Category Archives: Jesus. All About Life

Matthew 4:12-25: Come, Follow Me

ALLURING INVITATIONS. A few years ago I was invited by a charitable trust here in Australia to attend a ministers’ conference in America. All expenses paid. Some of my favourite speakers. Free books. Great fellowship. Probably could have thrown in some sight-seeing too.

It certainly got me thinking. Was I willing to just GET UP AND GO? But I was right in the middle of writing my Master’s thesis. And I really wanted to knock it over. So I ended up saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

The conference is on again in April next year. But unfortunately, the offer was only valid while I was studying. Which I’m no longer doing. So, I’ll just have to make do with listening to the talks on the internet.

I wonder whether YOU’VE ever had any alluring invitations like that. Tempting offers? Perhaps it’s a new job, or an exciting opportunity, or bargain you couldn’t say no to.

Like Des and Kate perhaps. Offered a new job, a new house, a new LIFE, a FRESH START, back in LAND. A HUGE change. And they said YES.

How did YOU respond to YOUR invitation? Was it an instant YES? Did you jump in boots and all? Or did you take your time, and carefully weigh up the options? Perhaps you regretfully declined?

But none of those invitations were anywhere near as important as the one Jesus offered Andrew and Simon.

Imagine, for a moment, you’re Simon or Andrew, going about your daily work, fishing. Your head’s full of knots and nets, ropes and rowing, prices and problems, buckets and boats.

And you’re about to get the offer of a lifetime. An alluring invitation that will turn your life on its head. Jesus is walking along the shore, he walks up to you and he says (v19)

19 “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

It’s a CRAZY offer. Ludicrous. A complete stranger walks up to you, out of the blue, and invites you to come, and follow him. As far as we know, there was no previous relationship. There was no talk about payment, or conditions. No explanations or arguments. Just an INVITATION, and a PROMISE.

1. Come, follow me

First, the INVITATION. “Come, follow me.”

It’s a BROAD invitation. One that went to whoever Jesus met. It’s unlikely these fishermen were the ONLY people Jesus was inviting. They get a particular mention because of who they turn out to be. His closest disciples. But Jesus’ invitation is going out to EVERYONE.

Have a look back at the previous little section, from v12. With John’s arrest, it’s time for Jesus’ ministry to begin in earnest. He doesn’t stay around Jerusalem where you might expect. But heads back to Nazareth, and then to Capernaum. Down by the shore of Lake Galilee. (show map)

It’s the multicultural area of Israel. All sorts of people. From all parts of the world. Compared to the south, it’s fertile and well-populated. There are trade routes and large towns. Roads heading north and south. And west to the Sea. It’s popular with people from other countries. Good farming. Good trade. Good access.

And Jesus is preaching there. The same message John the Baptist was preaching. There in v17. “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.” God’s reign is close. And you need to turn from YOU ruling your life. And allow GOD to rule it instead.

And it’s a message that’s going to GENTILES, just as much as it’s going to Jews. There in v15. A quote from Isaiah “Galilee of the GENTILES – the people living in darkness have seen a great light.”

Gentiles were thought to be living in DARKNESS because they didn’t have God’s law. But Jesus, the light of the world, comes to invite THEM to repent TOO.

Jesus’ invitation to Come, follow him is a BROAD ONE.

Even the JEWS we read about. Rough, uneducated fisherman. Hardly the ones WE’D choose to base a new world-wide organisation on. But they make up four of the twelve disciples. And Jesus’ invitation goes to THEM TOO.

Or a few chapters on. We find out how MATTHEW HIMSELF was invited. Ch 9 v9. He was A TAX COLLECTOR. A Jew, collecting for the Romans. Charging whatever rate he decided he could get away with. As good as a traitor. And so he was despised by his countrymen.

But Jesus comes walking along, sees Matthew sitting in his booth, and gives him the same invitation. “Follow me”. Matthew leaves it all behind. And follows Jesus.

Later on, Matthew gets all his mates together. More of the rejected rubbish of society. The least, the lost and the last. They’re having dinner together. And Jesus is the guest of honour. And he presumably gives THEM the same invitation. Come, follow me.

And when the self-righteous do-gooders want to know what Jesus is doing hanging out with rotten people like THAT/ Jesus responds (v12). His invitation is BROAD.

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the SICK. … For I have not come to call the righteous, but SINNERS.”

The offer goes to SICK people. To SINFUL people. Nobody is too far-gone for Jesus’ invitation to go to. No one misses out.

Which is great news for you and me. You don’t have to get your act together before you accept Jesus’ offer. It’s not like the Olympic Games, where you have to achieve a certain standard before you score an invitation. Unless you can jump a certain height, or run a certain time, you miss out.

It’s more like the World Masters Games. Being held in Sydney in a few months. ANYONE’s welcome to enter, as long as your 35 or older. There’s a spot for you whatever your level of ability. Everyone’s invited.

And it’s the same with Jesus’ offer to come and follow him. He’s the doctor who’s come for SICK PEOPLE. That’s the only requirement.

And that’s an encouragement as we invite people to events we’re holding. We don’t have to CHOOSE people to invite according to any selection criteria. There’s no interview process to go through. God chooses ALL SORTS. Jesus INVITES all sorts. So WE can invite ANYONE.

And so, that’s what the church should look like. A big bag of mixed lollies. Of liquorice all-sorts. A hospital full of sick people. Where EVERYONE is accepted. Without judgment, or rejection, or condescension.

(pause) But hospitals are about sick people GETTING BETTER. Jesus’ offer is more than just an invitation to COME. It’s an invitation to FOLLOW. Remember, he’s calling people to REPENT because the kingdom is near. To TURN AROUND put their sin behind them.

He INVITES people wherever they are. But he won’t let them STAY there.

Come, FOLLOW me. He literally says something like, “Here, AFTER me!” This is not a call to go for a stroll around the lake. It’s a call for a lasting association. A commitment. What he wants is a single-minded application to the task of following wherever Jesus takes you. Of listening to him. Obeying him, imitating him. No matter how hard it looks.

There’s no EASY DISCIPLESHIP. No SOFT OPTION. No dipping your toe in the water. Jesus wants you diving right in.

There’s no picking and choosing WHICH bits you want to follow Jesus in, and which bits you’d rather not. Jesus will have none of that. It’s all or nothing. In Luke 14:26-27 he says

26 “If anyone comes to me and does not his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-yes, even his own life-he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Boots and all – that’s what Jesus means when he invites you to come and follow him. Everything else gets left behind. He’s king over EVERYTHING, or he’s king over NOTHING.

When Jesus says, “AFTER ME”, it means following and imitating the SERVANT king. The one who came not to BE served. But to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many. It means following the obedient Son of God. Who did EVERYTHING his heavenly Father asked him to. Even went to . Not MY will, he said, but YOURS be done.

AFTER me means reading the Bible and praying with your kids when all you want to do is sit on the couch and veg. It means continuing to serve your spouse when you feel you’re getting nothing in return. It means turning up to church with the attitude ‘How can I PUT IN to church?’, rather than ‘What can I GET OUT of it?’

AFTER me means following the PURE and HOLY one. Tempted in every way, just like us, but without sin. Tempted with POWER, and he tells Satan, worship God alone. Tempted with earthly comforts, and he says, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that God speaks.

If you’re falling into sin again and again, then TAKE DRASTIC ACTION. DEAL with it. Brutal honesty and tough decisions are called for. Don’t worry about good impressions or false impressions of goodness.

AFTER ME means turning the other cheek, it means sticking at your marriage vows when it’s easier to walk away. It means saying NO to that easy opportunity to steal from work, or rip off the tax department, or take a sickie you don’t need.

AFTER me means a 24-7 commitment. Not a Sunday morning duty. It means risking all other relationships to invite people to share in your most important relationship.

Jesus invites ALL to COME. But he also calls all to FOLLOW. He calls us not simply to accept him as SAVIOUR, but to HONOUR him as LORD.

And so church should be a place with relationships of such openness and depth and reality that we can gently and lovingly challenge each other to keep following Jesus. Where we risk the relationship to say, “I’ve noticed how you talk to your kids.” Or “I’m concerned for your choices here”. Or “how are you going with this particular sin? You look like you’re struggling? How can I help?”

These are difficult conversations. But if we LOVE people, and want what’s BEST for them. Tough words need to be spoken on occasion.

It’s one of the things I find HARDEST about this job. I’ve been criticised recently by someone who I challenged about their behaviour and choices. I was told it was un-Christian not to accept sinners.

And, in a sense, that’s TRUE. Christ accepts ALL. Invites ALL. But those who COME to Jesus must FOLLOW HIM. We can’t say we’re Christian but then do whatever we like! People who continue to choose what THEY want, when Jesus says something DIFFERENT. Are calling into question whether they’re Christian AT ALL.

Yes, we are a hospital for sick people. But a hospital is no use if people aren’t getting BETTER. If there’s no change, everyone is wasting their time.

(pause) That’s the INVITATION. What about the PROMISE? Let’s spend the last few minutes thinking about THAT. “I will make you fishers of men.”

2. I will make you fishers of men

This is the first promise Jesus makes. Come after me, and I WILL MAKE.

