Revelation #7 WHO’S ON FIRST?

Jesus

Nothing – absolutely nothing, should come before God in our lives. What is your first love, really? Jesus is clear here – it should be Him. If Jesus is your first love, He should have first claim on your time, energy and resources of all kinds. This message shows you how much we need to repent, and promises how much we gain when we do.

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Revelation #7. The Letter to the Ephesian Church, part 2. Rev 2:1-7.

I want you to know that it is my hope and prayer that you always get more out of any given Bible passage than my sermon notes alone can offer. Sermons, in whatever form, should just be the icing on the cake for disciples of Jesus Christ. Our bread and butter, so to speak, ought to come from our own regular study of scripture, guided and assisted by teaching from sermons. Remember that “you reap what you sow” is a scriptural principle. If you put in fifteen minutes each week, reading the sermon notes during a hurried dinner without cracking the Bible, expect to learn and grow accordingly. If on the other hand, you spend twenty minutes or so with the sermon notes one day, and twenty minutes the next day with the scripture passage, and perhaps review them both on a third day, you can expect much more benefit from it all. Depending on the passage, you might spend twenty minutes or so each day for the entire week simply going over the verses and sermon notes for that week.

I know that some of you will automatically respond with “that is totally unrealistic.” Well, as it happens, that response relates to our sermon today. The basic question that arises from Revelation 2:1-7 is this: What place does Jesus have in your heart?

Last time we talked about the things for which Jesus praised the Ephesian church: an intolerance for Christians who sin openly and without repenting, and an intolerance for false teachers. In addition, they bore up under opposition, hostility and hard labor with endurance and grit. These are important examples that we too, should follow.

But we ended, more or less, with verse three (and a peek ahead to verse 6 also). In verses 4-5, Jesus tackles a problem with the Ephesian church.

The church at Ephesus had a rich spiritual heritage. Paul had spent about a week there early on, but the church there was most likely founded by Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos. When Paul came there to spend some time, a few years later, there was already an established community of Christians. Paul spent two years there (Acts 19:10). After Paul left, Timothy, his protégé, spent many years in the city as one of the leaders of the church there. At some point, the apostle John also arrived and took up residence, training the next great Christian leader, who became the wise old martyr, Polycarp.

In short, the Ephesian church had one of the richest theological traditions of any early Christian church, having been home to no less than six remarkable first-generation Christian leaders, including two genuine apostles and their two protégés. At the time of Revelation, their doctrine was still strong. Their endurance was good. But they had lost something:

4But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. 5Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent. (Rev 2:4-5, HCSB)

Most commentators, myself included think that “first love” refers to love for Jesus himself. All other loves spring from that. Though the Ephesians were convinced of the truth of the gospel, they had begun to let the love seep out of their commitment of faith. They were zealous for truth, but apparently not particularly zealous for Jesus himself, or for other Christians.

They were committed to Jesus, certainly, but they were far more committed to the ideas of faith in him, than to Him personally. They were missing the emotional and spiritual relationship that Jesus Christ desires with his people. It is no mistake that in speaking to these people Jesus emphasized that he was the one who “walks among the seven golden lampstands.” The lampstands, as you remember from 1:20 are the churches. The point that Jesus is making that he is actually with his people. The Ephesians needed to remember the importance of God’s presence with them, and to fall in love with Jesus all over again.

Just as it is possible to become fiercely committed to the idea of marriage while at the same time neglecting your spouse, it is possible to be committed to truth, while neglecting your relationship with Jesus. Frankly, I see it all the time in people who are conservative and have been Christians for a long time. Sometimes I even recognize it in myself. For a short time I attended a seminary where students were not allowed to announce unauthorized gatherings for prayer, but they were welcome to announce keggers (parties involving lots of beer). Their doctrine was good, but clearly something was wrong with their first love.

Jesus calls the Ephesians (and us) to repent, and to love Him above everything and everyone else. He wants us not just to be faithful and true, but to be actively engaged in relationship with him. He says very clearly that the church or Christian that does not continue in this relational aspect of faith will cease to be the church. The lampstand will be removed (2:5).

This first love message is deep and far reaching. In fact, it is nothing less than the first of the ten commandments. When Jesus was still on earth, someone asked him about the most important commandment:

36“Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest? ”

37He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38This is the greatest and most important command. (Matt 22:36-38, HCSB)

Nothing – absolutely nothing, should come before God in our lives. What is your first love, really? Jesus is clear here – it should be Him. If Jesus is your first love, He should have first claim on your time, energy and resources of all kinds. This brings us back to the beginning of these notes: if you think it’s unrealistic to spend an hour or two learning more about Jesus over the course of a week, how likely is it that he truly is your first love?

If you give to the mission of Jesus out of what is left over after you have spent your money on everything else first, does that really reflect that Jesus is your first love?

If you invest an hour or so a week in Christian community, and the other 167 hours in other things, can you truly say that you love Jesus more than you love anyone (or thing) else?

If you go through your day, doing things you have to do to make a living and take care of your family, and Jesus is not a part of how and why you do those things, how could you claim that you love Him more than anyone else?

