Tuesday 22 June 2010

Jesus Divides (Matthew 10:26-42)

What would it take for England to win the World Cup?

Last Friday night was the very first football match I had ever sat down to watch. Up till then, I had been catching the highlights on the news; and watched bits of a few games on the weekend.

But last Friday, Vicky and I and a few of the guys got together to watch England play Algeria. The stadium was packed with fans who had spent thousands of pounds to fly down to South Africa, just to show their support for this one game. Even Princes William and Harry were there.

Everyone said, England was going to win – perhaps even by 3-nil, according to the bookies who were predicting that Wayne Rooney would score all three goals.

Except, as many of you may know, they didn’t. The result was a draw. Nil-nil.

The displeasure of the fans was obvious. The game ended to the roaring sounds of thousands of supporters, jeering the team off the pitch. Rooney was caught on camera saying, “Nice to see your own fans booing you.”

What would it take for England to win the World Cup?

A miracle? Better management? A kick up the backside? Someone said to me last week, I was more likely to become the next Archbishop of Cantebury than if England could win the World Cup.

One criticism you hear again and again from fans and media, is their lack of spirit. “They don’t seem to be taking enough chances. Their heart isn’t in it. They are playing it too safe”

In an international tournament like the World Cup, fans turn on their TVs not just for the performance, they are looking for passion.

And it’s the same with life. What keeps us from embracing life, from taking chances, what keeps us from getting up when we’re knocked down again and again – is not a lack of strength, but the lack of nerve. We get discouraged too easily. We lose hope too often.

Jesus’ half-time pitch

And so today we find Jesus speaking to his twelve disciples, about their passion and about their fears.

The context is mission. Jesus is sending them out as his missionaries, as his apostles, to announce the coming Kingdom of God. He empowers them with authority – verse 8:: they are to heal the sick, cleanse those with leprosy, drive out demons.

But he warns them, they are being sent into conflict. Verse 17: People will arrest them, torture them, even prosecute them under the law. And last week, we learned that Jesus had some very practical advice for these twelve apostles. Be careful of men; Be innocent in your conduct; Be prepared to speak the gospel boldly!

And today we're looking at the second half of Jesus' message to his disciples. But it's somewhat different. There are no practical tips. No tactics. Instead Jesus can see that before he sends these twelve men on their mission in there hearts, Jesus needs to deal with the battle that is raging in their hearts - their fears, their anxiety and their doubts.

Today’s text is Jesus’ half-time pitch to the players. They are words of comfort, but also words of inspiration. He tells them of the risks, but also promises great reward. As every good manager knows: there are going to have to be soft words, but also hard truths.

1. Do not be afraid

So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.

What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight;
what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

The question at the end of the day is: who do you fear? Do you fear man, or do you fear God?

It’s a very useful question to ask yourself - especially in times of great temptation. When a friend suggests doing something you know is not right. When your boss tells you to fudge the accounts.

It’s useful to ask yourself: Am I more concerned with what people will think of me, or God? Do I fear man or God?

But actually, the context is not temptation – but proclamation. Will you continue to speak the gospel? When men threaten you to stop witnessing for Christ – will you fold?

Jesus says in verse 27 – speak it out even louder – in the open, from the rooftops.

Jesus is saying: the reason why Christians don't preach the gospel; the main reason why we don't tell our friends about Jesus - it's not opportunity, or lack of experience - the main reason is fear.

When we keep quiet about Jesus: it's because we fear man, and we do not fear God.

And Jesus says such fear is foolish - to fear man over God. It is foolish because it is God who can destroy both soul and body in hell. But it is foolish also because of verse 32:

Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.
(Verses 32-33)

Meaning the basis of who is saved and who isn't; the basis of who gets into heaven and who suffers the judgement of God in hell - is not our goodness, nor our good works - but the acceptance or rejection of Jesus. Those who reject Jesus, Jesus will reject him before the Father. But those who receive Jesus, by receiving his message, by acknowledging him before men - Jesus will acknowledge him before his Father.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.
And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

(Verses 29-31)

Sparrows were the smallest creatures known to the Israelites, and the penny was one of the smallest denominations of currency - it was loose change. And here Jesus uses the insignificant, most unnoticed examples around us to waken our senses to the overwhelming truth of God's care, love and provision.

