Matthew

The King’s Authority over Nature and Demons (Exposition of Matthew 8:23-34)

In this morning’s text Jesus confronts two great fears of the ancient Jews: the storms of the sea and the demonic.

Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him.  (24)  And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep.  (25)  Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”  (26)  But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.  (27)  So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”  (28)  When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way.  (29)  And suddenly they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?”  (30)  Now a good way off from them there was a herd of many swine feeding.  (31)  So the demons begged Him, saying, “If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine.”  (32)  And He said to them, “Go.” So when they had come out, they went into the herd of swine. And suddenly the whole herd of swine ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and perished in the water.  (33)  Then those who kept them fled; and they went away into the city and told everything, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men.  (34)  And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region.

I.    The King’s Authority over Nature, vv. 23-27.
In verses 18-22 we read of two encounters with potential disciples as Jesus made His way to the boat. In verse 23 He arrives at the boat and enters it along with His disciples (Mark 4:36 tells us that other boats were with them). The boat would have been a small fishing boat, not a ship, yet large enough to carry approx. 12 people. In other words, this boat was not an ocean liner. Jesus and His disciples enter this boat for a trip across the Sea of Galilee.  The Sea of Galilee was actually a large lake 8 miles wide and 13 miles long from North to South. It is located 680′ below sea level. Bible commentator Robert Mounce says that, “The high hills that surround it are cut with deep ravines that act like great funnels drawing violent winds from the heights down on to the lake without warning.” (78). This is exactly what happened on this occasion as the Bible describes “a great tempest” which suddenly arose on the sea. The Greek word is the word for earthquake, seismos, indicating the violent nature of this earth shaking storm. This storm shook the world of those on the boat that day. It was so bad the text says “the boat was covered with the waves.” This language has the picture of a boat surrounded by waves which are higher than the boat. This was a serious storm!

I can imagine the scene in the boat as everyone is panicking and doing whatever it is that sailors do when they get in the midst of a storm.  They instinctively begin to look around for Jesus only to find him sound asleep in the midst of this storm.  This speaks volumes about the level of human exhaustion that Jesus was experiencing at this point.  Have you ever been so exhausted that you could sleep through anything?  You wake up in the morning and there are trees and pieces of houses scattered throughout your community and you think, “There must have been a storm last night.”  Think about Jesus’ hectic schedule of teaching, traveling, and healing.  Jesus is fully human and His human body was fully exhausted.  Jesus was so much human that He needed sleep, but He was so much God that He could wake up, wipe the sleep from His eyes, and rebuke the storm and it would obey Him!

So the disciples awake Jesus saying, “Lord, save us!  We are perishing!”  But before Jesus rebukes the sea and wind, He first rebukes the lack of faith of His disciples.  He calls them “Cowards!” when He asks “Why are you fearful?”  Then He calls them “Little-faiths” oligopistis.  It’s important to note as Matthew Henry has, that Jesus “does not chide them for disturbing Him with their prayers, but for disturbing themselves with their lack of faith.”  Jesus wasn’t upset to be awakened, He was disappointed in their lack of confidence in the protection and providence of God.  This was not a discouragement to prayer, but to unbelief.

Then Jesus arose and speaks to the wind and sea as if to living beings.  He rebuked the winds and the sea.  He essentially says, “Sit down and shut up!” Here Jesus is asserting His Kingly and Divine authority!  Can you imagine standing and shouting into a storm, “Stop it!”?  You would be put in the looney bin.  But when Jesus rebuked the storm, it immediately stopped and “there was a great calm.”  What a contrast this must have been.  One moment the wind was howling, lightning was flashing, thunder was crashing, the rain was pounding.  Then Jesus speaks.  And everything stops immediately.  One commentator said that the image is of the sea becoming  as a “glassy-flat surface and not a breath of wind” (Nolland, NIGTC, 372).

This is the power and authority of Jesus Christ.  He has authority over disease, distance, and disciples, but here He is shown to have authority over the deep!  He is the ruler of the winds and waves.  There is nothing outside of His authority.

This event causes the disciples to be amazed and ask, “Who is this man, that even the winds and sea obey him?”  The answer of the Old Testament is that only the LORD God can calm the winds and waves.  We see this in Psalm 107:23-32 and in Psalm 89:8-9,

O LORD God of hosts, Who is mighty like You, O LORD?  Your faithfulness also surrounds You.  9 You rule the raging of the sea; When its waves rise, You still them.

Only Jehovah God rules the raging sea!  Only He can still the storm. This miracle of calming the storm is yet another proof that Jesus is no mere man.  He is the Son of the living God.  What the disciples only raise as a question, is answered by demons two verses later.  This brings us to the next incident recorded by Matthew . . .

II.    The King’s Authority over Demons, vv. 28-34.
In these verses Jesus demonstrates His authority over demons.  He is not only Sovereign over all disease, distance, disciples, and the deep.  He is also Sovereign over all demonic forces.  There are at least two kinds of people who have trouble with this story.  The anti-supernaturalists and the animal rights activists.  The anti-supernaturalists don’t believe in the reality of demons.  As a certain commentator named Filson stated it, “Obviously the story uses patterns of thought not satisfactory to modern men, who would call these demoniacs mentally deranged.”  In other words, men and women living in a modern age don’t believe in demons and certainly not demon-possession.  Instead we call mental illness what the uncivilized peoples of the past called demon-possession.
I don’t deny that there are certainly diseases that can be classified as mental illness and that people in the past may have characterized all mental illness wrongly as demon possession.  But there was and is such a thing as demon possession.  The devil is real, demons are real.  If you really believed this you wouldn’t play around with witchcraft and the occult.  You wouldn’t take so lightly the celebration of “Halloween” as a glorification of witches and the occult.  Demonic forces are not something to be trivialized or taken lightly.   And its all around us in our culture, television shows and movies which glamorize witchcraft and wizardry.  These are matters which Christians should not take lightly, since these are the very Demonic powers which brought sin and death into this world and which Jesus Christ came into the world to destroy!   We have a problem when a preacher seems over the top who is opposed to the devil and demons.  Christians ought to be able to agree that the devil is bad!  I know that we don’t like to be negative, but we should be able to come to a consensus on this point!

As Jesus and His disciples disembark from the boat, they are met by two demon-possessed men.  In Mark and Luke’s account of this event only one demon-possessed man is mentioned.  But this is no contradiction because as I heard Hollie Miller say a couple of weeks ago, “If there was two, there had to be one.”  But seriously, we often speak of seeing one person of prominence when in fact we saw more than one person.  We say, “I saw the President today.” when in reality we saw the President, the Secret Service and a number of other dignitaries.  But we speak of seeing one.  Obviously, one of the demon-possessed men was more prominent than the other, the leader of the two.  These men were dangerously violent men.  Dangerous to themselves and society.  They lived among the tombs.  According to Mark and Luke, these men could not be bound, even with chains.  These demon-possessed came answer the question posed by the disciples on the boat.  They recognized Jesus and rightly address Him as the “Son of God.”  What the disciples wondered on the sea, these demons answer.  “Who is this?”  It is the “Son of God.” This is a powerful confession.  James tells us that the demons believe and tremble (James 2:19).  These demons are certainly trembling at the presence of the King.  They not only know who Jesus is, but they also know why He came.  1 John 3:8 says, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.”  But this faith is insufficient for salvation.  More than knowledge of Jesus is required.  Complete trust in who He is and what He has done is required.  The demons ask the question, “Have you come to torment us before the time?”  They know that a day of judgment is coming for them.  But they thought they had more time.  They were expecting the judgement on the last day when the Son establishes His eternal Kingdom.  They now learn that with the coming of the Son of God into this world, the Kingdom has already come.  Jesus said in Matthew 12:28,”If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.”  He did and it had!  There was and is still a future day of judgment when the devil and all the demons will be cast into the Lake of Fire, but for these demons, judgment day had now arrived!

Jesus sends these demons out of these two men and into an entire herd of pigs.  He commanded the demons, “Go!” and they went.  This demonstrates Jesus’ authority over demons.  That with a single word He can dismiss them to judgment.  The demons enter the swine and we see their destructive power.  This is a powerful illustration of the destructive purposes of the devil and the demonic.  This should be another important caution against taking the demonic too lightly.  Demons will attempt to destroy you just as they destroyed these pigs.

These verses are what causes the animal rights activists to be upset.  They read this passage and all they can say is, “Poor piggies!”  They are more concerned about pigs than people.

In verse 33, the pig herders go and tell everyone in the town what happened and “the whole city came out to meet Jesus.”  Surely they are going to invite Him to set up a tent and hold a week long crusade!  No, they beg Him to leave!  These people were merely upset that they had lost money in the destruction of the pigs.  As D. A. Carson said, “They preferred pigs to persons, swine to the Savior.”

Cf.  Acts 16, demon-possessed girl and Acts 19, Demetrius the silversmith.

