March 21, 2010
Well we are racing through the book of Matthew at lightning speed, …. O.K. I guess its not good to start out a sermon with an out and out lie. We are going through the book of Matthew at a snail’s pace – hoping to finish it before the New Heavens and the New Earth replace this groaning place called the earth.
But we are making progress, and we are beginning to note some trends. And one of them is that the average person in Jesus’s day was powerfully drawn to Him and very responsive to His ministry. But the governmental leaders and especially the religious leaders of His day – – by and large were increasingly offended by Him, and were thus more and more hostile towards Him.
In some respects this seems to be the case as well today. But my concern today is not those who are unresponsive to Jesus. My concern is those that are. And more importantly – my concern is whether we are the kind of people that Jesus Christ can use – to bring the responsive ones into a relationship with Himself.
Two weeks ago when we jumped into chapter 9 of the gospel of Matthew we noted that one of the primary characteristics Jesus Christ is looking for – in those He would choose to use as His instruments to reveal Himself – and to do His ongoing saving and healing work – – is those who have faith – that He will indeed reveal Himself, and do His ongoing saving and healing work through their meager efforts.
You see the reality is that every day in every city on this planet there are people that Jesus Christ wants to minister to. But some of those people have given up hope. Their interpretation of all the awful things that have happened to them in their short lives is that they happened as a result of God’s anger and condemnation; or perhaps because of His ambivalence – – and thus their fate is just to endure their affliction until death brings relief. They are not going to cry out to Him because they believe they have no audience with Him, and that He could care less. So for Jesus to minister to that person – He needs to find another person who not only believes Jesus loves and cares for that person – – but will offer Himself as Jesus’s instrument or means to convey that love and care to that person. Thus when Jesus in Matthew chapter 9 looked at the paralytic who was mired in hopelessness – – He was able to minister to him – – because his friends had faith – – – demonstrated by their willingness to go to the trouble to lower him through a roof on a pallet – – so Jesus could see Him through the crowds.
Two weeks ago we learned that the more we are convinced that Jesus loves and sees and cares for the people around us – – and the more we are ready and willing to step out of our comfort zone and say “Lord touch them through my eyes, my voice, my hands..” – – the more we will find Him using us and ministering to others through us.
Today I want to talk about another crucial characteristic – – that combined with faith – – makes us a lethal, powerful instrument in His hands.
The second characteristic we must develop and grow in to be able to be His instrument to save and heal people is we must grow in mercy and compassion, and guard against hard heartedness. Let’s read vs. 9-13 together.
“As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “follow Me!” And got up and followed Him. Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” But when Jesus heard this, He said, It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire compassion, and not sacrifice, for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
After Matthew – the tax collector – began to follow Jesus – he decided to invite Jesus and His disciples over – along with some of his fellow tax collectors, and people who are identified in this passage as sinners. Now we know that tax collectors in that day were typically unscrupulous people who collected money to support the Romans, and who often took more than they should have, and pocketed that for themselves. They were deeply despised by the Jews – especially by the orthodox, more religiously zealous Jews.
This term “sinners” refers to the non religious Jews (and perhaps some Gentiles sprinkled in) – – it refers to those who lived to party – – folks who probably enjoyed their alcohol to a fault, and whose language was probably pretty saucy, and their dress – probably a little less than modest, and who had little if any regard for the law of God or of man.
Somehow the Pharisees had religiously justified both – their refusal to rub shoulders with these people, and their disgust over their lifestyles; and they were shocked that Jesus seemed comfortable wining and dining with such lowlifes. Jesus perceived their disgust and their hardness of heart towards those who were actually the most needy of all – – and defended His actions by pointing out that only those who are sick, and know they are sick, and know they need healed are the ones who will seek out a doctor. Implied in His response is the fact that He alone is the one true Physician who can heal the sin stained soul of man.
Now the Pharisees needed a spiritual doctor or Savior just as much if not more than the tax collectors and sinners. But because they prided themselves in their observance of various religious rituals, which these tax collectors and sinners neglected to observe – – they felt they were A – O.K.. Jesus then exhorted them to go back to the old testament scriptures and re-examine whether God is really after their sacrifice, or their hearts – – reminding them of Hosea 6:6, where God says through the prophet Hosea, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.”(NIV)
Listen brothers and sisters, you can sing on the worship team and teach in children’s church and give generously and sacrificially of your finances, and help clean the church buildings, and sign petitions for preserving life in the womb and preventing same sex marriage, and on and on – – but if you do not have God’s broken heart for the rejects of society, for the people who seem least likely to ever walk in through those front doors – – then your sacrifice is all for naught.
