Matthew 28:1-20 // With Fear and Great Joy

Fear and Great Joy

Text: Matthew 28:1-20, CSB

Prayer for Illumination

O God, who made this most holy [day] to shine with the glory of the Lord’s resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. [1]

Introduction

He was guilty and everyone knew it, but more than that. He knew it. His lawyers were urging him to ‘not guilty’ or at the very least plead the fifth because they thought they could pull some strings, or maybe come up with something that could convince everyone that he wasn’t involved even if it wasn’t true, but his conscious wouldn’t allow him to do that now.

 

From the time that he committed the crime to the time of his hearing he was a different man.

 

He plead guilty, was given a 1-3 year sentence. Charles Colson was finally brought to justice for his involvement with the Watergate scandal.

 

But, what happened? What was different? What changed?

 

As he was facing the prospect of arrest, one of his friends, gave him a copy of “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis and in reading that book, Colson was faced with the arguments for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Colson said that as he was reading the book, got out a yellow legal pad and pretended that he was in a courtroom, and he was trying to find holes in Lewis’ arguments, and he couldn’t.

 

I’m sure Colson read the part in that book where Lewis says that given all the evidence we have, Jesus is either a lunatic, a liar, or He is Lord, and if He is Lord, and then it changes everything.

 

The resurrection of Jesus Christ CANNOT BE of little importance. It is either of no importance or it is of great importance, but it cannot be of little importance.

 

  • How important is it to you personally that Jesus actually rose from the dead? Does it affect the way you live your life? Would your life be different if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead? If he was just a good guy who taught some nice things, and then he died, and we never heard a word about Christianity, how would that affect your life?
    • If it wouldn’t affect your life at all if Jesus had never risen, then you don’t know the power of His resurrection.

 

Charles Colson would go on to say later that, “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

 

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a reality, and it affects the way live, think, and make decisions. How we respond to the resurrection matters and that’s what I want us to here in this passage.

 

First of all, as we look at this chapter, I want us to see who communicated the message of the resurrection.

Who Communicated the Message?

The Angel (v. 5-7)

The first person to communicate the message of the resurrection was the angel.

 

“The angel told the women, “Don’t be afraid, because I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here. For he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see him there.’ Listen, I have told you.” – Matthew 28:5-7, CSB

 

In verse 6, we see three ideas:

 

  • “He has risen” – The Message of the Resurrection
    • 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, Paul’s argument for the resurrection
    • 1 Corinthians 15:20-58, Paul explains that Christ’s resurrection informs and guarantees our own resurrection.
  • “Just as He said” – The Basis of the Message
    • Up to this point in the Gospels, Jesus has told the disciples over and over and over again, that He was going to go to Jerusalem, and be beaten and killed at the hands of the chief priests and Pharisees and then He would die, but then He would rise again.
    • The most clear picture of this is Mark 8:31-10:45 where Jesus tells, in detail, of His death and resurrection three times almost back to back, and if you were last Sunday night when we covered Mark 10, you realize that the disciples just don’t seem to get it, and yet, this angel basically said, “He told you so!” So, the basis of the resurrection is rooted in what Jesus has said about Himself. Everything that Jesus has spoken has been fulfilled and will be fulfilled.
  • “Come, and see the place where He lay” – The Evidence of the Message
    • Not only does the angel give us the message of the resurrection, and the basis for the claim of the resurrection, but he also gives us the evidence because he invited the women to come and see the place where He lay.
    • The empty tomb in Jerusalem is one of the only tourist attractions where people travel thousands of miles and pay lots of money just to go and see nothing.

The Women (v. 8)

“So, departing quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, they ran to tell his disciples the news.” – Matthew 28:8, CSB

The women told the disciples about the risen Lord, but Matthew says that they’re going with “fear and great joy.” Why are they afraid? Jesus is alive. They should have no reason to fear, right?

 

    • The problem was that they were women and the testimony of women was considered untrustworthy. The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible even tells us, “Both Jewish and Roman law normally regarded a woman’s testimony as of limited value, treating women as unstable. [2] It is to the women, however, that God’s agents first entrust the testimony of Jesus’ resurrection.”
    • They have every reason to be afraid. There’s a big “what if” in their minds. There’s joy because they know the truth, but there’s fear because what if the disciples don’t believe what they have to say? And the truth is that they weren’t believed at first.
    • “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things. 11 But these words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women.”- Luke 24:10-11, CSB

 

 

 

So, what happened when the disciples didn’t believe the women? The women took them to the tomb.

 

“Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. When he stooped to look in, he saw only the linen cloths. So he went away, amazed at what had happened.”
– Luke 24:12, CSB

 

Now, if you go and read John’s account in John 20:7, they were able to identify the linen cloths as those belonging to Jesus so this wasn’t a case of them showing up at the wrong tomb. This also wasn’t a case of a grave robbery because grave robbers don’t neatly fold grave clothes. This was something entirely different.

 

  • Jesus of Nazareth, who had been dead, actually got up out of a tomb that had been sealed with a stone and kept guarded by soldiers, and the women were not only able to relay this message, but they were also able to show them the evidence, and I think this is important because we have to ask the question, “How do we show people the evidence of the resurrection now?”
    • I think it’s one thing to make a cognitive surface level argument for the resurrection. As a matter of fact, I think when you consider all the historical evidence involved, it’s a fairly easy argument to make, but what happens when we make all the arguments and present all the evidence, and yet still live as if it’s not true?
    • I asked the question a few months ago, and I’ll ask it again now: how would your life be different if Jesus had never risen from the dead?
      • If your life wouldn’t be different, then the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t mean all that much to you, and if Jesus’s resurrection doesn’t mean all that much to you, then you have every reason in the world to question the validity of your faith.

The disciples, after hearing the news from Mary, had to go to the tomb and see it empty because that would affect everything they did with the rest of their lives from that moment going forward.

 

  • And in that same way, the truth of the resurrection should affect our lives from the time that know the truth of it.

 

The next group of people who carry the message is the guards that were at the tomb.

The Guards

“After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to view the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, because an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and approached the tomb. He rolled back the stone and was sitting on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. 4 The guards were so shaken by fear of him that they became like dead men.”
– Matthew 28:1-4, CSB

 

“As they were on their way, some of the guards came into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 After the priests had assembled with the elders and agreed on a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money 13 and told them, “Say this, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him while we were sleeping.’ 14 If this reaches the governor’s ears, we will deal with him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 They took the money and did as they were instructed, and this story has been spread among Jewish people to this day.” – Matthew 28:11-15, CSB

 

I think it’s interesting that the first instinct of the guards is to tell the truth, and then the first instinct of the chief priests is to cover up the truth.

 

  • No one involved assumes that the resurrection won’t be believed. Think about how remarkable that is. The Chief Priests (who hated Jesus, who hated His followers) would never believe that there would come a day when those who claimed to believe in Jesus didn’t believe in His resurrection, and yet, here we are.
  • There are many people who claim to be Christians, they want the fellowship, they want the comradery, they want heaven even, they want all the benefits of Christianity without believing in the truth of the resurrection of Jesus because, “after all, dead people don’t come back. That’s just one of those superstitious things for those people who aren’t as advanced as we are, right?”
    • That’s precisely the problem. We think we have the world figured out, and then God does something like raise His Son from dead and it just messes with everything we think we know.

 

The guards, without realizing what they’re doing, actually carry the information that makes Christianity what it is. “Jesus, this guy who said that He was the Son of God, who said that He would die and then rise again in three days, actually did it.”

 

Think about why the guards are there in first place. Look at the end of Matthew 27.

 

“The next day, which followed the preparation day, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that while this deceiver was still alive he said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give orders that the tomb be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come, steal him, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” – Matthew 27:62-64, CSB

 

Some of you were here last Sunday night when we looked at the tail end of Mark 10, and we talked about how leading up to that point, Jesus has just told the disciples about how his death and resurrection three times, and they still didn’t seem to understand what Jesus was talking about because they wanted to know if they could sit at His right or His left hand in the kingdom.

 

  • It’s ironic that the chief priests seem to understand more about what Jesus was saying than the disciples.
    • And if that weren’t enough irony, it’s not even Jesus’ own disciples who first witness what happens, it’s the guards. They saw the angel come down and they knew what was going on because they were able to report what happened to the chief priests.

 

And the chief priests, instead of believing in Jesus at that point, they do whatever they can to cover it up.

 

  • And again, people haven’t changed that much. The information is there. They can’t deny it. They either have to believe it or cover it up.
  • In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul said that people try to cover up the truth about God all the time except he’s uses different language to describe it, he says that they “suppress the truth with their unrighteousness.” And that’s exactly what the chief priests are trying to do. They’re trying to suppress the truth of the resurrection with falsehood and deceit because they knew that if the news ever got out, it would change everything.
    • If even these godless chief priests knew what kind implications the resurrection would have, why don’t we?

How the Disciples Respond to the Resurrection

Now, look at how the disciples respond to the resurrection. Look at Matthew 28:9-10. Remember in verse 8, our passage said that Mary Magdalene and Mary were filled with fear and great joy and then they ran to tell the disciples.

 

“Just then Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” They came up, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus told them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” – Matthew 28:9-10, CSB

 

  • Jesus commissions the women with a specific message for the disciples.

 

“The eleven disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted.”
– Matthew 28:16-17, CSB

 

Think about the people that are here. These are the disciples who have been following Jesus around for 3 ½ years. They are His friends, His followers, even His students (they saw Him as a rabbi). Now, they’re worshipping Him because it all makes sense now. They finally realize that He is who He said He is, but not all are worshipping. Some are doubting.

 

  • Now, before we start casting stones at the doubters, I want us to think about what a doubter is. A doubter isn’t simply an unbeliever. An unbeliever says, “Nah, I’m good. I don’t believe that Jesus is who He said He is, He’s just some guy that said some cool stuff.” Doubters, however, are different. Doubters don’t completely dismiss everything. They want truth, they want assurance. They need to know that they can have some solid ground to stand on.

