“What’s in Your Heart?” Exposition of Matthew 12:33-37

Audio of this sermon is available here.

A 2007 study by the academic journal Science indicated that humans speak an average of 16,000 words per day. The study found that the difference in the number of words spoken by men and women is negligible with women speaking 16,215 words and men speaking 15,669 a day. This study contradicted a study the previous year by Louann Brizendine, founder and director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic, in her 2006 book The Female Brain. This book claimed that women speak an average of 20,000 words per day, nearly three times the mere 7,000 spoken by men. I don’t want to get into this debate today. I will let you husbands and wives settle this dispute on your own time.

Let’s assume for a moment that we only speak 10,000 words a day. If that’s the case every five days enough words come from your lips to produce a 200 page book. Every five days! That’s 73 books a year. You can do the math on how many books your words would fill in your lifetime. Of all those words you’ve spoken in your lifetime, how many would you consider to be said carelessly? A lot of them! This is sobering when we consider the words of Christ in our text this morning that “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” What does Jesus mean by this? There are two important principles that we need to consider. Let’s look at this morning’s text and see just what it means.

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:33-37)

I. Our Words Reveal the State of Our Hearts, vv. 33-35.

Remember in the context that Jesus has just addressed the Pharisees who have committed the unpardonable sin by rejecting the evidence provided by the Holy Spirit through the miracles of Jesus that He was indeed the Messiah. Jesus was able to pronounce his judgment upon the words of the Pharisees precisely because He knew their thoughts (v. 25). In other words, Jesus know that the Pharisees’ words of blasphemy reflected hearts of blasphemy and He was therefore able to pronounce their final judgment in advance. The principle is stated clearly in the second half of verse 34: “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” In other words, as I’ve stated it: “Our Words Reveal the State of Our Heart.” This is a scary proposition!

Having six children 13 and under means that for the last 13 years we’ve had a cup of something spilled every single meal. Often, someone will call out, “It’s just water.” This means they will be no sticky, sugary mess to clean up. We just have to get a towel and soak it up. Do you know what? We’ve never had anything come out of those cups that wasn’t in them. Whatever is in the cup, whether water, juice, milk, or Diet Dr. Pepper, that’s always what comes out. In a similar way, Jesus says that whatever is in our heart is what will come out of our lips with our words. When something jars you or upsets you and words come out of your mouth, it’s because they’re in your heart and they’re in your heart because you put them there!

We often say in words meant to comfort that “God knows our heart.” We are often reassured by thinking that although our actions and words may have been wrong, that God knows our heart and our heart is good after all. But this is not what the Bible tells us about our hearts. In Jeremiah 17:9, the prophet Jeremiah declared: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Jehovah God responded, “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” Biblically, it is usually not a good thing that God knows our heart! It certainly wasn’t good for the Pharisees in Matthew 12.

The teaching of Scripture is clear: the words that come out of our mouths reveals what is in our heart.

Therefore, the next principle is true.

II. Our Words Will be the Basis of Our Judgment, vv. 36-37.

Here’s where it gets serious! Jesus says that we will give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word which we speak! How many careless words have you spoken? If you’re 10 years old, consider nearly 700 books filled with your words. If you’re 40 years old, then you can imagine a library of nearly 3,000 two-hundred page books containing the words spoken in your lifetime. If you’re 60, imagine almost 4,500 such books. We have a lot to give an account for.

Jesus says in verse 37 that our words will either justify or condemn us. We need to realize that no matter how careful we have been with our words in our lifetime, there is more than enough evidence to condemn us to hell forever. If this is the final word, then we are all hopeless condemned sinners.

But I like the glimmer of hope of justification that is hinted out in verse 37. Some commentators take a lot of pains to explain why the gospel word “justified” is used here. They say that it is being used in its technical sense to refer to an acquittal in a court of law. That is certainly true, but I think there is at least a foreshadowing of the justification that comes through the “word of faith” which Paul talks about in Romans 10:5-10.

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

These verses state the same truth in a positive sense that Matthew 12:33-37 states negatively. Namely, your words reveal the state of your heart and your words will be the basis of your judgment. But here we are told that belief in the heart that is confessed with the mouth results in being justified/saved!

There is, therefore, hope for sinners whose hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked. There is hope for sinners whose words should result in eternal condemnation. The hope comes from the fact that there was One who lived a sinless life. As the apostle Peter, one who knew Jesus, said, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.” Because He was sinless in his words, yet suffered in our place the punishment we deserve for our wicked words and hearts, we can be forgiven/justified by one word! The “word of faith.”

Isaiah tells us that “they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” (53:9). Yes, He was crucified, dead and buried though He was the spotless Lamb of God. Therefore, His death was not for His sins, but for the sins of all those who would put their trust in Him.


Won’t you trust Him? One of my friends posted a great reminder on Twitter this morning. He said, “The Triumphal Entry occurred on lamb selection day for Jews. Jesus’ gesture: “Pick me as your Passover Lamb without blemish.” [@greg_thornbury Sun 24 Mar 08:26] This is Palm Sunday, the day of the Triumphal Entry, lamb selection day. Why look elsewhere for salvation? Here is Jesus, the Lamb of God who will take away your sin if you trust in Him.

“What is the Unpardonable Sin?” Exposition of Matthew 12:22-32

Audio of this sermon is available here.

There has been a lot of speculation about the nature of the unpardonable sin. Some have suggested that divorce, murder or suicide. But none of those sins are identified as unforgivable in the Bible. Others fear that they have committed the unpardonable sin because of an unguarded thought or word against the God the Father, Son or Holy Spirit. Some think that an irreverent joke might be the unpardonable sin. But the idea of the unpardonable sin comes directly from the lips of Jesus. In our text this morning, Jesus says that every kind of sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, except for one. What does He say that it is? That’s what we want to consider in this passage.

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:22-32

I. The Occasion of the Miracle, vv. 22-23.

The occasion that produced the statement by Jesus about the unpardonable sin is this. Jesus has just healed a man who was oppressed by a demon. Jesus had healed the man by exorcizing the demons. This is exactly the kind of action that indicated that Jesus was the Messianic King, the descendent of David, for which the Jews had been waiting. Isaiah 35:5-6 prophesied the coming of the kingdom of God: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” Interestingly, when the crowd sees this miracle their minds must have immediately went to these Old Testament prophecies that link the coming of the Messiah with His Davidic kingdom to miraculous works such as they have just seen. No wonder, then, they ask the question “Can this be the Son of David?”

II. The Accusation by the Pharisees, v. 24.

It is unclear whether the crowd asks this question out of faith or doubt? There seems to be a hint of skepticism in the Greek at this point, like “He can’t be the Son of David, can he?” But the Pharisees did not even want the issue raised. They immediately reject this possibility by asserting that the miraculous deeds done by Jesus can only be attributed to Satan himself. Notice what they are doing. They are taking the miracles which Jesus has performed by the power of the Spirit which identify Him as the messianic king, the Son of David and are rejecting that evidence and saying that these miracles were performed by the power of Satan.

