Archive for December, 2015

Matthew 13:1-23
The Parable of the Four Soils

The greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs or rap songs that have stood the test of time are those that tell great stories but yet do so in a relatively short period of time because of the nature of popular music. Great songs make you think about the meanings of the lyrics. Since writers of modern popular songs have maybe a maximum total of five minutes to get their story told. So, the lyrics have to be pregnant with meaning. It’s not like when you and I sit down with someone and have a conversation where we can explain fully what we mean and give all the back story to what we are talking about. In popular music, you have to tell your story in symbolic language and you hope that the listeners will combine the lyrics, the mood of the music, and all to grab the understanding of the meaning of the song. Only the songs that have that combination of great lyrics and great music to support the lyrics withstand the test of time. Sometimes there are songs with average lyrics but great music that survive but it is only those songs that have that great combination of lyrics and music that are the classics. Great songs tell stories. Great songs make us think. Great songs make us cry. What is your favorite song of all time? Is it Stairway to Heaven by Led Zepellin? Is it Jumper by Third Eye Blind? Is it Good Riddence (Time of Your Life) by Green Day? Is it Hey There, Delilah by the Plain White T’s? Is it Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio? Is it Purple Rain by Prince? Is it November Rain by Guns N Roses? All these songs of different genres and different eras are some of my favorites of all time. Each tells a unique story and each one gave me lyrics that made me think, made me sad, made wonder why the world is the way it is. Great songs make you walk away and think about what it means long after you hear it. Great songs connect with something in you that makes you go “a-ha” … that reminds me that “Take on Me” by the group “a-ha!” was a great song and an even better video, but I digress … back to the point … Great songs make you search for understanding of what the artist is trying to say. And it is weird too isn’t it that there are some songs that are generally considered classics that do not connect with you personally. Sometimes, you just don’t get it. Like there are some rap songs that are considered great but because I have a slow mind that I so much trouble following the rapid-fire lyrics that I can’t understand the song. There rock songs like that too. “One Week” by Bare Naked Ladies is one of those songs that I could’ve really appreciated if I could have just slowed the lyrics down. I like the song but it is not one of my favorites of all time simply because of the rapid pace of the lyrics of the song.

Why do I mention my love of great modern music here? I love music of all kinds. I didn’t even touch on the country songs or the Christian contemporary songs that I love that tell great stories. We could have made the previous paragraph go on forever if I did that. However, the reason that I mention them here is that modern songs are like modern-day parables. They tell stories that make you think. They make you want to figure out the meaning of the lyrics so that you can take away something profound from the song, something that you can relate to. Jesus parables were kind of like our modern day music, quick stories that must be thought about after the hearing. Jesus’ parables took something familiar and used it as an illustration of something unfamiliar. He took something that was easy for the listener to relate to and use it to impart eternal truths about the kingdom of God. Like sometimes we do not catch the meaning of a song and we do not consider it a classic, but others do get and consider it a great song. So, it is with Jesus’ parables. Some get and some don’t. Today’s parable is one Jesus’ most popular parables of all time. It’s a classic. It is one of His greatest hits! In Matthew 13:1-23, we read:

13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’[a]

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Luckily for us, like the disciples, Jesus actually explains this parable. Kind of like an interview on a talk show where Jesus is sitting down and explaining the lyrics of the mega-hit song, “The Parable of the Four Soils.” Imagine Jesus sitting down with Jimmy Fallon and explaining this song, I mean, parable. Basically, the gospel message has four reactions to it. It’s that simple really.

There are those that hear the message but don’t understand it. These are the ones with hard hearts. These are the ones not ready for the gospel. These are the ones that do not want to change their view of the world and of eternity. These are the ones living for the here and now. These are the ones who ignore God’s message or turn their nose up at it. These are the combinations of those that are simply living for themselves and for the moment with no concern or care about the eternal life along with those who blatantly say there is no God. These are the ones who call Christians fools and hyprocrites. These are the ones who call faith in a higher power as the opiate of a bygone era. These are the ones that think we have evolved by our mystic past and simply believe in ourselves. And these are also the people that simply live like hell as the saying goes. They use people. They hurt people. They crush people all in the name of getting what I want when I want it. These are the people that hear the message and call it folly. These are the people that might believe there is a God but just live as if God is something they are going to consider later because to accept faith is to give up a lifestyle that is still working for them. These are the hard hearts that hear but don’t understand and don’t want to understand.

Those who hear the message but fall away when times get tough. These are the people believe that God will bless them if they just believe. The more I believe the more I am going to be blessed. These are the spiritual warm fuzzy folks. These are the ones that have those moment where they think they accepted Jesus but there is no real life change. These are the people that think Jesus is going to make all their problems go away. These are the folks that think Jesus is going to make the life better instantly. Guess what though? Jesus never promised us better times just because we accept Him as our Savior. Most of the time, things get worse before they get better, if they get better at all. Throughout history, those who have accepted Christ as their Savior have ended up with harder lives than before their acceptance of Christ. Jesus says that if you are expecting success or better times as the basis for accepting Him then you are not really accepting Him and you will fall away at the first sign of hard times or difficulty.

Those who hear the message but it gets crowded out by worldly concerns. Are you a Christian around your Christian friends but live like hell the rest of the week? Do people outside your church even know that that you are a Christian? Are you ashamed of Christ in public? Jesus says when we give greater credence to the world than we do to Him, He will deny us before the Father. When we let worldly concerns crowd out our faith, do we really have it at all? Are we just playing games with Christ? We go to church but we haven’t really accepted Christ. We go to church to give ourselves good cover. We don’t really get this stuff but we go just so we can be seen. We have no intention of being generous. I need my boat more than I feel compelled to give sacrificially to my church and its ministries in the community and in the world. I need my time off more than I need to help the homeless. I need my vacation in the Bahamas more than I need to go on a mission trip to South America. I need to leave my wife and young kids for a younger woman with no kids because being the spiritual leader of my home and fulfilling my marriage covenant and being a father is too much responsibility, takes too much time, and keeps me from having the fun I deserve. These are the ones that hear the gospel, act like they understand it, but have never really accepted it as part of who they are. They have not been changed by the gospel from the inside out. The world to them is more important than Christ. These are the ones that Jesus weeps over the most. The ones that act like they are Christians but have no real life change.