Obviously, we can’t all be monks, and just sit in a monastery worshipping Jesus all day. Most of us need to work, and raise kids, and invest ourselves in our communities. But the way we do all that changes when Jesus is our first love. The motivations for what we do change. And when he is truly first, we are willing and able to say “no” to some things (even good things) in order to say “yes” to more time spent with Him in prayer and Bible reading, “yes” to more time and energy invested in a community of his people, “yes” to more concrete actions that advance the kingdom of God.

A few years ago, I knew a good Christian family who was having trouble with one of their children. So they invested more time in sports teams and events, thinking to teach him character and teamwork. Their investment in sports caused them often to say “no” to investing in worship and Christian community. There were many other factors involved, but needless to say, the sports strategy failed. The child became alienated from the family and from God. However, even if their strategy had succeeded in helping the child, their choice clearly communicated that Jesus was not the first love in that family.

I bet a lot of you think I’m talking about you. Actually, I doubt if any of you reading this knows whom I am speaking of, but I do know that it strikes close to home for a lot of people.

Remember, Jesus said this:

37The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38And whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. 39Anyone finding his life will lose it, and anyone losing his life because of Me will find it. (Matt 10:37-39, HCSB)

This is hard to say, and hard to hear. But Jesus very clearly calls the Ephesians to repent. He also calls us to repent. Repentance means we stop doing the things that we shouldn’t be doing, and start making choices that reflect Jesus as our first love. We won’t be able to do these things perfectly, but we are called to a lifestyle of repentance. Even when we fail, we continue on the repentance road.

We might need to repent of putting a career ahead of Jesus, or a relationship, or even family (see above). We might need to repent of putting entertainment above Jesus, or alcohol, or food or other substances. Sometimes it is money. Sometimes it is even loving Christian doctrine more than loving Jesus. But the message of Jesus is clear: He will not stand for anyone or anything to rival Himself in our affections. He must be our first love.

I want to add one more thing. This isn’t just about some “litmus test.” I don’t want to be legalistic. But as we go through Revelation, we will find that God’s plan will force all human beings to make a choice. Pressure, persecution and hardship will get more and more extreme. The message of Revelation is terrific news for people who are totally sold out for Jesus, who have put all their eggs into the one basket of faith in Jesus Christ; in other words, for those who have Jesus as their first love. But for those with divided loyalties, the truth of Revelation will crush them between a rock and a hard place. If you read this, and Jesus is not your first love, it will sound either boring (because you don’t really believe it), or terrifying; perhaps it will even sound like bad news. If you have this reaction as we go on, hear what the Spirit says: Repent!

We need to repent not just so that we can feel good about ourselves, or “to be a better person.” No! We need to repent, or we will be destroyed and the light of our lampstands will be removed! Jesus is uncompromising about this. Read it again:

4But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. 5Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent. (Rev 2:4-5, HCSB)

Jesus offers forgiveness and restoration for those who repent. There is only one unforgiveable sin, and that is to refuse and malign the work of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32). In other words, the one thing that will keep you from forgiveness is if you are not willing to repent. If we do repent, however, we have forgiveness and new life.

7“Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in God’s paradise. (Rev 2:7, HCSB)

The Garden of Eden held a “tree of life.” Adam and Eve sinned before they ate of it, and then they were driven out of the garden, before they could eat it and gain eternal life as sinners. Jesus is telling us that if we repent, his forgiveness is so complete, that He will so thoroughly remake us without sin, that we will be able to eat of the tree of life. This is nothing less than the promise of eternal life in paradise.

Matthew Henry puts it this way, in the slightly archaic language of his own generation:

They shall have that perfection of holiness, and that confirmation therein, which Adam would have had if he had gone well through the course of his trial: he would then have eaten of the tree of life which was in the midst of paradise, and this would have been the sacrament of confirmation to him in his holy and happy state; so all who persevere in their Christian trial and warfare shall derive from Christ, as the tree of life, perfection and confirmation in holiness and happiness in the paradise of God; not in the earthly paradise, but the heavenly.

Let us “have an ear” and listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.

THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN: BETTER THAN ALL YOUR DREAMS?

delicious food

 

The kingdom of heaven is worth far more than anything else we have, or could have. It beats winning the Superbowl. It is better than the best sex, or the most delicious food, the most powerful drug. Having the kingdom of heaven is worth more than being fabulously wealthy in this life. It’s better than being stunningly good-looking, incredibly healthy or amazingly talented. All these are things many of us want or aspire to. But Jesus paints a picture that says these are nothing compared to being in the kingdom of heaven. This is a challenge for all followers of Jesus. Do we believe it, or not?

 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 44

 

Matthew #44. Matthew 13:31-58

This time we’ll try to cover four more parables, and finish Matthew chapter 13.

Remember that last time we observed how Matthew recorded three “sets” of parables, each one made up of two different stories. We covered one of those sets, which was The Wheat and the Weeds and the Two Kinds of Fish. The theme of both of those was good and evil mixed in the real world, with a promise that at the end, it will be sorted out and made right.

Another set from Matthew 13 is this one: The Yeast and The Mustard Seed. Both of these illustrations carry the same theme, so let’s look at them right now.