Do you know why the least likely are the least likely? Well one big reason is because they have figured out over time who some of the people are in their town or neighborhood or work place who go to church – – and because those church attenders/Christians show no real interest in building a relationship with them, and because those Christians must be close to God – – – – they have put two and two together and come up with five – – which is – God must not want to build a relationship with them either.
You know you can fake a lot of things in life. But you cannot fake a genuine heart of love and compassion for someone who knows they are not worthy of it, or who knows they are not a good candidate for it. These people smell snobbishness and unrighteous judgment a mile away.
One of the biggest problems the church in America is facing today – – is its members often do not want to hang around with the people its Head does. We are banging our heads against the wall trying to reach people who think they’ve got it all together, and do not see their need for a doctor – – because we are more comfortable with these folks – – when the people who would give their eye teeth to sit down and dine with Jesus aren’t given the time of day by the church!
James saw this as a problem with the churches He wrote his letter to. If you remember in chapter two of his fiery epistle, he warned them – and I quote from vs. 1, “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.” (Our Lord Jesus Christ is glorious for many reasons; but one of the big ones is because He loves every man, woman young person and child equally – regardless of the color of their skin, the dysfunction of their family, or the mess they have made of their life. There is not a hint of favoritism or partiality with Him). Vs. 2 “For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?
Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.
(One of the reasons this is so insidious is because we can be zealously and passionately obeying many points of the law of God, but absolutely not have His heart towards the people He has put in our paths). For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder (by the way what did Jesus say about committing murder in the sermon on the mount?), you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
How many of you are thankful this morning that God deals with us – more out of mercy than He does judgment? The question I believe He wants to pose to us this morning is: When we have a rough around the edges visitor walk in these doors, or attend our home group or ladies tea – – do they pick up the smell of judgment from us or the smell of mercy? When you go to a work party, or attend a block party in your neighborhood, or go to a school function with other parents, and you encounter spiritually sick people – do they pick up the vibes of judgment from you – – or the vibes of mercy?
You see brethren – the reason this is such a serious matter is – – Jesus’s primary way of revealing Himself to these people is through you and me!
So how can we develop more of His heart for the spiritually sick folk around us? Allow me to suggest five ways.
1. Everything starts with prayer. Ask God to help you see them as He does. Ask Him to show you ways to get near them. And most importantly to give you His heart for them.
2. Two places you will rarely find these folks are: inside church buildings and inside your house (unless of course we intentionally invite them in, but even that will require that we build bridges with them to get them to trust us and even want to come into our house). thus we must go where they are most likely to be found. Work parties and block parties and other functions that you might be tempted to avoid are great places to interact with these folks.
3. All of us have a disgust threshold – – in other words – – there are certain people or certain kinds of actions or dress or attitudes that most disgust us. Ask the Holy Spirit to alert you when disgust towards one’s sin begins to morph into hardness of heart and lack of mercy and compassion toward that person. And submit yourself to Him to do away with that disgust. Being disgusted with their sin actually is o.k. But you must not allow that to morph into being disgusted with the person.
4. Beware of Conservative organizations and Christian ministries that are so focused on the evils and wrongs in our society that they have lost God’s heart for sinners. Now believe me – – I’ve never been more aware of the evils and wrongs in our society than I am today – – but I’ve had to wean myself off listening to or reading some of their appeals because while their stand against evil may be righteous; their attitude towards the lost is not righteous. You and I only have so much time and emotional energy. If you want to be used in reaching the lost and the rejects of society for Christ – – you are going to have to intentionally expose yourself to people or ministries who have this as their heartbeat. You need to know many conservative organizations and even Christian ministries are very weak in this regard. And they will rub off on you if you are not careful.
5. Worship Christ at the cross – reminding yourself – ideally on a daily basis – of what you once were like before Christ broke through your thick skull and hard heart. Today we have the privilege of doing that at the Lord’s table. And before we come and partake of communion – – I want to turn your attention to Titus ch. 3 – vs. 1-9. Paul knew that we all have a tendency to quickly forget how big of a jerk we once were – – and so he reminds Titus to remind those he was ministering to – of this truth.
“Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” Titus 3:1-9