Then, there are those who hear the message and receive it into their hearts and produce disciples. These are the ones who have been profoundly changed from the inside out by accepting Christ as their Savior and have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. These are the ones that seek after God’s heart. These are the ones that are first to admit in all humility that they still struggle with sin on a daily basis and thank God for the provision of Jesus Christ. These are the ones that that get it. These are the ones that realize that we are sinners who are condemned by our first sin and nothing we can do can make us right with God because of our sin nature. These are the ones that realize that one sin taints us. One sin condemns us to hell regardless of how much good we do. These are the ones that get it that we cannot do more good than bad and that be good enough. Just one sin condemns. We are forever condemned without the intervention of God into history in Jesus who came to offer himself as the sacrifice and accept the punishment for sin that we deserve. These are the ones that are truly overjoyed at their salvation and live a life of generosity in time, talent, and resources to serve their Savior who saved them from the precipice of hell. These are the ones that still have joy when times are hard. These are the ones that follow God’s calling even when it takes them out of their comfortable life. These are the ones that want to please God in everything they do. These are the ones that are changed from the inside out by the Holy Spirit who live lives of eternal thanksgiving. These are the ones that you know by talking to them that they are Christ followers. These are the ones whose actions scream out that they are Christ followers. These are the ones that Jesus loves and keeps in the palm of His hand.

Which one of these four groups are you today? Do you fit into one of the first three categories? Think about eternity? Do you want to continue ignoring or playing games with Jesus? Tomorrow is not guaranteed. You could be on vacation in Las Vegas having the time of your life and someone drives their car into a crowd and ends your life just like what happened last night? Where do you stand with God? There is no time like the present to take care of your eternity. Come to Jesus! He wants you to be a part of the group that hears the gospel and gets it. It’s never too late until it’s too late? Where do you stand right now? If you died right now or today, where would you spend eternity? Listen to the gospel message and let it into your heart! It’s never too late until it’s too late! Amen and Amen.

Matthew 12:46-50
Jesus Describes His True Family

Remember those days back when you were a kid or a teenager or in college when there was that one friend or a group of friends with whom you were tighter with and closer to than with your own family. These are the friends that you had adventures with. These are the friends that you got in trouble with. These are the friends that would come get you when you were stranded somewhere no matter what they were doing. They would stand up for you in a fight. They were the ones that you could bare your soul to and not fear of being judged. These were the friends that knew everything about you and were still your friend anyway. These were the friends we could go to when our family was getting on our nerves. These were the friendships that we remember still to this day regardless of whether these people are still in our lives or not. These are the friendships that last but for a moment in time. People move. Lives move to next phases. These are, though, the friendships that formed us. These are the friendships that helped us grow up and stand apart from our families. These friendships of which I speak were bonds just as solid and just as necessary to us as our blood families. There was a song by Natalie Merchant in the 90s called “These Are the Days We’ll Remember” that speaks those moments in time that form us and that we must remember them. Many of us have those friendships, those moments, in time that we had friends that meant as much to us and maybe more than our own families. Ah, those memories of those moments in time and those friendships.

Why do I mention this? It leads us to our passage today in Matthew 12:46-50. Here, Jesus talks about our spiritual friends, our fellow Christ followers, being family to us just as much as our own families are our own blood when he says,

 

46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

 
What is Jesus saying here? Is he rejecting his family? Does Jesus really want us to ignore our families when we become Christ followers? What are we to learn from this moment in time that we observe here in this passage? There are several things that we see here. First, that Jesus was part of a real family and he did indeed love them. Second, Jesus wants to make it clear that we should treat our fellow Christ followers with the same love and respect that we treat our own families.

First, this passage points out to us that Jesus did have an earthly family of which He was the oldest child. He did have brothers mentioned here and He had sisters to. In Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55 mention James, Judas, Simon and Joseph as being His earthly brothers. These same verses mention also unnamed sisters. Jesus was the oldest child of siblings. He had a family. Some argue that Jesus is rejecting His family here but that would be inconsistent with his teachings and inconsistent with John 19:27 when hanging on the cross, even as He was dying, he performed his eldest son duty of ensuring that His earthly mother was taken care of after He was gone. Jesus loved His family I am certain of this. Jesus probably took great pains as the oldest child to make sure his little brothers and sisters learned things that they needed to know about life. As oldest child, he probably was responsible for keeping the other kids in line when Joseph and Mary were not around. Could you imagine Jesus hanging out with his brothers, playing games with them, talking about life with them, laughing with them, getting angry with them, working in the family business with them, picking on his sisters, standing up for the honor of his sisters, pulling his brothers out of fights and daring others to mess with them. Jesus had a family. He loved his family. It is widely assumed that since Joseph is not mentioned anywhere after the Jesus at the Temple at age 12 narrative, that Joseph passed on to be with the Lord between that point and when Jesus’ public ministry began. So, Jesus, too, knew, by logical extension, Jesus knew the pain of losing a family member to death. Jesus surely felt the pain of that loss even as we see Him now. Jesus loved his mother so and it would have been more acutely so if we believe that Joseph, his father, was dead at this point. Like I said, as He was dying on the cross, He made sure that John, His disciple not brother, would make sure that His mother was taken care of. Jesus knows what it is like to have family, to have family responsibilities, and to love family and to lose family. Jesus experienced everything on earth that we experience. He experienced the intimacy of family. He experienced that down in your soul pull of family. He experienced it all when it relates to family. He knows what you know about your family. Jesus has been there. It is comforting to me to know this. Jesus experienced it all, everything we go through, including family. He knows that family love. He knows that feeling you have about your family. He knows the frustration with family. He knows that pride of family. He knows that I can argue with my brother but you better not disrespect him feeling. Jesus is not speaking academically when He speaks of things in the Bible. He knows the experiences of humankind from personal experience. That includes family. So, why does Jesus seemingly blow off his family here? Well, the answer is He is not.