He says: these creatures you see as insignificant and cheap - God values them. How much more then does your Father value your life, your well-being, your safety.

Now, I've heard these verses used in the weirdest of contexts, even by Christians. Someone once said to me, "Does this mean my cat will go to heaven?" Seriously. "After all, it says right there, God cares for the sparrows; God cares for the animals - he wouldn't let them die in vain?"

Or, someone might look at these words and go, "So, have you combed your hair today? Especially since we're in church now? God looks at every bit of you, you know, he's concerned about all the details - your hair, your shoes, your clothes. Jesus says so!"

Now, the thing is, there is a small measure of truth in each of these statements. God does care for his creation. God does care for the smallest of details in our lives. Yes, even the number of hairs on our heads.

But the problem is, we lose sight of the bigger picture Jesus paints for us. Yes, Jesus uses the small things, the tiniest of things, to help us understand what he is saying - but his point is then to say, how much more! How much more, then does God care for your whole life!

Furthermore, we mustn't forget the context of Jesus' words - he is challenging he to stand firm in the message of the Kingdom - to speak boldly the gospel - even in the face of the opposition, of harm, of even death! He says, don't be afraid of man - though they threaten even your life. God cares for the smallest of details in your life - how much more does God have your life itself under his control! So? Be bold! Go the distance! Be risky, even with your own life - for the sake of Jesus and for the sake of the gospel! That is what Jesus is saying!

2. Do not get the wrong idea

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to turn " 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law -
a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.

Here Jesus is saying that he will divide even the deepest, closest of relationships. And he says this to expose how many of us have the wrong idea why Jesus came to die on the cross.

What Jesus says here is important if you are a Sunday School teacher. It’s important if you are marriage counsellor. If you're the kind of guy friends come to for advice, for help - these words are very important for you to take in.

The gospel is not a counselling tool. The purpose of Sunday School is not teach kids to be well-behaved little children. The bible is not there to give advice on how to fix marriages. This book is not a how-to guide to relationships, resolving arguments, tips on how to score in your exams or lose weight or getting a promotion.

Jesus did not come into the world to teach us how to be more loving; how to be more moral. He came to die for our sins so that we could be reconciled with God. He went to the cross so that we could be brought back into a loving relationship with God as our Heavenly Father.

And it is only after we have addressed our broken relationship with God that we can begin to deal with our problems with one another. Only after I see that my true identity is in Christ, and God is my Provider, my Protector, my Father - then I will be able to truly see you, as a brother in Christ, for whom Christ gave his life; who has been forgiven of all your sin - that I can see the importance of reconciling back with you; that whatever the grievance we have with one another in the family of God - we must always forgive one another; having ourselves been forgiven; we must always love one another - having received God's love through Jesus.

Now this means that if you do counsel a brother, a sister in Christ, a couple - it always begins with confession of sin; it means it always ends with prayer for forgiveness.

The reason we don't see this; the reason we don't do this - in part - Jesus has already told us. It's fear. We fear man and we do not fear God.

Are we too afraid of parents, to tell children the gospel? To help them understand how important it is that they giving their lives to Jesus?

Are we too afraid to say to the single Christians here today – you shouldn’t be dating a non-Christian. If you are, we will go through the relevant bible passages with you – to help you understand why for yourselves; But by the end of it, I’ll tell you that you will need to break off the relationship immediately – for both your sakes.

Is it fear that keeps us from telling the men to be men; to remind the husbands - and here I, too am convicted - to remind husbands husbands – Jesus charges you with the solemn responsibility of pastoring your family; of loving your wife - through the cleansing of pure water which is the word of God. Family devotions are your responsibility. It’s the man’s job to say – Let’s pray. Let’s open the bible. On Sundays, the man says - It's time to go to church. Not the wives, not the kids - the men being the man that God wants him to be - responsible, sacrificial, loving.