 

We have to be clear, we don’t know why they’re doubting.

 

  • John’s account may shed some light on it in John 21:4, when he says that when daybreak came, Jesus was standing on the shore, but some of the disciples didn’t realize that it was Him, but the point remains: they were confused, they were doubting, and Jesus, instead of addressing their doubts goes ahead and sends them on mission.

 

“Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20, CSB

 

When John Wesley was in the process of trying to figure out his faith, he was visiting with a group of Christians called The Moravians and he records in his journal that he after spending time with them he was convinced that he wasn’t saved because they preached a faith alone that saved and led to good works, and after observing how they lived he was convinced that he wasn’t saved, and he went to one of the Moravian ministers named Peter Boehler and he said, and I’m paraphrasing, “You guys are the real deal, and I don’t think I am. After seeing you guys I think maybe I’ve been faking it. Maybe I should stop preaching.”

 

In the March 4th entry, Wesley writes, “I asked Boehler, whether he thought I should [stop preaching]. He answered “By no means.” I asked, “But what can I preach?” He said, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.[3]

 

Most of us probably wouldn’t have said that, and most of us probably would have told the disciples to get their act together before they go out preaching, and yet, Jesus tells everyone present, including the disciples, “Go out there, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them everything that I’ve taught you.”

 

One commentator says, “We are tempted to criticize the disciples for doubting, but we should not imagine that we would have done better.  Jesus does not rebuke the disciples. He understands their doubt, but speaks to their faith. He understands their frailty, but calls them to carry on his work.[4]

 

  • God grants us faith as a gift, and His word causes our faith to increase.

 

Two months after Peter Boehler told John Wesley to preach faith until he had it, Wesley was trying to seek the assurance of his faith through prayer and the reading of the Scriptures, and he records:

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate-Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.[5]

Conclusion

You may be here this morning and you see the evidence for the resurrection, and maybe you want to believe, maybe you want to trust in Christ. If that desire is in you, then that’s God working in your life, drawing you to Himself.

 

When you trust in Christ, the voice of doubt may come and try to creep in, but the voice of Jesus is always louder because He promises never to leave us or forsake us.

 

The resurrection is proof that everything Jesus said and did is true, and He can be trusted.

 

The Apostle Paul prays for us in Ephesians 1:18-20 when he says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of his strength.

 

20 He exercised this power in Christ by raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens.”

 

Let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, give us a sense of the immeasurable power of Your greatness, this morning. Let us look to Christ and see Your power exhibited in raising Him from the dead and open our eyes to see that You have raised those of us who believe to new life in Him. If there is anyone here now who lacks faith, I pray that You would grant them the gift of faith so that they can see You, Lord, high and lifted up, and that they could experience life with You. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

______________________________

  1. Book of Common Prayer, pg. 285
  2. (see, e.g., Justinian, Institutes 2.10.6; Josephus, Antiquities 4.219; in the Mishnah see Yebamot 15:1, 8 – 10; 16:7; ketubbot 1:6 – 9; in the Tosefta see Yebamot 14:10)
  3. Person. “The Moravians and John Wesley.” Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church, Christian History, 16 Mar. 2016, www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-1/moravians-and-john-wesley.html.
  4. “Matthew 28:16-20 Commentary, Bible Study.” Sermon Writer, www.sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary/matthew-2816-20/.
  5. Person. “The Moravians and John Wesley.” Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church, Christian History, 16 Mar. 2016, http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-1/moravians-and-john-wesley.html.

Matthew 21:1-17 // How Jesus Makes Things Right

Palm Sunday

Text: Matthew 21:1-17

PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION

Almighty and Everlasting God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [1]

INTRODUCTION

This is Palm Sunday, and typically we read this story at this time of the year because, it marks, for us, the beginning of Holy Week. But, I wonder if it’s too familiar to us because we’ve spent so long reading the Bible with modern eyes that we are completely inoculated to the significance of what’s going on here.

Let’s say for example that you keep a journal of your life, and all throughout your journal are reference to places and political figures of the world in which you live, (you live in the United States and Donald Trump is your president) and somehow your journal is preserved for the next couple thousand years.

Well, in 2000 years the landscape of world can change a lot, and let’s say it changes so much that the USA is no longer in existence and the government is completely different from what it is now, and if someone found your journal and read it and didn’t know the culture in which you lived it would affect the way they read it. They don’t know who Donald Trump is. They don’t know what a President is or does. They don’t know about the USA. It’s the same way with the Bible.

Unless we at least have a general understanding of the culture in which the Bible was written, it’s hard for us to really wrap our minds around the significance of what really went on in Jerusalem on this day.

And what happens on this day is that Jesus declares that he a subversive king of a subversive kingdom.

  • He is not coming to be a political entity. He will not allow the people to use Him as a political pundit for their cause. We see this all the time now. Every time an election comes along someone always claims Jesus for their side and we get duped into voting for them every four years because we fear the people on the other side of aisle MORE than the consequences of supporting a candidate who uses Jesus as a pawn for their cause.

    • “Well, we have to choose the lesser of two evils!” Spurgeon said that if you have to choose between two evils, you should choose neither one of them.  Imagine if Christians chose sin like that, “Well, I could either pickpocket someone or play with Ouija board and talk to demons. Which one is it going to be?” How about you do neither one? …But, I digress…

Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, and the people greet Him waving their palms at Him and crying, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” In their language this means, “Save us!”

When people cry out, “Save us!” They’re communicating two things:

  1. They’re either being oppressed or in danger of being oppressed.
  2. They can’t save themselves.

And what Jesus comes to save them from is not necessarily what they think they need saving from.

In Mark Dever’s book on Substitutionary Atonement, he notes one of the stark contrast between Christianity and Islam like this:

“Perhaps the contrast is best symbolized by the way Mohammad entered Mecca and Jesus entered Jerusalem. Mohammad rode into Mecca on a warhorse, surrounded by 400 mounted men and 10,000 foot soldiers. Those who greeted him were absorbed into his movement; those who resisted him were vanquished, killed, or enslaved. Mohammad conquered Mecca, and took control as its new religious, political, and military leader. Today, in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, Mohommad’s purported sword is proudly on display ….Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, accompanied by his 12 disciples. He was welcomed and greeted by people waving palm fronds—a traditional sign of peace. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because the Jews mistook him for an earthly, secular king who was to free them from the yoke of Rome, whereas, Jesus came to establish a much different, heavenly kingdom. Jesus came by invitation and not by force.” [2]

They believe that Jesus as the Messiah is going to save them politically. They’re looking for someone like Mohammed. They believe that he’s going to overthrow the Roman government, and put the Jewish people back into power. And that’s we want too.

  • Every four years we want Jesus to put “those people” out and put “our people” in, and we’re just as misguided as they are because we are wanting power over a temporary piece of dirt, and when Jesus physically returns, it’s going to be His anyway. Jesus isn’t going to be powerless mascot monarch like they have in the UK where He’ll sit on a throne and do nothing while we vote in some real rulers.

  • Jesus is a REAL king with REAL authority, and His message is simple, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is so close you can touch it!”

    • Do you want power that matters? Then be a king and priest in God’s kingdom!

What Jesus primarily comes to save them from is the sin that separates them from God because even though they want a kingdom, there is no kingdom without a relationship with the King.

  • And once they realize that their sin is the problem, then they’ll realize that the kingdom that they should be looking for is not an earthly kingdom that can be established with their political agendas.

  • So before He saves them from their sin, He has to save them from their expectations of Him, and of His kingdom.

Peter even misses the point. In Acts 1, when Jesus is getting ready to ascend to the Father, Peter asks, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Peter wants to talk about power over a temporal piece of dirt, and Jesus wants to empower him to do things that actually matter!

So, when Jesus comes into Jerusalem, he declares His kingship, not by going to the Roman senate and assuming power, but by going straight to the temple.

The title of the message this morning is “How Jesus Makes Things Right.”

  • But before we can see how Jesus makes things right, we have to see what’s wrong, and in order to do that we have to take in everything that’s going on.

So, there’s three phases to what’s going on here and we’re going to break it down piece by piece:

  • Phase 1: Jesus Enters Jerusalem
  • Phase 2: Jesus Cleanses the Temple
  • Phase 3: Jesus Heals the Blind and Receives Children in the Temple

Phase 1: Jesus Enters Jerusalem

Before Jesus comes into Jerusalem, he tells the disciples to go into the next village get a donkey, and if they are asked why they’re taking the donkey they are to say, “The Lord needs it.”

Kings sometimes come in and requisition things when they’re in the process of conquering, and so by requisitioning some person’s donkey Jesus is clearly stating that He is the only king that the owner of his donkey needs to be concerned with.

  • But why is he getting a donkey? If He has the authority to requisition animals, then why not a warhorse? That’s more befitting of a king, right?

  • I remember watching some action movies where a cop would be chasing a criminal on foot, and the criminal would get away in a car, and the cop would have to requisition a vehicle, and how odd would it be if you had a cop that had to chase a criminal, and he’s got his choice of any vehicle to use, and he chooses an old, beat up, Ford Pinto.

  • That’s the equivalent of what’s going on here. He should be coming in in the driver seat of a Cadillac Escalade, and instead he’s rolling up in a Taurus. Why? What’s the point? What is Jesus communicating?

He’s communicating that real power isn’t pompous. Real power doesn’t need to demand respect because it’s already respected by those who recognize real power.

“Victors in battle do not ride into their capital cities riding on asses, but rather they ride on fearsome horses. But this king does not and will not triumph through force of arms… this king triumphs not through violent revolt, but by being for Israel the one able to show it that its worship of God is its freedom. He is Israel’s long-expected priestly king whom the prophets said would come. His entry into Jerusalem is, therefore, rightly celebrated by those who are not in power.” [3] – Stanley Hauerwas

Jesus comes into Jerusalem and he is met with a large crowd of people, and it’s important to note that not everyone in Jerusalem is here. The only ones here are people who are on the bottom in society.