It’s what JESUS will do. He’ll do the making. We simply follow.

And that’s the glorious thing about the work we do in the Christian life. It’s Jesus doing his powerful work in us. On our own, we’re HELPLESS to change ourselves, to conquer sin, to convince others, to continue to the end. We don’t even have the DESIRE to do it, unless Jesus is working in our heart.

Sometimes the way ahead looks impossible, and we get discouraged. I can’t possibly do that job, or conquer that sin, or talk to that person. But Jesus’ promise is that HE will make us fishers of men. We are simply to follow. TO keep our eyes fixed on him. And do what he does.

HE will do it. We need to pray the prayer of Paul for ourselves. In Eph 1:19 he prays

18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that YOU MAY KNOW … HIS INCOMPARABLY GREAT POWER FOR US WHO BELIEVE.

The power of Jesus is FOR US. What’s that power like?

That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

There’s a reservoir of -breaking power waiting for us to tap into. And we worry about messing up? About how little we know? Jesus says I will make

And what about what Jesus will MAKE us? Fishers of men. No longer catching FISH, but people instead. He’s going to change us. On the one hand, completely DIFFERENT, but also with some continuity.

When you’re following Jesus, he’ll call you to a life that’s completely different. Transformed. But at the same time, you’ll still be YOU. There’ll be the opportunity to use the sorts of experiences and talents and opportunities you had before.

When you come after Jesus and follow him, your purpose and priorities and goals will be transformed, but Jesus will still use YOU – your personality, your strengths and weaknesses, your family background.

You might be a teacher or a housewife or a nurse before, and Jesus calls you to KEEP teaching or being a housewife or nursing when you follow him. But now you’re doing it FOR JESUS.

You might be good at ORGANISING, or good with YOUR HANDS, or good on the DRUMS. And Jesus can USE those talents for a new PURPOSE, in a new DIRECTION.

You might be an accountant before, or a builder, or a manager. And Jesus calls you to do something completely different FOR A JOB. Perhaps even re-training. But it will still be Jesus using the raw materials he’s given you to MAKE you into a people fisher.

How are you going at ALLOWING Jesus to be making you into a person-fisher? Are you OPEN to that? Or is it all too scary?

How are you going at using what your gifts are? Your experiences and talents? Are you using THOSE in the service of Jesus? Or sitting on them?

On the other side, how are you going at DEVELOPING? At BUILDING on what you have? RE-training? Reading? Practicing? What about doing some courses? A FUSION course perhaps? Or some Bible training at the PTC?

Follow the example of those ordinary fisherman. Jesus said, Come, follow me. And what was their response? Have a look at v20.

20 AT ONCE they left their nets and followed him.

Same thing with James and John. A bit further round the lake. Jesus called out to them in their boat. V22.

22 and IMMEDIATELY they left the boat and their father and FOLLOWED HIM.

No second thoughts. No weighing up the alternatives. They left their OLD lives. And followed Jesus for the rest of their lives. And their lives, and THE WORLD, was never the same again.

Our faith and lives, so far removed from them, across time and space, is built on their foundation. The foundation of their example, their witness and faith and obedience.

Jesus said Come, follow me. They immediately left everything, and followed him. What about you?

Matthew 5:1-12: Living the Ultimate Life

The Apprentice Australia is about a group of, let’s be honest, not very attractive people. Overly ambitious is probably the NICE way of describing them. Ruthless, cold-blooded, and hard-nosed is probably closer to the truth.

Mark Bouris, the founder of Wizard Home loans, is the millionaire businessman looking for an apprentice. In his words, he’s OFFERING THE WORLD to the right person, and he wants to find out what the contestants are willing to do to GET it. It’s the chance of a lifetime – a top job, great salary and benefits, connections, first-class mentoring, and a leg-up from one of the premier business minds in Australia.

And each person on the show wants that DESPERATELY. More than almost ANYTHING. And they’ll DO almost anything to GET it.

They’re all HUNGRY for SUCCESS. They hunger for it and thirst for it. They’ll only be SATISFIED when they GET it. Desperate to climb the corporate ladder to success, and they’ll drag down anyone who stands in their way. It’s not a show about the niceties of good manners, and opening doors for people.

(pause) Why? Why do they DO it? Why put themselves through so much? Sacrifice so much? What’s so attractive that they hunger for it so badly?

I’m not sure they’d put it this way, but they’re hungry for a BLESSED LIFE. The job, and the money, and opportunities that go with it, are the keys that unlock the door to BLESSING. To living the ULTIMATE life. That’s what they’re HUNGRY for.

And how do they go about GETTING it? If Mark Bouris was going to write a set of criteria about how to GET that blessed life, it might go something like this: A framed poster on his office wall.

“Blessed are the DESPERATE, for the world is their oyster.

Blessed are those who RISK EVERYTHING, for they will make their fortune.

Blessed are the RUTHLESS, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for SUCCESS, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the MERCILESS, for they will be victorious.

Blessed are the CRAFTY, for they will see fool everyone.

Blessed are the FIGHTERS, for they will be called sons of power.

Blessed are those who are willing to push the limits and get away with it, for the spoils go to the brave.

And the contestants on the show just LAP UP that sort of advice.

On one level, it seems they’re very UNIQUE people. Willing to go to great lengths to achieve their goals. Hungry to get what they want, and blow everybody else.

But I don’t think they’re really that much different from the rest of us. Perhaps just a little more OBVIOUS in the way they go about it. A little more DRIVEN. But each of us, if we’re HONEST, wouldn’t mind a bit more of the sorts of things they’re hungry and thirsty for. A few more toys, or a bit more money, or influence, or opportunity, or recognition, or comfort. And I wonder what a television camera trained on US 12 hours a day might discover about OUR hunger, and how we go about satisfying it!

What are YOU hungry and thirsty for? What is it that you think will SATISFY you? What are YOU sacrificing to achieve it?

But the way they behave on the show is really just the human way we all go about life. The way to get what you want is to push to the front of the queue. To push yourself forward, and others back. We want something badly enough, so we’ll shift all sorts of things out of the way to GET it. To fool, and fight, and trick, and abandon, and tread down.

Scientists and anthropologists say it’s survival of the fittest. The law of the jungle, where only the strongest survive.

A portrait and a pathway

It might be . But it’s not GOD’S way. Not the way he designed the ultimate life. In these first verses of Jesus’ sermon on the mount, we get a PORTRAIT of a blessed life. A life according to God’s design, not ours. And it’s completely upside down to the human way of seeing the world. Counter-cultural. Radical. The closest we get to a revolutionary manifesto from the lips of Jesus.

It’s a PORTRAIT of a blessed life, but it’s also a PATHWAY. A step-by-step process of ACHIEVING the blessed life God’s planned.

Instead of “dog eat dog” and “me-first”, God’s people, people of the kingdom, will follow a different pathway to the ultimate life. To the life of blessing.

Blessing from the inside out

And it was no less counter-cultural to Jesus’ FIRST HEARERS than it is to us today. For Jews of Jesus’ day, it was the rich who were thought to be living under God’s blessing, the happy and those who had all the external trappings of success.

And they’ve got a bunch of leaders who go around thinking that God’s blessings will come if they can all just be GOOD ENOUGH. And academics who think that by dissecting the law into a thousand pieces and putting it back together in lots of different ways, God will be impressed with THAT, and send his blessing.

But, they’ve missed just ONE THING. Something Jesus points out. Just like the long line of prophets before him, Jesus says that God wants to see change on the INSIDE. Repentant hearts that turn away from idols and greed and hatred, and that seek out God, and HIS ways instead. THEN blessing will come. Blessing comes from the inside out.

“Enough words, enough action. Let me see BROKEN HEARTS instead”, says God. Like in Isaiah 57:14

And it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.” For this is what the high and lofty One says – he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, BUT ALSO WITH HIM WHO IS CONTRITE AND LOWLY IN SPIRIT, TO REVIVE THE SPIRIT OF THE LOWLY AND TO REVIVE THE HEART OF THE CONTRITE.”

God’s ready to restore. When Israel’s ready to be contrite. Isaiah says. That’s what God wants to see.

Kevin Rudd will go down in history as the Prime Minister who said SORRY. First to the stolen generation. Aboriginal kids taken from their families. And, last week, to the FORGOTTEN generation. The foster kids and orphans imprisoned and abandoned in state and church-run homes decades ago. Ruined their lives.

Kevin Rudd felt the political temperature, and worked out that people wanted the government TO SHOW SOME REPENTANT SORROW. To recognise they could have done things better. And the media and the victims have been overjoyed. Everyone’s cheering him. It’s what they wanted all along. I’m not sure what it will look like in the long run. But it’s a step in the right direction.

Sometimes, the most appropriate response is repentant sorrow.

And it’s what God wants to see above anything else in his people Israel. Repentant sorrow.

But more than just WORDS. It’s got to be REAL. On the inside. Real hunger and thirst, real sorrow, real repentance. And then real change in behaviour. Enough WORDS.

Blessing will come. But it’s going to come when his people begin with changing the INSIDE. Blessing from the inside out. Blessing comes when you work on YOURSELF and your motivations and desires. Rather than working on manipulating other people.