III. The Reaction by Jesus, vv. 25-32.

Jesus responds. He knows their thoughts, which was itself evidence of his divine power. He responds by pointing out two problems with their accusation:

  • First, he points out the illogical nature of their accusation, vv. 25-26. 
  • Second, he points out the inconsistency of their accusation, v. 27.

Then, in verses 28-29, Jesus argues that, contrary to the Pharisees, the inclination of the crowd to identify Jesus as the promised Davidic king was dead on. Jesus asserts that since He is performing this miracles, since He is casting out demons, this is evidence that the kingdom of God has come among them because the king was standing in their midst!

So, what is the sin that Jesus is discussing here that is unforgivable? It is a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. John Walvoord has defined this sin as “attributing to Satan what is accomplished by the power of God.” D. A. Carson has defined the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as “the willful assigning of what is unambiguously the Spirit’s work in the ministry of Jesus (12:28) to the devil (12:24).” In other words, Jesus is referring to the sins of the Pharisees in this text who have rejected the evidence provided by the Holy Spirit through the miracles performed by Jesus that He is indeed the Messianic King. Their rejection is unforgivable at this point, because they have sufficient evidence that Jesus is the Messiah. They know the Old Testament prophecies and they have seen the miracles in person. Yet, they reject Jesus as their Messiah. Jesus essentially says in verse 30 that you’re either with me or against me. They have aligned themselves against Jesus by their rejection and therefore there is no forgiveness available for them.

Now, for the question: Can this sin be committed today?

If we take this question in a very strict sense, we would say no. This sin could only have been committed by people who were alive during Jesus’ earthly ministry who knew the Scriptures like the Pharisees and saw the miraculous signs performed by Jesus.

But, I believe that this sin can still be committed today. Because it is still possible to reject the evidence provided by the Holy Spirit in Scripture and through His internal conviction that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David, the Savior, the Son of God.

When an individual is brought to a certain point by the Holy Spirit where they are convinced that Jesus is indeed the only Savior, and they still reject Him at that point, then there is no other hope available for them and their sin is unpardonable.

I think this is what the author of Hebrews is talking about in Hebrews 6:4-6, 9. These people have been exposed to the working of the Holy Spirit, even having been enlightened, but not yet converted. If people brought to that point do not trust Christ, salvation is impossible for them.


Don’t be that person! How can you guarantee that you’ve not committed the unpardonable sin? Don’t reject Christ. Respond positively to each step of revelation given to you by the Spirit. Don’t reject His testimony in the pages of Scripture and His working in your heart!

Why the Genealogy of Jesus Matters

If I were to take a survey of everyone reading this post asking “What is your favorite text of Scripture?” no one would probably say, “Matthew 1:1-17.” Instead we are more likely to ask, “Why would Matthew begin his account of the life of Christ with a boring genealogy?” I want to suggest, however, that this text is one of the most important passages in the Bible! Matthew 1:1-17 is one of the most important passages in the Bible because it is the thread that binds together the Old and New Testaments. In fact, this text is essential to properly understand the meaning of the Old Testament. One commentator called this text “a compressed retelling of the Old Testament story” (John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 34).

Matthew carefully links the second part of the Bible with the first by citing at 61 direct quotes (Mark has 31, Luke 26, and John 16) and many other allusions from the Old Testament. Matthew uses the phrase, “to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet” ten times in his book. The gospel writer clearly identifies Jesus as the promised and long awaited Messiah. The evidence presented is overwhelming. Jesus is clearly presented as the fulfillment of all that the prophets of old were longing for.

The book of Matthew opens with the genealogy of the King. These opening verses are very important because Jewish people, who made up Matthew’s audience, were very interested in a person’s genealogy. The New Testament rests upon the accuracy of this genealogy because it establishes the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ is of the line of Abraham and of the line of David. Both are very important. The line of Abraham places Him in the nation, and the line of David puts Him on the throne — He is in that royal line. The genealogies were very important to the nation Israel, and through them it could be established whether a person had a legitimate claim to a particular line. For example, when Israel returned from the captivity, we find in the Book of Ezra, “These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood” (Ezra 2:62). It was possible in Ezra’s day to check the register of the tribe of Levi and remove those who made a false claim. Every king has to have a royal lineage because his ancestry is the most important thing about him. Kings have to be in the regal line in order to qualify to be on the throne. Matthew begins with a family tree that traces the right of Jesus to reign.

The first sentence of the Gospel of Matthew introduces not only this genealogy, but the entire gospel (indeed, the entire New Testament). This sentence answers the question of: What is this book about? Answer: Jesus. And: Who is this Jesus? This sentence tells you almost everything you need to know about the identity of Jesus. The genealogy that follows is given by Matthew to prove the validity of what Matthew claims in this first sentence.

The Proper Locus of Fear (Exposition of Matthew 10:26-33)

My favorite television program is Monk which is a weekly program on the USA network which explores the adventures of an obsessive-compulsive genius detective who has at least 38 documented phobias.  On the show’s website a dictionary of phobias is provided.  Among the phobias listed are:

  • Altophobia: Fear of heights.
  • Arachnophobia: Fear of spiders.
  • Arachibutyrophobia: Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth.
  • Ballistophobia: Fear of missiles or bullets.
  • Claustrophobia: Fear of confined spaces.
  • Ecclesiophobia: Fear of church.
  • Frigophobia: Fear of cold.
  • Gamophobia: Fear of marriage.
  • Glossophobia: Fear of speaking in public or of trying to speak.
  • Homilophobia: Fear of sermons.
  • Obesophobia: Fear of gaining weight.
  • Panophobia: Fear of everything.
  • Peladophobia: Fear of bald people.
  • Phalacrophobia: Fear of becoming bald.
  • Phasmophobia: Fear of ghosts.
  • Testophobia: Fear of taking tests.
  • Xenophobia: Fear of strangers or foreigners.

We all have fears, hopefully not 38 of them, but we all have fears.  Many things we fear for no reason.  Some things we don’t fear that we should.  In this morning’s text Jesus describes the proper locus, or place, of fear.  Three times in this morning’s text, the disciples are told by Christ to not fear.  We are told not to fear man, but rather to fear God.  The book of Proverbs makes this distinction when in Proverbs 25:29 we are warned:  “The fear of man brings a snare.”  And exhorted in Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”  As we look to Matthew 10:26-33 we are told two areas in which we are not to be afraid, and one area where it is altogether appropriate to be afraid.

Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.  (27)  “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.  (28)  And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  (29)  Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.  (30)  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  (31)  Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  (32)  “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.  (33)  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 10:26-33

I.    Do Not Be Afraid to Trumpet God’s Proclamations, vv. 26-27.
The first reason that we are told not to fear is found in verse 26.  The reason we are not to fear is that “there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.”  This was apparently something that Jesus repeated on various occasions with multiple applications.  For example, when this phrase is quoted in Luke 12:1-3 it used to warn against hypocrisy.  But here it is used to provide the background to the command of public proclamation in verse 27.  Jesus clearly expected the ministry of His disciples to be more open and public than His own ministry.  What He told them in the dark, they were to speak in the light.  What He whispered in their ear was to be shouted from the rooftop.  The houses in the first century were all flat roofed and were thus often the place where public proclamations would be made to large crowds.  Jesus is calling His disciples to holy boldness in their proclamation of the teachings of Jesus.