The people on top are the ones looking to kill Jesus and get Him out of the way because Jesus is disrupting people’s plans. That’s what John’s account of this event tells us in John 12:17-19.

“Meanwhile, the crowd, which had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify. 18 This is also why the crowd met him, because they heard he had done this sign. 19 Then the Pharisees said to one another, “You see? You’ve accomplished nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!” – John 12:17-19, CSB

We know from what happened at the end of John 11, that the Pharisees are plotting to kill Jesus, and now he’s coming into Jerusalem and people are cheering for him.

  • In the Pharisee’s minds, he’s supposed to be dead. He’s not supposed to be walking around. We’re going to see that next week too.

  • Jesus has risen. In their minds, He’s supposed to be dead, but no, He’s still walking around throwing a wrench in the plans of those hate Him. Psalm 2, “Why do the heathen rage? Why do the people imagine a vain thing?”

“The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord ridicules them.” – Psalm 2:4, CSB

The laughter of God against His enemies is heard in every testimony and witness to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And surely, God laughed as His Son rode into Jerusalem at the chagrin of the Pharisees, and the celebration of the people whom the Pharisees had oppressed.

 

Phase 2: Jesus Cleanses the Temple

“Jesus went into the temple and threw out all those buying and selling. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 13 He said to them, “It is written, my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves!” – Matthew 21:12-13, CSB

In a single statement in verse 13, we hear Jesus make a two-part declaration.

  • What God’s house is supposed to be
  • What the people have turned it into

From the beginning of the year where we walked through the Seven Churches, then walked through 2nd John and then over the last two weeks we read part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus condemns hypocrisy.

These are the passages that make us uncomfortable in the best way possible, or at least they should. The question for us is, “Is the church a house of prayer?” And when I talk about ‘the church’ I’m not talking about a physical building, I’m talking Christ’s building, Christ’s bride, Christ’s body.

  • Are we a people of prayer?

Because if we’re not a people of prayer, then we can easily turn into a den of thieves – people who are consumers.

  • That’s essentially what these money-changers are. They’re consumers. They’re using God’s house of prayer as a place to profit from God’s people.

Micah Fries preached an excellent sermon a couple of weeks ago where he talked about lots people look for a church with a consumer mindset the same way that someone might shop for a pair of jeans.

  • They want the best fit for them from a store that looks cool, and doesn’t demand too much of a price.

That’s how some people look for a church. They’re consumers that want something that looks, it’s a great fit for them, and demand too much. That’s fine when you’re looking for jeans, but that doesn’t fly when you’re looking for a place to worship God.

  • If we approach church that way, then we’re not better than the money-changers that use God’s house for filthy lucre.

So, the first step that Jesus takes in making things right is that He cleans house.

Do you know why some people don’t stick around in a church that proclaims the whole counsel of God’s word? It’s because God cleans house. That’s what John says in 1 John 2:19 when he says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1 John 2:19, KJV)

But look at what happens after Jesus cleans house.

Phase 3: Jesus Heals the Blind and Receives Children

“The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonders that he did and the children shouting in the temple,”Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

Jesus replied, “Yes, have you never read:
You have prepared praise
from the mouths of infants and nursing babies?”

17 Then he left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.” – Matthew 21:14-17, CSB

One of the things that I think is most interesting about this passage is that after Jesus cleans house he starts healing people and blessing children. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “Here. Let me show what God’s house is really for” and then He proceeds to go and do what they should have been doing the whole time.

Another thing I find really remarkable is that if you go back to the Old Testament and read Leviticus 21, where God is giving instructions regarding the holiness of the priests, God specifically said in Leviticus 21:17-18 that no one blind or lame, or anyone with a physical birth defect may come to the temple and offer sacrifices and David reiterates that law in 2 Samuel 5:8.

Now, if Jesus were just letting people in and letting them have their run of the place, then we could see why the Pharisees would be upset, but He’s healing them. He’s making it so that nothing can stop them from participating in the worship of God.

  • Notice the stark contrast between the money-changers and Jesus. While the money-changers are taking advantage of people, Jesus is healing people of the things that cause them to be disadvantaged.

This message is for us. We need to be doing God’s work in God’s world and people after they encounter us need to be better than when we first meet them.

Notice also, that the children are praising Jesus. They recognize who He is by how they’re addressing Him – the son of David. That’s Jesus’ messianic title.

Matthew Henry notes, “This they learned from those that were grown up. Little children say and do as they hear others say, and see others do; so easily do they imitate; and therefore great care must be taken to set them good examples.”

Because we are Presbyterian, there are two things that happen in this church that do not happen in other churches – infants and children are baptized and infants and children partake of the Lord’s Supper.

  • In other churches, there’s this unbiblical idea that you won’t find anywhere else in Scripture called “the age of accountability” and you have to wait until the church believes that you are accountable for your actions before you can receive baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

In our church, we believe that Jesus is present and at work in these practices so we offer them to children because Jesus loves children. Jesus says, “Let the little children come unto me” so we’re not going to stop infants and children from meeting Jesus in waters of baptism and in the Lord’s Supper.

  • I know of a man right now pastoring a Cumberland Presbyterian church who refuses to practice infant baptism because he’s into that “age of accountability” stuff.

  • Listen, I’m glad Jesus didn’t wait until I came to my senses to offer me salvation.

  • Jesus’ offer of salvation was on the table for us long before we were born. When Jesus died on the cross and rose again that was us dying with Him and rising with Him.

So, we offer baptism and the Lord’s Supper to everyone including children because that’s who Jesus offers Himself to.

  • Some of you who let your children or grandchildren partake of the cup and bread may do so because you think that to them this is just a snack and they might feel left out if they didn’t get a little cup and a cracker too, but this is too important for us to leave our children’s understanding at that level.

  • We need to communicate to them that Jesus offers us life in the partaking of the bread and the wine, and when they, as children take the bread and the cup in faith, then that’s one of the ways that they are participating the perfect praise that Jesus talks about at the end of our passage.

Jesus makes things right by throwing out the people that He knows will not want anything to do with the life that He offers. He throws out the ones that don’t want to give up what they have, and instead invites people who don’t have anything to hold on to.

Do you want to come to Jesus? Then, come empty-handed.

Is there something in your life that you can’t let go of? Do you feel like you can’t come to Jesus empty handed? Then, come with what you have and lay it at His feet. He’s waiting to heal you just like he’s healed others.

Let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

Almighty and Everlasting God, You meet us where we are. Sometimes we are the Pharisees who have plans of our own and we want anything other that for You to come along and ruin our plans. Sometimes we’re the money changers that use people and love things when we should be using things and loving people. But today, we want be children for You said, “to such belong the kingdom of heaven.” We don’t want to Pharisees or money changers anymore, we want to be children who approach you in faith believing that You are all we need. Please grant us this kind of faith. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

_______________________________

  1. Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, pg. 219
  2. Dever, Mark, and Michael Lawrence. It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement. Crossway, 2010.

  3. Hauerwas, Stanley. Matthew. Brazos Press, 2015.

Matthew 6:1-4, 19-34 // When You Give

SD Sermon Graphics 3

You may listen the audio of this sermon here.

Text: Matthew 6:1-4, 19-34

Prayer for Illumination

Almighty and Everlasting God, Your Word is truth and we need truth now more than ever. In a world that says there is no truth and anything goes, we need some solid ground to stand on, and that’s what Your Word gives us. As we look into Your Word, let us find truth, embrace the truth, and live the truth. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Introduction

We’ve been in a series where we are looking at some spiritual disciplines. Two weeks ago, we talked about fasting, last week we talked about prayer, and this week giving. When we think about spiritual disciplines, we might not think about giving as being something that contributes to our spiritual life because we might tempted to think that giving simply a tangible act because most of what we give away are things that we can touch and feel.

 

If you remember last week when we talked about prayer, Jesus told us that there is an inappropriate way to pray, but then there’s an appropriate way to pray.

 

Two weeks ago, when we covered fasting, there’s was an inappropriate way for the people of God to fast, and then there was an appropriate way.

 

This week, the idea of giving is no different. There’s an inappropriate way to give, but then there’s an appropriate way.

 

So, what I would like to do is talk about our passage under four points: How We Shouldn’t Give (v. 1-2), How We Should Give (v. 3-4), Hindrances to Giving (v. 19-24), and Assurances for Giving (v. 25-34)

 

How Not to Give (v. 1-4)

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven.”
– Matthew 6:1, CSB

 

This is right in the middle of Jesus’ sermon on the Mount, and this is a point of transition in his speech.

 

  • Remember, Jesus starts of talking about the beatitudes – “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted, blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.”
  • Then Jesus starts talking about the law, and He says that are hard like “You have have heard it said ‘don’t commit adultery,’ but I tell you that if you look upon a woman lustfully, then you’ve already committed adultery in your heart.” And by saying this, Jesus isn’t adding to the law. Instead, he’s revealing the heart of the law.
    • The Pharisees and the legalists of their day were trying to find loopholes in the law so they could still technically obey it, but still get away with doing whatever they wanted, and Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount is Him telling the religious people, “That’s not how this is going to work. You can’t get away with pretending to be righteous.” And this is where we find Jesus.

 

Matthew 6:1 is Jesus’ thesis statement for the next portion of this sermon.

  • So, in this one verse you’ve got two things: an exhortation and a promise.
    • Exhortation: “Don’t practice your righteousness publicly to be seen by others.”
    • Promise: “If you do, there is no reward from your Father in heaven.”

 

Everything else in this chapter all rests on these two ideas.

 

“So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward.  – Matthew 6:2, CSB

 

I think when we read the Sermon on the Mount we don’t take it in the way Jesus’ audience initially took it in because we’re used to it. We’ve heard taught, preached, and read to us for a couple thousand years. We’ve read it over and over again to the point that I think sometimes we are inoculated to the revolutionary nature of what Jesus is saying.