Everyone present where Jesus was speaking at this moment has a family. Each one of them. Jesus is trying to make a point here about the future of his church, the collection of believers, that would be built after He was gone from this earthly life. Yes, Jesus dearly loved His family. Each person listening to Him on this day most likely loved their own families. That is the point of what Jesus is saying here. It is not that He is disrespecting His family. He is doing quite the opposite. He is telling us that we as a collection of believers in Jesus Christ should love our fellow Christ followers with the same level of love at the same level of intensity as we love our own families. We should have that same level of intimacy with our fellow Christ followers as we do with our own families. These are the friends that we will come to the aid of whenever they need it. These are the friends that we will stand up for when there is a fight that needs fighting. These are the friends that we share our deepest thoughts with. These are the friends that we are real with. These are the friends that we laugh with. These are the friends that we cry with. These are the friends that we play with. These are the friends that we argue with and later make up with. Jesus makes it clear that we are to be as close with, and treat our fellow believers with the same level of intensity as we do with our families. Remember those friends that we have in those moments in time that are the best friendships that we will ever have in our lifetime. Remember those friendships back then that were as important to us and sometimes more important to us than our families. Remember, those days that were the days that we will remember, as Natalie Merchant wrote. Jesus want the body of Christ to be family to us. There is an old saying that says, “when ya ain’t got nothing else, ya got family.” That is when Jesus wants from us in the body of Christ. Sometimes, in churches, we treat our fellow believers with more disdain than we treat our enemies. Jesus says here that we should be treating fellow believers like family. You may argue with them, disagree with them, but at the end of the day, we are still family. We seek ways to work things out just as we do with family. Remember, those friends that were your best friends. These were the ones that the friendship was as important to us as was our family. We always worked things out in those friendships. Some I’m sorries were said. Some will you forgive me’s were said. We worked through problems with those friends just as if they were family. That’s how Jesus wants the family of Christ to be. He wants us to see that the bond we have in Christ is worth everything just as the bond of family or of deep, abiding friendships. These are the people that we can lock arms with and go to battle with. These are the ones we would stand up for even when it will cost us something. These are the friends that are like a band of brothers or a band of sisters. We are the body of Christ. We are the family of Christ. We should treat each other with that same unbreakable bond as family.

May we examine our treatment of our fellow Christ followers and begin to think of them as family, as people we work through problems with, as people we will get down in the dirt with, as people we will be intimate with, as people we will stand up for, as the family of Christ. Amen and Amen.

Matthew 12:38-45
Religious Leaders Ask Jesus for a Miraculous Sign

Have you ever had somebody argue with you where you feel like you are arguing with a stop sign? They have already made their mind up and there is no convincing them of your side of the story. You give them all the evidence that disproves their point and, yet, they persist that they are right and everyone else even the natural universe is wrong. Yeah, that’s pretty frustrating. You get pissed off and hang up the phone or if it a “live and in-person” conversation, you simply cut the conversation off and walk away. That kind of conversation brings us to today’s passage.

Here in these last several passages, you and I have seen the growing conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees and scribes. And, here, after all the evidence that Jesus has presented, by the very miracles that He has been performing, the Pharisees make an extraordinary claim. They want a sign of Jesus’ authority. They want another miracle! Can you believe that? Wow! They had just seen him heal a man’s hand right in front of them. They had seen Jesus heal a blind and demon-possessed man. What more could Jesus do? I would imagine if I was in Jesus’ shoes, I would laughed a sarcastic laugh and lit into them and walked away. If I was in Jesus’ shoes, I would have been pissed off at the very comment. What more do you guys want from me? Geez! You just witnessed two miracles here today and you want another! Jesus has more patience than me! I would have lost it and ripped ‘em a new one!

Here is what Matthew 12:38-45 says,

38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”

39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.

43 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”
This passage reminds me of several types of people in the world today. There are people who want Jesus to get them out of a jam and then they will believe. Then, there are people who refuse to believe in Jesus altogether. Let’s look at these two groups.

The first ones are those fringe “believers”. They are the ones who claim to be Christian but really have no faith at all. They treat Jesus like the Pharisees treated Jesus. Scott Harris in his online sermon, “What Sign are You Looking For?” says it this way, “how many of you are still seeking some sort of sign from Christ before you will obey Him the way you know you should? What sort of thing are you demanding He do in your life before you will quit playing games and get down to the business of being conformed into His image and live a holy life? Does He have to heal you physically or emotionally? Does He have to fix the mess you have made for yourself – or that someone else has made for you? Does He have to make you wealthy and remove all the struggles of life you are in? Jesus does not have to do anything else to prove Himself or His love to you – He has done all that He needs to do – He died in your place. In His wonderful grace He continues to do things for us beyond all measure, but when you demand something from Him before you will obey Him, you are in the same boat as the Scribes and Pharisees. We were saved to serve God. Let’s get past this foolish mindset that always wants something from God before we will believe Him and then act like we are doing God a favor when we obey Him.” Yet, we persist in demanding Jesus perform for us at our command. If you will fix my financial situation, I will believe. If you will help me pass this test, I will believe. If you will get me out of this jam, I will believe. Jesus is not our puppet. He is the Son of God and we have the order of things backwards. He doesn’t have to perform for us for us to believe in Him. He will be the Son of God regardless of whether we believe in Him or not. He is what He is and we should conform to Him and not Him to us. We should not be clamoring for signs to make Him real as the Son of God. We must accept that He is. We must also accept that we make our own mistakes and it is not Jesus’ responsibility to perform miracles out the mess that we have created ourselves. We must first realize that the reason we are clamoring for signs is that we do not want to change how we live. We want signs so that we can have more time to live our own way. I will believe in Jesus when I get older after I have sewed my wild oats. I will believe in Jesus after I achieve my career goals. I have plenty of time. I want more time. But do you? What is it that you are waiting for? Signs? You know that Jesus is who He says He is but you are really clinging to the false conception that your life is over when you submit to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Quite the opposite is true. When we give up our pride and humble ourselves before the Lord and ask Jesus to be our Savior and Ruler of our lives, we get a priority reset. The things that seemed so important to us before Christ are no longer our priorities. We begin to see life through the lens of Jesus Christ. We begin to see life as thanksgiving for Jesus having stood in our place for the punishment we deserved. We deserve hell and it is only when we accept Christ as our Savior that we realize how close we have come to being there. In Christ, we have forgiveness. In Christ, we have new life. We find that all the things that we thought were important were simply false gods. How much time do you need? How many signs will you demand? Are you going to wait until it is too late?