The question is which issues of our day require us as Christians to speak boldly God’s proclamations.  The great German Reformer Martin Luther said,

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God, except that point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ however boldly I may be professing Christ.  Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved.  And to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.

What are the world and the devil at this moment attacking?

  • The exclusivity of Jesus Christ.

If there is one thing truth claim that is being attacked in our day it is the biblical teaching that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way that humans can be saved.  We must be willing to proclaim this truth from the rooftops without flinching.

John 14:6  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Acts 4:12  Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

We can’t be afraid of what men may do to us at this point!

Another area in which we must not flinch in our day is on the sanctity of human life.  Today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.

  • The sanctity of human life.

Good news was released this past week.  The number of abortions performed in the United States is down 25% since its highest point in 1990.  That means that only almost 3,300 babies a day were aborted.  That’s a loss of life more than on the tragic events of September 11, 2001.  And this happens every single day.  This Tuesday marks the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision known as Roe v. Wade.  Over the last 35 years, approximately 45 million have been murdered without mercy in these United States. That’s more than 2 times the number of those who were killed in all the wars that have been fought in the history of America! These individuals have had no trial, no legal representation, and no opportunity to defend themselves. Yet, they have been executed in a cruel, inhumane way.

What can we do?  1.  Pray for eyes to be opened to the truth about abortion.  2.  Never forget the horror of millions of lives destroyed.  3.  Support alternatives like adoption and abstinence.  4.  Use your right to free speech and right to vote for representation.  In other words, say what you believe, write what you believe, and vote what you believe about this issue.

This is not a political issue, but a biblical issue!

I imagine most everyone here would agree with what I just said about the sanctity of the life of the unborn.  But I don’t want to just preach about the crowd out there.  I want to preach on our sins too.  In Isaiah 58:1, the prophet Isaiah is told by God to:

Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.

If abortion is the sin of our country, racism is the sin of our church.

  • The equality of the human race.

I am amazed at the way so many people use the Bible to support racism.  Racial prejudice is not a social issue it is a gospel issue.  In Ephesians 2:11-22 we are told that the blood of Christ purchased not only unity between holy God and sinful man but also between different ethnic groups.  We’ll let this passage stand for Jewish and white relationships, but not for black and white relationships.  In the eyes of God, white Americans are on the same ground with Asians, Europeans, Africans, South Americans and Black Americans.   One word describes us all:  Gentiles.  Those who have put their faith in Christ are now “one new man.”  Therefore, when we hate another group of people because of their nationality or color of their skin, we’re sinning against the unity that the blood of Jesus Christ purchased.   When we all get to heaven, we’ll all be together!!!  Revelation 5:9-10 tells us:

And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.

II.    Do Not Be Afraid to Trust God’s Providence, vv. 29-31.
A second area in which Christians are not to be afraid is in God’s providential care.  In the context of the command not to fear those who kill the body in verse 28 (which we’ll come back to in a moment), Jesus tells His disciples that He will watch over them.  The illustration of this truth given by Jesus is of God’s care for the sparrow.  Sparrows were the food of the poorest people for they could be purchased for the cheapest price.  But God is providentially involved when one of these birds falls to the ground.  God is sovereign over the sparrow!  God is also sovereign over the hairs of your head!  You don’t have to have phalacrophobia (the fear of becoming bald).  Then Jesus concludes His argument by asserting that humans are of more value to God than sparrows (whom God providentially cares for).

In the United States you can be fined up to $5,000.00 and/or spend a year in jail for crushing the egg of a bald eagle.  For destroying an unborn animal! And yet you can make a good living destroying unborn babies.  This is a perverse misplacement of priorities.  But the good news for us is that our Father in Heaven does not think that way.  He created humans in His image, distinct from all animal creatures.  He will take care of you!  Don’t be afraid to trust God’s providential care of you.

Finally, Jesus tells us one area in which it is entirely appropriate to be afraid.

III.    Do Be Afraid to Trample God’s Provision, vv. 28, 32-33.
I believe verses 28 and 32-33 refer to the same reality.  Those who confess Christ will escape hell.  Those who deny Christ will be cast into hell, body and soul.

It is eternally important to fear God rather than man at this point.  Man only has the ability to kill the body, but God has the ability to cast both body and soul into hell.  Hell is a place of eternal punishment described in Scripture as a place where the fire does not go out and where the worm never dies. To deny Christ is to trample the Son of God underfoot, count the blood of the covenant a common thing, and insult the Spirit of grace.  This puts one in danger of the judgment of an almighty God!  Witness Hebrews 10:29-31,

Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?  (30)  For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.”  (31)  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

To fail to confess Jesus Christ is to trample God’s provision for our deliverance from judgment and puts one on dangerous ground!  But if you confess Christ, Christ will confess you before His Father and you will escape Hell and enter Heaven.

What do you fear?  We are not to fear man who can destroy only the body, but God who can destroy both body and soul in hell.

A Theology of Persecution (Exposition of Matthew 10:16-25)

The early church understood persecution, as did our early English Baptist forefathers. For example, 17th century British Baptist pastor Hercules Collins wrote from prison to his church: “For, as a tree is known by his fruit, so is a Christian by a patient wearing [of] Christ’s cross.”

Christians in Muslim and Communist countries today also know persecution. 21st century American Christians, however, have become soft. We don’t know what it is like to have been, or have friends and loved ones, martyred or imprisoned for their testimony of the gospel. But I fear the day is coming when this will become an all too present reality, if not in our lifetimes, then in the lifetimes of our children or grandchildren. We are not ready! If there is a message that desperately needs to be heard by the church today, it is Jesus’ words regarding persecution. In this morning’s text, Jesus prepares His disciples for the certainty of persecution on their current mission to the nation of Israel. In so doing, He also expands His teaching to include the mission to the Gentiles which encompasses the entire history of the church down to the present day. Here Jesus provides key teachings of a theology of persecution to which we will do well to take heed. We must prepare ourselves and our sons and daughters for persecution. If not here, God may send us or them to a country as a missionary where persecution is a real and present danger. How will we cope?

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. (17) But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. (18) You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. (19) But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; (20) for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. (21) “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. (22) And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. (23) When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (24) “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. (25) It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! Matthew 10:16-25

I. Persecution Must Be Expected, vv. 16-18, 21-22, 24-25.
That Jesus has in mind not only His disciples’ immediate mission, but also the mission of the church to the Gentile world is seen in verse 18 which speaks of testimony being made to the Gentiles.

All Christians, therefore, are sent out “as sheep in the midst of wolves.” This is a powerful image of a defenseless animal surrounded by their greatest predator. The Christian mission to the wold can be summarized by these words: “sheep among wolves”. The apostle Paul would later warn of wolves in sheep clothing in the midst of the sheep. These are two dangers which Christians must be aware of: from without and within.