 

  • Jesus’ audience is used to seeing those who are more well off brag about their giving, they are used to seeing the priests pray in public use long, repetitive, drawn out prayers.
  • And Jesus says, “You can pray, you can give, you can fast. These things aren’t bad in and of themselves, but the way we do them can be bad.”

 

When Jesus calls out the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23 for tithing off their spice racks, He doesn’t condemn for tithing on everything they have down to their spices, He condemns them for doing so while neglecting the other parts of the law, specifically those parts of the law that include loving their neighbors.

 

Jesus tells us that the most inappropriate way we could give is publicly brag about our giving.

 

  • When we do that, we might prove that we can live without whatever we’re giving away, but what we can’t live without is pride.
  • When the Pharisees and the religious people would brag about what they gave away, they weren’t actually giving anything away because they were getting something in return, and what they were getting was a pat on the back from everybody else. All they were doing was investing in their own ego boost.

 

In Luke 14, Jesus tells the Pharisees who invited him to dinner, “don’t invite your friends, family, or rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid. On the contrary, when you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you…” (Luke 14:12-14)

 

The Pharisees gave for the purpose of getting something back, and Jesus says that if we give like they do, then that’s all we’ll get in return – an ego boost, and when the ‘high’ of that wears off and we need more validation, we’ll give some more, and then toot our own horn and wait for more people to compliment us, and then that ‘high’ of an ego boost will wear off and the cycle will continue.

 

However, Jesus tells us that there’s an appropriate way to give.

How We Should Give (v. 3-4)

But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:3-4, CSB

 

The beginning of verse 4 tells us that the end goal for our giving is for it to be done in secret.

 

  • I think the only way for us to keep our motivations in check is if we give secretly.

 

That being said, we can’t approach verses 3 and 4 like a formula and think, “Well, I’d better make sure I give and not tell anybody so that I can get a blessing.”

 

  • We talked about how the Pharisees would invest in their own egos. I think the same thing applies to us if all we want to do is make ourselves feel good about what we’ve done.
    • Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that if you feel good about doing something good, then you’re doing it wrong, but if that’s the end goal for you, then that’s a form of selfishness.

“Christian giving is to be marked by self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness, not by self-congratulation.” – John Stott

    • Our end goal, our ultimate motivation for giving should always be to bring glory to God, and bring help to whomever we’re giving to.

 

Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God and love our neighbor. The ultimate question of our giving should be, “What’s my motivations for this? Where’s my heart?”

 

  • On Sunday morning, when it comes time to take up the tithes and offerings are we giving joyfully or are just doing the math to make sure God gets His 10% cut so we can go happily about the rest of our week?

 

So, how should we give? We should give with our motivations in check, making sure that we are glorifying God, and not ourselves.

 

With that in mind the next question that I think is worth asking is, “What is it that generally stands in our way of giving?” If we look at Matthew 6:19-24, I believe we’ll find an answer.

Hindrances to Giving (v. 19-24)

“Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. So if the light within you is darkness, how deep is that darkness!

 

24 “No one can serve two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” – Matthew 6:19-24, CSB

 

Jesus hits the nail right on the head in verse 24. The thing that really prevents us from giving the way we should is the fact that we are attached to what we’re supposed to be giving away, and Jesus tells us that if we’re more attached to our money than the purposes of God in using money, then we’re investing our treasures on earth and it’s all going to go to rot.

 

There’s an Old Testament parallel to this idea in the book of Haggai.

 

After the people of God returned from Babylonian exile, they began rebuilding their lives. They used their own energy and resources to build their own homes meanwhile the temple still sat in ruins from being destroyed 70 years earlier.

 

And if you read Haggai 1, this is God’s message.

 

“The word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” 5 Now, the Lord of Armies says this: “Think carefully about your ways:

6 You have planted much but harvested little.
You eat but never have enough to be satisfied.
You drink but never have enough to be happy.
You put on clothes but never have enough to get warm.
The wage earner puts his wages into a bag with a hole in it.”

7 The Lord of Armies says this: “Think carefully about your ways. 8 Go up into the hills, bring down lumber, and build the house; and I will be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the Lord. 9 “You expected much, but then it amounted to little. When you brought the harvest to your house, I ruined it. Why?” This is the declaration of the Lord of Armies. “Because my house still lies in ruins, while each of you is busy with his own house.

10 So on your account, the skies have withheld the dew and the land its crops.

11 I have summoned a drought on the fields and the hills, on the grain, new wine, fresh oil, and whatever the ground yields, on man and animal, and on all that your hands produce.” – Haggai 1:3-11, CSB

 

Once the people were free from exile they went about their lives as usual and they forgot about the worship of God.

 

  • When they forgot about the worship of God, their lives became harder to live.
    • The paycheck didn’t stretch as far as it normally did, they couldn’t keep groceries in house, etc. Overall, their lives became harder to manage, and it was all because they couldn’t give up their extra resources for the restoration of the house of God.

 

Jesus tells us that we either invest in things of heaven or the things of earth, and when we refuse to let go of our attachments, then we make the choice invest in the things of earth, and we’ll lose it anyway. The best thing we can do is be generous.

 

If I were to ask you who Stephen King is, I’m sure you could tell me about the fact that he’s a horror novelist, and about how a lot of his books have been made into award winning movies like The Shining, Fire Starter, and Shawshank Redemption.

 

  • But, there might be some things about him you may not have known. For example, did you know Boston Red Sox fan? The Red Sox always appear somewhere in his novels.
  • Do you know he’s a guitar player in a mediocre rock band made up of other famous authors? You don’t want to go on iTunes to get their music, believe me.
  • Do you know that he’s a recovering alcoholic?
  • Do you know that he almost lost his life a few years ago? He was walking along a country road in Maine, and a van hit him and knocked him into a ditch. His legs were so crushed the doctors considered amputating them. But he managed to pull through. Did you know that he’s an outspoken advocate of generosity? This caught my attention, and I couldn’t believe it: Stephen King, the horror novelist, advocates generosity?

 

I came across it reading excerpts from a speech he gave to the graduates of Vassar College. It was a commencement address shortly after his accident and recovery. He something that I believing every professing Christian needs to hear.

 

“I found out what “you can’t take it with you” means. I found out while I was lying in the ditch at the side of a country road covered with mud and blood and with the tibia of my right leg poking out the side of my jeans, like a branch of a tree taken down in a thunderstorm. I had a Mastercard in my wallet, but when you’re lying in a ditch with broken glass in your hair no one accepts Mastercard. We all know that life is ephemeral, but on that particular day and in the months that followed, I got a painful but extremely valuable look at life’s simple backstage truths.

 

We come in naked and broke. We may be dressed up when we go out, but we’re just as broke. Warren Buffet is going to go out broke. Bill Gates is going out broke. Tom Hanks is going out broke. Steve King, broke, not a crying dime. All the money you earn, all the stocks you buy, all the mutual funds you trade, all of that is mostly smoke and mirrors. So I want you to consider making your life one long gift to others. And why not? All you have is on loan anyway. All that lasts is what you pass on. We have the power to help, the power to change. And why should we refuse? Because we’re going to take it with us? Oh, please.

 

Right now we have the power to do great good for others. So I ask you to begin giving and to continue as you began. I think you’ll find in the end that you got far more than you ever had and did more good than you ever dreamed.

Jesus puts things in perspective for us.

 

  • Jesus reminds that all we have down here is just temporal stuff. We can use it get by, but we can’t horde it because it won’t do us any good.

 

The famous pastor and Bible teacher Ray Stedman said that he had picked up a hitchhiker one time and he was trying to witness to him, and the young man said, “I wish I was like my uncle,” and Pastor Ray said, “Why is that?”

 

The man replied that his uncle died a millionaire and Ray said, “No, he didn’t.”

 

The guy looked confused, and Ray said, “Who has the million now?” and the guy said, “Oh, I see what you mean.”

 

Solomon was probably the richest king in the Old Testament and as he got older he began to reflect on all his riches, power, and accomplishments and declared that it was all meaningless. Here’s what he says in Ecclesiastes 6:1-3 about wealth.

 

“Here is a tragedy I have observed under the sun, and it weighs heavily on humanity: 2 God gives a person riches, wealth, and honor so that he lacks nothing of all he desires for himself, but God does not allow him to enjoy them. Instead, a stranger will enjoy them. This is futile and a sickening tragedy. 3 A man may father a hundred children and live many years. No matter how long he lives, if he is not satisfied by good things and does not even have a proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.” – Ecclesiastes 6:1-3, CSB

 

Basically, what Solomon is saying is that as long as you’re alive you’re only going to use up so many resources. You’re only going to need so much, and if just horde, then you’ll die and it will all go to someone else. You might as well give something away now so that you can witness other people’s enjoyment.

 

Finally, we come to the end of Matthew 6, we’ve seen How We Shouldn’t Give, How We Should Give, and Our Hindrances to Giving, but maybe we’re worried about what might happen if we give.

 

  • Jesus addresses this issue at the end of Matthew 6, and one of the things I appreciate about Jesus is that he doesn’t tell us that we’re worrying over nothing. He doesn’t tell us are concerns aren’t valid, but He gives us some promises that we can stand on.

 

“Therefore I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? 27 Can any of you add one moment to his life span by worrying? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? Observe how the wildflowers of the field grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these. 30 If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t he do much more for you—you of little faith? 31 So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. 34 Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
– Matthew 6:25-34, CSB

 

In verse 31, Jesus addresses the things that we’re naturally going to worry about.

 

  • “What will we eat?” – Appetites
  • “What will we wear?” – Attire

 

And in response Jesus promises that He will feed us just like He feeds the birds, and that He will clothe us just like clothes the flowers with beauty.

 

So, the evidence that God will take care of us is right outside our backdoors, and not only is this evidence of how He will take care of us, but it’s also an example of how graciously He gives  to us. He doesn’t have to clothe us, feed us, protect us, but He does.

 

  • Growing up in church, they would sing an old chorus that said, “God didn’t have to do it, but He did.”
  • God graciously gives to us, and so we should graciously give to others.

