happy occasion. No, the devil was as sick as the proverbial parrot. He’d lost ground, and because so many people saw what had happened and went away telling everyone about it, it was absolutely certain sure that he’d take an even bigger hammering as more and more people heard about Jesus and came to see, and receive, for themselves.
Back to v.30 : He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. You could bet your mortgage that the man released from those demons, who now enjoyed again the power to hear and speak, would have no doubt whose side he was on from that day forward. But how had he got there? What magic formula had he put into effect to move from death to life? Had he gone through a whole series of communicants’ classes, counselling courses, or whatever? No.
In fact, he hadn’t even turned up that day under his own steam. Other people who had, we may be sure, already experienced the love and power of Jesus, brought him along. He wouldn’t have heard the sermon. He was deaf. He just knew, deep down inside, despite all these yucky demons screaming and downloading all their junk on him, that this Jesus was his one and only hope. He believed, and he received.
Maybe today, you just need to recognise that Jesus is your only hope, and simply believe and receive. Maybe today, you can think of someone you are concerned about, someone who does not know Jesus, and ask God to show you a way of allowing them to meet Jesus – first and foremost, by being yourself an ambassador to Christ for them.