In verses 17 and 18 we see that the persecution of Christians will be both religious and secular. They will be delivered up to councils and scourged in the synagogues. They will be delivered to Gentile kings and governors also. We certainly see this played out in the book of Acts as the disciples are persecuted by Jewish authorities. Later in the early church, Christians began to be persecuted by the Roman authorities. This was to be expected! (See vv. 21-22 and vv. 24-25.).

These words parallel the words of Jesus in John 15:18-21,

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. (19) If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (20) Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. (21) But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.

The apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:12-16 to suffering Christians in the Roman empire:

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; (13) but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. (14) If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. (15) But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. (16) Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.

II. Persecution May Sometimes Be Escaped, v. 23.
Here Christianity clearly differs from the terrorists. For them, martyrdom is to be sought. The purpose is to die in battle killing as many of the infidels as possible. This is foreign to biblical teaching on persecution and martyrdom. Sometimes martyrdom is required, when it cannot be escaped. It is never to be sought. But when it is unavoidable, one is to stand boldly and not deny the name of Christ.

Jesus tells His disciples to flee to the next town when persecution comes. There will always be a place where one can escape persecution (which is what I believe verse 23b means).

The ministry of the apostle Paul bears out this principle. Sometimes he was able to escape persecution. Most of the time, however, he did not escape and faithfully endured scourgings and stonings.

III. Persecution is a Means of Gospel Witness, vv. 18-20.
But where persecution cannot be escaped, it is a powerful tool of God for gospel witness. This is why the early church father Tertullian could speak of the blood of the martyrs as seed. Because wherever Christians sealed their testimony of Christ with their blood, new Christians sprang forth. There was no more powerful witness in the early church or in lands where Christians are persecuted today than when a believer is willing to die for their faith. This causes the world to pay attention and consider the claims of Christ for which so many are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice to embrace and share with others. Where is the church growing the fastest in the world today? It is in countries where Christians are being persecuted by their government and where they are forced to meet in secret!

By the way, the Greek word for “testimony” in verse 18 is μαρτυριον from which we get the English word “martyr.” The word for “testimony” in Greek became so acquainted with the death of the one giving the testimony that it is now the word we use for one who dies for their Christian testimony (Terrorists are not martyrs, this is a word that specifically refers to a believer who dies for their Christian witness.). Stephen in Acts 7 is commonly referred to as the first Christian martyr.

In verse 18 Jesus gives the purpose for why His disciples will be brought before governors, kings and Gentiles. It will be for His sake and as a testimony to them. Notice that Jesus says their testimony will be “to”, not “against” them.
The apostle Paul gave witness before Jewish religious authorities and Gentile kings and governors. The last several chapters of the book of Acts records his testimony before these individuals. Paul testifies before the High Priest Ananias, Roman governors Felix and Festus and King Agrippa. Paul appealed to Caesar himself which got him an eventful boat ride to Rome.

Paul could write of his imprisonment of Rome, though, with these words:

But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, (13) so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; (14) and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Philippians 1:12-14

In the same spirit the aforementioned 17th century British Baptist pastor Hercules Collins wrote to his own congregation from prison:

Dearly beloved,

Forasmuch as I am at present deprived by my bonds of the liberty of preaching, I bless God I have the advantage of printing, being ready to serve the interest of Christ in all conditions to my poor ability. And [I] doubt not but God and his interest are served by my confinement as by liberty, and am not without hopes that I shall preach as loudly and as effectually by imprisonment for Christ as ever I did at liberty, [and] that all those who observe God’s providential dealings, will be able to say with me hereafter, as holy Paul once said in his bonds at Rome, what hath befallen me, hath tended to “the furtherance of the gospel.”

IV. Persecution Identifies One with Christ in His Suffering, vv. 24-25.
But the most important benefit of persecution is the opportunity to be identified with Christ in His suffering. Thus, persecution for the cause of Christ points to the heart of Christianity which is the suffering of Christ for our sins. Note verse 24-25 and the word “scourge” in verse 17. In so suffering, these disciples were being identified with their master.

The apostle Peter also identified the suffering of a Christian with the suffering of Christ in 1 Peter 3:15-18,

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; (16) having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. (17) For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (18) For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,

The sufferings of a persecuted Christian point beyond themselves to the sufferings of Christ who alone accomplished the forgiveness of our sins through His sufferings on the cross.  Thus, Christian persecution points to the same reality to which Christian preaching points which is the heart of Christianity:  Christ and Him crucified!

Our suffering as Christians fills what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.  Paul wrote in Colossians 1:24 that through his own sufferings he fills up what is lacking in the suffering of Christ.  What is lacking in the sufferings of Christ?  Certainly nothing in regard to the satisfaction of God’s wrath for our sins.  When Jesus said, “It is finished!”, it was finished.  I believe that John Piper has explained this verse better than anyone else when he said that what is lacking is an in the flesh presentation of those sufferings to a lost world.  When Christians are persecuted for their gospel witness their sufferings point to the reality of what Christ accomplished and powerfully accompany their verbal witness of that saving reality.

We need to remember these teachings of Jesus on persecution if/when we are persecuted.  We need to prepare ourselves and our children for persecution by the teachings of Jesus on the subject.  May God grant that we remember these principles in the hour of temptation.

“The First Christian Missionaries” (Exposition of Matthew 10:1-15)

The 18th century British Baptist William Carey is often referred to as the “Father of Modern Missions.”  He began the modern missions movement with a sermon which called upon British Baptists to forsake their view that if God was going to convert the heathen, He would do it without our help.  This sermon called upon Christians to use means for the spread of the gospel among the heathen.  He called upon his hearers to expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.

But Carey’s call was simply an echo of the original call of Jesus to take the gospel to the world.  Jesus Himself was the first missionary, sent by God to this world.

Galatians 4:4-5  But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  (5)  to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

Jesus then sent out His disciples and continues to send us:

John 20:21  As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.

This morning’s text contains the account of the first Christian missionaries.   They are missionaries because the word “apostle” which is used to describe them refers to those “sent on a mission.”  They are Christian because they are sent out by Christ with a message about Christ’s kingdom.  And, they are the first, well because they are the first ones sent out on mission by Christ.

In this text Jesus is sending a specific people out to a specific place for a specific purpose.  However, in spite of the differences in the situation, there are still enough similarities for us to learn from their mission.

Here we see the first missionaries, the mission field, and their mission.