Then, there are those who refuse to believe in Jesus Christ altogether. These are the people that believe that if they simply do more good than bad that they will make it to some nirvana afterlife. We all believe in an afterlife of some sort. We are wired that way by God. He wired us to believe that there is something more after the end of our physical existence. There are very few humans throughout history that believe that this is it. That this life is all there is and we cease existence at the end of it. We refuse to believe even though God gives us ample evidence of His existence. The intricacies of just our little planet in a vast universe are simply astounding. The ecosystem of our planet is so intricate and so interdependent that to think that there was not an Intelligent Designer is simply ignoring the big picture. We simply choose to ignore the evidence. If you can’t touch, feel, or taste it, it does not exist. Evidence of God is all around us. If we admit God exists, then it means that there is a higher power to which we are accountable. If we admit God exists, then, we have to give credence to Jesus Christ. We can demonstrate to you that Jesus did exist. We have extrabiblical sources to verify it. We have 20 centuries of believers that He did exist. That the Jesus story has persisted through the millennia gives credence to its truth. A lie would not have persisted. People would not have died for a lie. There is evidence around us that God does exist and there is evidence of miraculously changed lives in those people who have accepted Christ as their Savior. Are you willing to bet your eternity on the fact that God does not exist? Are you willing to bet your eternity that Jesus is not the Son of God? Are you willing to bet your eternity that He is the one and only way to be reconciled to the Father in heaven? As the Scripture today says, if we clean our house and try to be a good person without having filled that life with Jesus Christ, you are open to Satan’s song. He will tell you that either all of this “religious stuff” is just an opiate of the simple mind or He will tell you that all roads lead to heaven. Satan will tell us that as long as you do more good than bad that you can earn your way to heaven. Satan will tell us that it does not matter what you believe, all roads lead to heaven. Satan will tell us that hell does not exist. We leave ourselves open to Satan’s siren song that there are no moral absolutes. What is right for me is good? What is right for you is good? Even if those two rights are opposed to each other. Satan’s pull is strong. He is not the horned, red guy with a cape. He is beautiful and slick and makes logical arguments to those who leave themselves open to him. This is the world we mostly live in today. Satan makes a strong case that we leave ourselves open to believe in. We believe in his lies. It is easier to believe that anything goes than to believe that there is judgment coming. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because He knew that their lack of belief would result in its destruction. Jesus weeps over us for our lack of understanding of who He is. How much evidence does the world need to see that Jesus is real? How much evidence does the world need that Jesus did exist and that He was who He said He was? How many changed lives does it take? Do we stop and write these people off? No. We must continue to preach like Jonah in Ninevah. It may disgust us that we are called to preach people that thumb their nose at God but we have been commanded to make disciples. No one said this would be easy. He will call us out of our comfort zone to witness to a world that believes in the wrong things. We must weep over their destiny just as Jesus wept over Jerusalem. We must be concerned about the truth of their destiny even if they are blindly and willingly driving themselves off the eternal cliff.

May we be the generation who awakens the souls of the lost. May we be the Jonahs that awakened the nation to repentance. May we teach the world of the reality of Jesus. May we never, ever give up on he world. Eternity is at stake! Amen and amen.

Matthew 12:22-37
Religious Leaders Accuse Jesus of Getting His Power from Satan

Here in South Carolina, there is an old saying that goes like this, “At birth, we are required to choose between the Gamecocks and the Tigers.” In a state that is completely bonkers about the football programs of its two major school, University of South Carolina and Clemson University, you have to choose a side. You are either a Gamecock fan or a Tiger fan. There is no in-between. Even if you are resettled here from out of state, our culture forces you to choose one or the other. This rivalry is one of the greatest around. In other states that are larger than South Carolina both in land mass and in population, there are regions of the state that support one school or the other and there isn’t much mixing of the fans of the two major school in a given state. However, in little ol’ South Carolina with is small land mass and population of about 4.5 Million people, Gamecocks and Tigers are mixed together more readily than other states. Here it can pit neighbor against neighbor. It can even pit members of the same household against one another. Like in my household, my wife is a Gamecock fan and I am a Tiger fan. Elena’s daughter is a University of South Carolina graduate while my oldest daughter is a Clemson graduate. It makes for interesting Saturdays in late November in our household. The loser must wear the colors of the other team to church on Sunday after the game and be photographed wearing it. We call it “The Sunday After Sweatshirt of Shame”. From 2009-2013, I had to wear that hideous garnet and black sweatshirt for five straight years. Oh the horror! Oh the pain! However, my Tigers have returned the world to the say it is supposed to be the last two year and my wife has had to wear the wonderfully great colors of Clemson University. In fact, this year’s picture was my most “liked” photo of the year on my Facebook page. Passions run deep about our football teams in this state. You must be one or the other. Why do I bring this up in relation to a passage from Matthew? Sadly, sometimes, to get people to relate to Scripture, we have to use examples of things that people are passionate about in this life that matter not in eternity to get them to understand things that do matter in eternity.

In this passage, Matthew 12:22-37, we find that Matthew says,

22 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23 All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

29 “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.

30 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
I think that from the words of this passage, you can understand why I used the illustration of Clemson and Carolina here in our state. You have to choose one or the other. Jesus is saying that when it comes right down to it, you are either for Christ or against it. There is no middle ground with Jesus just like there is no middle ground here in South Carolina between Clemson and Carolina. We are either fully for Jesus or you are not. There is no half-assing it when it comes to Jesus.