He presented another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It’s the smallest of all the seeds, but when grown, it’s taller than the vegetables and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches.” He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into 50 pounds of flour until it spread through all of it.” (Matt 13:31-33, HCSB)

A mustard seed is about as thick as an uncooked grain of rice, but only about 1/3 as long. The mustard plant, when full grown, is not a tree exactly, but it is bush that grows up to twelve feet high. The idea is that something very tiny can have a disproportionate result. The parable of the yeast is similar. Jesus talks about a small amount of yeast spread through “fifty pounds” of flour. Our modern bread is typically one to two pounds per loaf, so we are talking about 25 to 50 loaves of bread. Again, the idea is that a small amount of yeast has an impact that is surprising considering its size. Jesus is saying “the kingdom of heaven is like these things.” What does he mean?

I think there are several possibilities, and perhaps all of them are intended by Jesus.

First, the influence exerted by the seed and the yeast are way out of proportion to their size. A tiny seed results in a big bush; a handful of yeast makes fifty loaves of bread. Another way to put this is that they are powerful. So maybe one way to state Jesus’ message is: a little bit of “kingdom of heaven” goes a long way.

Historically speaking, Jesus’ point here has been proven magnificently true. Jesus started with twelve peasants in the “boondocks” of the world, a tiny, no-account backwater part of a tiny, no-account backwater province of the Roman empire. His life and simple message were captured by Matthew in about thirty pages. Yet, the kingdom of heaven through Jesus has profoundly affected the entire course of world history.

Within forty years, the message of the kingdom had caused a noticeable stir in the Roman empire, exerting enough influence to draw persecution from Roman emperors. Within four-hundred years, this message with such a tiny, humble beginning dominated the Roman Empire, and continued to dominate the history of Europe for sixteen more centuries. It went out from there to all parts of the globe.

Set aside for a moment the spiritual things which Jesus has accomplished for us. These of course, are the main and most important thing. But to help us understand how huge the impact of Jesus and his message have been, let us look at it from a purely secular point of view. The kingdom of heaven brought by Jesus is responsible for modern universities. In fact, it is responsible for the foundation upon which most of the world’s learning is based. Modern hospitals and standards of patient care exist because of the “mustard seed” planted by Jesus. The idea of religious tolerance comes from the same mustard seed, as do most of our notions of human rights, and many of our laws. The very concept of democratic government, which has blessed countless millions and led to the preservation of many lives, comes from the “yeast” introduced by Jesus.

The art of Michelangelo, the music of Bach and the Mathematics of Sir Isaac Newton were all done in the name of Jesus for the glory of God. Some of the most awe-inspiring architecture in the world, the most profoundly moving literature were produced by Jesus followers because they were moved by his mustard-seed message. It would be difficult to overstate the influence that Jesus has had. Yet, in his own time and place, as we see at the end of Matthew chapter 13, he was seldom appreciated.

I think there is something here for our immediate encouragement also. Often, when we are a part of small and insignificant-seeming things, we are prone to be discouraged. I recently read the story of Dr. William and Clara Leslie, missionaries to the Congo from Chicago about a hundred years ago. They spent seventeen years at a mission station called Vanga, on the Kwilu river. Eventually, Dr. Leslie’s relationship with the village elders near Vanga deteriorated, and he was asked not to return to Africa. He left in 1929, considering his mission work a failure.

In 2010, some missionaries led by Eric Ramsey made an exploratory trip across the Kwilu river to the remote region past Vanga, to evangelize the Yansi people, who were believed to have no Christian churches. What they found, to their surprise was a network of vibrant, reproducing Christian churches, who traced their spiritual roots to Dr. William Leslie, a hundred years ago. Apparently, in addition to his ministry from Vanga, once each year Leslie traveled across the Kwilu river for about a month, trying to evangelize the people of that even more remote region. He died, not knowing that he had succeeded in starting something that would lead generations of people to Jesus. He planted a mustard seed. It didn’t look like much when he left, but it grew into a beautiful network of churches.

When I was going to primary school and high school, I noticed that most of the people who were world-famous and highly honored were also dead. It wasn’t until after their lives were over, sometimes long afterwards, that people could see the impact made by such individuals.

During my own lifetime, however, that has changed. The rise of 24-hour television and the internet have created a market for thousands of celebrities who are famous and hailed as great, long before their real contribution to society can be evaluated. President Obama was given a Nobel peace prize when his only accomplishment was to win a presidential election. History may view him a great president, or it may not. Regardless, the Nobel prize was given before he had actually done anything significant. This is merely a symptom of how our society views greatness. YouTube has created many overnight celebrities and successes. All this this has led to a situation where we are often discouraged when we don’t see immediate results and rewards from our efforts.

But God may use us to plant a mustard seed that we won’t see full-grown in our own lifetimes. Certainly Peter, John, Paul and the other apostles died long before the Christian faith became the incredible force in history that it is. They were neither widely famous nor well-respected before they died. They received no awards, prizes or great financial benefits. I think the mustard-seed idea should encourage us that God can use in ways beyond anything we might imagine.