The Authority of the King: Jesus and Discipleship (Exposition of Matthew 8:18-22)

The September 2005 issue of Rev magazine has an article from Tim Stevens and Tony Morgan of Granger Community Church in Granger, Ind. adapted from their book Simply Strategic Growth. The article includes a number of ideas for drawing crowds to your church, including:

  • Address specific needs. Like marriages, raising families, money, fulfillment, etc.
  • Entertain people.
  • Make children a priority. Granger is well known for their incredible children’s ministry. Sponge Bob would be jealous.
  • Raise the energy level of worship. Turn up the volume.
  • Give people hope. Grace, not condemnation. People should leave challenged, but encouraged.
  • Offer multiple services regardless of how full your church is.

    Source

We live in a day when everything is being used to draw crowds to churches.  A quick internet search this week found churches using music, car shows, dramas, and even tigers to attract a crowd.

How did Jesus respond to the crowds?  What did Jesus do when a crowd gathered?

In this morning’s text, Jesus’ healing of the multitudes attracted large crowds.  What did Jesus do?  He left!  Then as He is leaving two potential converts chase him down and make professions of commitment to Him.  His responses to them seem to be attempts to scare them away.

And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side.  (19)  Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.”  (20)  And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  (21)  Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  (22)  But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”  Matthew 8:18-22

What did Jesus do when He “saw great multitudes about Him”?  He said, “Let’s get out of here!”  Apparently as Jesus made His way to a boat to sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, He was approached by two potential disciples.  Both of these men are confronted with a challenge from the King.  The first in regard to secure accommodations, the second in regard to social obligations.

I.    Jesus’ Authority Challenges Secure Accommodations, vv. 19-20.
The first potential convert was a scribe who comes to Jesus and calls him, “Teacher”. He calls Jesus by a title of respect and then makes a remarkable promise. This man comes up to Jesus singing, “Where He leads me I will follow.”

What do you expect Jesus to say?  “Oh boy!  Here’s a great prospect, let me make sure not to say anything to discourage him.”  No, instead Jesus asserts His kingly authority by challenging this potential follower by rejecting this man’s basic need for secure accommodations.

This man comes calling Jesus, “Teacher.” But as Bible commentator William Barclay told of someone who was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, “So and so tells me that he was one of your students.” The teacher answered devastatingly, “He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.” There is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. And so it apparently was with this man who had not yet counted the cost which Jesus will warn him of in verse 20.

This man makes a remarkable promise: “I will follow you wherever You go.”  That is a wonderful thing to say, it’s a wonderful thing to sing, but Jesus knows if it is a lie.  I wonder how many liars we have in church every Sunday singing with enthusiasm, “Where He leads me I will follow!”?

Jesus challenges this man’s enthusiasm with these words, “Foxes have hole and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  With these words Jesus provides further instruction to this one who has attended his lectures, but was not yet a student.

First, He lets him know that He is more than a mere teacher.  He is none other than the Messianic King, God in human flesh.  How does Jesus communicate this?  By use of the title “Son of Man.”  At first glance this title seems to emphasize the humanity of Jesus, not so.  Instead this title, which is Jesus’ favorite term of self-designation used over 80 times in the New Testament and 28/29 times in the Gospel of Matthew, is a strong claim to deity.  It is a reference to what Daniel prophesied in Daniel 7:13-14,

I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him.  14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.

In other words, when Jesus uses the title “Son of Man”, He is claiming to be the mighty king seen by Daniel whose rule and reign will never end!  Jesus is more than a teacher!

C. S. Lewis’ famous quote is appropriate here:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. . . .

You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Mere Christianity (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1960). pp. 40-41.

So after confronting this man’s understanding of who He is, Jesus then confronts this man’s need of secure accommodations.  “Foxes have holes,” He says, “and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  In other words, if you are going to follow me wherever I go, you’re going to lose the guarantee of secure accommodations.  The call to discipleship is a call to step into insecurity from a human perspective.

The great Italian military leader, patriot and soldier, Garibaldi had an incredibly committed volunteer army. It is said that he would appeal for recruits in these terms: “I offer neither pay, nor quarters, nor provisions; I offer hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles and death. Let him who loves his country with his heart and not with his lips only, follow me!”
Similarly to be a solder in the army of the Lord, one must count the cost.  It’s not going to be easy.  Jesus places demands upon His followers!

By the way, this is not about a second level of Christianity, it’s real Christianity.

The following quote from D. A. Carson says it all:

Little has done more to harm the witness of the Christian church than the practice of filling its ranks with every volunteer who is willing to make a little profession, talk fluently of experience, but display little of perseverance.

This is what our churches and communities are full of, but they are not true disciples of Jesus Christ!

We have several attenders on Sunday morning, but how many disciples are there?  We have a lot of members on the church roll, but how many disciples are there?

II.    Jesus’ Authority Challenges Social Obligations, vv. 21-22.
This man is called “another disciple” of Jesus.  But as the remainder of verse 21 makes clear, he was not yet a true disciple.  The New Testament uses the term disciple in a variety of ways.  One way is to refer to the Twelve.  Another is to refer to a group of committed followers of Jesus.  The third way is to refer to those who are merely in the crowd.  Like many of you hear today who enjoy hearing Jesus teach occasionally and you like the good stuff that He does for you, but you have not committed your life to Him.  You are what the Puritans described as “The Almost Christian,” like King Agrippa in Acts 26.
The second man who comes to Jesus has been listening in and knows better than to call Jesus, “Teacher.”  Instead, he rightly calls Him “Lord.”  He acknowledges Jesus Lordship verbally, but with a reservation: “First, let me go and bury my father.”  But Jesus is either Lord of all, or not Lord at all!  He will allow no exceptions.  Jesus said elsewhere, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21).

It is this attitude that caused Jesus to ask on one occasion, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).

This man calls Jesus Lord, but has not submitted to His Lordship.  What does it mean when this man attempts to make a deal with Jesus?   He says, “let me first go and bury my father.”  This could mean a variety of things.

  • To make burial arrangements for an already dead, or soon dying father.
  • To stay for a customary 7 days of mourning after a father’s death.
  • To stay for a second period of mourning that lasts for one year and culminates with the reburial of the father’s bones in a burial box.
  • To stay indefinitely and wait for a presently healthy, living father to die.

See Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (NIGTC), 367.

But Jesus doesn’t play, “Let’s Make a Deal”.  He probably wouldn’t even watch it.  Instead, He says in words that seem harsh to our ears, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

To care for one’s parents in their old age and prepare for their proper burial was considered to be an important part of how one obeyed God’s command to honor one’s father and mother.  But Jesus is here asserting His Divine and Kingly right to be honored above father and mother!  The Christian’s obligations to Jesus go beyond his or her obligations to family, friends, jobs, or government.

Conclusion:
Let me ask you a question: When circumstances cause an extra demand to be made on your time that requires you to sacrifice one area of your life to meet that need, what do you sacrifice?

  • Do you sacrifice family obligations?
  • Do you sacrifice job obligations?
  • Do you sacrifice recreation time?
  • Or, do you sacrifice Christian responsibilities?

How does this account end?  We don’t know.  We don’t know if these two men get on the boat with Jesus or go away sorrowful like the rich young ruler of Luke 18.  We just don’t know.  These men could have surrendered to Jesus’ Lordship completely by forsaking both secure accommodations and social obligations, but we’ll never know in this life.  But you can know how your own story goes.  Will you unconditionally surrender to Christ’s kingly authority today?

Why Jesus Healed the Sick and Cast Out Demons (Exposition of Matthew 8:14-17)

They’re making a new Indiana Jones movie.  Harrison Ford is appearing for the fourth time as the professor/archaeologist/adventurer in a release scheduled for May 22, 2008.  Archeology has long been an interest of mine, perhaps because of the popularization of the science by the Indiana Jones films.

Although when the science of archeology first emerged in the nineteenth century it was thought that it would soon disprove many assertions of the Bible, in reality many of the historical facts of the Bible have been confirmed scientifically through archeology.  One example of this comes from the city of Capernaeum where most scholars agree that the home of Simon Peter has been uncovered.

During the fourth and fifth centuries it was common for churches to be built over “holy places.”  Underneath a church built during that time period was found a house that dated back to around 100 B.C.  The excavators could tell that the house was remodeled some time in the late first century A.D..    This remodeling probably indicates that it was converted from a private residence to a public meeting house.  134 fragments of plaster from the second century had writings with the name of Peter and references to Jesus on them.  The conclusion by archaeologists is that this was the home of Peter and was later converted into a church.  If this is the case, it is the home where the miracle of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law occurred.  This is the miracle to which we now turn found in Matthew 8:14-17.

Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever.  (15)  So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them.  (16)  When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick,  (17)  that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “HE HIMSELF TOOK OUR INFIRMITIES AND BORE OUR SICKNESSES.”

I.    The Healing of Peter’s Mother-in-Law, vv. 14-15.
The healing of Peter’s wife’s mother is the third in a series of three strung together by Matthew which shows Jesus concern for the outcasts of society.  In vv. 1-4, Jesus heals a leper.  In vv. 5-13, Jesus heals a Gentile, the servant of the centurion.  Here in vv. 14-15, Jesus heals a woman.