And that’s the way Jesus sets it out before us in these incredible verses. A portrait of what God’s blessed life LOOKS like. And a PATHWAY to ACHIEVING it.

And it’s a pathway that begins from the INSIDE. And works its way OUT. Let me show you what I mean.

Each of the FIRST FOUR qualities are INTERNAL attitudes focussed on GOD. Internal qualities God wants to see towards him, so he can bring blessing. Exactly what the prophets had been calling for down through the ages.

And the culmination, the most important and significant of them is right there in the middle. HUNGERING AND THIRSTING FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS. That desire to achieve it that overrides everything else. A desire as strong as that to stay alive.

1. Poor in Spirit

First. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. To be poor in spirit means to recognise you’ve got nothing to offer God.

It’s the opposite of the rich young ruler. Matthew 19. “What must I DO to inherit eternal life?” he demands of Jesus. He thinks he’s obeyed every commandment since he was a boy. Jesus replies,

“If you want to be PERFECT, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

The man leaves distraught. And the disciples are puzzled. “If that guy can’t be saved, WHO CAN?

And Jesus replies with the startling perspective anyone poor in spirit already knows. “With man this is … IMPOSSIBLE.” NO chance. More chance of drinking the ocean dry, or flying to the moon by flapping your wings. With man, it’s impossible to be saved.

To be poor in spirit is to recognise your spiritual cupboards are bare. Your pockets are empty. It means you’ve stopped demanding justice from God, and starting pleading for mercy. To be poor in spirit means to stop bragging and start begging.

And it’s the first step in receiving God’s blessing that comes from the inside out.

2. Mourn

Next, says Jesus, blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. To mourn is to recognise your sin and bankruptcy before God, and to be genuinely distressed about it.

Jacob was telling me about an old guy he visited in the hospital. Terminally ill. He was an atheist, and proudly and stubbornly resisted all Jacob’s attempts to describe what it meant to reach out to God. To reach out to God would be a sign of WEAKNESS. An admission he was WRONG. And he just wasn’t willing to DO that.

But to MOURN is to recognise your situation. Your helplessness and sin. And reach out to the God who promises to COMFORT you. Like a father cuddling a child who’s had nightmares. A mother washing a bleeding knee. A GOD who promises to swap our mourning for BLESSING. Forgiving our sins, and making us his friends. Comforting us with love.

Blessed are those who MOURN, for they will be comforted.

3. Meek

Third. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. To be meek is to hand over control to someone else. Once you recognise your spiritual poverty, and your sin and powerlessness, who else can you hand over control to than GOD?

The meek are willing to be clay in God’s hands. They don’t second-guess him, add conditions, keep one hand on the wheel, or peek under the blindfold.

A few months ago the sign on the Reformed church said, “If God’s your co-pilot, swap seats”. Lots of people are happy to have God as their CO-pilot, just in case they get into trouble. But they’re the ones in control. Who set the course, and steer the plane.

But the meek don’t do that. They hand over control to God, and sit in the co-pilot seat. And let GOD do as he wishes. And God’s promise is that they’ll INHERIT THE EARTH.

To inherit the earth means it’s YOURS. Nothing on earth is GREATER than you. There’s nothing out there for you to fear, or worry about. Nothing to lose sleep over. Nothing to hide from, or run away from. Because the earth is YOURS.

For the meek, the world is your oyster because God is the pilot.

4. Hunger and thirst

The fourth attitude Jesus mentions SUMMARISES, or is the result of, the FIRST three. V6.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.

We hunger and thirst for all sorts of things. The contestants on the Apprentice Australia hungered for victory, for success, for money and power. And they might even FIND them.

And we’re no different. We hunt through the catalogues, or the Trading Post, or the internet chat rooms, or the stock market reports, or the travel section, or the job ads. Hungry and thirsty for all sorts of things.

But will they satisfy?

Whatever we chase after and taste PROMISES MUCH, but delivers LITTLE. It looks like LIFE, but delivers .

It’s A MIRAGE IN THE DESERT. An empty water bottle. Mouldy bread. It’s a stockmarket crash and worthless shares. It’s a fake Bali Rolex. It’s bowls of ratsac.

PROMISES MUCH, but delivers LITTLE. It looks like LIFE, but delivers

I heard the story recently about a little boy whose hand was caught inside his father’s priceless Ming vase. The parents tried everything to pry his hand lose, but the boy was just getting more and more upset. They couldn’t work out how he was able to get his hand IN, but then not get it OUT.

Finally they realised the only way would be to smash the vase.

When they did, they found his little hand was tightly closed in a FIST. THAT was why his hand wouldn’t come out. But why didn’t he just open his hand and slide it out of the mouth of the vase? Because when he opened his fist, they saw he was holding a $2 coin.

He’d refused to let go of the coin, and so the priceless treasure was destroyed.

And s are just the same. Hungry and thirsty for all the wrong stuff. And they risk missing out on the GREATEST treasure, because they’re clinging onto worthless junk.

And it was no different in Israel’s time. God makes this accusation through the prophet Jeremiah. Ch 2:13

13 “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

God offers the water of righteousness. And people would rather drink out of the toilet. THEN and TODAY.

Instead, says Jesus, hunger and thirst for RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Now, in Matthew’s gospel, righteousness means DOING right. Right thinking and right LIVING. And it’s what these blessings are all about. The people God blesses are RIGHTEOUS people. Right in their attitudes and actions.

Matthew 1. Joseph, Jesus’ step-father, was a RIGHTEOUS man.

In 3:15, Jesus is baptised to FULFIL all righteousness. In other words, to DO THE RIGHT THINGS expected of him.

In 6:1 Jesus warns not to DO YOUR ACTS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS where people can see, otherwise you’ll miss God’s reward.

So hunger and thirst for righteousness like THAT. Make it your top priority to be thinking and doing what’s right in God’s kingdom. Hunger and thirst for being right with God. And DOING right FOR him. Ultimately, it’s a hunger and thirst FOR GOD HIMSELF.

That’s the desire God wants. That God promises to satisfy. To BLESS.

5. Merciful

Next Jesus moves on to what righteousness will LOOK LIKE. To how an attitude towards God will SHOW ITSELF in the way we treat PEOPLE.

And I think there’s a connection between each of the first three and these three ACTIONS.

First. V7.

7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

The poor in spirit recognise they’re spiritual cupboards are bare, and they throw themselves on God’s mercy. When we see ourselves like that, we’re more likely to see others differently. And to show mercy to THEM.

To be willing to forgive. To choose not to hold a grudge. To let go of resentment. To throw cold water on the fire of our hurt or embarrassment. And choose, instead, to overlook it.

Merciful/ is the servant who recognises the huge debt the king has forgiven him. And so forgives the OTHER servant who owes him a few dollars. That’s mercy that flows from being poor in spirit.

And God promises to bless by showing mercy to servants like THAT.

6. Pure in heart.

Next. The pure in heart. V8. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. It works from the inside out. Those who MOURN for their own sin. Who own it, but who turn from it towards God who can DEAL with it. Those people will desire to be pure in heart. They their sin, and so they LOVE what’s pure.

Those who mourn for the state of their heart, will conscientiously root out all sorts of evil. They’ll FLEE it. They’ll cut off the hand. They’ll poke out the eye. Whatever drastic action is needed, they’ll do it. Because they mourn their condition, and are pure in heart.

And God promises that they’ll SEE HIM. If their heart’s desire is purity, then they’ll find it. Because God is LIGHT, and there’s no darkness in him.

7. Peacemakers

And when you’ve found God, and are pure in heart, you’ll resemble him. You’ll bear the family resemblance of your heavenly Father. V9.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

And I think this one connects with meekness. One of the ways meekness works itself out is in peacemaking. Meekness is about handing over the wheel to another. If it’s not always about OUR AGENDA. If we don’t always have to be right, or have to win. Then we’ll be less likely to cause strife. We’ll be able to be the oil on troubled waters. To bring peace between people who ARE struggling to be meek.

Now and then

And while all of those things describe our life NOW, and each reward we begin to experience now. The full expression of God’s promises will only be understand in ETERNITY. With God. That’s what v10-12 go on to describe.

Full comfort, full inheritance, full mercy, full revelation of God.

Which is a wonderful comfort to put our hope in. Because this life ALSO has PERSECUTION that goes with it, says Jesus v10-12. People who ridicule you because you stand up for what’s right. Speak it, think it and live it.

They may do WORSE. You might be discriminated against. Or arrested. Or beaten. Countless thousands of your Christian brothers and sisters have lost their LIVES THIS YEAR around the world. In Africa and Asia.

And yet, despite all that, Jesus says such people are BLESSED. Blessed because our kingdom is more real. Our treasure is much greater. Our comfort much deeper Our joy more long-lasting. Our future more secure. Our hope more certain. Our inheritance much richer.

Do you HUNGER and THIRST for a kingdom like that?

Follow Jesus’ advice.

That’s the way to GET it.