What the mustard seed/yeast parables come down to is the long-term power of the word of God. Not everything with small and humble beginnings has power and influence and changes history. But what makes the yeast effective, what makes the seed grow, is God’s word.

For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return there without saturating the earth and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do.” (Isa 55:10-11, HCSB)

Let’s us stand firm in our faith that God’s word is a mustard seed, or a little bit of yeast, with the power to work in us and through us in ways that might one day be absolutely mind-blowing.

~

There is one more set of parables in Matthew 13 left to discuss. The two stories in question are the Treasure in the Field and the Pearl of Great Price.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure, buried in a field, that a man found and reburied. Then in his joy he goes and sells everything he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one priceless pearl, he went and sold everything he had, and bought it. (Matt 13:44-46, HCSB)

The idea is pretty straightforward. You give up everything in order to get that which is greater than everything. A modern equivalent might be like a man who wants to buy a farm. He find out that one farm he is looking at is sitting on top of an oil well. Even if it is more money than he thought he could afford, he’ll find a way to buy it, because he knows it will pay him back many times more than what he invests. The treasure in the field was worth more than everything else the man had, put together. Likewise with the pearl.

I think Jesus is making two main points with these parables. The first is that the kingdom of heaven is worth far more than anything else we have, or could have. It beats Superbowl tickets. It beats winning the Superbowl. It is better than the best sex, or the most delicious food, the most powerful drug. Having the kingdom of heaven is worth more than being fabulously wealthy in this life. It’s better than being stunningly good-looking, incredibly healthy or amazingly talented. All these are things many of us want or aspire to. But Jesus paints a picture that says these are nothing compared to being in the kingdom of heaven. This is a challenge for all followers of Jesus. Do we believe it, or not?

That leads us to the second point Jesus is making. It is worth giving up anything to be in the kingdom. Paul knew this, and lived accordingly:

But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ — the righteousness from God based on faith. My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead. Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:7-14, HCSB)

Paul was not the only one. Just this past week twenty-one Egyptian Christians had a choice to renounce Jesus, or have their heads cut off by Islamic terrorists. They chose death. But what they really chose was Jesus, and therefore, abundant, eternally renewing LIFE. They knew that the kingdom of heaven was worth far more than anything that could be offered by this life. Christians throughout the ages have suffered and even died, holding fast to this truth. As missionary Jim Elliot wrote, a few years before he, too, was killed for his faith:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.

Matthew closes chapter thirteen with a reiteration of the truth of these parables in real life. Jesus asks his disciples:

“Have you understood all these things? ” “Yes,” they told Him. “Therefore,” He said to them, “every student of Scripture instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who brings out of his storeroom what is new and what is old.” (Matt 13:51-52, HCSB)

I have mentioned this before. This is reiteration of the power of God’s word, the scriptures. Jesus is encouraging them to see that both the Old Testament, and his own teachings, have that mustard seed/yeast power.

After this,

He went to His hometown and began to teach them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “How did this wisdom and these miracles come to Him? Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t His mother called Mary, and His brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, aren’t they all with us? So where does He get all these things? ” And they were offended by Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his household.” And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief. (Matt 13:54-58, HCSB)

Jesus’ own people did not recognize him at the time. He was like the hidden power of the yeast, the insignificant seed. They didn’t see what God was doing. In addition, they were offended at the idea of giving up their preconception and receiving the kingdom of heaven through Jesus. They were the opposite of the pearl merchant. They looked at the priceless pearl and said, “Nah. I like my own pearls better.”

So, what do we do with these messages? How do we let them become real in our own lives? Perhaps you need to be encouraged. What the Lord is doing in your life right now is only the size of a mustard seed – one third the size of a grain of rice. If you my age or older, you can’t even see it without reading glasses. So, let the scripture be your reading glasses. See that God uses tiny, insignificant things to great result.

Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world — what is viewed as nothing — to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one can boast in His presence. (1Cor 1:26-29, HCSB)

Perhaps you need to be reminded that kingdom of heaven is worth more than anything else you might be seeking. You might even need the reminder to be willing to give something up in order to take hold of that kingdom. I know that giving things up for God may be difficult sometimes, but I say again, with Jim Elliot, that it is clearly a good bargain to trade what you cannot keep (anything or anyone on this earth, including your own life) for something that can never be taken from you (the love of God in Jesus Christ, and the abundant, vibrant eternal life that comes with Him).

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you today!

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WHY DOES JESUS HEAL?

healing

Healing in this life, or making this life better somehow, is ultimately meaningless unless we respond to Jesus in faith. Jesus is focused on the eternal person, the spiritual person. That’s where his priority is, and I think that is where our priorities should be also.

 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 30

 Matthew #30 . Matthew 9:1-8

This time, we will take the incident with the paralyzed man and his friends. Mark and Luke include the detail that the paralytic man’s friends couldn’t get him through the crowd, so they lowered him from the roof to set him in front of Jesus. Once again, there is no reason to assume that this contradicts Matthew. Matthew often omits details supplied by Luke and Mark. Again, I think it is the result of the fact that Matthew is relying primarily upon his own memory of these events, whereas Mark and Luke had to do research before writing, thus turning up details that Matthew either forgot, or did not think were important. Matthew is usually concerned most of all with focusing on what Jesus said and did, rather than giving extraneous details.