Jesus, first off, knows our heart. He sees straight through the outward appearances. He knows when we are beautiful mansions on the outside but nothing but rotting decay on the inside. Jesus knows when we are pompously religious on the outside and think we have it covered and have everyone fooled on the outside but we are liars, swindlers, cheats, adulterers, etc. on the inside. We will account for who we are on the inside. Jesus will judge us for our heart not for our appearances. The thing that in this life you can compare it to is be on trial where we try to present ourselves as not having committed a crime but the prosecutor goes about meticulously showing that our story is a fabrication and the truth is revealed. The truth about us is revealed at judgment day when we meet our Maker. Jesus knows our thoughts. He knows when we lust in our heart for something that we do not have. He knows we lie. He knows when we cheat. He knows what we do when no one is looking. We cannot escape Him for He is God and He knows what we do even when we try to hide. Sometimes I think we forget that. I don’t say that to scare you but I think the fact that God knows everything about us including our thoughts should force us to be real and honest about who we are and get real with God. Beg him to change us from the inside out by inviting the Holy Spirit into our lives through accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior who takes away the penalty for our true thoughts and actions. When we repent of the real person we are, not the one we show to the rest of the world, we can allow the Holy Spirit to make us more like Christ daily. The Holy Spirit forces us to be real about our sins and leads us toward humble repentance.

Secondly, you are either all-in with Jesus or you are not. There is no half-way. A lot of people claim to believe in Jesus but don’t believe He is the Son of God. They claim to believe in Jesus but do not believe that He performed miracles. Some people claim to believe in Jesus but only buy into certain parts of Him and discard the parts of Him that do not agree with their lifestyle. There is no middle ground with Jesus. Either you accept all of Him or you as a result of taking parts of Him don’t take Him at all. Either you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God or not. Either you see Him as the only way to the Father or you don’t. Either you accept everything the Scripture says about Jesus or you do not. There is no halfway with Jesus. Either you believe or you, by the mere nature, of not being full-on, all-in, with Jesus, you do not believe in Him. It’s that simple. We cannot take parts of Jesus and not take the whole. It is like buying part of a car and not the whole car. The car is worthless unless you buy the whole thing. Jesus as radical revolutionary rabbi is not the whole Jesus. Jesus as the great philosopher is not the whole Jesus. Jesus as the peace-loving all accepting hippy flower child is not the whole Jesus. If you love Jesus at the nativity scene as a heartwarming story at Christmas time but do not accept Him as the Resurrected One, you are not for Jesus. Jesus is more than a cute story. Jesus is the Son of God. If you are not down with that, you are not down with Jesus. To be for Jesus is to accept all that Scripture says about Jesus as true. Sure, Jesus invites you to question Him. Sure, he wants to answer your doubts about Him. I am not saying that unless you blindly accept Him you are not for Him. However, the getting to know the whole Jesus, you must accept who He is to truly be a Christ follower. You are not truly a Christ follower until you accept Jesus as the Son of God who came to earth to take the punishment for our sins that we alone deserve and who conquered death and arose from the dead to give us hope for a future in eternity with Him. No half-ass belief. Full-on belief. Because if you don’t accept the full Jesus, the whole Jesus, you have not accepted Him at all. You have to buy the whole car for the car to be worth anything.

Finally, Jesus says that the unforgivable sin is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. What Jesus is saying here is that the only unforgivable sin is unbelief. When the Holy Spirit reveals to us who Jesus is and we blatantly reject Him. We cannot lose our salvation when we have doubts about Jesus when we are going through tough times. Jesus is saying here is that when we know the truth about Him through the Holy Spirit but blatantly reject the revelation to the day we die, we have committed ourselves to hell. The worst thing is to know the truth and reject it. There are those that refuse to accept Jesus Christ as the Son of God and refuse to listen to the arguments are grieving the Holy Spirit. The only way to make this sin unpardonable is to never have accepted Christ as our Savior before we die. We have a lifetime of opportunities to accept the gospel as truth. But when death comes or Jesus returns, whichever comes first, we will no longer have options. We will be judged as to whether we fully accepted Christ as our Savior or not. That is the test. Jesus knows our heart. We can be outwardly religious and inwardly rotten no more. The truth is revealed at judgment. We can no longer only buy certain parts of Jesus and reject the rest. At judgment, we will be judged as being fully for Jesus or not. No middle ground. It will be like being a Carolina fan when they are winning and jumping ship when they are not and switching to Clemson because they are and vice versa. At judgment, we will either be judged as all-in for Christ or not. That is the line that is drawn in the sand. Either you have accepted Christ as your Savior or not. When we reject Jesus blatantly, at judgment, the argument will be clear cut. Reject Jesus and turn you back on Him, there is no argument, no consideration, the deal is done. Hell is yours with the gnashing of teeth, burning of flesh, eternal darkness, and no escape. Does this not behoove us as those who fully believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God to get out there and convince people that He is and that full-on belief is what is required. Do you wish hell on you worst enemy? Hell is the worst of all things and it is eternal. Do you really hate anyone that much? We must get out in the world and show people the love and the judgment of Jesus and lovingly guide them to see their need for the cross. Help them not to blaspheme the Spirit by not believing. Let us be grieved to see people die without knowing of the full-on saving grace of Jesus Christ. We are called to make disciples. We are called to preach the gospel. Let it not be said that we gave up on giving people the opportunity however tireless we must work to do it to get people to see the truth of Jesus Christ and to give their lives to Him. The alternative for the lack of belief in Jesus Christ is a horrible eternity separated from God. We must go out there and make disciples! Eternity is at stake!

Matthew 12:15-21
Large Crowds Follow Jesus

Have you ever played the game of “Telephone” when you were a kid or when you are at a party? The idea of the game is for the first person to tell a second person something to remember and then that second person has to repeat what was said to the third person and the process is repeated with ever how many people that are in the room. The final person to receive the message then reveals to the whole crowd the message that they were given by the next to last person in the chain. Then, the person who started the chain reveals what the original message was. It is often quite hilarious how the message changed from the beginning to the end. It is more hilarious the greater the number of participants.