It’s interesting to note that in these three healings: the first was in answer to one’s own petition, the second was of another, and the third was not in response to any recorded petition.

Jesus “touched her hand” (v. 15).  In so doing, he broke three social taboos.  First, he was touching a woman.  Second, he was healing on the Sabbath (which we know from comparing the account in Mark 1:21-35).  Third, he was touching someone with a fever which was forbidden by the rabbis of the day.  But as in the case of the healing of the leper, in the words of D. A. Carson, Jesus’ “touch did not defile the healer, but healed the defiled” (Matthew, 204).

This fever was a serious one.  In ancient days, fevers were not understood as a symptom, but as a disease in and of itself.  Thus, Matthew simply calls it a fever.  However, it was probably a fever caused by malaria, which was common in the region at the time.  The language in the Greek for “lying sick with a fever” is much more graphic.  It is a form of ballo meaning “I throw.”  Peter’s mother-in-law was literally “thrown down” with a fever.  This fever had completely incapacitated her.

Then Jesus touched her hand . . . “and the fever left her.”  The disease in her body causing the fever immediately fled.  So complete was her healing that she immediately “arose and served them.”  This signifies the completeness of her healing.  There were no lingering effects.  There was none of the physical weakness normally associated with recovering from a fever.  Instead there was strength to serve.

II.    The Healing of the Many, v. 16
At sunset the crowds began to bring the demon-possessed to Jesus.  They had waited until the Jewish Sabbath day had ended at 6 pm before they brought  the people to Jesus (see Mark 1:21-35).  They brought the “demon-possessed.”  Jewish intertestamental writings linked illness with demons.  The crowd may have thought all which they brought to be possessed by demons.  But Jesus seems to have made a distinction by casting out demons of some and healing others who are merely sick.

He “cast out the spirits with a word.”  An example of this is seen in the story which ends this chapter.  Jesus caused the demons possessing the two men  to leave them and enter a herd of swine with the simple command: “Go!” (8:32).

III.    The Purpose of the Healings and Exorcisms, v. 17.
But what was the purpose of these healings and exorcisms?  In one sense we could say that Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons because of His compassion.  Matthew 14:14 says, “And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.”  That is certainly one reason why Jesus healed.  But the main motivation in Scripture given for why Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, or performed any kind of miracle was to reveal something about who He was.  In the Gospel of John the miracles are signs which point to the deity of Jesus.  In Matthew 9 Jesus heals a paralytic to show that He has the divine power to forgive sins.  And here in Matthew 8:17 we are told that Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons in order to fulfill Isaiah 53:4.  That is the text which is quoted here.  Matthew clearly sees the healings and exorcisms as Messianic miracles, miracles which revealed Jesus to be the promised Messiah of the Old Testament.

Whenever the New Testament writers wanted to reference a particular section of the Old Testament, they didn’t have the luxury of being able to cite chapter and verse (a relatively modern convention).  Instead they would cite a verse, with the understanding that the surrounding context be understood to also be in the mind of the author.  That’s why it is important when we see an Old Testament text cited in the New Testament that we go back and see that verse in its original context.
That is true in this case, because Matthew does not only want us to see Jesus as the Mighty Messiah, but also as the Suffering Servant.  Chapter 53 of Isaiah is one of the great prophetic descriptions of the sufferings and death of Christ upon Calvary.  Matthew uses Isaiah 53:4 not only to reveal the power of the Messiah over disease and demons, but also to reveal the Suffering Servant as a Sacrificial Substitute.

This is the way Isaiah 53 is used by Peter in 1 Peter 2:21-25,

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:  (22)  “WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH”;  (23)  who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;  (24)  who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.  (25)  For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Isaiah 53 points forward to the death of Jesus who “bore our sins in His own body on the tree.”  Matthew himself understands it this way which is seen by at least three allusions to Isaiah 53 in his description of the Passion of Christ (Is. 53:7 in Matt. 27:12; Is. 53:9 in Matt. 27:57; and Is. 53:10-12 in Matt. 20:28).

By quoting Isaiah 53:4, Matthew is showing that Jesus is announcing to the principalities and powers of this world that the King has come to make things right.  This little house of a fisherman had become a battlefield in the war between the Seed of the Woman and the Seed of the Serpent.

The Scriptural storyline is clear:

  • Sickness and death were not a part of the original creation
  • Sickness and death will not be a part of the new creation.
  • Sickness and death are a result of sin which Satan brought into the world.
  • Jesus came to defeat Satan and thus break His power.

Therefore these healings are the shots over the bow of Satan’s ship announcing that the war is almost over.  These miracles point forward to Jesus’ death on the cross where sin, sickness, demons, and death will be finally defeated.  Richard Halverson explains why Jesus did not just stay on earth healing diseases, etc.:

Why did Jesus Christ not remain alive and eliminate, generation by generation, all the evils which harass humanity? Simply because He was the Great Physician, and in the finest tradition of medical science, He was unwilling to remain preoccupied with the symptoms when He could destroy the disease. Jesus Christ was unwilling to settle for anything less than elimination of the cause of all evil in history.  Christianity Today, Vol. 38, no. 2.

Jesus dealt with the root cause of sin, suffering and death when He defeated Satan on the cross!  As 1 John 3:8 says, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.”  This reality is what the healing miracles and exorcisms were pointing forward to.

“The King’s Authority Over Disease: Jesus and a Centurion (Exposition of Matthew 8:5-13)

In Matthew 4:23 the ministry of Jesus is summarized as follows:

And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.

In chapters 5-7 we see Jesus “preaching the gospel of the kingdom”. In chapters 8-9 we see Jesus “healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people”.

In chapters 5-7 we find the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus asserts His Kingly authority by issuing the commands of His kingdom. In chapters 8-9, Jesus demonstrates His Kingly authority by healing the sick, casting out demons, and calming the sea.

In 8:1-17 Matthew records three miracles which Jesus performed on three different social outcasts of His day: a leper, a Gentile and a woman. Last week we looked at how Jesus demonstrated His authority over disease in healing a leper, today we will consider Jesus’ authority over disease in the healing of the Centurion’s servant in Matthew 8:5-13.

Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, 6 saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” 7 And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! 11 And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour. Matthew 8:5-13

I.  The Setting, v. 5.
Let me begin by looking at something of the setting, specifically the place and the man.

Jesus has now returned to His home base of Capernaum in the northern province of Galilee. We normally associate Jesus with Bethlehem, Nazareth, and even Jerusalem, but Matthew tells us in 4:13 that Jesus left Nazareth and went to dwell in Capernaum.

And as Jesus returned to His home base of Capernaum, a man comes to meet Him. This man is called a centurion. In Jesus’ day, Capernaum was a garrison town which means that troops were stationed there. Herod Antipas had an auxiliary army made up of non-Jews/Gentiles from outside of Palestine.

This man was a centurion which means that he was a captain over 100 men. He was also under another’s authority. He was fairly low in the chain of command, but over 100 men.

Now that we’ve seen something of the setting, let us now turn to the dialogue that takes place between Jesus and this Gentile soldier.

II. The Dialogue, vv. 6-9.
This centurion comes to Jesus with a humble request. He recognizes Jesus’ lordship by calling Him “Lord.” His request is not directly for himself, but for the health of his servant who lies paralyzed, and if you compare Luke’s account of this event, at the point of death (Luke 7:2). After the centurion presents the problem Jesus responds with “I will come and heal him.” In the Greek, the personal pronoun for “I” is not necessary because it is understood in the verb itself. But here the pronoun ego is present which places an emphasis on “I”. This has caused some scholars to suggest that the statement of verse 7 could be best understood as a question: “Shall I come and heal him?” The centurion’s response once again expresses his humility. He is aware of his unworthiness as a Gentile to lay claims upon this Jewish Messiah: “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.” Now comes his confession of faith: “But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.” This centurion knows something about Jesus. He knows that he has the ability to speak things into existence. He believes that Jesus has the authority of the God who spoke this world into existence! Now the centurion explains the basis of his confidence in the authority of the words of Jesus. He appeals to his own experience as a soldier.

All authority in the army was a derived authority. In the Roman army, only the emperor had authority which was then delegated to his subordinates. Thus, whenever the centurion spoke, he spoke with the emperor’s authority. A soldier who disobeyed the centurion would actually be seen as defying the authority of the emperor himself.

When the centurion sees Jesus, he sees one who is both submissive to the authority of God His Father and who exercises the authority of God the Father. Isn’t this exactly what Jesus Himself said in John 5:19-30,

Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. 20 For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 23 that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. 24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. 25 Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, 27 and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth— those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. 30 I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.

This Gentile soldier understood who Jesus was, didn’t he? It’s as if he’s saying, “If on the human level I can say, “Go,” “Come,” or “Do” and it happens, how much more will your words which are the very words of God accomplish whatever you command?!?!”

III. The Teaching, vv. 10-12.
This is a teachable moment! When Jesus hears this confession of faith by the centurion, He turns in amazement to the crowd who is following Him (see v. 1) and begins to instruct them regarding the make-up of the coming kingdom. Jesus is amazed at the faith of the centurion! The level of faith expressed by the centurion was unheard of among the Jews of Israel. Jesus begins with “assuredly,” “verily,” or “truly” which translates the Greek word amen. But Jesus sees this episode as a preview of the future kingdom and He uses this incident to point to that reality.