Sometimes we don’t say these things, because we fear man instead of God.But there is another reason we don’t say these things. It’s because we love man instead of loving God.

Here we come to the hardest verses in today’s passage, so please listen up, because it is so important we hear and understand what Jesus says next:

"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Now why does Jesus say this? These hard; these harsh words?

Today is Father’s Day. Let me tell you, I love my father. I just called him this morning, and it was good to hear his voice, to hear about his day, to tell him I love him.
And when I read verse 37 – Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me – my heart grows very, very heavy.

And I find myself asking: Why does Jesus say these things?

It’s because Jesus knows how much I love my father. And Jesus knows how much you love your parents, your family, your children. And here, Jesus is using the most precious, the most important things in your life to say, “Do you hear what I am saying? Wake up. This is serious.”

These are serious words. We have been talking about life and death. About heaven and hell. About salvation and judgement. Are you listening to what I am saying?

3. Our certain reward

Since Friday, I have been thinking again and again about the World Cup match. To be accurate, I have been thinking about what I've been thinking (?) Does that make sense?

I've been reflecting not on the game but my response to the game. Not about the players, but the fans who have so much to say about the players.

Everyone has something to say - the reporters, the commentators, the bloggers - guys who have never kicked a ball in their lives, suddenly become experts on the game. Everyone has a bone to pick, there is so much frustration expressed, anger vented, advice given - but very little mercy. Very little thanks.

And even now, I wonder how many of us think the same way about the church. About our brothers and sisters serving here today - in the music team, arranging the chairs, helping with the bible - How easy it is to find something we could comment on critically. "The music today could have been .....", "The sermon should have been .....",

I think Jesus picks up on this attitude in verse 41. He says:

Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward.

He starts out by saying, it’s supply and demand. Econs 101. The bigger the effort, the bigger the supply - the bigger the cost, the bigger the reward. It's proportional. It's what we expect.
You receive a prophet – you get a prophet’s reward. If it’s a righteous man – then it’s a righteous man’s reward.

You go to dinner at Whetherspoons – it's 5 pounds. Dinner at Jamie’s Restaurant (Ooooh, fancy!) – 20 pounds. Bigger place, bigger cost, bigger price tag, better food. It’s logical, it's proportional.

Until you get to verse 42 where Jesus says something, well, something different. Maybe even, unexpected.

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.

What’s he saying? The small stuff matters to God. Even if no one else notices, God knows.

After service today, if pour a cup of tea and offer it to a friend – God sees that. God is pleased.

The time you spend praying for a brother or sister in need that no one else knows about – God knows. And Jesus says, God will reward.

Jesus intentionally chooses the smallest act of kindness, to the most insignificant individuals. Serving God doesn’t mean standing in front of lots of people, getting noticed, getting praised, playing in the music group, leading bible study, going on a mission trip, giving lots of money to the church.

Jesus says, the small stuff matters. I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.

You kids here today, Jesus is talking to you. He's talking about you - about the people around you, serving you. If you are a disciple of Jesus, it is our honour, our privilege to serve you, love you, be there for you today. I hope you see that, this is God's word speaking directly into your life saying - you're so important to him.

4. Winning the World

Well then, back to our first question: What would it take for England to win the World Cup?

I have absolutely... no idea!

But I know this: I know what it would take for the church to win the world. To win the world for Jesus and his Kingdom.

It takes men and women who love Jesus, above everything else. It takes Christians who live not for the praise of men but for the glory of their Saviour. It takes disciples living salty, risky, sacrificial lives for the gospel.

It takes you and me, focussed on serving Jesus - by serving one another, reminding each other about the cross - to stand firm to the end and to stay faithful to our Saviour.

We do that - and Jesus says, we will win the World.

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