What Jesus says first is quite surprising. These men had brought their paralyzed friend and laid him in front of Jesus. What would you say? I might say something like:

“You are blessed to have such friends – take comfort from them!” Or maybe “See how many people love you!” If I had healing in mind, I might have said, “Do you believe you can be healed?”

But Jesus looks at him and says: “Have courage, son, your sins are forgiven.”

Matthew records that this caused a murmur among some of the onlookers; they called it blasphemy. Luke and Mark explain why:

“Why does He speak like this? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone? ” (Mark 2:7, HCSB)

We need to be clear here. This is one more answer to the question: “When did Jesus claim to be God?” By telling this man his sins were forgiven, Jesus was claiming to speak as God, and many of the people at the time understood that was exactly what he was implying; that’s why they called it blasphemy.

So, I do think that one reason Jesus says this is to let people know who he is, and to set up the opportunity with this paralytic to more or less prove it. But I think there is something else here. I think Jesus also says it for the sake of the paralyzed man. John records an incident where Jesus’ disciples encountered a blind beggar:

As He was passing by, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples questioned Him: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? ” (John 9:1-2, HCSB)

In that culture, it was common to think that if someone had a great physical disability, it was the result of some sort of sin. It was considered punishment from God. It is very likely that this man felt not only the misery of his condition, but also the misery of knowing that he had caused it by his sin, and public shame that everyone else knew what a bad sinner he must be.

Into this situation, Jesus spoke in front of large group of people, publicly removing his sin and shame. Now, everyone sins, and there is no doubt that this man, like every other human being, committed sins. Jesus did not say, “you didn’t sin.” That would have been a lie, and the man would have known it was a lie. But Jesus says, in front of a big crowd: “You are forgiven. You sin isn’t on you anymore.”

There is an old debate among Christians about whether it is more important to care for a person’s physical need, or address her spiritual condition. One argument says that you should start with caring for the physical need, and only then, once that need is addressed, will she be able to really hear the gospel and respond appropriately to it. I want to point out that Jesus did not take that approach here. To Jesus, the most important thing to do for this paralyzed man was to free him from the paralysis of sin and shame. Of course, he did eventually address the physical need also, but he started with the spiritual problem, which goes against a lot of today’s conventional Christian practice.

There’s another thing about Jesus’ approach that I think is very important for Christians in America and other well-off countries. We put so much focus on this life, and what we can get out of living on earth. Many American Christians have even come to see Christianity as a means to attaining a safe and comfortable life here on earth, and many of them abandon God when that doesn’t seem to work out. In fact, I believe that Christianity as a whole has never been more focused on this life, and making things comfortable here on earth; and I believe that is a huge mistake. The truth is, that paralyzed man’s body has been dead for two-thousand years now. The healing he received back then is meaningless to him right now. What Jesus really wanted to give him was something eternal – forgiveness, leading to reconciliation with God and the promise of a body that will never die or become ill. Suppose Jesus had not healed the man. He would have had a hard life, lasting maybe 80 years, and he would have experienced a high level of suffering, for sure. Even so, presuming he did respond to Jesus in faith, for the last 2,000 years he has been in glorious grace and joy, and he still has an eternal, imperishable body to look forward to, one that will be forever healthy. The eternal, spiritual gift is much greater than the gift that lasts only for one mortal life. Healing in this life, or making this life better somehow, is ultimately meaningless unless we respond to Jesus in faith. Jesus is focused on the eternal person, the spiritual person. That’s where his priority is, and I think that is where our priorities should be also.

But of course, some of the people in the crowd doubted that Jesus could provide the eternal gift. The healing miracle wasn’t primarily about making life easier for the paralytic. It was to prove to the people – and to the paralyzed man himself – that the forgiveness and eternal life Jesus offers is real. In fact, Jesus himself tells us that this is the reason for the miracle:

But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — then He told the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your mat, and go home.” And he got up and went home. (Matt 9:6-7, HCSB)

What Jesus said was basically this: “You think I don’t have the authority to say this man’s sins are forgiven? Well let me show you what kind of authority I have: get up, son, and walk.”

Think about what a gift this was to the paralyzed man. Of course, it is huge that he has the full use of his body. But imagine him a year or two later, feeling aware of his failings, wondering if he is truly forgiven. All he has to do is think: “Can I walk? All right then, as sure as I can walk, I am forgiven.”

Pause for a moment and internalize this message. We all have things that we want changed in our lives. That’s normal and natural. We don’t have to feel badly for wishing that we were healthier, or had better opportunities, or that our marriage would be better, or any number of things. But we need to take our cue from Jesus – the eternal is greater and more important than our temporary struggles and trials.

The apostle Paul understood this. He wrote:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:18, HCSB)

If you know anything about Paul, you know he had a lot of suffering in his life. But he didn’t consider that his sufferings had any comparison to the eternal joy and grace that were waiting for him. The difference between the suffering and the glory is so vast that the suffering doesn’t even deserve mention.