 

In the Bible, all throughout the New Testament, particularly in Paul’s letters, we see how the Apostle Paul tells us that we should love just God in Christ has loved us, we should forgive just as God in Christ has forgiven us.

 

  • Whether the world realizes it or not, they operate under the old law of God because almost everyone (even if they deny God’s existence) seems to operate by “an eye for an eye” mentality, but the Christian life isn’t about treating others the way they treat you, the Christian life is about treating others the way God has treated you.

 

My grandparents live in Dover, and they have a large wooded area around their backyard and the squirrels, the birds, and the deer have no reason to starve my  grandparent’s house. My grandpa has feeders of every size, shape, and quantity.

 

While he was in hospital back in November he was worried so bad that the squirrels weren’t going to get fed that Brittany and I had to go over there and put corn on all the feeders, and that the bird feeders were full of seed.

 

If you see an animal, you can tell if it’s been to my grandpa’s house because all the woodland creatures within a 2 and a half mile radius are morbidly obese.

 

And do you know what Jesus says to me in this passage? My Father in Heaven will take care of me just as much as my grandpa takes care of the animals that come into his yard and then some, and He’ll take care of you too. Let’s pray.

 

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, sometimes life is hard and we feel like if we open our hands to give then life will be even harder, but Lord, You promise that if we give You will take care of us, and Your care and Your provision is our reward. Lord, change our hearts that so that we can see You as our reward. Let our hearts melt before You so that You can shape them into what You would have them to be. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 6:5-15 // When You Pray

SD Sermon Graphics 2

Text: Matthew 6:5-15, CSB

 

Prayer for Illumination

Guide us, O Lord, by your Word and Your Holy Spirit, that in Your light we may see light, in Your truth find freedom, and in your will discover peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Introduction

Last we started a series of messages on some spiritual disciplines. We started with fasting, this morning we’re going to talk about prayer, and next week we’ll talk about giving. We’ll break for Palm Sunday and Easter, and then we might revisit this idea of spiritual discipline off and on throughout the year.

 

  • Spiritual discipline comes from the idea that as you live you’re always being formed into something. No one lives in static. Every time you make a decision or a choice, it contributes to your formation. How do you interact with God? How do you interact with the people around you? What do you think of the Church? How do you view the world around you?
  • The answers to these questions reflect what you’re being formed into. Now, the ideal goal is for us to be formed into the image of Christ. That’s what Paul says in Romans 8 when he tells that we, as believers, have been predestined to be conformed into the image of Christ, and then Paul describes that process in detail in 2 Corinthians 3 when he says that as we continue to look to Christ we are transformed from glory to glory into His image.

 

These ideas of fasting, prayer, and giving help us reorient our lives in such a way that we are more aware of God’s presence and activity in the world and in our lives.

 

“Each moment of our days–our meals, our conversations with friends, our escapes, obsessions, romances, and distractions–is what we make of our lives. Our habits and rhythms of life are formative not only of who we are but how we know the world, including whether we know it to be a place where God is present or absent.[1]” ― Mike Cosper

 

So, as we look at how Jesus taught us to pray it’s clear that He intends for us to believe what we pray and act on it. We can’t pray for God’s forgiveness and then withhold forgiveness from someone else because as long as we withhold forgiveness, all we’re doing is building up bitterness in our soul.

 

  • People who remain in unforgiveness and bitterness do not get formed into the image of Christ unless God actually comes in and delivers them from that.

 

All that being said, I want us to look at our passage today under three headings:

 

  1. How We Shouldn’t Pray (v. 5, 7-8)
  2. How We Should Pray (v. 6, 9-13)
  3. How to Live What We Pray (v. 14-15)

How We Shouldn’t Pray (v. 5, 7-8)

“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward… 7 When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. 8 Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask him.”
– Matthew 6:5, 7-8, CSB

 

All throughout Matthew 6, Jesus is teaching this same principle of not letting people see our righteousness. At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus tells that when we give, we should do so so secretly that our left hand doesn’t even know what our right hand is doing.

 

In verses 16-18, our fasting should be private as well so that no one can tell we are fasting by looking at us.

 

  • Which brings me to one of my biggest pet peeves. I love Ash Wednesday services. I love what the partaking of ashes on our foreheads means. It means that we were made from the dust and to the dust we shall return, and that we are mourning over our sin. However, there are people who will wear their ash on their foreheads from Ash Wednesday out in public, and they’ll take Ash Wednesday selfies and post them on social media. They’re missing the point!
  • The point of Ash Wednesday is to mourn over your sin and wear your ashes as sign of your repentance. No one gets on social media and says, “Hey guys, I begged God for forgiveness because I’m self-centered and ignore the needy! #Blessed” Why would you do it for Ash Wednesday?

 

The point of doing these disciplines in private is because who you are behind closed doors is who you really are. We’ve always heard that integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking. If that’s true, then how integral is our prayer life?

 

If we look at this portion of our passage, we’ll see that there’s two indictments against the hypocrites and the Gentiles. They love to be seen, and they love to be heard.

 

Jesus tells us that we shouldn’t be like them because when we seek to be seen by people, then we have our reward, and when we pray, we don’t need to use long, repetitive prayers in public because our Father in heaven already knows what we need before we ask Him.

 

  • I see verse 5 and verses 7 and 8 as parallel statements meaning that Jesus is pretty much saying the same thing twice, and if Jesus is repeating Himself then we need to listen, and listen good!

 

The temptation to want to be seen and heard by others is very real.

 

  • We like looking good. We like it when people see us as a spiritual authority. I loved when I would walk up to a group of people I knew at work or school and someone would say, “Logan knows a lot about the Bible, let’s ask him.”
  • However, if man’s glory is all we long for then when we get it, that’s our reward. Also, If man’s glory is all we long for then we’re settling for a lesser glory.
  • The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that man’s chief end (his highest purpose) is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, and what happens sometimes we end up living as if we’re trying to glorify ourselves and enjoy ourselves forever.

 

What Jesus describes for us in verses 5-8 is nothing more than religious activity that’s rooted and grounded in the self.

 

A few weeks ago Brittany had mentioned something about a megachurch that she knew about in Texas, and I was curious so I looked them, and I knew their theology was off when the first thing I saw on their website was, “We’re all about people.”  If you claim to be apart of the body of Christ, then you better be all about Jesus and let Him deal with people, otherwise we’re essentially worshipping ourselves, we’re essentially praying to ourselves. And that’s the best we can do because as we saw last week when looked at Isaiah 58, God doesn’t hear these kinds of prayers.

 

  • So, what kind of prayers does He hear?

How We Should Pray (v. 6, 9-13)

“But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:6, CSB

 

First of all, we should get alone with God. Jesus invites us into solitude because He doesn’t want us to be tempted to make this about ourselves. He wants us to be sure that this time is between us and Him.

 

  • I probably won’t devote an entire sermon to it, but one of the spiritual disciplines in addition to prayer, fasting, and giving is solitude.
  • Have you ever thought about solitude as a spiritual discipline? We have a lot of things around us that are calling out for our attention, and all the while God wants us to get away from everyone and everything around us for a little while and be alone, in a state of solitude, with Him. And when we do that, we can hear from him.

 

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah is on the run from Jezebel and he doesn’t really know what to do next. The angel of the Lord comes to him, ministers to him, and then tells him to go out and stand on the mountain, and then there was a great wind, and the Bible says that God wasn’t in the wind, and then there was a great fire, and the Bible says that God wasn’t in the fire either, but then there was still, small voice, and that’s where God was.

 

In an article that he wrote for Desiring God, David Mathis says:

 

“Getting away, quiet and alone, is no special grace on its own. But the goal is to create a context for enhancing our hearing from God in his word and responding back to him in prayer. Silence and solitude, then, are not direct means of grace in themselves, but they can grease the skids — like caffeine, sleep, exercise, and singing — for more direct encounters with God in his word and prayer.[2]– David Mathis

 

So, our place of prayer is one of solitude, but what about our pattern for prayer?

 

Look at verses 9-13. I’m going to read this from the King James Version because this is how I memorized it as a child.

 

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” – Matthew 6:9-13, KJV

 

One of the challenges of preaching a text like this is that there’s so much here. If you were here last year, we did a study on the Lord’s Prayer with a series of lectures from Dr. Al Mohler. It took us 12 weeks to get through all of it because there’s just so much in there.

 

  • First of all, notice how Jesus tells us to address God – “Our Father which art in heaven.” One commentator notes that this is a prayer based on a familial relationship. Contrary to how we might normally think, the Jews would have been familiar with God being referred to as their Father, but they would rarely have called God “Father” in their prayers. For them, everything had to be formal.
  • Jesus teaches the disciplines that this God who created the infinite and expansive universe in which we live, is in fact, their father.

 

It kind of reminds be of a story I read about a Roman emperor who had come home from a battle.

 

As he was coming in through the gates, a little boy was seen burrowing his way through the cheering crowd to get to the emperor. Immediately a burly soldier scooped him up and scolded and said, “Hey kid, you can’t do that! Don’t you know who is in that chariot? That is the emperor!” The boy replied, “He may be your emperor—but he is my father.”

 

God is more than an emperor to us—the majestic, cosmic God, through Christ, has become our Father. And Jesus commands us to pray that way.[3]

 

As we continue to look at this prayer, it’s remarkable to see how God is displayed as grand and glorious, and yet He’s also presented as personal and approachable.

 

  • He’s our Father, but His name is holy.
  • He’s the king of the kingdom, but He also gives us our daily bread.

 

As Pastor Ron Hutchcraft put it, the Lord’s Prayer moves “from the galaxies to the groceries.” The Lord’s Prayer is long-term because we’re praying for a permanent and eternal kingdom, but it’s also short-term because we’re asking for bread for today. The God that we worship rules a kingdom that fills the cosmos and yet, He gives us what we need when we need it.