Matthew 6:5-15: Starting the Ultimate Relationship

If you want to know what it’s like to climb Mt Everest, you ask someone who’s DONE it. You don’t ask someone who’s greatest climb is up Mt Druitt – wherever THAT is.  If you want to know what it’s like to hold someone’s life in your hands, you ask a surgeon. You don’t ask someone who’s greatest surgery was pulling a splinter, or applying a band-aid.  If you want to know what’s going to happen to the share market, or with your superannuation, you ask somebody who KNOWS. You don’t take advice FROM ME for example.  Actually, I’m not sure ANYONE knows what’s going to happen to the share market, but you get the point. If you want to know about something, you ask someone who KNOWS. Someone with the EXPERIENCE, or the CONNECTIONS.  And it’s the same with GOD. Ask the one who knows him  If you want to know what GOD’S like, you ask the one who KNOWS him. From the INSIDE. The one who’s spent all eternity with him. Who says he’s come from the Father. Who says he’s ONE with the father. And who says he’s the image of the invisible God. And that’s Jesus.  It seems pretty obvious, and yet, so often, people follow a DIFFERENT plan of attack. Defining God by consensus, by preference, or by creation  Some people think you define God BY CONSENSUS. That if most people THINK God is something, then he must BE that. That if the majority of people think God is pro-women or conservation, or anti-abortion or – then he MUST be. But I’m not sure God READS surveys.  Others think God is a matter of PREFERENCE. I’m sure you’ve heard people like this. “I like to think of God as…. Fill in the gaps. A life-force, or a big cloud, or a bit like Santa, or a judge with a giant set of scales, or a watchmaker, or an old man with a long beard… The list goes on. But God’s none of the things WE imagine. That’s simply making God in your own image. Something he said NEVER to do.  Then there’s others who think you catch a glimpse of God from CREATION. And there’s even some evidence in the Bible for that idea. Like Ps 19 v1.  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.  Or Romans 1:20  20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine re-have been clearly seen, BEING UNDERSTOOD FROM WHAT HAS BEEN MADE,  And I reckon that’s true. The intricate design of the eye, or a snowflake point to God’s wisdom and love and creativity. The energy of a storm, or a volcano, or the sun point to his power and strength. The sheer size of the Universe, as we look into the night sky give us a hint of eternity. God’s eternity in being, in power, in perception, in space.  But all of those things in re are just HINTS. And sometimes hints can be deceptive and confusing. Is God the God of the beauty of a rosebud, or the brutality of a lion an antelope. Is he the gentle rain that brings the desert to life? Or the violent storm that destroys buildings? re can send confusing messages. Because it doesn’t use WORDS.  If we’re going to find out what God’s like. It’s going to take him TELLING us. With WORDS. Not leaving it up to us to GUESS.  And what we get in these few verses we’ve just read is EXACTLY THAT. The inside story on God. Straight from Jesus himself. The one who’s spent all eternity with him. Who says he’s ONE with the father. Who says he’s the image of the invisible God. The Word of God as a human being. He can be, and wants to be, communicated with (5)  The context is about how you PRAY. How you COMMUNICATE with the God who made you and everything else in the Universe. See there at the start of v5? Jesus is talking. “And when you PRAY”.  Which is a pretty amazing characteristic about God to BEGIN with. That whatever God’s like, it’s possible to COMMUNICATE with him. In fact, he WANTS to be communicated with.  If you write to THE QUEEN, you might JUST get a photocopied standard reply from a junior assistant under-secretary. But just imagine the Queen sent you a hand-written letter saying, “I’d really like to be your pen-pal. Here’s my address, write to me anytime. Tell me all about what you’ve been up to. I can’t wait to hear from you.”  That’s the sort of incredible turn around it is when Jesus invites us to PRAY. That the infinite, holy God crossed the gap into time and space, and REQUESTED AN AUDIENCE WITH US. To know what we thought, and what we wanted.  First thing about God. He CAN be, and WANTS to be, communicated with.  Relationship not religion (6:5-8)  And here’s the NEXT surprising thing Jesus says about approaching God. And it goes completely against what every other philosophy and culture has ever said. He’s interested in A RELATIONSHIP, NOT RELIGION.  God’s not impressed with a self-satisfied, self-centred self-righteousness. Whether it’s trying to impress HIM, or other people. Special words, or places, or rituals, or external deeds. Multiple repetitions of phrases every day. Earning brownie points before God.  None of it matters to him. It’s water off a duck’s back. See there in V5?  5 “And when you pray, DO NOT be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners TO BE SEEN BY MEN. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, WILL REWARD YOU. 7 And when you pray, DO NOT KEEP ON BABBLING like pagans, for they THINK THEY WILL BE HEARD BECAUSE OF THEIR MANY WORDS. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  RELIGION / is striving to approach God by DOING. Trying. Working. Reaching. Jesus says, Give up, it doesn’t work. When other people see you TRYING SO HARD, and nod their head in appreciation, Jesus says, that’s the only reward you’ll get. It won’t work with God.  When you get your name on the donor’s plaque on the building wall, that’s your only reward. When you don’t miss a Sunday in church, and get the attendance award. Or you turn up every Wednesday to Rotary. And get nominated for chairman. That’s all you’ve got coming. It earns nothing with God.  They’re all good things to do, but they mean nothing if your heart’s wrong. If you’re trying to impress OTHERS. Or to approach God on your own merits. That’s RELIGION. And God’s not impressed.  Instead, he wants A RELATIONSHIP. “Go to your room” says Jesus. Where no one else notices. And talk to YOUR FATHER. Call him DAD. A Father who wants to know you. To hear your struggles, your thanks, your victories, your requests.  FATHER.  (pause) And while it might be hard to get the attention of your EARTHLY Father. If he’s watching TV, or reading the paper. It’s not like that with your HEAVENLY Father. There’s no performance to work through. No need to put on a song and dance.  Jesus says use SIMPLE words. Quiet words. Short and uncomplicated. You don’t even need to use your MOUTH. Because your HEAVENLY Father HEARS you.  And while you might be able to fool your EARTHLY Father, it won’t work with your Father in heaven. He SEES you. V6. Sees EVERYTHING. Not just public deeds, but private ones too. And not just deeds, but even THOUGHTS.  Which is both comforting and confronting in equal measure.  But if your goal is pleasing HIM, rather than OTHERS, then he’ll REWARD you for what he sees.  And not only is he a Father who hears and sees. But he KNOWS. V8. Knows YOU, knows YOUR SITUATION, knows you INSIDE OUT. You don’t have to keep babbling because you Father KNOWS what you need before you ask him.  Which begs the question, I guess: Why does he WANT us to pray? If he already KNOWS.  Because he’s OUR FATHER. He wants A RELATIONSHIP. He wants to HEAR us. He wants us to be expressing our dependence on him, our thankfulness. Our honour and respect. He LOVES it. He KNOWS what we need, but he loves to hear us ASK for it ANYWAY.  (PAUSE) And so we come to THE PRAYER ITSELF. And what’s interesting is that Jesus presents it as a CONTRAST to the sort of ritualistic, repetitive prayers the PAGANS, or the religious leaders, were offering. An example of simple words, simple requests. AN EXPRESSION OF HUMBLE DEPENDENCE, NOT A STATEMENT OF RELIGIOUS PRIDE. A SHORT prayer because God sees and knows ANYWAY.  He says to address God as your Father in heaven. Which we’ve already seen. And then he follows with three short requests about GOD, and then three short requests about OURSELVES.  And the first three requests really merge into one. Look there from the end of v9.  Hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  The first request “Hallowed be your name.” In other words, “God, may your name, your reputation, be honoured. May people recognise you, and revere you like you deserve.”  And you can’t be praying that IN GENERAL TERMS / unless you want to be doing that PERSONALLY. To be recognising who God is, and VALUING him, appreciating and allowing him to rule YOU. Making his reputation HOLY in your words and deeds and thoughts.  And because it’s Jesus telling us to pray like this, it means God WANTS his name to be honoured. For YOU to honour it.  Jesus goes on. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  For God’s kingdom to come is a prayer for God’s RULE to be seen EVERYWHERE.  Which must mean, whatever the world is like at the moment, there’s a sense in which God’s will ISN’T being done. This world is a PLAN B world. A world that’s FALLEN from God’s design.  But praying for God’s kingdom to come ALSO MEANS / the world WON’T ALWAYS BE like that. So, in ONE sense, it’s a request for judgment day to come. For God to END all the suffering and sin, to bring JUSTICE. To set wrongs to right. To begin an eternity where he rules COMPLETELY over EVERYTHING.  But it’s also a request that in the MIDST OF THE MESS OF THE WORLD AT THE MOMENT, that people would begin to recognise God’s rule, and begin to live with his as king.  That little areas of God’s kingdom would begin springing up all over the world. Little candles of light in the middle of a dark night. Little kingdoms of peace, and love and patience and forgiveness.  Which is really how the THIRD request fits in. Because God’s kingdom COMES/ when people are DOING HIS WILL, the same way it’s being done in heaven. “May your will be done on EARTH, the way it’s done in HEAVEN.”  It’s the way God CREATED the world to BEGIN WITH. With Adam and Eve. And it’s the way his world will FINISH UP. Into ETERNITY. And he wants his people working at bringing about that sort of world NOW. Praying it. Working at bringing it in. That we’d be hallowing his name, living in his kingdom, and doing his will.  It’s really what we should be on about at church. It’s the BIG PICTURE of what all the little things we do in church week to week. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So what about you?  Next, Jesus moves onto three requests about US. So what about YOU? What all of this KINGDOM talk will look like on A PERSONAL LEVEL. “Give us our daily bread. Forgive our debts. And don’t lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  First. Look to God in DEPENDENCE. It’s arrogance to think YOU provide what you need. In one sense you DO work for your money, and spend it to buy stuff. But it’s God who gives you a healthy body to work, who provides a job, who causes rain to fall, and food to grow.  It’s God who ensures we have stable government and resources and loving families and supportive friends. It’s God who makes sure cars and fridges keep working, that houses keep standing, and taps keep running. It’s God who makes sure your heart keeps beating, your brain keeps firing and your lungs keep pumping!  So look to him in dependence.  God wants us to RECOGNISE his hand in everything. To ASK him for it, even though he KNOWS we need it. To turn to him with open hands and bended knees. And then to THANK him for it.  Second thing he wants us to do is to repent from our sin (v12). “Forgive us our debts.” He’s in HEAVEN. He’s HOLY, or HALLOWED. And we’re NOT. We fall SHORT of his standards. We fail to do his will, to bring his kingdom in.  And so we need to TURN AWAY from that.  It’s a request that says something about the re of the Christian life. The old bumper sticker’s TRUE, “Christians aren’t PERFECT, just FORGIVEN.”  We’re not suddenly transformed into perfection. A kingdom life, a God-honouring life, will still be marked by mistakes, stumbles, failures. Daily. Don’t give up because living God’s way is HARD. That’s the re of it.  And don’t be TOO disappointed when OTHER Christians don’t always respond PERFECTLY. They’re a work in progress TOO.  Second, the request for forgiveness says something about the RE OF THE RELATIONSHIP. Jesus says to ask for forgiveness, but we can STILL CALL GOD “Father”. Building up a debt with our heavenly Father doesn’t destroy the relationship.  Which shouldn’t really surprise us when we think about the sort of debts children build with EARTHLY fathers, and the fathers just keep right on LOVING them.  And that’s Jesus’ promise about us as children of God.  If our basic orientation is dependence on God, looking to him for all we need, looking to see his name honoured/ then our failures and sins don’t break the relationship.  Which is GREAT NEWS to HEAR from God himself.  The third request Jesus makes concerning us is there in v13. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  Looking BACK, we turn away from the sin we did YESTERDAY. Looking FORWARD, we ask for God’s protection for the temptations and trials we’ll face TODAY.  It’s a request that says something about THE RE OF THE WORLD.  Being a Christian doesn’t guarantee an easy life. In fact, for MANY Christians life / gets MORE difficult. Apart from the PERSECUTION that comes our way because we follow Jesus. We’re not immune from unemployment, cancer, marriage breakdown, kids going off the rails, mental illness, bad investments, disasters.  And the prayer that God would lead us away from temptations or trials is a recognition that God’s got today and tomorrow in his hands. That he’s guiding it all for his purposes. That we’re NOT in control, and he IS. It’s a recognition that we’re WEAK, and he’s STRONG. A recognition that we NEED to be protected from the worst of what might come our way. So that we might live FOR HIM, rather than fall into the traps of the EVIL ONE.  And, like the REST of this prayer, it’s a great request for the Christian to make EVERY DAY.  Every day we need to be praying for God’s name to be honoured, for his kingdom to come, and his will to be done. In OUR OWN lives, as well as the lives of people the world over.  EVERY DAY, we need to be praying that we might live dependently on God for everything, that God would deal with the sin of yesterday, and the trials of today.  4 Start the Ultimate Relationship?  But it’s also a great prayer to be praying for the FIRST TIME. To START the ultimate relationship.  And perhaps that’s something you want to do NOW.  (pause) We’re going to close with a prayer that’s BASED on the Lord’s Prayer. A prayer that YOU can use to START the ultimate relationship. Or to CONTINUE that relationship.  Let’s PRAY  Dear Father in Heaven,  Help me to treat your name as holy,  Help me to recognise your rule,  Help me to do your will.  Please look after me physically.  Please look after me spiritually. Forgive me– because of Jesus’ .  Help me to forgive others. And keep me from being led away. Amen