Fixing our lives here and now is pointless if we are not made right with God by trusting in Jesus. And even just one hundred years from now, it won’t matter to us one bit whether or not we had a better house, or a healthier body or an easier time paying our bills. However, everything will hinge upon whether or not we trusted and followed Jesus and received the grace and forgiveness he offers us.

I don’t mean it is wrong to try to relieve suffering on earth. I don’t even think it is wrong to try and better your own life. But I think both things are pointless if we don’t start out by receiving Jesus, and continue by trusting and obeying him. If your struggles and aspirations for this life here and now are getting in the way of Jesus in your life, listen to what Jesus says. “My child, let’s start with the eternal issue. Let me start by getting you in right relationship with me. We can deal with the other stuff – or not – later, as I see fit. Only trust me.”

Let Jesus speak to you first about the important issues, the eternal ones. Forgiveness and reconciliation with God are central to all our needs. These are more important than your immediate problem with this life. Jesus thought this was true, even for a man who was paralyzed.

We can’t pretend we don’t sin. And the excuse “everybody sins, anyway” doesn’t get us anywhere either. We may repeat that to ourselves, but if we’re honest, we know it isn’t good enough. What we need is true forgiveness, true acceptance. It starts with realizing that we are as helpless as a paralyzed man lying on a mat. True acceptance means that someone knows us truly for who we are, and yet forgives us anyway, and that is exactly what we have through the sacrifice of Jesus.

Pause and listen to Jesus for minute. Hear him say to you: “Take courage, my child. You are forgiven. Your shame is removed. Yes it is – it really is. I have the power to make a paralyzed man walk, of course I have the power to forgive you and remove your shame.”

Can we get it through our heads that what Jesus offers us is infinitely more valuable than the ability to walk is to a paralyzed man? He offers us something that will continue to bless and impact us through the infinite corridors of eternity, while we ask for shiny toys we will play with today and break tomorrow.

There is one other thing here. The way the paralyzed man’s friends acted is a great example for us. The man himself was helpless. They were helpless in that there was nothing they could do for him either. But they did the one thing they could – they simply brought him, and laid him in front of Jesus. This is a tremendous and encouraging picture of what we do when we pray. We take our friends and our own burdens, and set them down in front of Jesus. Jesus did what he wanted to with the man. He started out by addressing a need that none of them even thought about – the spiritual need.

Next time you pray, think about these friends of the paralytic. Picture yourself taking your loved ones and your own personal burdens and setting them down in front of Jesus. Be sure and bring them to him, but let Jesus decide what to do with them, and trust that what he will do is best for all eternity.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you today.

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

I want to remind you again that we are a listener-supported ministry, and that means, first and foremost, that we are supported by your prayers. We need and value your prayers for us.

Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive what we need. Please pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. But if he doesn’t want you to give to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter. But do continue to pray for our finances.

If the Lord does lead you to give, just use the Paypal Donate button on the right hand side of the page. You don’t have to have a Paypal account – you can use a credit card, if you prefer. You can also set up a recurring donation through Paypal.

You could also send a check to:

New Joy Fellowship

625 Spring Creek Road

Lebanon, TN 37087

Just put“Clear Bible” in the memo. Your check will be tax-deductible. Unfortunately, we cannot do the tax deductible option with the paypal donate button, however the money does go directly to support this ministry.

 

Thank for your prayers, and your support!

WHAT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN JESUS?

no-excuses

Jesus did not give people the option of being half-hearted about Him. We cannot escape the fact that receiving the grace we find in Jesus is inextricably connected, by Jesus Himself, to following and obeying Him, even when it means we have to give up many significant things in this life.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 27

 

Matthew #27 . Matthew 8:14-22

When Jesus went into Peter’s house, He saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. Then she got up and began to serve Him. When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. He drove out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick, so that what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: He Himself took our weaknesses and carried our diseases.

Starting at the beginning of chapter eight, Matthew has been telling us of several healing incidents. Some commentators like to point out that the first two healings were done to people who were outcasts in the eyes of normal Jewish society at the time, so they say that Peter’s mother-in-law was also a kind of outcast – in that she was a woman. However, you can’t get this idea from either the text itself, or from actual historical evidence. In point of fact, given that Peter’s mother-in-law serves Jesus as soon as she is well (presumably meaning she cooked and served his dinner) and the fact that she lives with Peter, it’s pretty ridiculous to view her as some kind of outcast. I bring this up merely to caution us against trying to make the bible fit neatly with our pre-conceived patterns or biases. It’s unfortunate, but true, that sometimes people misinterpret, or even make up, historical and cultural details in order to get the bible to support their own agenda.

The point here is that Jesus didn’t just heal two outcasts – he healed a whole bunch of people, including good Jewish people like Peter’s mother-in-law. Even more than that, Matthew points out that this is a fulfillment of another prophecy about the Messiah, this time from Isaiah 53:4

Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains

In other words, Jesus’ healing miracles provided yet another confirmation of who He truly was, and backed up his claims to have the authority of God Himself.