 

When we pray this prayer, not only are we asking God to fill our physical need for daily bread, but our spiritual need for forgiveness for our sins or our debts, our communal need to forgive others of their sins or debts, our moral need to be delivered from evil.

 

  • Any kind of need we have, our Father stands ready to fulfill according to His riches in glory as Paul eloquently says in Philippians 4.

 

Also, think about every single word in the Lord’s Prayer for just a second. Not once do you say, “I” “Me” or “My.” Jesus assumed that when this prayer was prayed, it would be done in community with other people or at the very least this prayer would be prayed for other people.

 

  • It’s very easy to be individualistic in 21st Century America. Ayn Rand, my favorite Libertarian philosopher, said that the individual is the world’s smallest minority, and to some degree I agree with that, but praying the Lord’s Prayer demands that we forget ourselves on an individual level and embrace the idea that we are a part of a collective group of people that has been established in the world by God Himself to be a covenant community.

 

We’re praying together for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done.

We’re praying together for our daily needs to be met.

We’re praying together for forgiveness for ourselves even as we forgive others.

 

There’s power in praying together in community and I think we sometimes forget that.

 

  • I think I have a hard time praying spontaneous prayers in public because I’m so honest with God in my personal prayer life that I’m afraid that someone will get offended at something I say or something I might forget to say, but the beauty of prayer is that it’s not about us individually.
  • Prayer is about connecting with God, and when we connect with God corporately then we may not set the world on fire, but we will establish that our life as a church is not possible without God, and I think that makes a world of difference because there are many churches right here in the Bible belt some of them even small, rural churches like ours that act as if they could go on functioning as they do as if Jesus never rose from the dead and God never existed.
    • They come in sing a couple of songs, listen to someone talk about the good ol’ days and then they go home and eat fried chicken, never making a difference in the world around them. I pray that we never reach that place.
    • If the day should come, God forbid, that we have to close our doors, then there should be a noticeable void in the community. There are plenty of churches that close all the time, and no one in the city notices because they haven’t served their community in years.

 

And then finally, The Lord’s Prayer ends with an affirmation that the kingdom that we’re praying to come belongs to God – “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.”

We should pray knowing that God is our Father, He will meet our needs, and the kingdom belongs to Him.

 

Of course, all of this being said, we can’t disconnect any of this from how we live when we leave our prayer closet. You’re gonna have to get up from the altar sometime. You’ve got work to do, groceries to buy, and trash to take out.

You can’t stay at church forever. Monday is coming. So, how do you connect what happens in your prayer closet to what happens when you leave your prayer closet?

 

  • All throughout the Old Testament (particularly in Isaiah, Amos, and Malachi), God’s people would go into the temple and worship, and then go out and treat other people like garbage. They would oppress their workers, and they would ignore the marginalized as we saw last week in Isaiah 58.
  • And then Jesus comes along in Matthew 23 and tells the Pharisees that they’re tithing off their spice rack, but they have neglected the weightier matters of the law like justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
    • As we’re getting through Lent and approaching Easter what I would challenge us to do in addition to our normal Bible reading is to do a slow read through Matthew 23, and see if Jesus might be speaking to us the same way that He was speaking to the Pharisees, maybe we’ve neglected justice, mercy, and faithfulness in our own lives.
    • “I tithe on the gross and not the net.” Okay, but do you love your neighbor who is a staunch Democrat?

How to Live What We Pray (v. 14-15)

In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus demands on no uncertain terms that if we’re going to come before God and ask for forgiveness for our sins and debts then we had better be darn sure willing to forgive someone else’s sins and debts.

 

  • We know that God is a God of justice and mercy, but we seem to want mercy for ourselves and justice for people who have offended us, but that doesn’t fly in God’s kingdom.

 

“For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. 15 But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.” – Matthew 6:14-15, CSB

 

This is pretty straight forward. Our entire identity as children of God is predicated on forgiveness. We can’t rightly claim to be someone whose whole life is predicated on forgiveness and then withhold forgiveness because we’ve been offended.

 

  • That’s not to say that forgiveness is easy. Sometimes it’s a very difficult and painful process, but there’s never a time when forgiveness is optional.

 

Part of reason I think we wrestle with forgiving someone is because we believe, in some way, that we’re hurting them. We’re afraid that if we forgive them then that will just enable them to keep on hurting us or hurting other people, but in the end, all we’re doing is hurting ourselves.

 

It reminds me of a little boy who was sitting on a park bench and it was obvious that he was in pain. A man walked by and asked him what was wrong. The young boy said, “I’m sitting on a bumble bee.” The man urgently asked, “Then why don’t you get up?” The boy replied, “Because I figure I’m hurting him more than he is hurting me!”

 

I think that’s how we handle forgiveness, and Jesus tells us in these two verses that that kind of behavior isn’t acceptable for a people whose lives are not possible without forgiveness.

 

  • Now, think about that for just a second. Your life would not be possible without forgiveness. Think about everyone in your life that you interact with on a regular basis. Your friends, your family, your co-workers. Imagine if nobody forgave you. Ever. The first time you messed up, you were done. You would go through life with people hating you.
  • Imagine if God never forgave you. The good news is that God in Christ has forgiven us, but sometimes I wonder if we don’t take that for granted.
    • When we try to live life on our own terms, then we’ll always be prone to failure because there will be a gaping void in our souls, and because there’s a gaping void, we will try to fill it up with everything other than God, and then that’s when we sin against God and sin against everybody else in our life, and then if no one forgave us, we would just be stuck.

 

If you don’t get anything from this message, just listen loudly and clearly: your life isn’t possible without forgiveness, and when you live in forgiveness, then you’re free to forgive others.

 

If your prayers are patterned after this prayer in Matthew 6, then this how you live what you pray.

 

Conclusion

The point of this entire passage to teach that how pray matters, and how live after we leave our prayer closets matter just as much. Let’s pray.

 

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, we thank You for allowing us to open Your word and hear what You have to say to us. We ask You to forgive where we have failed You, and let us never take Your forgiveness for granted. If there is anyone here who hasn’t yet known Your forgiveness, I pray that You would let Your love be known to them in special way. In the name Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

___________________________

  1. Cosper, Mike. Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World. IVP Books, an Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2017.
  2. “Take a Break from the Chaos.” Desiring God, 20 Mar. 2019, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/take-a-break-from-the-chaos.
  3. “Search.” Center for Excellence in Preaching, cep.calvinseminary.edu/non-rcl-starters/matthew-6-5-15/.

Isaiah 58:1-12 // The Fast That God Desires

SD Sermon Graphics.jpg

Text: Isaiah 58:1-12, CSB

Prayer for Illumination

Almighty and Everlasting God, let us feast with gladness upon Your holy word that it may give us strength to love You and love our neighbor. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Introduction

I never knew my great-grandfather personally. He went to be with the Lord when I was just 6 months old, but I’ve heard many stories about him and about his character.

One of the things that I hear about a lot is that when supper was on the table and there was only one piece of chicken or one piece of cornbread or one piece of whatever left, he would never take it. He always wanted someone else to have it, and I think that attitude of self-denial for the sake of others is what God is commanding here in Isaiah 58. Peter Leithart notes:

“For many throughout church history, fasting is bound up with hostility to matter and the body. We refrain from bodily pleasures of food and drink to train our souls in disembodied life.

That’s not biblical. The biblical fast, as Isaiah 58 puts it, is to share food with the hungry and clothing with the naked. The true fast gives good things away to those who don’t have them.


Biblical fasting, then, assumes the goodness of material things, and the propriety of pleasure. After all, if food and drink and clothing are evil, why would we want to share them? Isaiah’s fast assumes that creation is so good that we want everyone to have a piece of it.[1]

What we have in this passage is a distinctly different message about fasting than the one we hear on mainstream Christian media.

  • There’s very little teaching and preaching about fasting anymore, but when we do hear it mentioned, it’s not spoken of as a way to be more devoted to God, or as a way to refrain from our own resources so that we can share them with others.
  • Instead we hear it spoken of like a glorified hunger strike to “earn God’s favor” or to get God to “release” blessings into our lives as some false teachers on TBN or Daystar would tell us.

 

However, these people that Isaiah is addressing would probably fall right in line with all of that nonsense on mainstream Christian media because if we’re being honest, our human nature hasn’t changed much since Isaiah’s day.

 

  • Our sinful nature would like to believe that we can manipulate the blessings of God with a hunger strike and call it a fast, and believe that it will be acceptable, but this in no way resembles the fast that God has chosen.

 

As we look at the text, I want us to break it down in four parts:

  • V. 1 – God’s Command to His Prophet
  • V. 2-5 – God’s Accusation Against His People
  • V. 6-7 – God’s Instruction To His People
  • V. 8-14 – God’s Promises to His People

God’s Command to His Prophet (v. 1)

“Cry out loudly, don’t hold back! Raise your voice like a trumpet. Tell my people their transgression and the house of Jacob their sins.” – Isaiah 58:1, CSB

 

We need men and women in our day with a prophetic voice who will cry loudly and not hold back when it comes to the issue of sin.

  • Sin separates us from God, and to be separated from God is a fearful thing, and ultimately I think the reason we don’t see a lot of pastors talking about sin the way the Bible does is because they don’t believe God or they don’t believe God will keep His word in regards to all of the warnings that He gives concerning sin.

 

Ezekiel 18:1 is very clear: the soul that sins shall die. People are dead in their sins, marching aimlessly towards death, hell, and destruction and the only way they’ll be made alive is if someone cares enough to proclaim what God has spoken.

 

  • It’s a sad thing when we allow people into our pulpits who don’t believe that heaven and hell, life and death, salvation and damnation aren’t high priority issues, but I’ll tell you what is: winning at life, living your best life now, making sure every day is a Friday.
    • You can win in this life, and lose in the next life.

“Whoever tries to make his life secure will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” – Luke 17:33, CSB

Losing doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Now, does it?

This is the whole reason that Isaiah is commanded to cry aloud and not hold back. God’s people are trying to fast try to do all these acts of piety and religion, not for God, not for others, but for themselves.