And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.  (2)  Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;  (3)  Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus;  (4)  Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.  (5)  These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans.  (6)  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  (7)  And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  (8)  Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.  (9)  Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts,  (10)  nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.  (11)  “Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out.  (12)  And when you go into a household, greet it.  (13)  If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  (14)  And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.  (15)  Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!  Matthew 10:1-15

I.    The Missionaries, vv. 1-4.
The first missionaries were none other than Jesus’ 12 disciples.  This is the first mention of the twelve, although the calling of Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew are recorded in earlier chapters.  By this point, Jesus has obviously called all 12 of His disciples.  In this text He commissions them for a specific mission.  These twelve, as I said earlier, are referred to as “apostles” which means they are sent on a mission.  The lists of the twelve are interesting (cf. Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13-16, Acts 1:13).  Simon Peter is always listed first.  There are three sets of four which always appear together.  Peter, Andrew, James and John are always in the first set of four.  This is not only because they were apparently the first ones called by Jesus, but also because of their prominence in the ministry of Jesus and afterward.  Judas Iscariot is always listed last which should not be a mystery to us.  It is interesting that only in Matthew’s account is Matthew himself referred to as “the tax collector.”  I believe this is included by Matthew as an expression of wonder that he, though a sinner, should be called by Jesus.  The most striking thing about this list of men is their ordinariness.  John MacArthur has written a book about these men titled simply, Twelve Ordinary Men, and they certainly were.  Fishermen, tax collectors, nobodies.  These are the kinds of people which Jesus calls to be missionaries.  In other words, people like you and me.  The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31,

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  (27)  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;  (28)  and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are,  (29)  that no flesh should glory in His presence.  (30)  But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption  (31)  that, as it is written, “HE WHO GLORIES, LET HIM GLORY IN THE LORD.”

There is a method behind the apparent madness of God choosing people like you and me.  It is in order that no human being would ever be able to stand in the presence of God and boast of their worthiness.  Instead all the glory goes to God and God alone!  We dare not miss this lesson from the calling of Jesus’ disciples and their commissioning as the first Christian missionaries.  If you are a believer, then you too have been commissioned by Christ in Matthew 28:19.  This mission is not yet complete.  The call is still extended.  We must heed the call.  We are either go-missionaries, co-missionaries, or no-missionaries.  To be a no-missionary is not an option for the child of God.

II.    The Mission Field, vv. 5-6.
One of the key differences in the mission of the first Christian missionaries and our mission today is the mission field.  Jesus sent His disciples specifically and exclusively to the nation of Israel, i.e., “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”   This is in keeping with God’s design for the gospel message to first be preached among the Jews.  This is encapsulated even in the ministry of Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, who said in Romans 1:16,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

This mission, however, will change.  Not that the Jews are to be neglected.  By no means!  But our commission is to take the message of the gospel to “all nations” (Matt. 28:19),  and “the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  There are hints about this shift even in chapter 10.  In fact, I believe there is a shift in between verses 15 and 16 from the disciples’ immediate mission to Israel and the churches’ future mission to the Gentiles.  For example, see Matthew 10:18, “You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.”

Our mission field today is the world.  We, as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, have the privilege and responsibility of taking the message of the gospel to the entire world.  That means we have to be actively sharing the gospel here.  We have to be willing to go there.  We have to be giving to support those who are willing to go there.  We seek to do this with our own outreach in our community and our giving to missions both North American and Internationally.  These offering envelopes are not charity, they are a means of obedience to the command of King Jesus.  We must be about this mission of taking the gospel to our mission field, just as the disciples had to be about their mission.

III.    The Mission, vv. 7-8.
There is a five-fold mission outlined by Jesus in verses 7-8.   Preach that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, Heal the Sick, Cleanse the Lepers, Raise the Dead, and Cast out Demons.  There is a continuity between the ministry of Jesus and His disciples.  These five things are exactly what Jesus Himself had been doing.  We see this continuity in the book of Acts where the works of the apostles are shown to be a continuation of the ministry of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The key component of the mission, however, is the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom.  The other four components of the mission are signs of the reality of the message.   These were a fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the coming of the kingdom.  When the kingdom came there would be healing of diseases.  Just as Jesus told the disciples of John in the very next chapter when he sent them to ask if Jesus was truly the Messiah,

Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see:  (5)  The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.

The message which Jesus commissions the disciples to carry is the message that the kingdom of God has come in His own person.  This is what John the Baptist preached (3:2), what Jesus Himself had preached (4:17), and it is the message that you and I continue to proclaim.  Jesus is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  His Kingdom is an eternal Kingdom.  Therefore, all must repent of their sins and rebellion against this King and trust in Him as their saving Substitute.  We have a message to proclaim:

2 Corinthians 5:18-21  Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation,  (19)  that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  (20)  Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.  (21)  For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Jesus makes clear in verses 11-15 that His messengers were to be received as if He were Himself speaking to them.  To reject their message was to reject the Messiah and to be judged accordingly.  It would be worse for those who reject the message of the disciples than it was for the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah.  To reject the message of Christ is to invite severe judgment.  Instead, embrace the message of Christ and Him crucified and escape the wrath to come.

Did Jesus Claim to be the Messiah? (Exposition of Matthew 9:18-34)

How can John Hagee not see what two blind man could? John Hagee has recently authored a book titled, In Defense of Israel. In an advertisement for the book on his television program, Hagee claims that his new book “will shake Christian theology.” “It scripturally proves,” says Hagee, “that the Jewish people, as a whole, did not reject Jesus as Messiah. It will also prove that Jesus did not come to earth to be the Messiah.”

Please allow me share a few quotations from the book:

  • “The Jews did not reject Jesus as Messiah” (132).
  • “If God intended for Jesus to be the Messiah of Israel, why didn’t he authorize Jesus to use supernatural signs to prove he was God’s Messiah” (137).
  • “The Jews were not rejecting Jesus as Messiah; it was Jesus who was refusing to be the Messiah to the Jews” (140).
  • “Jesus rejected to the last detail the role of Messiah in word or deed.”(145).

I would like to categorically declare that these statements are false. Jesus did claim to be Messiah in both word and deed! In this morning’s text Jesus demonstrates that He is indeed the Messiah by His ability to restore and even two blind men can see that!

While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live.” (19) So Jesus arose and followed him, and so did His disciples. (20) And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment. (21) For she said to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” (22) But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that hour. (23) When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, (24) He said to them, “Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.” And they ridiculed Him. (25) But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. (26) And the report of this went out into all that land. (27) When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” (28) And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” (29) Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith let it be to you.” (30) And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, saying, “See that no one knows it.” (31) But when they had departed, they spread the news about Him in all that country. (32) As they went out, behold, they brought to Him a man, mute and demon-possessed. (33) And when the demon was cast out, the mute spoke. And the multitudes marveled, saying, “It was never seen like this in Israel!” (34) But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons.”

In Matthew 9:18-34, the King’s ability to restore health, life, sight, and speech is demonstrated.

Matthew connects the events of 18-34 with what has preceded in 9:9-17. This was one eventful meal! Matthew, no doubt, remembers these events well. He is called by Jesus. He throws a party for his friends to meet Jesus. Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees about why He eats with tax collectors and sinners. The disciples of John show up and question Jesus about why His disciples do not fast. And now, just as He is finishing responding to John’s disciples about the radically new nature of the New Covenant, up runs a man named Jarius, a ruler of the synagogue with a request to raise His dead daughter. What a meal! Jesus gets up, along with His disciples, and follows the man to His house. Did they get to eat dessert? I don’t know. But Jesus said in John 4:34, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me.”