It also says that people brought many to Him who were demon-possessed, and Jesus drove out the spirits with a word. There has been some confusion for many Christians about the condition of being “demon-possessed.” The Greek word here is daimonidzomenous, which could be literally translated “being oppressed by demons.” A good shorthand translation of the root word would be “demonized.” The point I want to make is this. The New Testament does not usually paint a picture of someone being completely “taken over” or “inhabited” by demons (though there are a few exceptions). In most cases, when we see “demon possessed” in English, we should probably read it as meaning, “harassed by demons.” The ESV does a good job with this word, often translating it “oppressed by demons.”

I have some friends who have a son. Several years ago, the boy was exhibiting huge behavioral problems, and he was diagnosed by psychiatrists as having a condition called “reactive detachment disorder.” The parents didn’t know what to do, and had very little hope – they had tried everything that psychiatry and medicine had to offer. I talked to them about the possibility that their son was harassed by demons. They said, “We don’t think so. If we know anything, we do know that he truly trusts in Jesus.” They believed, as many Christians do, that a Jesus-follower cannot be possessed by a demon. I believe that too, but I do think that Jesus-followers can be harassed by demons, or, “demonized,” and the language of the New Testament suggests that is true; in fact, that is most often what daimonidzomai means. Anyway, we got together with the parents, their son, and some other friends, and confronted the demonic harassment in the name of Jesus, and their son’s life was transformed. We witnessed a genuine, New Testament miracle brought about by Jesus Christ.

I share all this for two reasons. First, so that if you are struggling with something that seems very difficult to get handle on, and nothing else seems to work, you may consider the possibility of demonic harassment. I certainly don’t think that all mental illnesses or behavioral issues are demon-induced. However, even among Christians, there is that possibility. The second thing is, Jesus is here present with us just as fully as he was in Peter’s house that evening, and through us He can and will still remove demonic oppression and set people free.

When Jesus saw large crowds around Him, He gave the order to go to the other side of the sea. A scribe approached Him and said, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go! ” Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”

“Lord,” another of His disciples said, “first let me go bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

It appears that Jesus was not entirely happy about having crowds of people following him. These days, we think that the bigger a ministry or church is, the better and more effective it must be. Jesus didn’t seem to think so. He wanted to get away from them, and (it seems, from what follows) even thin out their ranks a little bit.

A man in the crowd comes to him. This individual was a scribe, which makes him one of the educated elite, and probably even wealthy. He calls Jesus “Rabbi,” or, “teacher.” He seems enthusiastic as he declares his commitment to Jesus and you would think Jesus would want to encourage him. These days, if an educated elite person came to a modern Christian pastor and enthusiastically said he wanted to join the church, most of us would say, “Oh Absolutely! I know you are going to love being part of our community. Please just let us know how we can minister to you.” Initially, we would talk about the benefits of following Jesus and of joining our church. We would probably feel nervous about suggesting ways that such a person might contribute until he had been with us for a while, and it would probably be even longer than that, if ever, before we pointed out how it might negatively affect his standing in the community and his financial security.

But Jesus’ response to this man amounts to basically this: “Whatever. You aren’t going to be able to keep your home if you follow me.”

If you have never noticed this side of Jesus before, I want you to pay attention now. He is shocking, almost rude. It almost seems like He doesn’t care if the man follows Him or not. I could quickly name a hundred or more church-goers and even church leaders who would chastise any pastor who acted like Jesus did in this situation; but actually, I’m not sure I know any pastor who would risk it.

But the truth is, all four gospels record Jesus behaving like this. Rather than trying to make discipleship appealing, he often seems to say things to discourage people from “joining the movement.” He consistently avoided and distrusted large crowds of people who appeared to be excited about him, at least, at a superficial level. In America, for a whole generation, Christian leaders have been trying to gather large, superficial crowds, hoping that they will move from shallow, non-committal church goers into true disciples. We challenge them only reluctantly and even then we do it very, very gently. However, Jesus immediately confronts people with the cost and commitment level required to follow him.

A second person was with Jesus. Matthew calls him a “disciple” and records that he calls Jesus “Lord.” The ancient church leader, Clement of Alexandria, writing about this passage one-hundred and fifty years later, records a tradition that says this was actually Philip, one of Jesus’ first two disciples, and one of the “twelve,” but we can’t know for sure.

This disciple says that he needs to bury his father before he can come with Jesus. Some commentators have speculated that the man’s father was not actually dead yet, but was elderly, and expected to die soon. In this case, the disciple was saying, “I’ll follow you, but not until I after I have finished dealing with my dad’s illness and eventual death.” The other possibility is that this disciple’s father had just died, and the burial was about to happen, and so he was saying to Jesus that he couldn’t go across the lake with him just now, because he had to go to the funeral.

Either way, Jesus’ response is once again shocking and rude: “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” This is another one of those places that is not great moral teaching, or wise philosophy, or a kind outlook. In these two incidents Jesus plainly puts it to people that what he wants from them is to obey Him, and put Him above everything else. It is not good teaching or wise philosophy unless Jesus is in fact, the Messiah, God-in-the-flesh.