That is kind of like what the message of the Messiah had become for Israel. The prophet Isaiah had spoken many centuries before of what the Messiah would be. Yet, by the first century AD, after Israel had been conquered and occupied by kingdom after kingdom – the Assyrians, the Babylonians, The Greeks under Alexander and his successors, and finally the Romans – the Israelites had morphed the Messiah into something that was not found in Scripture. Sure, they believed He would be the chosen of God, but they had morphed the story into Him being a conquering king who would magically appear one day and wipe their oppressors of the land of Canaan and that the power and majesty of the kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon would be restored. They wanted freedom from the oppression and rule of foreign governments. They wanted a conquering hero. They longed for a day when the Messiah would bring back the good ol’ days when Israel was rich, powerful and its own nation and a leader among nations. But the prophecies of Old Testament Scripture never promised them a restoration of the nation of Israel as it once was. It just didn’t. It is funny sometimes how we can twist a message to make it fit our desires.

Today, when we look at Matthew 12:15-21, what is it that we can use today to grow closer to God and to understand His will for our lives. Let us read what this passage says,

15 Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. 16 He warned them not to tell others about him. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
21 In his name the nations will put their hope.”

There are two questions that we must ask and attempt to answer when reading this passage. First, why did Jesus not continue to confront Pharisees in this scene as He has done before? The second question is, why did Jesus ask people not to tell of his healings to others (and a side question off of that would by why did Matthew say this request for secrecy was to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 42:1-4). From the answers to these questions we learn what Jesus is trying to teach us here.

Why did Jesus not continue to confront the Pharisees at the synagogue? Why did He chose to withdraw from the synagogue? There are several things that I think that we could learn from this. Before this scene, Jesus had been aggressively confronting the hypocrisy of the Pharisees at every chance He could get. However, in this instance, He chooses to withdraw from them and move out into the world and heal those that needed healing. There are several lessons here. First, we learn that there are those who are going to reject the Messiah and focus on things that do not matter. For us in today’s church, these are the people that focus on what the pastor is doing wrong. They focus on things that don’t matter like whether the preacher or any of his staff did not choose them to be a leader of a ministry. They focus on the fact that the preacher did not speak to them that day at church. They focus on how loud the music is or what the preacher said in his sermon. They focus on the fact that the preacher did not come see them when they had the flu or when their great uncle was in the hospital. They focus on the color of the carpet. They focus on lights during the songs. In none of these things, do we hear of loving God and loving our neighbors and making disciples as the reason that we are here as congregation of believers. We are like Pharisees who focus on the rules that we have developed as part of religion rather than being the chosen people of God who are tell the world of saving grace of God. Jesus withdraw from that. There is a youtube video out there about a local television interview somewhere in Big City USA that interviews a person who lives in some low-income subsiding housing project and the crime spree that just happened at the complex. Her most famous line is “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” when complains about the crime. Jesus is basically saying the same thing here to the Pharisees by withdrawing. He ain’t got time for that. There was a world outside that needed healing. He needed to focus on what really matter. He needed focus on healing the sick and spreading the message of God’s love to a world that needed to hear it rather spending precious moments wasting time arguing with the Pharisees over rules violations – rules that were man-made not borne of God-breathed Scripture. His message is the same to us today. Focus on the right things. We often focus on the wrong things. We focus inwardly on what goes on within the church. We are not here to please ourselves. God brought us together at these churches today not to build buildings, clamor for internal positions, be completely wrapped up in the weekly worship services and how they are run. Our church buildings are to be bases of operations not the reason for the church. Our church building are to be places where we get our tanks filled. The real reason of the church is outside the church. We live in a hurting world that desperately needs Jesus. That should be our focus in everything we do. Everything should be measured by how it can be used to spread the gospel beyond our walls. Everything we do should be measured by how it makes disciples of Jesus Christ and how it grows them into mature Christ followers. Everything else is secondary to that. Jesus teaches us that in this passage. He withdraws from the arguments of things that do not save souls. He withdraws from petty arguments that are not based in Scripture. He withdraws from that which does not expand the kingdom of God.

Why did Jesus ask people not to mention his miracles and why does Matthew use the opportunity to reflect on Isaiah 42:1-4? It is again about Jesus not wanting the focus to be on the wrong thing. He knew if the focus was solely on His miracles that people would misunderstand the message. They would make Jesus into something that He did not come to be. Matthew understands this and reminds of the fact that Jesus did not come to be some conquering hero. He came to be prophesied Messiah. Matthew reminds his readers of exactly what that was. He was not coming to be some military hero that was going to vanquish the Romans. He was not coming to re-establish the Israel that once was. Jesus came to be the suffering servant who was to take on our sins and our iniquities and who would bear punishment for our sins. He was to be the one who was to be sacrificed for our benefit to make us right with God once again. That was why he came. He was to be a healer not a fighter. He was to teach us about the kingdom of God not establish an earthly kingdom. What does all this mean for us? What are we to learn from this reference to Isaiah and what are we learn from Jesus wanting to keep his healings quiet? What we learn is that we sometimes too make Jesus into something that He is not. We make church into something that it is not. We make Jesus into something of a vending machine that gives us what we want because we deserve it now that we are Christ followers. We make Jesus into the fulfiller of OUR desires. Jesus never promised us a rose garden. He never promised us that we would be successful and rich if we believe in Him. Often, he warned us it would be quite the opposite. We sometimes make Jesus is a battering ram of condemnation because we do not like the way that some people do things. We sometimes make Jesus into a flower child hippy who accepts anything we do and a Jesus who has no judgment in Him. We make him into this guy who allows us to live whatever way we desire as along as we pledge allegiance to Him. We all sometimes, believers and non-believers, make Jesus into something that is non-scripturally based simply to suit our needs or justify our position. That’s something we learn. The real Jesus is not a prosperity guru. He is not an anything goes Jesus. Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture. He is Scripture. He is all of Scripture. He is the Son of God and He embodies Scripture. All of it. Not just the parts that you like and excluding the parts you dislike. Jesus is God and God abhors sin. The Bible tells us of what sin is and how to live a godly life. It tells us of our sin nature and why we need a Savior that is Jesus. Let us not make Jesus into something He is not. Let us not make church into something that it is not.

Let us focus on the right things. Let us focus on the real Jesus of Scripture. Let us focus on what He called us to do. Let us not focus on things that do not matter in eternity. Let us focus on winning souls to Christ and growing them into fully mature disciples of Christ who then in turn tell others of this Christ and make more disciples. Now that’s the Telephone Game that we need to be playing. Amen and Amen.