On the way, a woman who has been bleeding, probably from the womb, for 12 years sneaks up behind Jesus and touches the edge of His garment and is healed. Jesus then proceeds to the ruler’s house where He sees professional mourners and flute players at work. According to the Talmud, even the poorest of families were to provide at least two flute players and one wailing woman when there was a death. This was a middle eastern custom. Jesus tells them their services are no longer needed, because this is not a funeral but a nap. These mourners become mockers! They laugh at what they perceive as naivety in Jesus.

By saying that the girl is asleep He is identifying her current state as temporary, in the same way that believers who are dead are said to “sleep in Christ.” This is not a reference to “soul sleep” because the Bible clearly teaches that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Jesus touches the girl and she comes to life!

After leaving the scene of the resurrection, Jesus is followed by two blind men who cry out, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” After they affirm their belief in Jesus’ ability to restore their sight, Jesus heals them. As Jesus moves on, a mute and demon-possessed man is brought to Jesus. Jesus casts out the demon and restores the speech of this mute man. The response of the crowd is split. The multitudes are amazed, but the Pharisees ascribe what has happened to the devil.
That’s a pretty busy evening. It may be considered typical of how Jesus’ day went during His public ministry. John tells us that if all that Jesus had said and done were written, the worlds could not contain them (John 21:25). It’s easy to see why, if Jesus kept up this hectic schedule.

But why does Matthew record all of these miracles of restoration? He does so to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah!

According to Isaiah 35:5-6, the Messianic age would be characterized by such miracles.

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. (6) Then the lame shall leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb sing.

When John the Baptist’s disciples came and asked Jesus if He was “the Coming One”, Jesus responded in Matthew 11:2-6:

And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples (3) and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (4) Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: (5) The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. (6) And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”

In other words Jesus asks, “Am I the Messiah? Look at what I’m doing!” This is a resounding “Yes,” to the question which this sermon seeks to answer.

Use of the title “Christ”

What is the meaning of the term Christ? Christ is not Jesus’ last name. The Greek term Christos literally means “the annointed one”. The Greek word for the Hebrew Messiah. It is a title which refers to the coming Son of David, the Messiah.

This is one of the main emphasis of the Gospel of Matthew which begins with “the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David” (1:1). Then recounts the birth of the Christ (1:18). When the wise men want to find the young Jesus, Herod gathered together all the chief priests and scribes and asked where the Christ would be born (2:4). John the Baptist heard about the works of Christ and sent His disciples to see if He was truly Him (11:2-6). When Jesus asked the disciples who they believed Him to be, Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (16:16). This revelation, said Jesus, came from God, not man. During His trial, when the high priest asked Jesus under oath, if He was the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus responded, “It is as you said.” (26:63-64). In light of this evidence, how can anyone say that Jesus did not claim to be the Messiah?

Use of the title “Son of David”
This is also a Messianic title because it refers to the covenant made with David in 1 Chronicles 17. Matthew uses this title for Jesus in the introduction to his gospel. His genealogy is purposefully given to show that Jesus is a descendent of David and thus qualified for this title. But the first time Jesus is called by the title is in our text this morning (v. 27). And the title is on the lips of two blind men. As one commentator said, “It is interesting . . . that in Matthew such recognition comes primarily from blind people and Gentiles (viewed by many as spiritually blind).” (Craig Blomberg). These blind men see, what apparently John Hagee can not see, and what many in Jesus day did not see. The fact that this title is on the lips of these blind men is meant to highlight the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees. The truth is that Jesus did come as the Messiah. He declared Himself to be the Messiah in word and deed. But those who were spiritually blind did not see it then, and they do not see it now!

In Matthew 12:22-24, the

Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. (23) And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” (24) Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”

There are the same two responses here as in 9:33-34. Some acknowledge the uniqueness of Jesus, while others reject Him as demonic.

Jesus is the Messiah! You’ve seen the evidence. Will you acknowledge Him as Messiah or reject Him as demonic?

Fasting and the New Covenant (Exposition of Matthew 9:14-17)

I can think of no more appropriate topic for the Sunday after Thanksgiving message than fasting.  In God’s providence, this is where we are this morning.  God always knows exactly what we need, doesn’t He?

In this morning’s text, the disciples of John ask Jesus the question: “Why don’t your disciples fast?”  Jesus’ answer to this question provides important insights into the nature of His New Covenant ministry.

Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?”  15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.  16 “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse.  17 “Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”  Matthew 9:14-17

The Question, v. 14.
The question is asked by the disciples of John in the same context of the previous question from the Pharisees.  In verse 11, the Pharisees had asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Now the disciples of John ask Jesus, “Why do your disciples eat at all?”  These two questions represent two views of holiness.  One view said that one could not eat with sinners, the other that one should not eat at all.

It is important to note that the fasting referred to by John’s disciples was not one which was commanded by the law.  Only one fast was commanded in the Mosaic law, that on the Day of Atonement.  Instead these fasting was a tradition practiced by the Pharisees, and apparently adopted by the disciples of John, of fasting two days a week: Monday and Thursday.  This was a source of pride among the Pharisees as is seen in Luke 18:12 where the Pharisee boasts of fasting twice a week in his prayer in the Temple.  It is interesting that when the early church fasted, church history informs us that they also fasted twice a week, but on Wednesdays and Fridays, in order that their fasting not be confused with the fasting of the Pharisees.

Jesus’ Answer, vv. 15-17.
Jesus’ answer was threefold.  Jesus uses three different images to explain why His disciples do not fast like the disciples of John and the Pharisees.  In so doing He reveals something of the radically new nature of His Kingdom.

The first image which Jesus uses is one which the disciples of John would have been familiar with because it was John Himself who applied the term “Bridegroom” to Jesus in John 3:29.  If Jesus is the Bridegroom, then His disciples are the “friends of the bridegroom.”  It is not fitting, says Jesus, for the friends of the bridegroom to mourn while the bridegroom is present with them.”  In employing this image, Jesus is making a startling claim to deity that we might miss if we’re not careful.  In the Old Testament, Jehovah God had used this exact same language to describe His relationship with the nation of Israel.  For example in Hosea 2:19-23, God declares to Israel:

“I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me In righteousness and justice, In lovingkindness and mercy; 20  I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the LORD.” 21 “It shall come to pass in that day That I will answer,” says the LORD; “I will answer the heavens, And they shall answer the earth. 22  The earth shall answer With grain, With new wine, And with oil; They shall answer Jezreel. 23  Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; Then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’”

Now Jesus is using this language to declare that He is the Bridegroom who will call to Himself a bride, the true Israel, made up of both believing Jews and Gentiles.

The point is then, “How can my disciples fast when this long expected promise is now being fulfilled!?!?”  The reason that the Pharisees and disciples of John fasted was because they were longing for this day when God would again show His favor to Israel.  They were mourning waiting for the day when God would restore Israel from its rebellious present state.  Jesus is declaring that with His coming that day had now arrived!