Matthew 6:19-24: Finding the ultimate treasure

Where’s your heart fixed?

Do you ever play that game, “What would you do if you won a million dollars?” What were your answers? Perhaps they were something to do with a new house, or a new car, or an expensive overseas holiday.

Or how about THIS ONE? Do you ever do THIS? You grab the huge bundle of catalogues out of the mailbox. You head straight for the electronic goods one, or the furniture one, or the clothing ones. Mentally ticking off all the things you could buy. If only you had THOSE THINGS, THEN you’d be happy. THEN, everything would be alright.

Or maybe your daydream is something ELSE. Sporting stardom. Or playing lead guitar to a packed stadium of screaming fans. Or sailing single-handed around the world.

Or perhaps it’s something a little less energetic. Perhaps you daydream about counting down the days until you retire. You’re busy squirreling away every spare dollar into superannuation, so your golden years will be as comfortable as you can make them.

Here’s a daydream I’ve fallen for. I go on holidays somewhere nice. Normally near a beach. Nice place to visit for a week, but probably not that practical to actually LIVE there. AND I BROWSE THE REAL ESTATE WINDOWS. “Wouldn’t it be nice to LIVE here, rather than just holiday?” “What sort of house could we buy? How much would it cost? Wouldn’t life be good?”

Pathetic, isn’t it?

But the very fact we DAYDREAM those sorts of things says something about OUR HEART. Jesus says “Where your TREASURE is, there your heart is also”

Where’s YOUR heart fixed?

Let me tell you about three men whose hearts WEREN’T fixed on wealth or fame or comfort.

AD 30. Probably only months after Jesus’ resurrection. Saul of Tarsus was at the top of his field. A Jewish Pharisee and academic. Energetic, intelligent, ambitious, well-connected, well-trained. Headed for big things. Until the risen Jesus grabbed him, and turned his life, and its priorities, on its head. He’s what Saul, also known as Paul the Apostle, said later. Philippians 3:4

If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

They were HIS TREASURES. What he USED TO think were important. Until Jesus grabbed hold of him. He continues. (probably my favourite verses in the Bible)

7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I CONSIDER THEM RUBBISH, that I may GAIN CHRIST 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ…. 10 I WANT TO KNOW CHRIST and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his , 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the .

That’s where Paul’s HEART was / because that’s where his TREASURE lay. Gaining Christ. Being found in him. Knowing the power of his resurrection.

Two. Jim Elliot was a Bible college student in the 1950’s who gave up a comfortable life and career in America to take the news about Jesus to a tribe of Indians in Ecuador. … He was ed by them in Jan, 1956, within days of landing by plane on the river near their isolated, jungle-bound village. The diary he left behind records where HIS heart was. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

He’d given up comfort and career and safety and family/ so he might gain something MUCH MORE VALUABLE. The reward of his heavenly Father. An eternity of joy and riches. The commendation of his Lord. He counted it all as worthless because Jesus told him to take up his cross and follow him. It’s not foolish to do THAT.

Now let me tell you about a of guys a little closer to home. First. A finance whiz. I’ll call him Rob. He made a motza with Macquarie Bank. And took early retirement.

He’d made enough money for his entire life by the time he was forty. Sound familiar? Think you know where this story is going? Now he lives by the beach, plays golf, takes life easy, and lives off his investments?

No, instead, he went off to Bible college. Now, he’s a self-funded ministry worker in a country NSW Presbyterian church. It costs the church nothing, but they have a full-time assistant doing all sorts of ministry, helping the church grow. Encouraging people to follow Jesus. That’s his TREASURE. That’s where his heart is.

Finally. Another Presbyterian. A man I’ll call Russell. Probably only 50. He attends a Presbyterian church here in Sydney. I studied with him at PTC for a year. An incredibly gifted businessman. He made, I’m guessing, millions while he was young. And then he retired in his 40’s. He set up a charity trust that donates money to Christian ministries. He spends his days overseeing that. Working hard, looking for ways to spend his money on things that LAST.

That’s where HIS heart’s fixed. Where’s YOUR heart?

These are everyday people taking courageous, revolutionary, counter-intuitive decisions. Giving up what seems to the world as valuable.

Why? (pause) The SIMPLE answer is / because Jesus TELLS them to. And they’ve answered his call. Jesus says, Mt 6:19

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

It makes sense when Jesus puts it that way. When you take a LONG TERM VIEW. When you compare 70 years, to ETERNITY. It seems pretty dumb to focus on stuff that WON’T LAST, that breaks, or gets pinched, or you lose interest in, or that gets superseded. Obvious.

How valuable is the treasure?

But it’s MORE THAN just a question of TIME FRAME. It’s a question of VALUE.

Jesus is offering treasure in HEAVEN. Treasure from God the Father. That’s got to be worth MUCH MORE than anything THIS WORLD offers.

We get some idea of HOW valuable / if we look at THE REST of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. OTHER places where he talks about being REWARDED by your Father in heaven.