Matthew 12:9-14
Jesus Heals a Man’s Hand on the Sabbath

To be clear, there is nothing in the Old Testament Law about not performing acts of healing on the Sabbath. There’s just not. The reason that God established the Sabbath and we were not to carry on as usual on the Sabbath was so that we would set aside a day to focus on the worship of God. The Jewish religious leaders had made rules for the Sabbath so that they would never come close to breaking the rules about not working on the Sabbath. They had become so concerned about what was defined as work that they forgot the reason for the Sabbath. Jesus reminds them of the spirit of the Law, in this passage (Matthew 12:9-14), when we read,
9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.
This passage seems to carry on from the previous one. Jesus was in the fields in the previous passage and the Pharisees were giving Jesus a hard time about His disciples eating wheat because picking wheat constituted work in their eyes. Here, Jesus shows compassion to a disabled man on the Sabbath which constituted work in their eyes. After these two instances, they were ready to kill Jesus cause He had thumbed His nose at all their non-biblical rules and traditions that had developed to keep them from violating the letter of God’s law. Jesus desired mercy rather than mere religious observance when He repeated Hosea 6:6 (I desire mercy, not sacrifices). What are we to learn today that we can use from this passage? I think there is plenty. We, as Christians in general, come off as judgmental to the world around us. Why is that? Have we forgotten Luke 10:27 which states that we are first to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and then flowing from that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We talk a big game about loving others but do we really? There are several hot button issues out there that make people question whether we really do love or not.

The question of homosexuality and gay marriage is one where we can become like the Pharisees. We are so interested in standing on the prohibitions in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments about homosexuality that we forget mercy. Sure, such behavior is clearly against God’s Word, but do we try to get to know homosexuals and develop relationships with them and tell them of a God will judge unrepentant sin but who offers redemption through Jesus Christ for those who are repentant. However, most often, we do not get to know them. We would rather stand at a distance and condemn. We would rather stand at a distance and say that you are going to hell for your lifestyle rather spend the effort to develop relationships with them, get to know them, let them see an honest, flawed individual who loves Jesus Christ. We would rather point out their flaws than love them. Sure, there are those that will simply reject us because they are so blinded by the rightness of homosexuality that they will never understand God’s prohibitions against homosexuality being for our own good and the good of society. However, we reach the ones that we can reach through love, understanding and guidance toward the truth of God’s Word. God desires mercy not mindless observance of the Law. God desires that we love our neighbors. Luke 10:27 does not give us qualifiers. We are not just to love those who live according to God’s Word. He desires that we love all people even those who protest against God’s Word with their lifestyles. Certainly, we are not to compromise our beliefs just to satisfy the requirement to love all people, but we should not withhold Christian love and charity from others simply because we do not approve of their lifestyle. We can love others and stand on God’s Word. We can love the gay couple that lives next door but yet have them understand that we believe in marriage being the exclusive realm of a man in love with a woman. We do not burn their house down because they violate God’s Law. We lovingly show them through relationship that their lifestyle is against God’s Word. God’s Word is not a protest banner against the things it prohibits as unwholesome. God’s Word is the eternal truth that is a mirror for each of us to compare our lifestyles to that which an eternal God has lovingly put down in words as to what is best for us not just simply a list of things you can’t do out of some capricious whim of a remote god. God wants what is best for us and He gives us His Word to illustrate it. He did not intend His Word to be a battering ram of hate. It is to point out to us how we fall short of the glory of God, how we are condemned by that fact, and how we have a way out through the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. Observing the letter of the law as our sole goal removes us from showing the same mercy that God shows us through Jesus Christ. The Law is to point us all to the need we have for Jesus Christ as Redeemer and Savior not for us to use ourselves to batter people over the head with their violation of it. We are Pharisees when we do this.

When we use God’s Word as a battering ram against those whose lifestyle is in opposition to it, we are forgetting that we were once sinners ourselves. When we use the letter of the Law to condemn others and to judge others, we are taking the focus away from ourselves. Were we not once living lives that oppose God’s Word? Were we not drunkards? Were we not thieves? Were we not adulterers? Were we not greedy? Were we not users of people to get what we want? Were we not liars, cheats, whores, jealous, hoarding, unfeeling, self-centered sinners? Before we met Jesus Christ and fell to our knees at our own condemnation in the eyes of the Lord! Are we not still continuing to battle sin everyday where sometimes we win and sometimes we lose? Are we not men who struggle with lust? Are we not women who struggle with jealousy? Are we not men who still struggle with greed? Are we not women who struggle with self-worth that leads to poor decisions? Are we not men and women who are learning slowly with daily mistakes how to be more like Christ? Love God and love others. Love mercy and not religious observance. These are the things that we are called to do. We were once sinners who under the influence of a mighty person of Christ were shown the way to the cross. We all have that one or two people in our lives that did not judge us but simply loved us to the cross. They could have written us off and we would have continued in our lifestyles of sin because God’s Word said what we were doing is wrong. They knew that and loved us anyway. They loved us to the cross.

That is what Jesus is saying here. When we become overly religious, we forget that God loves us though we are sinners. We forget that we were once in the crosshairs of condemnation ourselves until someone led us to the cross. We forget that we still struggle with sin daily. We were once condemned ourselves before we met Christ. What if someone just had wrote you off just because you were once an adulterer? What if someone had written you off just because you were once sexually promsiscuous? What if someone had just written you off because you living that party lifestyle? What if someone had written you off because you were once a thief? And a list of many of the other things God detests in us. We must love sinners to the cross not reject them because they are sinners. We must use God’s Word to lovingly, in relationship with them, show them that God abhors sin but provides us with a way to redemption in Jesus Christ. We do not write people off just because their currently turn their nose up at God. Get to know them. Love them. Show them mercy. Attract them to the cross through love not hate! If you were on your way to church and your unsaved neighbor calls you and tells you he needs to talk to you because his wife just left him, would you tell him, sorry, can’t do it, I’ve got to get to church on time? Jesus desires that we show the world His love and lead them to the cross not simply be observers and commentators on the state of the world. He wants us to love our neighbors to the cross daily. He wants us to show the world love that makes them want this Jesus thing that we have. Amen and amen.