Could I put it this way? Jesus is not trying sell people on the benefits of being his disciple. He is up front about how hard it is. The reason to follow him is not because it will benefit you. The reason to follow him is because he is the Messiah, the Savior of the World, God the Son come in flesh.

The Word of God is always relevant. Just this week as I was preparing this sermon, one of the leaders of the largest church in the United States made a statement that the real reason to follow God and worship Him is for what we get out it, because it benefits us, and makes us happy, and that’s what makes God happy. All you have to do is read these verses to know how distorted that message is.

There’s more. This passage is not a specific command for every Christian to sell her house, or let her parents die unattended. But Matthew uses these as examples of the fact that Jesus intends us to put Him in front of absolutely everything and everyone else, and that there are times when doing that results in radical obedience that involves very difficult choices, and giving up things that are very dear to us.

At some point, following Jesus will cost us. Nothing should be more important to us than Jesus, and if it comes to it, yes, we should leave our family in His hands and follow Him, or be willing to give up our home and our financial security to follow him. It may cost us family members or friends, or a career, or the kind of life we think we want.

Let me be a little bold. I know many people who call themselves Christians who have a very difficult time taking even just a couple hours a week to worship Jesus with other believers, let alone dedicating any other time to serving Him. Something like giving up financial security to follow Jesus is not even on the horizons of their minds. Sports get in the way, especially sports for children. Families will think nothing of running their nine-year-old children to practices and games that chew up six to twenty hours in a week, and then say they are too tired to spend an hour or two learning more about Jesus and worshipping him with other believers, or even just hanging out with other Christians who need emotional or spiritual support. Jobs and careers interfere. People get busy with all sort of things: hobbies, home-improvement, social events, entertainment, even television.

Here we read that Jesus confronted one man about having a home, and a second about going to his father’s funeral. What do you think he has to say to you about your excuses for not following him, and not being more involved with others who do?

Following Jesus means he comes first, before everything and everyone. He comes before your home. Before your family, your friends or career. He comes before getting a sports scholarship for your child. He comes before your comfort, your security, your preferences, your plans.

We want to give half-hearted Christians an option. In part, we pastors allow half-hearted Christians in our churches because it feels safer, financially. Honestly, if I had whole bunch of half-hearted Christians in my church who would at least just give some money, I would feel better off financially than I am with these few whole-hearted Jesus-followers. If just don’t offend them, everything will be stable for me We also do it in the name of compassion. We don’t want people to feel bad about the choices they are making, especially if they are not choices to sin overtly. I mean, what’s so bad about sports?

But do we really think we are more compassionate than Jesus? Isn’t it compassion to tell someone the truth? Would you want a doctor to tell you that you were absolutely fine, when in reality you were suffering from cancer, and needed treatment immediately if you were to be cured? Compassion would speak the hard truth: “You need treatment, and you need it now.”

Jesus did not give people an option to be half-hearted about Him. “You want to follow me, you will have no house.” Or, “You want to follow me, you won’t be able to take care of your elderly father, or even go to his funeral.” This is not an obscure teaching of Jesus. We will revisit it again in the book of Matthew, and it appears all throughout the New Testament. Still to come (in just Matthew) are: “You want to follow me, you have to put me above father, mother, husband, wife, children, sister and brother,” and “You want to follow me, be willing to die – to give up everything for me – every single day.” The compassion of Jesus tells us this: If He is not first, if he does not come before everything, we are in danger, and we need treatment.

Now, there is grace to us when we fail to put Jesus first. Let’s suppose for moment that the second man here, the disciple, was in fact Philip. He had been putting his father first. Jesus confronted him about it. We know that Philip humbly received that correction, and he went on to become an important leader in the early church, responsible for sending Christianity to Africa for the very first time. I fail to put Jesus first sometimes. I imagine we all do. He has compassion on us, and forgives us, but he does also call us to correct the mistake.

It often seems like we have made the faith into a set of intellectual beliefs which to which we subscribe. And that’s comfortable, because we can say believe those things, no matter what our behavior. But what the bible calls faith is really just following Jesus. We cannot escape the fact that receiving the grace we find in Jesus is inextricably connected by Jesus Himself to following and obeying Him, even when it means we have to give up many significant things in this life.

“Happy are they who, knowing that grace, can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ are so assured of their heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in this world. Happy are those who know that discipleship simply means the life that springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship. Happy are they who have become Christians in this sense of the word. For them the word of grace has proved a fount of mercy.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

I want to remind you again that we are a listener-supported ministry, and that means, first and foremost, that we are supported by your prayers. We need and value your prayers for us.

Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive what we need. Please pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. But if he doesn’t want you to give to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter. But do continue to pray for our finances.

If the Lord does lead you to give, just use the Paypal Donate button on the right hand side of the page. You don’t have to have a Paypal account – you can use a credit card, if you prefer. You can also set up a recurring donation through Paypal.

You could also send a check to:

New Joy Fellowship

625 Spring Creek Road

Lebanon, TN 37087

Just “Clear Bible” in the memo. Your check will be tax-deductible. Unfortunately, we cannot do the tax deductible option with the paypal donate button, however the money does go directly to support this ministry.

 

Thank for your prayers, and your support!