The reality is that just as this Gentile centurion has come to the right one and expressed faith in the right one, so too will many others come to faith in Jesus Christ in a saving way. The centurion comes to Jesus to receive healing, but these will come to receive salvation. Many Gentiles will come from the east and the west and sit down with faithful Jews like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. This teaching by Jesus is a foreshadow of the scene in heaven described in Revelation 5:9-10 where the redeemed are singing a new song:

You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10 And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.

But Jesus goes on to say that many who think they are ok will be cast out into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is a reference to the judgment of hell. Interestingly, Jesus is not here using the doctrine of hell as a doctrine to frighten blatant unbelievers, but to warn those who think they are true believers.

The important thing to note here is that the basis of who will be in the kingdom of heaven is faith and faith alone. Not national descent or ethnicity, but faith in the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.

IV. The Healing, v. 13.
After ending the monologue, Jesus turns back to the centurion and in what seems like an afterthought (though we know it is not) he says to the centurion, “Are you still here? Off you go now. Your servant is healed!”

In this text Jesus has demonstrated His authority both over disease and distance! The centurion teaches us an important lesson about Jesus’ authority. Jesus teaches an important lesson about the ethnic makeup of His kingdom and the basis of entry into that kingdom.

The King’s Authority Over Disease: Jesus and a Leper (Exposition of Matthew 8:1-4)

In Matthew 4:23 the ministry of Jesus is summarized as follows:

And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.

In chapters 5-7 we see Jesus “preaching the gospel of the kingdom”.  In chapters 8-9 we see Jesus “healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people”.

In chapters 5-7 we find the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus asserts His Kingly authority by issuing the commands of His kingdom.  In chapters 8-9, Jesus demonstrates His Kingly authority by healing the sick, casting out demons, and calming the sea.

In 8:1-17 Matthew records three miracles which Jesus performed on three different social outcasts of His day: a leper, a Gentile and a woman.  The first of these is found in Matthew 8:1-4.

When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him.  (2)  And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”  (3)  Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.  (4)  And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”  Matthew 8:1-4

I.    An Incurable Disease, v. 2a.
Leprosy is an infectious disease that is characterized by disfiguring skin sores, nerve damage, and progressive debilitation.  In Biblical times the term could be used to refer not only to what is know today as “Hansen’s Disease”, but also to any kind of infectious skin condition.  These skin infections caused a person to be ceremonially unclean and to be cast out from among the dwelling places of the people.

Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’  46 “He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. Leviticus 13:45-46 

Among the Jews leprosy was considered to be a curse from God and incurable apart from divine intervention.  To illustrate this consider the king of Israel’s words in 2 Kings 5:7 after he received a letter from the king of Syria requesting help for his servant Naaman who had contracted leprosy.  Jehoram responded, “Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends a man to me to heal him of his leprosy?”

Because leprosy was both hideous and incurable, as well as caused separation between an individual and the rest of society, including the worship of God, leprosy has been considered by many to be the perfect metaphor for man’s sinful condition.

As Donald Hagner writes:

There is a sense in which leprosy is an archetypal fruit of the original fall of humanity. It leaves its victims in a most pitiable state: ostracized, helpless, hopeless, despairing.  The cursed leper, like fallen humanity, has no options until he encounters the messianic king who will make all things new. . . . As Jesus reached out to the leper, God in Jesus has reached out to all victims of sin.  (Matthew 1-13, p. 200)

In other words, leprosy like all human disease and death is a result of the fall, but this disease depicts the state of fallen human beings apart from Christ.   Isaiah 64:6 says, “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.”  I believe that Isaiah is saying that we are all like lepers and all our righteous deeds amount to are the rags with which a leper would wrap his putrefying and oozing sores.

II.    A Humble Request, v. 2b.
This leper came humbly before the Lord.  He knew that Jesus was Lord and that he was a leper.  He shows this both by his posture and his petition.

First, look at his posture.  Notice how this leper came:  he came and fell prostrate face down at the feet of Jesus.  That’s what the Greek word prosekunei translated “worshiped” in the KJV and NKJV means.  This was the posture of worship and of humility before a superior.

Second, consider his petition.  Notice what he says, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”  He doesn’t march up to Jesus and begin to make demands.  This man recognizes that he is at the mercy of a sovereign Lord.  He cries out from the dust of the ground at the feet of Jesus.  In this petition he recognizes both the King’s sovereign right to bestow mercy on whomever He wills to give mercy and the ability of the King to do whatever He wills.  This is a might confession of faith on the part of the leper.

This is the way that a sinner must come to Jesus.  Not flippantly, but humbly.  Acknowledging that there is no other source of salvation and that his/her hope rests in the mercy of Christ alone.

III.    A Compassionate Response, v. 3a.
Jesus’ response must have thrilled the soul of this unnamed social outcast lying at the feet of Jesus.  He said, “I am willing; be cleansed.”  Then He reached down and touched him!  This was an unheard of act.  Doesn’t Jesus know that He could catch the disease?  How long has it been since this man had been touched by another human hand?  But Jesus doesn’t fear being contaminated because whatever He touches becomes whole.  When everyone else touches a leper they get leprosy, but when Jesus touches a leper the leper becomes healed!

But this picture of Jesus touching the leper shows us something about the mercy of our Lord.  He could have healed without touching.  We can tell that by looking at the very next healing recorded in Matthew 8:5-13.  He touched this man on purpose to communicate His love for lepers and sinners!  It is this great truth that moved the songwriter Erdmann Neumeister to write:

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.

IV.    An Immediate Cure, v. 3b.
When Jesus touched this leper, “Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”  We just sang this morning: “The vilest offender that on Jesus truly believes that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.”

V.    A Legal Evidence, v. 4.
Then Jesus tells the cleansed leper, he tells him to go present himself to the priests.  This was to be a testimony to the priests that one was present who could heal leprosy.  The laws for the ceremonial cleansing of a leper are given in Leviticus 14.  There are pictures of Christ present.  The bird killed and the living bird dipped in blood which is released which points forward to the death and resurrection of Christ  The hyssop dipped in blood and applied to the leper being cleansed indicating the application of the benefits of the death of Christ to the individual.

The psalmist David recognized that this physical ceremony to deal with a physical condition pictured a spiritual work that deals with a spiritual condition.  After committing his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah, David cried out for mercy from God in Psalm 51.  He had the ceremony of the cleansing of the leper in mind in verse 7 when he said, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.”   This spiritual cleansing could only come from God and it would be effective.

Jesus came to live and die to provide the kind of spiritual cleansing which David and each of us need.

Conclusion:
Have you come to Jesus, humbly confessing your sinfulness and need of cleansing?  Have you experienced His touch and heard His voice say that He is willing, be cleansed?  Come to Jesus!  All who come to Him will not be cast out!

Beware of False Prophets! (Exposition of Matthew 7:15-20)

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. (16) You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? (17) Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. (19) Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (20) Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Matthew 7:15-20

In this morning’s text Jesus issues a serious warning to beware of false prophets. Sadly this warning is more needed today than ever before! Jesus said in Matthew 24:11 & 24 that in the last days there would be more and more false prophets. Paul warned the elders of the church of Ephesus in Acts 20:28-31 to be on guard because after his departure “salvage wolves” would come among them not sparing the flock. A few years later the apostle Peter warns in 2 Peter 2:1-3,

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. (2) And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. (3) By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.

The apostle John likewise warns at the end of the 1st century in 1 John 4:1-3,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (2) By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, (3) and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

What Jesus, Paul, and Peter warned of, John declared had already occurred before the end of the 1st century! How much more are John’s words that “many false prophets have gone out into the world” true today! Therefore I have a special responsibility as a shepherd of God’s sheep to resound the warning first made by Jesus in Matthew 7:15-20.

I. Beware of False Prophets because of their Deadly Deceitfulness, v. 15.

False prophets do not introduce themselves as such. They don’t wear name tags. They don’t go by the title Rev. Wolf. This is what makes false teachers so dangerous! They come as wolves dressed as sheep. The most ravenous of animals disguised as the most harmless of animals. This is the deceitfulness of the false prophets.

Jesus may have had a specific practice of the false prophets of his day in mind. During the 400 silent years between the Old and New Testaments in which no prophetic word from God was heard, many pretenders arose claiming to be prophets with a word from God. This continued into the first century. They would attempt to dress in animal skins as the prophets of old often had. Jesus may be saying here that all those who try to mimic the attire of a prophet are not prophets. Instead underneath their costume, for that’s all it is, they are ravenous wolves!

But false prophets were not just a problem in the 1st century, we have our share today and they still use the same tactic: trying to pass themselves off as the real thing by disguising their true nature.

Islam – who has its own false prophet in Mohammed, claims to have the same God, speaks well of Jesus, but claims Jesus is merely one of the prophets, not the eternally begotten Son of God. They also teach a salvation by works as opposed to a salvation by grace.