Matthew 12:1-8
The Disciples Pick Wheat on the Sabbath

The color of the carpet. The style of music. Drinking beverages in the sanctuary. What you wear to church. Whether you have an order of worship published in the bulletin. Responsive readings. Real wine vs. grape juice at communion. Ornate wooden pews with cushions vs. removable chairs. Formal church building designed for that specific purpose vs. meeting in a storefront or a school. Sunday school vs. in-home small groups. The traditions of church vs. the spirit of church. The letter of the law vs. the spirit of it. This is the issue that Jesus brings up in his conversation with the Pharisees. There are certain things that have come to be accepted traditions of church that have no literal basis in Scripture but we can cause great division and even splits in church when we cling to them as if they were scripturally-based. Churches have split over the color of carpet. Churches treat each other with derision if I am traditional hymns with organs, and strings and you are modern music with drums and guitars. Roman Catholic symbolism and traditions and sainthoods and veneration vs. the simplicity of Protestantism. Man the things we focus on in church sometimes baffles the mind. Jesus says as much the same thing in Matthew 12:1-8:

12 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
We see movies or television shows all the time where there are choices between the actual letter of the law and doing the right thing. There are those moments when you have to choose the spirit of the law over the letter of it and the thing that makes you cry is that tough choice. Here, we see Jesus pointing to us that the Law should never come between us and having a real relationship with God. We should focus our worship on the right things.

When Jesus repeats Hosea 6:6 when He says I desire mercy, not sacrifice what He means that He desires acknowledgement of God not making offering up sacrifices as the point of what we do when the Israelites made sacrifices. The Jews had made the Law into what it was not intended to be. They had created rules and regulations as layers of fences around the Law so that they would not violate the don’ts of the Law. These rules and regulations had become so voluminous that it took scribes and scholars full-time work to interpret what could and could not be done on the Sabbath and what could and could not be done regarding all other aspects of the Law. Jesus is saying that that you are now worshiping the Law itself and not God. God takes no pleasure in becoming so wrapped up in the trappings of the Law that we forget why He provided the Law in the first place. God takes no pleasure when we worship the church instead of Him. What God desires is that we worship Him. What God desires is that we concentrate of Him. What God desires is for us to see that we are incapable of carrying the burden of the Law and that we must have a Savior. God desires us to have a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ rather than trying to avoid being bad. We should not desire to be saved so that we can avoid hell but rather we should desire to be saved so that we can have a close personal relationship with God through the Law pointing us toward Jesus Christ’s redeeming grace. God desires the humility given us by the Law and the fact that it points out to us that we cannot do this life thing alone. We need help. We need a Savior.

When we make church about the color of carpet, when we make church about style of music, when we make church about whether someone else was chosen to work in leadership while I was not, when we make church about whether you go dancing on occasion or not, when we make church about whether you have an occasional glass of wine or not, when we make church about anything other than the humble worship of God and humbling serving Him, we have become Pharisees. Jesus desired the Jews to understand the purpose of the Law and where it leads us rather than focusing on the letter of the Law. He refers to Hosea. Hosea was a prophet who railed against the Israelites for having forgotten the purpose of the law. The sacrifices had become meaningless. They were not offering up their best to God in their sacrifices. It had just become a functionary thing rather than a worship thing. In Hosea, the prophet points the Israelites back to the real purpose of the sacrifices which was to give God our best. A comparison in our day would be the level of generosity we show in our contributions to the church. Some of us see it as a burden to give to the church rather than a joy. We give out of compulsion rather than joy. So when I view it as a requirement rather than worship, I give God my leftover $20 bill each week, rather than tithing. We focus on the wrong things. We think giving to the church is an encroachment on what I can do with MY money. We should be seeing our giving as an opportunity to worship God in one of the ways He offers us the opportunity to do so. We should see our giving as a way to participate in God’s ministry rather than Oh I must do this so that I can avoid condemnation for not giving. Hosea called his people back to giving God our best. Hosea called His people to put God first. Hosea called his people to quit going through the motions of worship and actually worship. Jesus calls for us here to not to focus on avoiding condemnation but rather to have a real relationship with God. Jesus calls us to worship God and not the trappings of church. Jesus calls us to worship Him as the Creator and Savior rather than worship churchy stuff. Jesus calls us back to worshiping God first and all other things shall follow out of that overflow of love for God. When we focus on God rather than the color of the carpet, all things are to be in the proper order. When we focus on God rather than a list of do’s and don’t’s then we begin to obey Him out of the overflow of our love for Him rather than carrying a burdensome list. When we focus on God rather than our position at church, we grow to serve in humility. We serve because we are honoring God by doing so regardless of whether we are the leaders of the youth group or whether we come quietly after church to clean up the sanctuary. When we worship God first, we do not care who is watching us; we simply serve. When we worship God first we serve our fellow man regardless of whether our name gets mentioned from the stage or not. When we put other things first, we begin to judge. We begin to make church about my position vs. your position. When we put other things first, we begin to make church about how long I have been a member of a church vs. how long you have been a member of the church. When we put other things first, we are all about how much I do for the church vs. how much you do for the church. How much we have yet to learn in all these years. Hosea called us out. Jesus called us out. Martin Luther called the Catholic Church out. Today, in the 21st century, the modern wave of simple churches are a calling out those very churches that were born out of Martin Luther’s revolution against the Catholic church in the 16th century. Return to the heart of worship. Nothing has changed. Leave church in human hands and we begin to make it about the wrong things. We make it about us rather than about worshiping God. Help to follow Jesus’s cue and return to what is important. The law was intended to point us to Christ and our need to have a Savior. It was to point us to worship God for the grace He shows us. Help us to remember that we are put on this earth to worship God not ourselves. When we make church about anything other than giving God glory then we have made it into the wrong thing.
Lord, bring us back to the heart of the church. It is not about bright lights and loud music vs. traditional hymns. It is not about the color of the carpet. It is about worshiping you. Church is to demonstrate to us how we should be living our lives – giving you glory in everything with a humble heart ready to do so! That is our prayer today. Bring us back to the heart of worship! Amen.