Sunday 6 February 2011 : Matthew 12 : 14-21 [p. 977]
Today we pick up Matthew’s gospel once again, starting with the verse on which we finished way back in November : v.14 : the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. You may remember that the reason identified by Matthew for this decision by the Pharisees is that Jesus declared Himself to be greater than the Temple [v.6] and Lord of the Sabbath [v.8]. This rocked their cosy little world for them.
In other words, Jesus claimed to have authority to interpret the Jewish Law and not be hog-tied either by the letter of the Law, or by the Pharisees’ reading of it. Even more worrying for the Pharisees, Jesus was able to appeal both to the Scriptures themselves, and to their own conduct, to support His understanding of things.
Conclusion? Jesus was a dangerous subversive who had to go. His crime? Claiming to know better than them what God’s will and purpose was. To make matters worse, Jesus by now had gathered quite a following around Himself, and we see [v. 16] that many followed Him and He healed all their sick. As of this moment, the shadow of the cross looms darkly over Matthew’s gospel, and a new resonance is given to Jesus’ warnings toward the end of chapter 10 :
Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me
Those who now followed Jesus to receive what He could do for them – healing and so on – would soon have to decide where their true loyalties lay. What was more precious to them – the gifts or the Giver? I believe we must still keep this question before us. For some years I have believed and preached, and will continue to believe and preach, that it is the declared will of God to intervene directly in our everyday lives to bring to His people supernatural blessing. It is God’s declared will and purpose that we prosper and enjoy life – rich, abundant and overflowing life – in every way.
However, great as the gifts are, I firmly believe it is infinitely more important for us to receive the Giver Himself, and commit ourselves – and I know that for many people commitment is a dirty word in the throwaway society of the 21st century – commit ourselves completely and unconditionally to a personal relationship with Jesus.
I can promise you that, 200 years from now, it will not matter one bit how successful we were in business, how much money we made, how many newspaper headlines were written about us, how many people fell over themselves to be our friend, nor even how many church services we attended nor how many committees we served on.
In and of themselves, not one of these things, nor any combination of them, adds up to true, lasting blessing or prosperity, nor can they buy us a ticket to heaven. 200 years from now, all that will matter is whether or not we made a quality decision to receive Jesus in our heart and be in a committed personal relationship with Him.
Jesus has warned us ahead of time that to make such a decision may rub some people the wrong way that we’d rather not rub the wrong way, may repel some people that we’d rather be close to, may cost us money or seniority or status.
And this is where we see the dividing line between those who love Jesus, pure and simple, and will remain loyal to Him no matter what ; and those whose attachment to Christ and His church is, in essence, for what they can get out of it, and when religion no longer serves their purpose, it’s bye-bye. What do I mean by that?
A few examples. It’s not so long ago that being a pillar of the kirk, better still an elder, was something you would make a point of emphasising in job interviews, especially for professional posts. Until fairly recently, there was a steady stream of young people going through church membership classes so they could, once again, tick the box to get married in the parish church. Sometimes I hear of people in some sort of trouble making a bargain with God – get me out of this mess and I’ll start going to church.
And I’m not saying that these attitudes are always totally wrong, and I’m certainly not saying that God can’t build upon even these rather shaky foundations, but I think the overwhelming evidence is that when our basic motivation is to use God for our own self-centred purposes, rather than to love God and invite Him to use us for His good and generous purposes, whatever spark of faith there might be is far more easily snuffed out. Make no mistake, any true relationship with Jesus must be on His terms.
True faith isn’t about what things we can squeeze and manipulate out of God to further our own self-centred agenda. It’s about dying to self. It’s about inviting the Holy Spirit to take charge of the deepest places of our souls. It’s about allowing our personality, our nature, our thoughts, our feelings, our desires, to be submerged into the person of Jesus Christ. Basically, a life of faith is no longer primarily about us, but about Him.