Mormonism – who has its own succession of false prophets beginning with Joseph Smith. Uses the same lingo, sings the same hymns, family friendly, passes itself off as another Christian church, but denies the uniqueness of Jesus as the eternal Son of God.

Jehovah’s Witnesses – Use same lingo, talk about Jesus, use the Bible, but affirm the ancient Arian heresy that there was a time when the Son was not which denies the deity of Jesus.

Word of Faith Movement (The TBN gang of Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Robert Tilton, Marilyn Hickey, Frederick K. C. Price, Paul and Jan Crouch)- talk a lot about faith and use the Scripture, but they declare that the purpose of Jesus was to deliver us from sickness and poverty in this present age.

Joel Osteen – Looks good, always smiling, large church, bestselling books in Christian bookstores, but no sin, no judgment, no gospel.

T. D. Jakes – Sounds good, knows how to preach, emotional, sweats a lot, but denies that God has always existed in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

These are all false prophets who preach a false God, a false Christ, and a false gospel. As Paul describe them in Philippians 3:18-19,

For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: (19) Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.

I understand that these words may sound harsh to your ears, but this is serious business. Eternal destinies are at stake. I share a fear that was expressed by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4,

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (4) For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.

There is such a thing as another Jesus, another spirit, and another gospel and we must be on guard that we be not deceived!

II. Beware of False Prophets because of their Devilish Deeds, vv. 16-18.

In verses 16-18 Jesus describes how a false prophet can be recognized: by their devilish deeds. These three verses provide an excellent counter-balance to the first five verses of this chapter. Those verses’ famous injunction to judge not is often taken as a command to excuse any kind of behavior and to forbid any kind of evaluation of the actions of another. That is clearly not what those verses mean in light of the context of verses 16-18. Here Jesus says that we should be fruit inspectors. The actions/lifestyles of false prophets tell on them.

This truth is stated to begin verse 16 and is then illustrated by the question of verse 16: “Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?” The obvious answer to this rhetorical question is “NO! Of course not.” Good trees bear good fruit. Bad trees bear bad fruit. This is a very simple horticultural principle that all of us can understand. This is then extrapolated from to form a conclusion: “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit (v. 18). It is impossible! Therefore if you see bad fruit, you intuitively know “bad tree.” If you see good fruit, you intuitively know “good tree.”

What is the implication here? False prophets are known by their bad deeds. They may be able to hide their deadliness temporarily under a coat of sheep skin, but eventually they will be exposed for what they are. Because no matter how much they look like sheep, they will always still behave like wolves!

I don’t need to recap the events of the past twenty years detailing the wicked deeds of many televangelists, pastors, and other supposedly Christian leaders for you to understand what I mean. And, there is no telling how many more will be revealed as charlatans during our lifetimes. But the greatest test of a false prophet is his/her teaching. Does it line up with the consistent teaching of the Word of God? If not, it is false. This means we must know our Bibles ourselves. The best defense against a counterfeit is to know the original. I am told that this is the way banks train their employees to recognize counterfeit money. They expose them to the real thing so much that the false is immediately apparent. That is the kind of people that we need to be. This is what we are called to be as Christians. This is part of my responsibility is to teach you the Word of God so thoroughly that you would be able to recognize the false teachers. A mature Christian shouldn’t need a master list of all the good teachers and all of the bad teachers. You should be able to recognize them if I’ve done my job and you’ve applied yourself to the study of God’s Word! By their fruits you will know them!

III. Beware of False Prophets because of their Destructive Destiny, v. 19.

There is a final reason to avoid false prophets in these words by Jesus. It is that they have a destiny of destruction. Verse 19 says, that “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

In 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 the apostle Paul describes those who preach another Jesus as:

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. (14) And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. (15) Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.

These false apostles have preached words that lead to damnation and that’s exactly what their destiny shall be. Peter says in 2 Peter 3:16 that those who twist Scripture do so “to their own destruction.” James warns in the first verse of the third chapter of his epistle, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.”

The warning is clear: Don’t be a false teacher and don’t associate with them, lest you share in their destructive destiny.

Conclusion:

The reason that this matters so much is that there is a true gospel about the True Prophet. Moses prophesied that a Prophet greater than he would come (Deut. 18:15) and the apostle Peter declared Jesus to be that Prophet (Acts 3). Therefore the existence of false prophets is an attack upon Him! All messages of hope of deliverance apart from faith in Christ are all false gospels of a false salvation declared by false prophets. Forsake whatever it is that you are clinging to and run to Jesus. Flee the wrath to come!

The Authority of the King: Jesus and Judging (Exposition of Matthew 7:1-6)

Matthew 7:1 may have overtaken John 3:16 as the most well-known Bible verse in America. It seems that everyone in America, both Christian and non-Christian alike, can quote this verse verbatim. Once I heard a preacher quip that the unchurched must have a secret VBS in which all their children are taught only one Bible verse: “Judge not that you be not judged.”

This verse is quoted whenever someone states that any belief is false or any action is sinful. If you ever say that anything is false or sinful, you immediately hear: “Judge not.” or “You shouldn’t judge.” This verse has become a rallying cry for Postmodernity’s denial of any absolute truth or moral certitude. But is that really what this verse is about? In this morning’s message we will examine this often misinterpreted verse in its context. By doing so we will find that, contrary to popular opinion, Jesus is not forbidding His disciples to make moral and truth judgments, but rather is providing guidelines on the proper attitude one must have when addressing an area of weakness in a brother or sister in Christ.

Judge not, that you be not judged. (2) For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (3) And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? (4) Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? (5) Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (6) Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces. Matthew 7:1-6

I. Guideline #1: Be Gracious, vv. 1-2.

Jesus begins in verse one with those famous words, “Judge not.” But He doesn’t stop there. Jesus goes on to say “that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” This is a call for graciousness in our evaluation of others.

As I already alluded to, Jesus is not categorically denying a Christian’s responsibility to be discerning. As we’ll see in a few moments in verse six, Jesus calls upon us to be discerning by not giving what is holy to dogs nor casting pearls before swine. This requires discernment. Who is a dog and who is a pig? Later in this same chapter (vv. 15-20), Jesus calls upon His followers to beware of false teachers. One must be able to judge whether someone is a false teacher for that command to make sense.
“You will know them,” Jesus says, “by their fruits.” In 1 John 4:1 the apostle John writes,
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” So when Jesus says in Matthew 7:1 “Judge not.” it obviously doesn’t mean what many interpret it to mean in our day. Namely, that no one should ever question the beliefs or actions of anyone. That is the spirit of our age, but not the teaching of Jesus.

So what is Jesus saying? As I’ve already stated, Jesus is saying that we should be gracious in our evaluation of others. The motivation for this is the fact that we will be judged by the exact same criteria that we judge others. God’s judgment of us will always be appropriate and proportionate to the judgment with which we judge others. The realization that we will one day be judged by God is to be a deterrent to our critical, nit-picking manner of judging our brothers and sisters. Paul put it this way in Romans 14:10 in regard to those things which are not directly forbidden or commanded in Scripture,

But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. (11) For it is written: “AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL CONFESS TO GOD.” (12) So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. (13) Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.

Jesus says in verse two that you will be judged by the judgment with which you judge others. This proportionate judgment is explained further in the second half of verse two: “with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” Here Jesus is referencing the wording of a grain contract in His day in which many times it would be specified in that contract that the delivery of the grain and the payment for the grain would be measured with the exact same instrument, a scoop. This was done to guarantee justice in the transaction. Jesus is saying that justice will be served by God upon the one who is constantly critical and needlessly nit-picky. Turning this around, if we want to be judged graciously by God, we should be gracious in our evaluation of others. The brother of Jesus said in James 2:13, ” For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.” and, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Or as Jesus Himself put it in the fifth beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7). So the first guideline when evaluating others is to be gracious.

II. Guideline #2: Be Genuine, vv. 3-5.

In verses 3-5 Jesus expresses the need for genuineness for the one who would dare to attempt to correct another. This is illustrated in an absurd way by Jesus. He rebukes the hypocritical attitude of many with humor and hyperbole. Look at verses 3-5. The Gk. word translated “speck” or “mote” is karphos and can refer to any kind of small particle. It is often translated “speck of sawdust” or “splinter” because that would make the connection clearly with the “beam,” “plank,” or “log” which is the Gk. word dokon. This same word was used for the piece of wood which bore the weight of a floor or roof and stretched across the length of a house. We might speak of it today as a floor joist or as a ceiling truss. The contrast is clear: a speck of sawdust and a large piece of timber. This ridiculous contrast is used by Jesus to show the absurdity of the hypocrite attempting to correct the faults of another. Picture this in your mind: a man with a 30′ long 1′ in diameter log protruding from his eye trying to help another man remove a speck of sawdust from his eye. It’s an absurd picture, right? This is a rebuke to the one who is not genuine.

We all have the tendency to see our sins as small and everyone else’s sins as large. We make excuses for ourselves. We have extenuating circumstances. There are reasons for the way we are. But no one else has any excuse good enough. We need to reverse that and see our sins as large and everyone else’s sins as small! We need to quit making excuses for our sins and start recognizing that there may be circumstances in that other person’s life which we know nothing about.