Jump back to Ch 5 v10. Jesus says God’s reward is better than security and reputation. Matt 5:10-12

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because GREAT IS YOUR REWARD IN HEAVEN…

We’ll do almost ANYTHING to avoid being abused or hurt. For people not to insult us, or think poorly of us. But Jesus says the reward in heaven is BETTER than security and comfort and reputation. That we’re BLESSED.

Or jump down to v46 of Ch 5. Some people make it their life’s ambition to GET JUSTICE. They’ve been wronged, and someone’s going to pay. But Jesus says that your reward in heaven is worth much more than PERSONAL JUSTICE. From v43.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love YOUR ENEMIES and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.

Let go of the need, says Jesus, to GET EVEN. To PAY BACK. Then he says in v46.

46 If you love those who love you, WHAT REWARD WILL YOU GET? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?

God’s REWARD is for those who value love and forgiveness MORE than personal justice. Who BEAR injustice, rather than miss out on heavenly treasure. Who value getting God’s reward more than getting even.

Into Ch 6. Jesus says God’s reward is greater than ADMIRATION AND ACCLAIM FROM OTHERS. V1.

6:1 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, YOU WILL HAVE NO REWARD FROM YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN.

Don’t be a show-off. If your heart’s set on HUMAN APPROVAL, that’s ALL YOU’LL GET. Instead, says Jesus, v3.

3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, WILL REWARD YOU.

GOD’S approval comes to those who SEEK it, above ANYTHING ELSE. What God really likes is when we’re NOT being concerned with people’s opinion of us. When God’s opinion is number one. That’s a reward more valuable than the rest.

And finally, in TODAY’S verses, we see that treasure in heaven is greater than earthly possessions. Ch 6 v19.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, … 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,

Where are YOU storing up treasure? Is it in any of those areas? If it is, you’re missing out on a much GREATER treasure. The one GOD gives.

(pause) And Jesus adds. For where your TREASURE is, there your HEART will be also. It’s an interesting way of putting it.

Whatever is number one will govern your life. If you think career is the greatest treasure, or security, or things. If you think safety, or family, or acceptance are most important. Then that’s where YOUR HEART WILL FLY. Where your DESIRES will be found. Where you’ll FIXATE. Where you’ll DAYDREAM. Where you’ll place your PRIORITIES.

And the things of God’s kingdom will be squeezed out.

WE TEND TO MOVE TOWARDS WHATEVER WE FIX OUR GAZE ON. At PY Winter Camp this year, one of the group activities involved each Bible study group following a series of instructions using a compass. They had walk a certain number of steps in a certain direction, stop, place a marker, then follow another compass bearing for a certain number of steps, and so on. Caron and I had to mark each group on how well they traced out the correct shape on the oval.

Those groups whose leader kept his head down, watching his feet or his compass, tended to wobble all over the place. Their lines were crooked, their shapes were wonky. Their gaze was fixed on the ground.

But with SOME groups, the leader kept her eyes UP. She decided what the compass bearing was, then fixed her gaze on a distant object that was on the right bearing, then walked straight towards it. THOSE groups got high marks. Their lines were straight, their shapes were perfect. The leader was clear and certain because her gaze was on something distant. And the group travelled WELL.

It’s the same with our lives. We drift relentlessly towards where our treasures are stored. That’s what Jesus means when he says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

If, above all else, you want to make a lot of money, buy a bigger house, have a great holiday, get a promotion, beat your competitor, build your reputation, or prove your point, you’ll be devoured by those goals, and the values of the kingdom will be squeezed out. None of those goals ARE BAD. But it’s about what’s your ULTIMATE treasure. What you value ABOVE ALL ELSE.

Where’s YOUR treasure?

What is the TREASURE?

So what’s THE ALTERNATIVE? If we’re NOT to focus on TEMPORARY, EARTHLY things. What ARE we to focus on? What IS the TREASURE?

On ONE level, it’s about things we won’t see NOW. That we’ll only see INTO ETERNITY. But on ANOTHER level, it’s about beginning to experience those things NOW that we’ll enjoy COMPLETELY into ETERNITY.

When the Bible talks about eternity. About God’s new heaven and new earth, it describes it in terms of joy, contentment and peace, without sin, brokenness, pain and tears. It talks about health and healing, of work and responsibility without fatigue. It talks about feasts, and riches and inheritance and community.

All treasures God gives. THEN.

But they’re also good things we can enjoy something of NOW. In a dim, broken, hungry sort of way. Recognising that they’re GOOD, and that they SATISFY – SORT OF. But never being FULLY SATISFIED. Eternity will be about all those things without limit or barrier or end.

But the best thing, the greatest reward, the greatest TREASURE will be GOD HIMSELF. All of that stuff, without God, isn’t heaven. If that’s where your heart is/ then it’s still not fixed on GOD. It’s still stuck on earthly shadows, rather than on the AUTHOR of it all.

Eternity’s reward will be experiencing and enjoying the presence of God himself. And his Son Jesus. Worship without restraint or sham or barriers. Complete, comfortable peace, contentment and intimacy, embraced by God himself. Receiving his warm approval for our labours and faith and suffering. The “well done, good and faithful servant” from Jesus our king.

Once again, one we can begin to experience NOW. In an incomplete sort of way.

That’s what we SHOULD be setting our heart on. That’s the treasure we should be building. It’s the greatest treasure there is.

And it’s the one we’re designed to get the greatest enjoyment out of. One we can GET A TASTE OF NOW. In fact, it’s the goal of our LIFE to be experiencing and enjoying God NOW

Steven Curtis Chapman, in his song See the glory says

“Sometimes it feels like I’m playin’ Gameboy in the middle of the Grand Canyon. I’m eatin’ candy sittin’ at a gourmet feast. Splashin in a puddle when I could be swimming in the ocean. What is wrong with me? Wake up and see the glory”

It’s an idea he and others have acknowledged they get from the author C.S. Lewis, who says: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

We set our hearts on LESSER things, and end up MISSING OUT on the GREATER treasure. The GREATEST ENJOYMENT of GOD HIMSELF. We are designed to find true satisfaction, true joy, infinite joy, as Lewis said it, only in God and God alone, when His glory is at the center of all things, when we delight in Him and His and greatness.

My favourite Christian author, John Piper has THIS as his life motto: “God is most glorified in us when we are most SATISFIED in Him.” Enjoying God. Now. That’s our life’s goal. That’s the greatest treasure to be setting your heart on.

God has so much more for us than the mud pies of worldly pursuits, and the trivial and temporary things here on earth we put so much importance on.

Make him your treasure, and that’s where your HEART will be.

How can you store it up?

But how can you go about DOING that? How can you store it up? Prying your gaze away from rusty, moth-eaten trinkets, and fixing it on higher, greater things. On God himself?

Jesus says, “Be single-minded. You can’t serve two masters.” There in v24. You can’t two-time God, and expect your heart to be fixed on him. You can’t SAY God’s your treasure. But then be longingly looking over your shoulder at what you USED to treasure.

In some ways, it’s simply a matter of the will. I’m going to MAKE him my treasure. My number one. Even if I don’t FEEL like it. I’m going to crush everything else. Whatever it is that’s number ONE. And throw my energy into getting to know God well. Knowing his word, his people, his desires and goals.

Being in church. Meeting God in his word and his people. Glimpsing him in the words and music of songs and prayer. Seeing him working in the lives of others. Being encouraged to keep seeking him, and keep serving him by others.

When I do THAT, my HEART will FOLLOW.

Making God your treasure instead of THINGS isn’t theological theory. It’s concrete. Real. It involves making countless decisions to serve ONE master. To value ONE TREASURE.

As Jesus describes it in these chapters. To receive God’s reward, his treasure. You’ll need to…. love instead of , turn the other cheek, break the cycle of revenge and justice.

You’ll need to speak up when the opportunity arises. You’ll need to put up with an uncomfortable conversation, weird treatment, name calling, rather than miss out on the Father’s reward.

You’ll need to give in secret, without concern for reputation.

You’ll need to remove the money, bin the catalogues, sell off the boat.

You’ll need to turn down the promotion, settle for the cheaper version, make do with last year’s , give up the dream.

That’s the way to break the addiction. The fixation on earthly treasures. Starve it, and it will die. Cut off its supply and it will shrivel and die.

Pray for God to be changing your desires. To enable you to see rusting, putrid things for what they really are. DECIDE where your treasure is. Then your HEART will gradually come to LOVE those things.

Let me finish with some lessons Paul learnt about these things. Writing to Timothy. A younger man. 1 Tim 6

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.

That’s not falling for the treasures of THIS life that don’t last. Instead set your heart of the GREATEST treasure, God. V17

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to PUT THEIR HOPE IN GOD, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Matthew 6:25-34: Escaping to ultimate freedom

The fastest growing market for new cars is SUV’s. Or sport utility vehicles. All wheel drive, SORT-OF off-road cars. Not STRICTLY 4WD. Designed to be comfy enough as you drive around the city during the week. But on the weekend, you can ESCAPE into the bush. They’ll carry your mountain bikes, your kayaks, or your surfboards. Katoomba on a Sunday morning is full of them.

Every car manufacturer makes at least one. Porsche, Mercedes and BMW make EXPENSIVE ones. Ford, Holden, Toyota, Mazda and all the rest make LESS expensive ones.