But Jesus also says that there are days coming when His disciples will fast.  Those days are when their bridegroom is taken from them.  Some scholars understand this to refer to the three day period when Christ is taken from His disciples in death between the cross and resurrection.  But the early church apparently understood this to refer to the time after Christ ascended and before He comes again (Cf. Acts 13:3; 14:23; and 27:9).  This is the period in which we are now living.  This is a time for fasting, but not like the Pharisees and disciples of John.  Instead we are to fast as those who know that the Bridegroom has come and long for His coming again.  The Pharisees and disciples of John fasted in mourning because they didn’t believe that God’s promise had yet been fulfilled.  As New Covenant Believers, we fast because we do believe that God’s promise has been fulfilled and we are longing expectantly for those promises to be fully consummated at our Lord’s return!

Jesus now gives two more illustrations of the difference between the fasting of the Pharisees and His disciples by showing the radical difference between the Old and New Covenants.

In these two illustrations, Jesus goes to the heart of the question posed by the Pharisees and the disciples of John.  Their question about fasting assumed that Jesus’ teaching and ministry was only a slight alteration, or a patch upon the existing system of Judaism.  Jesus, however, informs them that fasting is different for His disciples precisely because with His coming into the world something completely new has come.  You cannot just pour the content of the New Covenant into the form of the Old Covenant.  Yes, there will be fasting, but it is a different kind of fasting.

  • Elaborate on the illustration of the new patch on old clothing in v. 16.
  • Elaborate on the illustration of the new wine in old wineskins in v. 17.

We could add a number of contemporary illustrations of this. The painting of an old building, remodeling, etc. The age of technology yields several good examples.  I.E., computer upgrades.

This is what the writer of Hebrews 8:13 means when he writes regarding the use of the adjective “new” to modify the word “covenant”:

In that He says, “A NEW COVENANT,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Jesus did not come to put a new coat of paint on an old building, but to build a new building.  You can’t force me and my disciples into the same old categories of the old system.

This has numerous implications for our New Covenant worship.  There are similarities but key differences in the worship of the New Covenant.  New Covenant Baptism is different from the baptism of Gentile Proselytes.  The New Covenant day of worship is different than the Old Covenant day of worship.

What are the applications for us today?  We fast . . . because we live between the two comings of Christ.  But we don’t fast like the Pharisees and disciples of John did in Jesus’ day.  Nor do we fast like modern day Jews, Muslims, Mormons, or any other false religion.  We fast because we believe that the King who is our Bridegroom has come to inaugurate His kingdom and we eagerly anticipate His coming again to consummate that same kingdom.  In other words we fast with the words of the apostle John from Revelation 22:20 in response to Jesus’ promise to return quickly on our lips: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

A Recipe for Thanksgiving (Exposition of Matthew 9:9-13)

This is the time of the year when ladies begin to exchange recipes for dishes for their Thanksgiving meal. Ladies’ magazines devote entire issues to the subject. In this morning’s text, there is an unfailing recipe for thanksgiving.

This week many will gather around dining room tables with their families to celebrate Thanksgiving. In this morning’s text Jesus is gathered around a table, not of His own family, but a table full of tax collectors and sinners. But Jesus’ presence at this table of tax collectors transforms it into a table of thanksgiving.

As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. (10) Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. (11) And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (12) When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. (13) But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE MERCY AND NOT SACRIFICE.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Matthew 9:9-13

The context of this story is the calling of the tax collector, Matthew, in verse 9. This is the Gospel of Matthew author’s own account of his calling by Jesus. Matthew was a tax collector. This was one of the worst professions imaginable in the eyes of the Jews. A tax collector was one who, though a Jew himself, collected taxes from his fellow Jews on behalf of the Romans. In addition, to charging the Roman’s tax, he would also charge an extra fee for himself, all under the authority of the Roman government. As you can imagine, he was not a popular man. For these reasons tax collectors were social outcasts who would not be considered “good company” for decent folk. They were ostracized by society.

But in verse 10 we see Jesus sitting at a table in a house with tax collectors and sinners. According to the parallel account in Luke 5:29, this meal event occurred in Matthew’s own house and the scene was a party which he has thrown apparently to introduce his friends to Jesus. Matthew’s first action after beginning to follow Jesus was to throw a party and invite all his friends to meet his Lord. This is a good example for us. When’s the last time you invited friends, family, neighbors, or co-workers over for a meal at your house in order to introduce them to Jesus? Have you ever taken anyone out for a meal, bought their lunch, in order to tell them about Jesus? We need to develop a Matthew ministry!

But not only do we see the crowd around the table, we also see the critics outside the house in verse 11. Nothing was done in secret in the ancient world. Ideas of privacy which we are accustomed to were not present in that day. Open windows and doors were the order of the day. Apparently word had gotten around that Jesus was in a tax collector’s house. A crowd of critics gathered outside and were shocked to see Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. One of them gets the attention of one of Jesus’ disciples and asks the question, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” These Pharisees would never expect such an action from one of their own esteemed Rabbis. It would have made them ceremonially unclean to associate with such sinners. But just as in His previous encounters with diseases, Jesus does not fear contamination. He cannot be contaminated by contact with sinners. Sinners can only be cleansed by contact with Him!

Here we see a clear contrast in the views of Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees see sinners as contaminated and worthy of condemnation. Jesus sees sinners as needy and as candidates for forgiveness. Which of these views best represents your view of sinners? I confess that many times I have the view of the Pharisees when I see the poor, the homeless, the alcoholic, the drug addict, the homosexual, the AIDS victim. We need to see these people like Jesus does, not like the Pharisees.

Jesus heard what the Pharisees had said to His disciples and replied in verse 12, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Jesus is identifying Himself as the Great Physician of the ultimate sickness: sin. In other words, Jesus is saying that if you consider these people to be broken, it is fitting that I be among those who are broken people, not among the perfect people. Jesus is not implying that the Pharisees are well. They are sinners just like the rest of humanity. The problem with the Pharisees is that they are sick and don’t know it. They are like those of whom Christ speaks of in Revelation 3:17 who say, “‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’- and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” This is the condition of much of the world today. They are sick and don’t know it. It’s bad to be sick, but it is worse to be sick and not know it! Because then the sickness will never be treated. People who don’t realize that they are sinners will never call out to a Savior. This is why we must be faithful to declare that the Bible teaches that all humans are sinners before a holy God. Only when they know this will they call out to God for deliverance.

Jesus goes on in verse 13 to confront the Pharisees with a Rabbinic formula: “Go and learn”. This verse shows that Jesus does not consider the Pharisees to be well, but in need themselves of understanding and salvation. Jesus tells the Pharisees to “go and learn” Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” As one commentator put it, “Jesus’ ministry to the ceremonially unacceptable is an act of mercy, and this pleases God more than the Pharisees’ fastidious attention to sacrificial offerings.” (Mounce, 84). These Pharisees were guilty of what Jesus pronounces a woe upon them for in Matthew 23:23-24.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. (24) Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

God values merciful acts over legalistic rigor. So many times we turn our nose up at people we know to be in sin. We say, “That’s not right!” And we are correct in our assessment. But we need to reach out a hand of help instead of pointing a finger of condemnation. I’m not talking about enabling people to continue in their sin, but rather reaching out to them with the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m talking about rescuing the perishing and caring for the dying because Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save! We want to see people saved as long as they look and smell just like us. But we need to be willing to reach the undesirables, the people which no other church is willing to reach.