Notice that Jesus does not say, “Don’t remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Instead he says, “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” This goes against the common misinterpretation of verse 1, doesn’t it? We are to help our brothers and sisters by pointing out areas of sin and weakness, but not until we’ve dealt with the sin in our own lives!

Paul provides further guidelines for restoring a fallen brother or sister in Galatians 6:1-2,

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. 2 Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

When evaluating others, we must be gracious, genuine, and . . .

III. Guideline #3: Be Discerning, v. 6.

There is some debate about whether this verse belongs with verses 1-5, verses 7-11, or whether it stands alone. I obviously believe that it is tied to verses 1-5. It is a warning by Jesus to be discerning when seeking to provide instruction to others. There are many who will not hear it, even if you’re gracious and genuine. They may even respond violently. There is a proverbial wisdom in these words by Jesus. Jesus’ words here correspond with proverbs like:

Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 9:8 Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.

We must therefore be discerning about who we seek to exhort and correct. Some will not receive it. The fool will not receive instruction. The scorner will hate you. The dogs will turn and tear you in pieces. The swine will trample your words under feet, not recognizing their value.

The dogs of this verse are the wild, scavenging dogs of the middle east, not their domesticated American counterparts. Both the swine and the dogs were considered unclean to the Jews and were terms of insult to Gentiles.

Conclusion:

Jesus is not forbidding the judgment of truth claims or moral issues. Instead Jesus is providing guidelines on how one should evaluate such issues. We must be gracious, genuine, and discerning.

The Authority of the King: Jesus and Worry (Exposition of Matthew 6:25-34)

We have plenty to worry about. Jeffrey Kluger wrote in an article in TIME magazine last year (Nov. 26, 2006):

It would be a lot easier to enjoy your life if there weren’t so many things trying to kill you every day. The problems start even before you’re fully awake. There’s the fall out of bed that kills 600 Americans each year. There’s the early-morning heart attack, which is 40% more common than those that strike later in the day. There’s the fatal plunge down the stairs, the bite of sausage that gets lodged in your throat, the tumble on the slippery sidewalk as you leave the house, the high-speed automotive pinball game that is your daily commute. Other dangers stalk you all day long. Will a cabbie’s brakes fail when you’re in the crosswalk? Will you have a violent reaction to bad food?

Also, with increased medical knowledge has come increased number of worries. While previous generations only feared death, we live in constant fear of cancer, diabetes, lung disease, heart attack, stroke, and much, much, more. With all of these reasons to worry, and many more, it must be perfectly ok to worry, right? Wrong! In this morning’s text Jesus provides three important reasons why Christians should not worry. Worry for the Christians is foolish, futile, and faithless.

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:25-34

Three times in this passage, Jesus asserts His kingly authority by commanding His disciples to not worry (vv. 25, 31, and 34). Specifically we are commanded not to worry about our lives which is defined in three categories: what we eat and drink, our bodies, and our clothing. Since Jesus commands us not to worry, to worry is a sin! Whenever we worry, we are disobeying a direct command from Christ our King. Likewise, the apostle Paul wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Philippians 4:6-7,

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Let me put it bluntly: worry is a sin! We make excuses for worry every day. We even brag to each other about being worried. “I was so worried about you.” “I worry so much!” Can you imagine if we took other sins so lightly? “I just lust so much!” It’s one thing to sin, it’s another to be proud of it. After issuing His command in verse 25, Jesus gives three reasons why Christians should not worry in verses 26-30.

I. Don’t Worry Because Worry is Foolish, v. 26.

Jesus gave three specific categories of things which the Christian should not worry about: what we eat and drink, our bodies, and our clothing. To each of these Jesus offers a response. First Jesus addresses worrying about what we eat or drink. Now we must keep in mind that Jesus is speaking in a first century world in which the provision of food and drink could not be as easily assumed as it is today. We live in a world of refrigeration and preservatives where it is possible to stockpile large quantities of food and drink in advance. That was not a luxury which Jesus’ hearers had. Nevertheless, Jesus portrays worry about the availability of these daily provisions as foolish. Since many of us don’t have to worry from meal to meal about whether we will have something to eat (we have to decide what to eat), we can apply this worry of food to our worry about any provision which we need. When we’re tempted to worry about the supply of any necessity of life, Jesus’ instructions remain applicable: “Look at the birds of the air . . .” Jesus essentially asks, “Have you ever seen a bird sowing seed, or reaping, or gathering grain into a barn? Yet, you’ve never seen one bird starve to death either. This is because your heavenly Father feeds them!” Notice the rebuke here, Jesus does not say “their heavenly Father,” but “your heavenly Father”! The point is that the One who feeds the birds is “your heavenly Father.” Can you imagine how much bird seed it would take to feed the estimate 200 to 400 billion individual birds in the world? It would easily bankrupt Bill Gates. Yet God feeds those birds every single day! But Jesus’ point here is that humans are of more value than birds (v. 26c). This is not a politically correct thing to say in today’s world where many politically oriented environmental groups seem to value animal life over human life. But if one believes the Bible’s account of Creation, humans were created by God as the highest created beings on earth. Animal life is to valued because it is created by God and their protection has been entrusted to us by God, but humans are clearly on a higher order than birds. This is Jesus’ assumption and it exposes the foolishness of worry about our daily provisions. The God who feeds the birds every day is “our heavenly Father” who values humans as His special creation and believers as His new creation.

Not only should we not worry because of its foolishness, Jesus also commands . . .

II. Don’t Worry Because Worry is Futile, v. 27.

After addressing the category of eating and drinking, Jesus addresses the issue of worry about one’s body. This is an issue that is still alive and well today as healthcare and fitness industries are multi-million dollar entities. Everywhere you go you can find health food today. Even McDonalds! The pharmaceutical industry is the single most profitable industry in the United States. The reason is that health and promises of an extended life sell! There is nothing wrong with using the gifts of medicine and technology which God has provided to care for our God-given bodies. There is certainly nothing wrong with being health conscious in our diet. But the problem comes when our societies emphasis on health and long life results in worry about matters which are ultimately out of our control. Jesus says, “Don’t worry about your body, because worry is futile.” It doesn’t work. Jesus asks the question: “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” A cubit originally referred to the distance from the tip of one’s finger to the elbow and later to a measurement of 18 inches. Jesus is asking then, “Can you add 18 inches to your height simply by thinking about it?” Of course not! Jesus’ point is that worry is futile. It accomplishes nothing!

The word translated “stature” in verse 27 normally refers to one’s age, not height and the word for cubit could refer to an amount of time. Thus, Jesus could have been asking, “Can one add a span of time to one’s life by worrying about it?” Again, the answer is “Of course not.” In fact, medical studies have repeatedly shown that those who worry most age fastest and die earliest. There’s something else for you to worry about!

Regardless of whether Jesus is referring to the futility of extending one’s height or one’s life through worry, the result is the same. Worrying is futile.

This is a good question to consider when tempted to worry about the health of your body. Can you change anything about your body through worrying about it? Since the answer is no, you shouldn’t worry!

III. Don’t Worry Because Worry is Faithless, vv. 28-32.

“Why do you worry about clothing?” Jesus again points to nature by saying “Consider the lilies . . .” Jesus not only points to the birds of the air to illustrate the foolishness of worry, he also points to the flowers of the field to show the faithlessness of worry. The flowers of the field don’t labor over their sowing machines to produce the beautiful garments that adorn them. The Greek word in the text which is translated “lilies”can refer to a variety of flowers. Perhaps Jesus was pointing his hearers to a field of purple anemones or buttercups which would have been a wonderful comparison with the purple robes of royalty worn by King Solomon. Even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as these flowers!

Jesus presses the point in verse 30. If God clothes the grass of the field this splendorously, even though their existence is temporary. He refers to the common practice of the day of cutting down grass and flowers to use as fuel for the fire of ovens. In other words, God dresses the field this beautifully when he knows that they will soon be cut down and used as fodder for the fire! If God does this, how much more will He clothe you, who are eternal beings with immortal souls!?!?

Jesus then addresses His hearers with the title “O you of little faith”. This expression is actually the translation of one compound Greek word ολιγοπιστοι literally “little faiths”. Here we discover that worry is not only a sin because it disobeys the commands of God, it is an ugly sin because it disbelieves the promises of God!

Unbelief!!! What a terrible sin against a great and a good God. Whatever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23)! Worry is fundamentally a failure to believe God’s promises! God’s promises like:

I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. Hebrews 13:5

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Philippians 4:13

But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

George Mueller once said ,”The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.” Robert Mounce comments, “Worry is practical atheism and an affront to God.” (58).

Therefore . . . “Don’t worry! (v. 31). This is what the Gentiles (pagans) do. Your heavenly Father knows what you have need of. Worry implies that God doesn’t know about and doesn’t care about our needs!