And I reckon part of the attraction is we want to ESCAPE. We want FREEDOM. Life is just getting BUSIER and BUSIER. We work longer hours, cope with more stress, take less holidays. We have more money, but less opportunity to enjoy it. More timesaving gadgets, and faster travel, but less TIME.

And people need a pressure valve. A way to release the anxiety. A way to ESCAPE. Escape the hustle and bustle. Escape the stress of modern living. Escape the worry of earning money, keeping up, maintaining standards. Escape to a simpler, more laid-back, more lifestyle.

And the way the ads paint it, the way to DO that begins with buying THE RIGHT CAR. Get AWAY from it all. Escape to freedom.

But is that REALLY ultimate freedom? You’ve still got to head back to work on Monday. And the same pressures and struggles are still there waiting for you.

But there’s OTHER sorts of escaping too. Some people try to get free from marriages, and think they’ll find freedom in a single lifestyle. Choose your own path, look after yourself, don’t answer to anyone. No one looking over your shoulder, no one to disappoint. But also no one to SHARE your freedom with. To ENJOY it with.

Others try to escape to freedom from CARES. And they escape into partying or or extreme sports. No commitments, no responsibilities. Just a chemical or situational high. But you always come OFF the high. Often with a bigger LOW than the HIGH you experienced.

Others are tired of the boredom of decades grinding away in the rat-race. And they escape to a sea change, or a tree change. But then they find paradise isn’t all it’s ed up to be.

But are any of those things ULTIMATE FREEDOM. Or are they just different forms of slavery? Changing ONE set of chains for ANOTHER?

Is it impossible to find something MORE out of life than what we experience? Is ultimate freedom possible?

Jesus had a unique perspective on life. He viewed it from inside AND out. From the perspective of ETERNITY, and from the day to day struggles. He’s been FREE from the struggles we face. AND experienced the WORST of them. He’s seen it ALL.

He’s seen what lasts. He’s seen what’s valuable. And what’s NOT. And, even from a distance of 20 centuries, and 15 thousand km’s, his words still ring true, and hold relevance for us today.

And here’s what Jesus says about escaping to ultimate freedom. Ready for it? “DON’T WORRY. Don’t worry about food, or drink or clothes. Worrying can’t add a single hour to your life. It achieves NOTHING. Your heavenly Father knows what you need. Instead of worry, seek his kingdom first – that’s what REALLY counts. And he’ll give you everything you need as well.”

THAT’S ultimate freedom.

It seems so simple. And yet so hard to do. Because worry is just such a , human thing to do.

  • $600 in bills. $400 in the bank. What do you do? Worry!
  • 40 hours of work in the week, 70 hours of things to do. What do you do? Worry!
  • Your ager is late back from the party. You can’t reach them. What do you do? Worry!
  • Your upcoming trip has connections and transfers and meetings and bookings. And you’re not sure whether it will all come together. What do you do? Worry!
  • That lump under your skin is getting bigger. The doctors aren’t sure what it is. What do you do? Worry!
  • The house is falling apart. The piers are sinking, the shower’s leaking, the circuit board is tripping, the lights are flickering, the plaster’s ing. What do you do? Worry!

What do YOU lie awake thinking about?

Instead, Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life. About food and drink and clothing. And then he goes on to give EIGHT REASONS WHY we’re not to worry.

Why are we not to worry?

a. Therefore

And the first is there in the very first word. THEREFORE. THEREFORE do not worry.

If you glance back up at the previous few paragraphs, we can see what the “therefore” is there for. Jesus is saying “Don’t worry about STUFF” because (v19) earthly treasures don’t last, so why bother fixating on them anyway.

He says don’t worry (v20), putting it in the positive, because you’re greatest treasure is in heaven. That’s something VALUABLE. Something WORTH losing sleep over. Something WORTH throwing you life into getting.

And he says don’t worry (v24), pointing out the contrast, because you can’t serve both God and money. If you WORRY, you’ll end up giving up on God, and focus on stuff instead.

Second reason we’re not to worry (v25). Is because God has already done the difficult thing, so doing the EASIER thing is SIMPLE for him. I think that’s the point of the end of v25.

Don’t worry about food or clothes… Isn’t LIFE more important (or MORE) than FOOD, and the BODY more than CLOTHES?

Food and clothes are MINOR compared to the body and life. It’s not like a black and white contrast. One or the other. You can’t IGNORE food for the sake of living. You NEED food for life. I think Jesus’ point is that God has done the HARD thing. He’s given you LIFE. Breathed it into you. He’s turned bones, skin and tissue into a breathing, thinking, independent, relational self-aware being. How incredible is THAT? That’s the REAL miracle.

If he can do THAT. Do the BIGGER thing, then the SMALLER thing of providing food to keep life GOING is NOTHING.

Don’t worry about FOOD, because life is MORE than food, and God’s already given you LIFE.

Same with the body and clothes. The body is more than clothes. If God’s made your eyes, and your ears. If he’s made your hands that can wield an axe or thread a needle. If he’s made your brain and nervous system that can turn vibrations and pressure and chemicals and light waves into electrical signals that your brain somehow interprets to experience and make sense of his world. If he can do THAT, then the smaller thing of providing CLOTHES for your body is NOTHING.

How big is YOUR God? Worrying about stuff like leaking taps, or les, or lost keys is squashing God into a tiny box. A box that says he’s too small to do this, or change that, or provide this. Worrying makes God SMALL. How big is YOUR God?

Third reason not to worry. V26. You’re more important to God than plants and birds.

26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. ARE YOU NOT MUCH MORE VALUABLE THAN THEY?

Same thing with the flowers down to v28. They don’t stress, or plan. But God dresses them beautifully. Then v30.

30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you,

They’re nothing more than a blip on the radar. Pop up then gone before anyone even notices. But God’s got them covered – literally. HOW MUCH MORE will he look after you?

Do you RECOGNISE your worth in God’s eyes? Worry is saying, “I’m not valuable enough for God to look after me”.

Fourth reason not to worry. There in v27. Worrying changes nothing.

27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

You’ve got no real control on your life. So just let it go! Hand it over to God. Not only can worrying not ADD a single hour to your life, it can SHORTEN it.

Stress related illnesses are on the increase. Experts warn us that ongoing and unresolved stress can lead to high pressure, cardiovascular disease, and anxiety disorder that can sink into depression.

And so much of it is about stuff YOU CAN’T CHANGE. Instead, says Jesus, don’t worry about your life. Because worry can’t add anything to it.

Five. Worry is a sign of unfaithfulness (30).

30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O YOU OF LITTLE FAITH?

Faithfulness means TRUSTING that God’s got a situation in control. That he KNOWS, that he CARES, and that he got the POWER to CONTROL it.

Faith-LESS-ness means you DOUBT those things about God. And so you WORRY. You’re anxious about how YOU’RE going to fix something. You lose sleep about what might happen if situation A or situation B occurs.

Worry is the opposite of trust.

I guess it’s POSSIBLE to pray as well as worry. But it’s pretty difficult. You end up tying yourself in knots. Either God’s in control, and you hand stuff over to him. Leave it with him in prayer. Or he’s not, and you WORRY. You pray and SLEEP. Or you WORRY, and DON’T.

Phil 4:6-7 puts the contrast THIS way

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(Five. Worry is a sign of unfaithfulness.)

Six. Pagans worry. We’re supposed to be different. V31.

31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the PAGANS RUN AFTER ALL THESE THINGS, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

If you think the world revolves around YOU. That you’re FREE from answering to ANYONE. That YOU’RE the change agent for success. That you make your own luck. (Which is what non-Christians think).

And that, ultimately, it all depends on YOU…. Then you’re bound to WORRY. To fret. About whether you’ll be able to measure up. To perform at the right level at the right time.

And the bigger the goal, the bigger the worry.

Which doesn’t really sound like FREEDOM to me. More like a depressing sort of SLAVERY.

But Jesus is saying that HIS people should be DIFFERENT. When you belong to GOD. When you’re living life HIS way. According to HIS priorities. Building treasure in the kingdom of heaven, rather than collecting piles of rust and rubbish. Your life will look DIFFERENT. Different on the OUTSIDE. In the things you have. How you spend your time and your money. What things you make time for. And what you DON’T have time for.

But it will also be different on THE INSIDE. If you choose trust instead of worry. You’ll be different in the things you DON’T worry about.

Margaret Howard was telling me about her doctor at St George Hospital. He suspected Margaret’s melanoma had into her bones, and that was why the bone in her foot had broken. Margaret was quite CALM about it, and said her attitude was because she trusted God.

The doctor didn’t quite know how to take that. But he said Margaret reminded him of his mother-in-law, who was ALSO a Christian. And had coped well with a bad health episode. He said she’d given him plenty to think about.

We’re to be DIFFERENT from those around us when it comes to worry. Could people TELL that you’re a Christian by the way you deal with some of the hurdles in your life?

Seven. We’re not to worry because God knows what we need (v32).

31 So don’t worry, … the pagans run after all these things, and YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER KNOWS THAT YOU NEED THEM.

It’s the same thing we saw two weeks ago when it came to praying. We don’t need to keep asking over and over again. God already knows what we need. So we can just ask SIMPLY, QUIETLY, and TRUSTINGLY.