 

  • They’re giving things away to get an ego boost in return.
  • They’re esteeming their lives and their egos of more worth or value than the people they’re supposed to be helping, and as a result, God doesn’t hear them!
    • It’s not as if God has a hearing problem. It’s not as if God actually can’t hear what’s going on, but God refuses to entertain the prayers of those who refuse to repent.

 

That’s why Jesus tells us that if we’re giving a gift to God, and we remember that someone has something against us, we can’t pretend like everything is okay. We have to leave our gift at the altar, make things right with our brother, and then give the gift. (Matthew 5:23-26)

That’s why Peter says in 1 Peter 3:7, that if a husband doesn’t treat his wife with honor and understanding, then God will not hear his prayers.

 

God isn’t going to entertain the prayers of people who think they’re going to get some kind of divine pat on the head for being good little boys and girls. Instead, God brings an accusation against them.

God’s Accusations Against His People (v. 2-5)

“They seek me day after day and delight to know my ways, like a nation that does what is right and does not abandon the justice of their God. They ask me for righteous judgments; they delight in the nearness of God.” – Isaiah 58:2, CSB

 

If we just look at verse 2, then they appear to be doing right, but as we continuing reading, we see that all of this is just for show.

 

“Why have we fasted, but you have not seen? We have denied ourselves, but you haven’t noticed!” – Isaiah 58:3a, CSB

 

They want God to be impressed with them.

 

  • “Look, God! Can’t you see all we’ve done for you!?”

 

And this is God’s response:

 

“Look, you do as you please on the day of your fast, and oppress all your workers. 4 You fast with contention and strife to strike viciously with your fist. You cannot fast as you do today, hoping to make your voice heard on high. 5 Will the fast I choose be like this: A day for a person to deny himself, to bow his head like a reed, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast and a day acceptable to the Lord?” – Isaiah 58:3b-5, CSB

 

The accusation from God comes in three parts:

 

  1. They do as they please on their fast day.

They’re going through the motions. They don’t view their fasting as an opportunity to seek God. Instead they’re going about their day as they normally would, they’re committing the same old sins and transgressions that they normally would. They’re oppressing the same people that they normally would, but by golly, they’re in the temple every time the doors are open.

 

  • They make life harder for their workers.

 

In the temple, they’re worshipping, they’re leaving their offerings, and they’re making sure everyone knows that they’re fasting, but then they go to work and make life harder on the people around them.

“During Isaiah’s time, the temple in Jerusalem was standing room only. No one missed a service. They sang psalms – old ones, new ones, all kinds of psalms. They said prayers and gave offerings. What they did not do was let worship trouble their consciences. If they kept their distance from God, then they could also keep their distance from God’s children. They did not want to make connections between their worship and their neighbors. They ignored the poor and everyone else they wanted to ignore.[2]” – Brett Younger

 

Think about that one line that Younger said out of that quote though – “What they did not do was let worship bother their consciences.”

 

  • How many times have we done that? How many times have we refused to allow ourselves to be convicted, and we just shoved it off by saying, “Oh, that preacher is just trying to make me feel bad. He’s just using scare tactics.”
    • All the while, God’s word is doing it’s work on us, it’s piercing our soul and spirit, it’s dividing our bones and marrow and we just squirm in our seats and hope it’s over with, but the reality of the situation is that letting God’s word work on us is the best thing we could do.
    • If you take a 5 year old to get a shot, they’re going to sit there and squirm and probably cry because they’re afraid of the pain, but the truth is that the best they could do is just sit there and let it happen. It’s the same way with us. The best thing we could when God’s word pierces us is just sit there and let it happen because we’ll come out better on the other side. We’ll be more conformed to the image of Christ than we were before.

 

 

  • They think they deserve to be heard.

 

“You cannot fast as you do today, hoping to make your voice heard on high.”
– Isaiah 58:4b, CSB

 

Think about what Jesus says in Matthew 6 about the hypocrites and the Gentiles.

 

“When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words.” – Matthew 6:7, CSB

 

  • When we think that we have a right to be heard because of what we do, then we won’t be heard.
  • A couple of weeks ago, Kirk preached on Joshua 7 about Achan storing gold from the enemy in his tent after God had spoken the people and told them to destroy everything.
    • We can’t expect the fruit of obedience when we pursue disobedience.

 

The accusation against God’s people is clear: they have an entitlement problem. They want to believe that they can be rewarded by worshipping God in the temple, and making life harder for their neighbors in the workplace.

 

  • When you’re in a place of authority over other people, it’s easy to let your ego get in the way, it’s easy to allow yourself to believe that you are better than those that you’re over because, after all, you’re in this position, and they’re not, but as far as God is concerned everyone’s on the same playing field.
  • Think about the people we interact with on daily basis – the guy working the drive-thru at McDonald’s, the cashier at the gas station, the electronics associate at Walmart. Think about what happens when they make a common mistake.
    • Do we get out of shape about it, threaten to call corporate get some fired? Maybe not. Do we shoot them dirty looks and wish no one else was around so we could give them a piece of our mind? Maybe. Or are we patient with them because God has been patient with us.

 

So, God’s accusation against His people are clear, but so are His instructions.

 

God’s Instruction To His People (v. 6-10)

“Isn’t this the fast I choose: to break the chains of wickedness, to untie the ropes of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and to tear off every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him, and not to ignore your own flesh and blood?” – Isaiah 58:6-7, CSB

 

The fast that God chooses does five things things:

  1. Sets Free Those Who are Bound (v. 6)
    1. Verse 6 is a picture of freedom – breaking chains, tearing off yokes, untying ropes, etc. We know that Jesus is in the business of setting people free, and if that’s the case, then we as Jesus’ people should also be in the business of setting people free.
  2. Feeds Those Who Are Hungry – “share your bread with the hungry” (v. 7)
  3. Shelters the Homeless – “bring the poor and homeless into your house”
    (v. 7)
  4. Clothes the Naked (v. 7)
  5. Makes You Available to People – “not to ignore your own flesh and blood” (v. 7)

 

Fasting isn’t simply about giving up food, it’s about giving up our resources and rights for the benefits of others.

 

  • The most powerful example of this is Jesus Himself.

 

“Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. 7 Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:5-8, CSB

 

We look at this picture of Jesus emptying Himself, becoming a servant, dying on a cross, and we might be tempted to think that he went through all that so that we wouldn’t have to go through all of that, but that’s not the case.

 

“Jesus didn’t die on the cross simply so that we wouldn’t have to, but he died on the cross so that we would take up our cross and follow Him.” – Dallas Willard

 

  • When you take up your cross and follow Jesus, then you go to die with Him.

 

Think about what Paul says in Galatians 2:20.

 

“I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20, CSB

 

Think about each word and each phrase of that verse. Paul is saying very clearly that He died with Christ.

 

Back in Romans 6:3, Paul uses the same language of death and resurrection when he says that all of us who were baptized in Christ was baptized into His death, and we were baptized into His death so that we could be raised into newness of life.

 

  • The more you follow Christ, the more you lean into Christ, the more die to yourself, the more you do those things, the more you are living in the newness of life.

 

The more you find yourself living in the newness of life, the more you realize that you don’t need the material things that you thought you needed.

 

  • Yes, you need a house, but maybe you don’t need a 5 bedroom, 4 bath, 3 story house.
  • Yes, you need a vehicle, but maybe you don’t need a 2019 Lincoln Town Car.

Fasting and celebrating Lent is an opportunity to examine what you can afford to live without and share with others, but it’s also an opportunity to see what has a hold on us.

 

“More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside of us with food and other things.[3]” – Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

 

Once you see what’s controlling you, once you see what you can live without, then God makes a promise in verses 8-10.

 

  • It’s interesting to me that God isn’t simply calling us to a fast, He’s calling us to genuineness. He’s calling us to honesty.
    • These people that God is talking to may be able to live without food for a while, but they can’t live without power. They can’t live without prestige. They can’t live without privilege, and God says that if you really want to fast, then giving up your food isn’t good enough, you’ve got to give up these things too, and when you do, you get the benefits and promises listed in verses 8-10.

God’s Promises to His People (v. 8-14)

“Then your light will appear like the dawn, and your recovery will come quickly. Your righteousness will go before you, and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard. 9 At that time, when you call, the Lord will answer; when you cry out, he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you get rid of the yoke among you, the finger-pointing and malicious speaking, 10 and if you offer yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted one, then your light will shine in the darkness, and your night will be like noonday. 11 The Lord will always lead you, satisfy you in a parched land, and strengthen your bones. You will be like a watered garden and like a spring whose water never runs dry. 12 Some of you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will restore the foundations laid long ago; you will be called the repairer of broken walls, the restorer of streets where people live.” – Isaiah 58:8-12, CSB

 

Verses 8-12 in this chapter is a picture of how God intends for us as His people to live.

 

We are to be a people who fill in the broken gaps of the world with our love and kindness, specifically the same love and kindness that God has shown us in Christ.

 

The best illustration I can think of how this might work is that there’s a giant pot hole in the road that goes to and from our apartment in Lamar. That pothole is an area where the road is broken and in need of repair, and the best thing the city could do is fill that part of the road with new asphalt.

  • Well, as the church when we see brokenness, we need to do what we can repair it. When we give to the women’s shelter, when we give to the Main Street Mission, when we get a motel room for a homeless couple, we’re filling a need, we’re repairing the broken walls as it says in verse 12.

Conclusion

Fasting isn’t simply about subtracting from your life, it’s about adding to your life in place of what you subtract.

 

  • You fast from food so that you can add worship, prayer, and devotion.
  • You take time away from normal things that might bring you pleasure (that may not be wrong in and of themselves) so that you can seek a higher pleasure only found in God.

 

In the late 1700’s the Puritan preacher, Thomas Chalmers, preached one of his most famous sermons, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” and the whole idea of this sermon was that it isn’t enough to simply abstain from sin, from worldly pleasures, from the love of the world, we have to replace those things with something else, namely a desire for God.