Instead we are to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness! This verse is often quoted but probably not always understood. What Jesus is calling on His disciples to seek is His kingdom which is His kingly rule, which is therefore to submit to His authority. Obey what He has commanded. This is also the way that righteousness should be understood in this context. Righteousness is being obedient to the demands of Christ as revealed in the Sermon on the Mount. It is a righteousness which exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20) and without which no one will see the Lord (5:48).

When we obey Christ’s commands, He promises to supply all our physical needs. Therefore it is only when we stop worrying about life’s necessities that life’s necessities will be provided to us.

Jesus concludes one more time by saying don’t worry about tomorrow, because each day has its own challenges and must be faced one day at a time.

The Authority of the King: Jesus and Treasure (Exposition of Matthew 6:19-24)

Storing up treasure can be harmful to your health. That’s what a 62 year old man in western France who suffered from a rare psychological disorder called “pica” learned in 2002. This man died after complications that arose following surgery to remove a 12 lb. mass from his stomach comprised of coins, necklaces and needles. Those who suffer from “pica” face a compulsion to eat things not normally consumed as food. This particular man had swallowed approximately 350 coins valued at $650. The intensive care doctor said that while the family of the patient tried to keep coins and jewelry away from him, “When he was invited and came in some homes, he liked to steal coins and eat them.”

Now I certainly hope that no one here suffers from this serious condition, but most, if not all of us have a similar tendency to hoard up material possessions on this earth. Think about it: we spend most of our lives accumulated more and more things. For most of us this is not a problem of the mind, but a problem of the heart! Jesus addresses this serious heart problem in this morning’s text. In Matthew 6:19-24 we read the King’s authoritative word on treasure.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; (20) but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (21) For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (22) The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. (23) But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (24) No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Matthew 6:19-24

I. A Command With An Incentive, vv. 19-20.

The contrast between treasure on earth and treasure in heaven is what the first 18 verses of this chapter have been about. There is a way of giving, praying, and fasting that will only produce treasure on earth (the praise of men). There is another way of giving, praying, and fasting which will produce treasure in heaven (the reward of the Father).

In verses 19-20 Jesus sternly warns His disciples “do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, . . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” This is a command that is to be obeyed by all of Jesus’ disciples. This includes you and me! The reason given makes sense when you think about it. Treasure piled up on earth faces a threefold danger. It can be eaten by pests, corroded by the elements, and runs the risk of being stolen by thieves. But treasure laid up in heaven faces no such risk! Amen!

In the ancient world , as today, one of a rich person’s most prized possessions was their wardrobe. One could tell more about the wealth of an individual by the way they dressed than in any other way. The problem was that moths were present in the ancient world and mothballs had not yet been invented. Many high-priced garments were destroyed by the moths. In the ancient world, there was no stainless steel and no pressure treated lumber. Rusting and rotting were a constant threat to the amassed treasures of people in the first century. In Jesus’ day, most homes were made out of hardened mud or clay and it was easy for thieves to literally “break in and steal”. There were no locks or bolts on these mud and clay houses. Yale was not yet producing locks. It was risky business to try and amass a large treasure in the first century world and Jesus says that it is not worth the risk. Instead we should lay up treasure in heaven where no moth, rust or thief is present. Jesus stated elsewhere the futility of gaining even the whole world at the expense of his soul. He asked in Mark 8:36-37,

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? 37 Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

In verses 19 and 20 we are given a command by Jesus, but it is not a command without motivation. Parents often tell their children when they ask why they should or shouldn’t do what they have been told to, “Because I said so!” Sometimes God says that to us. Remember when Peter asked Jesus “What about John?” after he had been told about his own death. Jesus’ answer was essentially, “That’s none of your business.” That is an entirely appropriate thing for Jesus to say because at times we need to learn that we need to obey whether we understand why or not. Children need to learn this, Christians need to learn this. But God sometimes graciously provides a reason for His command to unveil His gracious purpose in the command. When He does this it is an evidence that even when these purposes are not revealed, they are present, though veiled. Here Jesus commands His disciples to not lay up treasures on earth, but rather to lay up treasure in heaven. What a drag! Surely Jesus must not want what is best for us! He doesn’t want me to have treasure on earth. But look closer, Jesus explains why. Treasure on earth is not lasting. It rots, is eaten by moths, rusts, and can be stolen by thieves. But treasure laid up in heaven cannot rot, will not be eaten by moths, will not rust, and cannot be stolen. Thus it is far better to lay up treasure in heaven. See, Jesus is not trying to decrease our joy, but increase it eternally. It’s like a wise father instructing his child not to waste money or some cheap toy that won’t last until they get home. Instead, wait a few more weeks, he says, save your money and you can get something much better. At the moment, the child may think his father is not on his side, but if he listens to his instruction his happiness will be much greater in the future.

Texts like this one provide a window into others where God’s gracious purpose in His commands are not as clearly discernable. Rest assured that whatever God commands is ultimately for our good and His glory.

But not only does Jesus issue a command with an incentive, He also gives:

II. A Caution About Our Intentions, vv. 21-23.

Jesus continues His authoritative teaching on treasure by issuing a warning about the intention of our heart when we treasure earthly things. The warning is that what you treasure will determine the condition of your heart. That is a scary thing to think about. Where is your heart this morning? What do you treasure? What do you value and esteem? If you say, “I don’t know.”, let me help you. Where do you spend your time and money? Look at your date book and your checkbook, for “there your heart will be also.”

Jesus powerfully illustrates the danger of what we treasure effecting our heart in verses 22 and 23. A comparison is made between the outer eye and the inner eye of the heart. The eye is “the lamp of the body” because it allows light into the human body. If you have a good eye, light is allowed to enter. If your eye is bad, no light enters and you are filled with darkness or blindness. Now Jesus makes the comparison, if the inner eye of your heart is filled with darkness it is of much graver concern! “How great is that darkness!”, Jesus says.

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said in Prov. 4:23, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” We must guard our hearts with diligence for all the important matters of life flow from our hearts. Our behavior influences our heart & our heart influences our behavior!

It’s a dangerous thing to give your heart away to anything. Steve Green sings about this topic in a song called “Guard Your Heart”. In it he pleads, “Guard your heart! Guard your heart! Don’t trade it for treasure! Don’t give it away! Guard your heart! Guard your heart! As a payment for pleasure it’s a high price to pay.” Men, women, boys and girls, please listen to me! Don’t give your heart away to anyone but King Jesus!

As serious as this warning is, we can also learn something about the nature of our heart from verse 21. If what we treasure influences our heart, the good news is that we can exercise our heart into good practices by purposing to treasure the right things. How can you do this? Again, by looking at your checkbook and date book. How can you purpose today to invest your time and money into God’s kingdom? If you do, you will find your heart will begin to be interested in the work of God. If you start giving to missions, your ears will perk up when someone begins to talk about missions. If you invest time in prayer and Bible study, your interest in those areas will increase. Stop treasuring the things of the world and begin to treasure the things of God! If you do, I believe that your heart will soon follow!

III. A Contrast that Demands Our Attention, v. 24.

The contrast is between serving God or wealth! Jesus here categorically declares that “No one can serve two masters.” It is an impossibility. Verse 24 summarizes the entire argument of verses 19-23.

There have been times in my life when I’ve had to work more than one job to provide for my family. I’ve had more than one employer. That’s possible. But what Jesus says is impossible is to have “two masters.” You can have a lot of different jobs, but you will only be serving God or mammon.

The end of verse 24 restates the beginning of the verse: “You cannot serve God and mammon.” These are the two competing masters. The word mammon is the transliteration of an Aramaic word meaning “wealth or property.” The root of the word has the idea of “that in which one trusts.”

There are two competing masters: God and wealth. They are also two sources of human trust. Who or what are you trusting in? Are you trusting God or your own wealth that you have accumulated.? Money has been said to be a wonderful servant, but a very cruel taskmaster. In Scripture, love for the material wealth of this world is always considered a danger to be avoided.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 1 Timothy 6:10

The danger of love for the world is that love for the world is antithetical to love for God. The two cannot mutually exist. We see that in the words of Jesus in verse 24, but also in the testimony of both John and James:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 1 John 2:15

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. James 4:4

St. Augustine wrote long ago that “he loves Thee too little who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves not for Thy sake.” Any time that we love God’s gifts more than we love the Giver of those gifts, we are guilty of idolatry

Conclusion:

Clearly treasuring earthly possessions is a danger that must be avoided. Jesus has issued a command with an incentive, a caution about our intentions, and a contrast that demands our attention. As the 62 year old man in France found out in 2002, storing up treasure can even be harmful to your health!

The Authority of the King: Jesus and Fasting (Exposition of Matthew 6:16-18)

Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. Matthew 6:16-18

“The man who never fasts is no more in the way to heaven than the man who never prays.” So said John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who refused to ordain anyone who did not fast at least twice a week. Lest you think this requirement too severe, consider the authoritative words of our King in Matthew 6:16-18. In these verses Jesus assumes that His disciples will be fasters. The same language is used for fasting as for giving and prayer, “when you . . .”. For the Christian fasting should be just as natural as giving and prayer. Maybe that’s the problem!