And if you’re anything like me, your brain will presently be frying as you think – you know what? I just can’t do that. Let me just quickly encourage you by referring you to a verse we looked at last week – Hebrews 10.14 : By one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect, for ever, those who are being made holy. The second we make a principled, honest decision to leave behind forever the emptiness of formal religion and instead to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ, we are instantly transformed by His grace.
Instantly, we move from death to life. Our eternal destiny is settled once and for all by the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus. Our names are written forever in the Lamb’s Book of Life – and there is no tippex, no delete button. We receive the free gift of righteousness – right standing with God for eternity. But alongside that all-or-nothing revolution in our standing before God, there is also a gradual process set in motion.
God knows that those who are born again need time to grow up. Most of the people, most of the time, don’t go from being outright sinners on Saturday to unblemished giants of faith on Sunday. As I said last week, God is patient with us as we go from being spiritual babies, through the toddler, childhood and adolescent stages, to arrive at mature faith. You and I want it all to happen yesterday, and we’re really gutted if we have a bad day when we act the way we used to, bite people’s heads off, and so on.
The devil jumps on that mistake and pours a bucket-load of guilt and discouragement. I’m a hypocrite. I’m such a failure. I’ll never make it. God will just give up on me. When you get such invitations to a pity party, that’s when you need to give yourself a good talking-to and stand firm on Hebrews 10.14 : I have been made perfect in the sight of God, forever, by the sacrifice of Jesus, and I am on the way to holiness by His Holy Spirit working within me. God said it in His Word, so it must be true, and I choose to believe it. So, devil, go back to hell and take your lies with you.
Matthew finishes this section by giving a description of the person of Jesus, from the very Jewish scriptures that the Pharisees, instead of foaming at the mouth and tossing their toys out of the pram, should have known. It’s from the prophecy of Isaiah 42.
Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight ; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out ; no-one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.
Jesus is the One whom the Father loves and in whom the Father delights – we heard His voice from Heaven say as much at His baptism. He proclaims heaven’s justice – all human sin and all human suffering for all time paid for in full by His sacrifice. Jesus did not wilfully pick arguments, and when the religious so-called experts chose to pick a fight with Him, He answered them back only from the Scriptures. Jesus does not attack or pick on the weak and vulnerable and disadvantaged, indeed He shows them special consideration and kindness to heal, deliver and restore. Jesus is the hope of the nations – not just the Jewish people, but all the nations of the earth.
The prophet saw that, six centuries before Jesus came. The Pharisees couldn’t see it, even though Jesus was right there under their noses. This is the Saviour ; this is the One whom God has sent to you, to me ; this is the One who came to fulfil our every possible need. But let’s not put the cart before the horse. Let’s not always be asking Jesus to do things for us as if He was no more than our personal assistant.
If the relationship of a husband and wife was based completely upon the wife getting the dinner on the table at 5.pm sharp, making sure the house was spotlessly clean and her husband had his shirts freshly cleaned and ironed every morning, how many of you think that would be a happy marriage? How many of you think there is room for improvement in that partnership? And the sooner the better! Or there might just be a flying frying-pan before some people are much older!
Likewise, if our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is all about what we want Him to do for us, and there’s no quality time to simply enjoy Him, get to know Him, share what’s on each other’s heart – can we see that relationship is way out of balance, falls miles short of living faith, grieves God, and is in need of urgent review?
So let’s get our priorities right. Let’s concentrate on knowing Him as He really is ; loving Him because He first loved us. Seek first the face of Jesus, and His hand will delight to reach out to us and meet our every need more abundantly than we can ever ask or imagine. We will experience true healing of every part of our being, spirit, soul and body. We will experience true prosperity which – as Kenneth Copeland puts it – consists not in the abundance of what we own, but in the abundance of what we sow.
We will experience the pure joy and peace, beyond any mere human understanding, that only Jesus living by His Holy Spirit in our heart can bring. Trust me, you don’t want to miss it. And whatever that relationship may cost our flesh is well worth it.