Jesus’ last words in this context are a powerful description of His purpose in coming into the world. He first states His reason for coming in negative terms, then in positive. He did not come to call the righteous. This is directed at the Pharisees who consider themselves to be righteous and to have no need of a Savior. The problem is that if you consider yourself to be righteous, then you have shut yourself off from the benefits of the Messiah who came to call sinners to repentance. This purpose statement echoes the words of the angel to Joseph announcing the birth of Jesus in Matthew 1:21, “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus said in Matthew 20:28, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” This is Jesus’ own self-understanding of why He came into the world. As the apostle Paul stated his own understanding and experience of the coming of Christ into the world in 1 Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” When people come to understand themselves as sinners and Christ as the Savior of sinners then they are ready, then they have a recipe for true thanksgiving. John Newton said that he knew two things, “I am a great sinner and Jesus is a great Savior.” Knowledge of these two things will produce the appropriate response of thanksgiving.

Likewise, I believe that those tax collectors and sinners who had come to understand why Jesus had come were transformed from sinners to saints. This table of tax collectors and sinners was transformed into a table of thanksgiving.
This table scene reminds me of another table to which all believers are invited to come. Last week we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. This is also a table of sinners saved by God’s amazing grace. This table looks forward to another table, where Christ will drink again of the fruit of the vine in His coming kingdom. There once again will be a table with Jesus and tax collectors and sinners of all kinds. Sinners like you and me. That will be a table of thanksgiving!

What do we learn from this text?
1. God Values Merciful Acts over Legalistic Rigor.
2. Christ Receiveth Sinful Men.

Sinners Jesus will receive;
Sound this word of grace to all
Who the heavenly pathway leave,
All who linger, all who fall.

Sing it o’er and over again;
Christ receiveth sinful men;
Make the message clear and plain:
Christ receiveth sinful men.

Come, and He will give you rest;
Trust Him, for His Word is plain;
He will take the sinfulest;
Christ receiveth sinful men.

Now my heart condemns me not,
Pure before the law I stand;
He who cleansed me from all spot,
Satisfied its last demand.

Christ receiveth sinful men,
Even me with all my sin;
Purged from every spot and stain,
Heaven with Him I enter in.

This is a cause of thanksgiving! Are you looking for a good recipe for thanksgiving? Then, consider yourself as an undeserving sinner and consider the greatness of the mercy of the Savior. This is an unfailing recipe for thanksgiving!

Follow Me (Exposition of Matthew 9:9)

In yesterday’s Morning Worship we observed A Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church sponsored by the Voice of the Martyrs ministry. This sermon refers to a video which we watched at the beginning of the service showing the testimony of a young woman persecuted for her faith. For more information and to watch the video click here.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? We usually seem to interpret following Jesus in terms of moving to a particular location or taking a certain job. But Jesus is very clear about what it means to follow him. In this morning’s text we see the call issued to the author of this gospel, Matthew.

As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. Matthew 9:9

The Call of Matthew
Here we have the first mention of the author of the Gospel of Matthew. He recounts his call by Jesus in the third person. This was a common practice of the day. For example, John doesn’t refer to himself at all by name in his gospel.

In this account we see Matthew’s humility in identifying himself as a “tax collector”. This was the worse thing you could be in the eyes of the Jews. A tax collector was one who, though a Jew himself, collected taxes from his fellow Jews on behalf of the Romans. As you can imagine, he was not a popular man. We get an idea of the stigma of being a tax collector in that day in the next two verses (10-11). They were ostracized, identified with sinners, and Jesus’ eating with them was a cause of stumbling to the elite Jews. But Matthew tells us his background in order that we might understand the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who reaches out to the outcasts of society. No one who society looks down upon is too low for Jesus to reach out to them!

Matthew’s custom station was probably located on the edge of the Sea of Galilee where commercial ships would arrive and Matthew would collect the custom duties from them.

The calling of Matthew is also recorded in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27-28, but they both call the disciple “Levi”. It was common for first century Jews to have two or three names.  Here Matthew uses the name with which he becomes known for later, otherwise we would have the Gospel of Levi.

Notice that Matthew’s obedience to Jesus’ call was immediate. Luke adds the detail that Matthew “left all” to follow Jesus. Again we see Matthew’s humility in not stating his own personal cost in following Jesus.
In this text we are only given the curt command by Jesus, “Follow Me.” All of what this means is not fleshed out in this context. But the other uses of this phrase in the gospels makes it clear what all is implied by these words.

Following Jesus is Not Optional for the Christian
First, let me say that following Jesus is not optional for the Christian. Some teach and others apparently believe that it is possible to be a Christian and not be a follower of Jesus. In other words, they can profess Jesus as their Savior but not obey Him as their Lord. This idea is foreign to the New Testament. Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Who follows Jesus? Those sheep which are known by the Jesus and who hear His voice. The next verse says, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” The only ones who can claim the promise of eternal security are those who are following Jesus. This is not a promise for mere professors of Jesus, but for His followers. Following Jesus is not optional for Christ’s sheep.

Following Jesus is Costly
The call to follow Jesus is costly. One must be willing to forsake all to follow Jesus! We saw in Matthew 8:22 Jesus’ response to the man who pledged to follow Jesus, but with an exception. “But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’”

When Jesus called the two pairs of brothers: Peter and Andrew and James and John, they understood that they were to forsake all.

Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him. (21) Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, (22) and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. Matthew 4:19-22

This was also the experience of Matthew according to Luke 5:27-28 who records that when called by Jesus, Matthew “left all.”

Likewise Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler who came to Him asking what good thing he could do to inherit eternal life:

Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Matthew 19:21

But not only is it costly materially to follow Jesus, it can also cost you your life. This is what our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church around the world already know. It is costing them something to follow Jesus. They are shedding their blood for the privilege of following Jesus. According to the teaching of Jesus, this is to be expected.

Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 16:24,

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

What does it mean to take up one’s cross? It doesn’t mean to wear a golden cross on a necklace or as a lapel pin. It means to take up an instrument of death and carry it with you to the place of execution. As the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer commented, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer was killed for his attempts to resist the Nazism of his day. Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart!

Are you a follower of Jesus? Are you willing to follow Jesus now that you know what it means? There are many professing Christians who have been sold a false bill of goods. Come to Jesus, the preachers say, and everything will be hunky-doory. You’ll get everything that you get when you play country music backwards: your wife back, your truck back, and your dog back. That’s not what Jesus is offering. Instead Jesus is offering hardship and death. Jesus is calling for absolute submission to His kingly authority, and nothing less.

We have trouble understanding this in America. But our brothers and sisters around the world who are being persecuted have no problem at all understanding the words of Jesus.

We need to be prepared for this type of persecution when it comes. I said when, not if, it comes. Persecution is coming. Maybe not in my lifetime, but soon. And if we keep preaching the same old cotton candy gospel, our children and grandchildren are not going to be prepared to stand in the day of trouble. I want our children and grandchildren to stand firm in the hour of persecution like we saw our sister today.

We need to pray for those who are being persecuted. Hebrews 13:3,

Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also.