Matthew 9:14-15 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.

Those days have now come! We are expected to fast.

The issue here (as with Jesus’ teaching on giving and prayer) is motivation. Why do you fast? For the praise of man or for the glory of God?

In our text today, Jesus contrasts the motivation of the hypocrite with that which He requires of His disciples. When the hypocrite fasted, he would walk around with a sad face. He wanted everyone to know how much he was suffering. Some people look like this all the time, but that’s not the point. These people were deliberately letting people know they were fasting. If someone would come up and ask them why they looked so sad, they would immediately and mournfully respond, “I’m fasting.”

The hypocrites would also “disfigure” their faces. The word translated “disfigure” literally means to cause to disappear. This is a reference to the practice in Jesus’ day of the “hypocrites” who covered their face in ashes in order to let everyone know they were fasting. They would do this so that as they would walk through the streets with their faces covered with ashes, people would say, “There goes a godly man.” When these hypocrites overheard such statements they were satisfied. They had gotten what they wanted. They had their reward!

By contrast Jesus says that His disciples should wash their face and anoint their heads with oil whenever they fasted. The point is to not advertise your fasting. If someone finds out, make sure that it is not because of the way you presented yourself. When you fast only before God the Father, He will reward you openly!

That’s the meaning of the text. It deals with our inward motivation when we do our religious duty of fasting. Jesus is emphasizing that it is not only important what we do, but also why we do what we do. When we give, we should give for God and not man. When we pray, we should pray for God and not man. When we fast, we should fast for God and not man.

Although we now understand the meaning of the text, since this topic is so infrequently preached and practiced I would like to spend some time this morning explaining.

First, what is fasting? Don Whitney in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life has defined biblical fasting as “a Christian’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes” (152). It is fasting by a Christian, he says, because “fasting by a non-Christian obtains no eternal value because the discipline’s motive and purpose are to be God-centered.” It is voluntary because it is not to be coerced. And it must be for spiritual purposes.

We understand that fasting is about abstaining from food for a certain period. Many of you have fasted before a medical test or procedure. Each of us fast every night from bedtime till the time we rise. That’s why we call the first meal of each day “breakfast”, we’re breaking our overnight fast. But these fasts are not biblical or Christian fasts. Merely abstaining from food does not qualify as a Christian fast.

Believe me when I say that this is a difficult topic for me. Not only is our society set up to work against any form of self-denial, my own body and appetites are strongly opposed to this practice. I like to eat. I wake up wanting to eat and while I’m eating breakfast I’m thinking of what I’m going to have for lunch. My wife has summarized my approach to eating by saying that she eats to live, but I live to eat. That’s a good and accurate summary.

Let me add that there are some who cannot abstain from food for long periods of time for medical reasons (e.g. diabetics or those taking certain medications). This doesn’t mean that you’re exempt from the discipline of fasting. I gave you Don Whitney’s definition earlier, I also like Richard Foster’s who defined fasting as “the voluntary denial of a normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.” In other words, there are other things of which you can deny yourself in order to pursue spiritual goals. Anything (not just food) that is part of your normal, everyday life can be laid aside temporarily or permanently for the purpose of pursuing godliness. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains in his classic commentary on the Sermon on the Mount,

To make the matter complete, we would add that fasting, if we conceive of it truly, must not only be confined to the question of food and drink; fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose. There are many bodily functions which are right and normal and perfectly legitimate, but which for special peculiar reasons in certain circumstances should be controlled. That is fasting. There, I suggest, is a kind of general definition of what is meant by fasting (Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 314).

 

Don Whitney has listed the variety of fasts found in the Bible (153-154):

  • A normal fast involves abstaining from all food, but not from water.
  • A partial fast is a limitation of the diet but not abstention from all food.
  • An absolute fast is the avoidance of all food and liquid, even water.
  • The Bible also describes a supernatural fast that requires God’s supernatural intervention in the bodily processes.
  • A private fast is what Jesus was speaking of in Matthew 6:16-18 when He says we should fast in a way not to be noticed by others.
  • Congregational fasts are the type found in Joel 2:15-16 and Acts 13:2.
  • The Bible also speaks of national fasts. See 2 Chronicles 20:3, Nehemiah 9:1, Esther 4:16, and Jonah 3:5-8.
  • There was one regular fast that God commanded under the Old Covenant. Every Jew was to fast on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29-31).
  • Finally, the Bible mentions occasional fasts. These occur on special occasions as the need arises.

 

The Purpose of Fasting

As we’ve defined the term, “fasting” must be done for specific spiritual purposes. Again, Don Whitney has provided a great service to us by summarizing in ten categories the purposes of fasting in Scripture. The following is a summary of his summary (pages 156-170).

To strengthen prayer. There’s something about fasting that sharpen the edge of our intercessions and gives passion to our supplications. So it has frequently been used by the people of God when there is a special urgency about the concerns they lift before the Father. The Bible does not teach that fasting is a kind of spiritual hunger strike that compels God to do our bidding. If we ask for something outside of God’s will, fasting does not cause Him to reconsider. Fasting does not change God’s hearing so much as it changes our praying.

To seek God’s guidance. There is biblical precedent for fasting for the purpose of more clearly discerning the will of God. Fasting does not ensure the certainty of receiving clear guidance from God. Rightly practiced, however, it does make us more receptive to the One who loves to guide us.

To express grief. As mentioned in Judges 20:26, the Israelites wept and fasted to express grief for the forty thousand brothers they had lost in battle. Grief caused by events other than a death can also be expressed through fasting. Christians have fasted because of grief for their sins and as a means of expressing grief for sins of others.

To seek deliverance or protection. One of the most common fasts in biblical times was a fast to seek salvation from enemies or circumstances. Fasting, rather than fleshly efforts, should be one of our first defenses against persecution because of our faith.

To express repentance and the return to God. Fasting for this purpose is similar to fasting for the purpose of expressing grief for sin. But as repentance is a change of mind resulting in a change of action, fasting can represent more than just grief over sin. It can signal a commitment to obedience and a new direction.

To humble oneself before God. Fasting, when practiced with the right motives, is a physical expression of humility before God, just as kneeling or prostrating yourself in prayer can reflect humility before Him.

To express concern for the work of God. Just as a parent might fast and pray out of concern for the work of God in the life of a child, so Christians may fast and pray because they feel a burden for the work of God in a broader scope. A Christian might feel compelled to fast and pray for the work of God in a place that has experienced tragedy, disappointment, or apparent defeat.

To minister to the needs of others. Those who think the Spiritual Disciplines foster tendencies of introspection or independence should consider Isaiah 58:6-7. In the most extensive passage in Scripture dealing exclusively with fasting, God emphasizes fasting for the purpose of meeting the needs of others.

To overcome temptation and dedicate yourself to God. Ask Christians to name a fast by a biblical character and most will probably think first of the supernatural fast of Jesus prior to His temptation in Matthew 4:1-11. There are times we struggle with temptation, or we anticipate grappling with it, when we need extra strength to overcome it. Fasting for the purpose of overcoming the temptation and of renewing our dedication to God is a Christlike response.

To express love and worship to God. Fasting can be an expression of finding your greatest pleasure and enjoyment in life from God. That’s the case when disciplining yourself to fast means that you love God more than food, that seeking Him is more important to you than eating. This honors God and is a means of worshiping Him as God.

Our ultimate goal in fasting should be God Himself. John Piper has stated this well. He wrote of the reward of the Father in this morning’s text,

Seeking form God the reward of God’s all-satisfying supremacy puts all other desires to the test. Are they for God’s sake? This is the ultimate reason why Jesus called us to fast without wanting to be seen by others. Not just so that we could get worldly desires satisfied from God rather than men (and thus make God party to our spiritual adultery), but so that we would count God himself as our desire, and all else a subordinate spinoff of his enthralling glory.

And so we ask, as we fast and pray, Do we want to conquer bad habits and old enslavements, to remove every obstacle to the fullest enjoyment of God, so that people might see and give him glory? Do we want our prodigal sons and wayward daughters to come home because this would honor God’s name? Do we want our churches to grow because the hallowing of Christ’s name is at stake among unbelievers? Do we want China and North Korea and Saudi Arabia and Iraq and Lybia to open their doors to the gospel for the sake of the advance of the kingship of Jesus? . . .

This is what Jesus is calling us to – a radically God-oriented living and praying and fasting. So for the sake of your own soul, and in response to Jesus, and for the advancement of God’s supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples, comb your hair, and wash your face, and let the Father who sees in secret observe how hungry you are for him with fasting. The Father who sees in secret is brimming with rewards for your joy and for his glory. (A Hunger for God, 79-80).

What spiritual desire do you have that will advance God’s glory that you can begin to fast for?

How will you fast? What will you give up in order to seek God’s face and show Him how much more you desire His glory than your satisfaction with whatever you’re giving up?

When will you fast? When will you start? Can you set aside a day or days now?

To not fast isn’t an option. Fasting is expected for a Christian. The only questions are why, how and when. May God grant that we will fast in such a way that at the end of the day we may say, “To God be the glory, great things He has done!”