 

The question I want to leave us with this morning, is do we desire God?

 

If you fear that you do not desire God enough, and I think that’s a healthy fear to have, then you can pray, “God, increase my desire for You!” And that’s a prayer I believe He will honor.

 

  • It’s like the man who said, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” We can say, “Lord, I love You, but I want to love You and desire You more.” Let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, we hear these words from Isaiah 58, and we are convicted to the very core of our being because we are guilty, but by Your grace, You set the guilty free. We are like the woman caught in adultery, except we’re caught in selfishness, greed, pride, lust, and every other vice and fault we can think of, and like that woman, You tell us, “I do not condemn you, go and sin no more,” and that’s what we want. We don’t want to continue in our sin. We want freedom, true freedom that only comes from You. Set us free to love You and serve You. Set us free from carnal pleasure and desires. Give us a desire love You and love one another. Give us the grace and strength to love those that seem unlovable so that they can come to know You and be apart of Your family that we call the Church. We ask all of these things in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who taught us to love one another. Amen.

____________________________

  1. Leithart, Peter, and Peter Leithart. “Fasting and Pleasure.” Patheos, Patheos, 6 Sept. 2017, www.patheos.com/blogs/leithart/2008/12/fasting-and-pleasure/.
  2. Brett Younger, “Homiletical Perspective: Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12),” Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).
  3. Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: the Path to Spiritual Growth. HarperOne, 2018.

A Life Made Possible: A Review of ‘Hannah’s Child’ by Stanley Hauerwas

Hannah's Child Review

I don’t know that I could rightly identify as a Hauerwasian. I am a Calvinist, and I am quite happy to be in that camp. However, I knew he was the real deal when I read a quote that’s often attributed to him – “Jesus is Lord, everything else is bullsh*t.” When I first read that I knew I had to, at the very least, discover his background. After all, what is it that would cause him to such a conclusion and state it in the way that he did?

Hauerwas is a Texan by birth and the son of a bricklayer by trade. Through the course of certain life events (I’ll let you read the book to find out what those events are) he would end up in Divinity School not even knowing whether or not he was a Christian.

Maybe I’m wrong in what I’m about to say or maybe I’m just reading myself too much into his story, but it seems to me that in this book, Hauerwas not only takes us on his journey of faith but also provides an often critical commentary on Christendom in America from his raising at Pleasant Mound Methodist Church in rural Texas to his current home at the Church of the Holy Family in North Carolina, and everywhere in between.

For example, here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1.

“Pleasant Mound Methodist was Methodist, but like most folks in that area we were really Baptist,

(As the pastor of a Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Arkansas, I feel that deeply. 😏)

which meant that even though you had been baptized and become a member of the church, you still had the be “saved.” Baptism and membership were Sunday morning events. Saving was for Sunday nights. Sunday night was an hour hymn sing, a time for “personal prayer” at the altar rail, a forty-five minute to an hour sermon, and then a call to the altar for those convicted of their sin. If you came to the altar, it was assumed that you struck up a new relationship with God that was somehow equivalent to being saved. I wanted to be saved, but I did not think you should fake it.”

With this simple paragraph, Hauerwas puts into perspective and reveals that how we view corporate church gatherings in the South is just plain weird. (After all, the early church didn’t have hour long hymn singings from their Heavenly Highway Hymnal in the first few centuries. 😏)

As we follow Hauerwas up into the north (or as we might call it “Yankee territory”) he seems more at home in the churches in the north where ideas like church membership and the sacraments are treated with more gravity. Although Pleasant Mound (later named Pleasant Grove) would always be a special place, sometimes the place you call ‘home’ changes.

I can relate to that. My grandfather was the pastor at an independent Full Gospel church in a small town called Blackwell. Blackwell was known for it’s bar and two liquor stores. Hardly anyone knew that there were churches there, and honestly, I think that the churches were to blame for their own obscurity. God knows there was no shortage of people there to love and share Jesus with.

However, that little church was my home. The church disbanded and we left, but to this day, I still take drives to see the building and reflect on that wonderful place that I called home.

One of the most remarkable things that I was able to take from this book is how Hauerwas dealt with his first wife, Anne. His wife had some severe mental sicknesses that caused her to be irrational and often caused her to go into fits where she believed that she was in love with other men. Eventually, this led to their divorce, but for the time that they were married it was amazing to read about how gracefully and patiently he dealt with her. I think the reason that he put up with her behavior as long as he did was because they had a son together, and he was trying to keep the family together for his sake.

As someone who has been close to someone with severe mental disorders, his experience has informed my own, and has been a helpful guide for me in dealing with people who have mental illnesses but refuse help or treatment. Although, I don’t think Hauerwas would believe his work to be instructional, it truly has been instructional for me.

One other thing I would like to note about this work before I close out this review is his treatment of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001.

“I knew we were in deep theological trouble as soon as politicians and commentators made the claim that September 11th had forever changed the world. Most Americans, Christian and non-Christian, quickly concluded that September 11th was a decisive event. That was exactly the problem. For Christians, the decisive change in the world, the apocalyptic event that transformed how all other events are to be understood, occurred in A.D. 33. Having spent decades reading Yoder and four years writing the Gifford Lectures, it was clear to me that September 11th had to be considered in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.”

Time magazine would ask Hauerwas to write an article about the war on terror for their February 23, 2003 issue. For context: Stanley Hauerwas is an advocate of Christian non-violence. This means all war, from his perspective, is evil and can in no way be considered just so his perspective would be an altogether different one from many of the Falwell’s, Graham’s, and Jeffress’s of the nation who proudly made sure their voice was heard.

Here’s an excerpt from his article.

“G. K. Chesterton once observed that America is a nation with the soul of a church. Bush’s use of religious rhetoric seems to confirm this view. None of this is good news for Christians, however, because it tempts us to confuse Christianity with America. As a result, Christians fail to be what God has called us to be: agents of truthful speech in a world of mendacity. The identification of cross and flag after September 11th needs to be called what it is: idolatry. We are often told that America is a great country and that Americans are a good people. I am willing to believe that Americans are a good people. I am willing to believe that Americans wants to be good, but goodness requires that we refuse to lie to ourselves and our neighbors about the assumed righteousness of our cause. That the world is dangerous should not be surprising news to Christians who are told at the beginning of Lent that we are dust. If Christians could remember that we have not been created to live forever, we might be able to help ourselves and our non-Christian brothers and sisters to speak more modestly and, thus, more truthfully and save ourselves from the alleged necessity of a war against “evil.”

Although I’m not certain if I would call myself a pacifist or an advocate of Christian non-violence, I can definitely sympathize with his arguments, and when I read this paragraph I gave it a loud and hearty “AMEN!”

Hauerwas concludes his book by saying that his life was made possible by people who prayed for him. I find that statement to be true in my own life. Like Hauerwas, my life is a result of the prayers of my family. I don’t think I would be who I am had not my grandparents prayed for God work in and through my life.

So, would I recommend this book? If you don’t have the patience to wade through talk about the academic politics, then run far, far away, but you would like to read a compelling story about a theologian finding himself in the world of theology and academia, then by all means, read. I thoroughly enjoyed this work, but I also know that not everyone enjoys the same things that I do.

But if you decide to try it out and can’t wade through the politics and academic language, then just read the first two chapters, and then jump to the back of the book and read the last three chapters. I promise, you’ll get something positive out of it.

 

On Wearing Your Ash for a Hat

Ashhat

When I start this discussion, I want to be very clear. I love Ash Wednesday, and I love the season of Lent. (If you grew up under an evangelical rock like I did and are unfamiliar with these terms then here’s a good article to get you started, and here’s another one.)

Ash Wednesday and Lent are times when we can reflect on our sin and brokenness, and be thankful for God’s grace working in and through our lives to conform us to the image of Christ.

However, something I’m not a big fan of is people who go to an early Ash Wednesday service in the morning or maybe they receive ashes sometime around noon and then they wear their ashes on their forehead in public all day long.

I think receiving the ashes is a helpful reminder that we are sinful creatures that deserve death, and the ashes remind us that we will return to the dust from which we came. However, wearing them in public shows people that you’re celebrating Lent, and if people know that you’re celebrating Lent, then they know that you are fasting from something.

Jesus very plainly tells us in His Sermon on the Mount that we shouldn’t make our righteousness obvious to people.

“Whenever you fast, don’t be gloomy like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so that their fasting is obvious to people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting isn’t obvious to others but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18, CSB

 

If we have to practice our righteousness before others in order for it to be valid, then we prove that our righteousness is not genuine, and if our righteousness is not genuine, then it’s not a righteousness that comes from Christ.

In Isaiah 58, God speaks through Isaiah to condemn the way that God’s people were fasting. They were giving up their food just fine, but they couldn’t give up their power, their greed, or their mistreatment of others. They finally ask in Isaiah 58:3, “Why have we fasted, but you have not seen? We have denied ourselves, but you haven’t noticed!”

And then God gives them the answer: “Look, you do as you please on the day of your fast, and oppress all your workers. You fast with contention and strife to strike viciously with your fist. You cannot fast as you do today, hoping to make your voice heard on high.”(Isaiah 58:3-4, CSB)

In The Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster notes that when we fast we really become aware of the things that have a stronghold on us. (I’m paraphrasing.) If we can give up food, but we can’t give up power, privilege, or prestige, then what do we really live off of? Where does our life come from? Are we genuinely seeking God or are we just wearing our ash for a hat?

From Isaiah 58 to Matthew 6, and even up to now, people haven’t changed that much, but God’s word to them still remains the same. If we’re going to fast during Lent, we should do so biblically, and to fast biblically is to fast discreetly, and we should give up the things that matter – our wills, our desires, and our own righteousness.

Instead, we should seek after God’s will, God’s desires, and God’s righteousness. Do we care about what God cares about? Do we want the same things that God wants? Lent is the perfect time to pray, fast, open our Bibles, and listen to Him.