If you TRUST the person delivering the goods, you won’t WORRY. That’s how the whole system of ebay works. You give positive or negative feedback to whoever you buy or sell from. If someone’s got GOOD feedback from previous buyers, you can be pretty confident you’re goods will be delivered without hassle.

But if there’s BAD feedback, you might get burned, and so you’re CONFIDENCE about things turning out will be dented.

With God, we’re not to worry about getting what we need because God KNOWS what we need. And his feedback record, to put it in ebay language, is millions of transactions with a 100% positive rating.

(7. We don’t need to worry because God already knows.)

The 8th reason Jesus gives not to worry is because worry distorts the importance of the present (v34).

34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

It’s a pretty realistic comment from Jesus. He’s certainly not saying we shouldn’t worry because THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ALWAYS A BED OF ROSES. He’s saying there’s trouble TODAY. Christians aren’t SPARED that. But give your mind to TODAY. Approach TODAY’S mountains trusting God to deal with them. It’s just nonsense to worry about TOMORROW before it’s even arrived. Wait until then. If God’s looked after TODAY’S problems, then if he brings more along tomorrow, then he’ll provide for you then, too.

They’re 8 reasons not to worry. But HOW can we go about not worrying? What POSITIVE hints does Jesus give for moving towards the freedom he’s thinking about?

How do we not worry?

It’s there in v33. A great verse to memorise, if you’re going to memorise any in these chapters. How do you escape the pit of worry? Read it aloud with me (v33)

33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

God’s kingdom is the things and situations and opportunities where God is ALLOWED to be KING. And God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS is the way of life God wants for his people. Pursuing THOSE things should be our number one concern. Pursuing HIS way. HIS plans. HIS obedience. HIS priorities. HIS decisions. Make it PRIMARY. Number one. FIRST CHOICE.

That’s the key to escaping WORRY. To finding ultimate freedom. Do THAT, and God promises to throw in all the little stuff you need to get by.

HOW can you seek those things? How do you work at changing your heart? Your priorities and goals. Your concerns. The things that occupy your daydreams.

You’d do worse than reading these three chapters 5-7 every day for a month. Write them out long-hand. Stick them on the toilet door. Read them before you go to sleep each night, so they fill your head.

And you’ll be well on the way to at least KNOWING what God’s righteousness is about.

Get these words under your skin, hard-wired into your brain. So they become second- re. Study them. Organise to meet with other Christians who want the same thing. Encourage each other. Keep each other accountable. Pray together, handing over your worries and concerns to God.

Seek these things FIRST, and you’ll begin to find that the words of JESUS will replace the words of PEOPLE. The PRIORITIES of Jesus will begin to replace the PRIORITIES of people. And the CONCERNS OF THE KINGDOM will begin to replace the WORRIES OF THE WORLD. And you’ll begin to experience ultimate freedom.

A few chapters on from here. Ch 11:28-29 Jesus says these words.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Being Different

Is that where YOU are? Totally depending on God, not a care in the world? If I’m honest with myself, I’m often nowhere NEAR that.

I wonder about myself, and so I wonder it about the rest of you… whether we’re any different from the world around us. Whether our values are just like the pagans as well. Whether, if we calculated some statistics, there’d be even the slightest hundredth of a percent difference in the size of the house and the size of the mortgage and the size of the worldly ambitions… between us Christians. And the pagans.

Because there should be. As those who say we follow Jesus. As those who say we really are hungry for righteousness. More than we’re hungry for riches. Who SAY we seek his kingdom and his righteousness FIRST. I wonder even if we started doing little things like avoiding the urge to upsize… if when interest rates go down, some of us decided to sponsor a kid with Compassion instead of buying a bigger house… or putting in some time leading a Sunday School class, instead of putting in the extra hours in the office.

But somehow, for so many Christians, if it gets in the road of enhancing the lifestyle, it’s not on. Because you don’t have time. Because you’re so busy converting time into money. Because you’re looking for FREEDOM in the prison cells of earthly treasure and earthly worries.

But if God’s righteousness is number one, then that should LOOK LIKE something in your life. Does it? If you had to DEFEND yourself in court on charges of being a Christian, what EVIDENCE would you be able to present. Evidence that people could see and measure.

Jesus’ promise is SURE and CERTAIN. Will you TRUST him?

33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 7:7-29: Building the ultimate foundation

Robert Benn used to be the Pressie minister at Springwood, and he’s just visited the Presbyterian church in Malawi in Africa. It’s an incredibly vibrant and healthy denomination. Founded by the Scottish missionary David Livingstone.

One of the fascinating stories he told us about was visiting the Blantyre mission (good Scottish name). It’s home to an impressive church building with an even more impressive name. The Church of St Michael and All Angels (show photos). Robert asked why it had such an unusual name. His guide said it was because the building NEEDED “St Michael and all the angels” to stop it falling down.

It was apparently designed and built by well-meaning amateurs who built it directly onto the ground with no foundations. It’s been standing for over a century with only one major repair. Held up by St Michael and all the angels.

But buildings like that are the exception rather than the rule. I’ve told you before about our poor old house. Brick piers laid directly on clay soil on a foundation of a of bricks. And so, the piers move up and down with the seasons as the clay expands and contracts. And the in the walls open and close. And doors jam and swing free.

Which are really only SMALL problems compared with something like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Built with poor foundations on loose ground.

A beautiful building. Lovely paintwork and intricate detail. Great design and construction. ABOVE the ground. But, where it COUNTS, where nobody SEES. It’s sick, rotten at the core.

That’s the thing with FOUNDATIONS. You can’t SEE them, but unless they’re sound, the whole building will collapse.

And it’s the same with lots of people TODAY. So busy building the bits of their life you can SEE. That they’ve forgotten about what REALLY counts. The FOUNDATIONS. They’re working on the mortgage, or the career, or the family, or possessions, or hobbies.

But they’ve forgotten about the God who MADE them. Who created the world. Who’s got a plan for everything including THEM. A plan that includes HIM AT THE CENTRE. Living FOR him, and WITH him. Surely that’s the most important bit of life. After all, it’s the only bit that LASTS. Everything else crumbles, rusts, breaks, disappoints and dies. Everything else just BUILDS on that foundation.

Sure, the things of God, the treasure of his kingdom, it’s not something you can necessarily SEE. But, just like FOUNDATIONS, you ignore it at your peril.

And it’s exactly the same problem the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time were having TOO. Focusing on all sorts of stuff you could SEE. Externals. Being seen to be doing the right thing. Reputation. Status. Good works. Washing hands and clothes. Offering sacrifices.

But ignoring the INTERNALS. Ignoring the state of their heart. Ignoring motives for the sake of actions. Ignoring the desire to please THE INVISIBLE GOD for the sake of pleasing PEOPLE.

And Jesus says they’re in danger of the whole lot crashing down.

We’re at the end of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. There in Matthew chapter 5 to 7. A sermon where Jesus tells Israel it’s time to make up their minds… whether they want to be the people of God anymore or not.

All the prophets have said it in the Old Testament already. That they can’t keep on thinking they’re God’s special people who somehow deserve God’s special blessing… if they’re going to keep on ignoring him in their hearts.

I mean, it’s one thing for the Pharisees to parade around in their fancy robes and say their loud prayers on street corners. But where’s their HEART? Where’s the love? The mercy? Where’s the hunger for true righteousness?

And so we started in chapter 5 with the words Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness. For they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful. They’re the ones… who’ll be shown mercy.

And among the hypocritical religious leaders, among the scribes and the Pharisees, there’s not a hungry heart to be found. Not a cup full of mercy to go round.

Religion like that’s a scarey thing, isn’t it? More concerned about OTHERS than with GOD. Externals over internals. Religion over relationship. There’s often a self righteous harshness. All the pomp and ceremony, with none of the humble heart. More concerned with the type of music, or what you’re wearing, than where you heart is as you sing. Pointing the finger, and looking down the nose. Shaking the head. Clicking the tongue.

People like that are the Hyacinth Buckets of the church. All for Keeping up Appearances.

And so, instead, in his sermon on the Mount, Jesus has talked about giving to the needy because you ACTUALLY CARE rather than to be honoured by men…he’s talked about simple prayer in the privacy of your room. About seeking first the kingdom of God… and his righteousness… over and above anything else.

The Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law think they’ve got it all together. But they haven’t realised/ they’re working on stuff that’s just window dressing. That’s not structural. And they’ve ignored the most important things. The foundations. And if they don’t have a change of heart, if they don’t undergo some major structural renovations. Some underpinning. They risk losing the lot. Losing the thing they’ve been striving for the whole time. Their place in the kingdom of God.

Throwing Away What’s Valuable

And Jesus says It’s all about what they VALUE. And what they’re THROWING AWAY.

Some of you know Caron loves to op-shop. And Alex has caught the disease as well. I think it’s about the thrill of the chase. The excitement of finding something others haven’t noticed. A treasure that’s been overlooked. Her best find was 5 goretex rainjackets. Full-on mountaineering equipment. Worth new up to $500 each, and the shop ladies thought they were raincoats. And Caron got them for $5 to $10 each.

It’s the same with that English show “Antique Roadshow”. People bring their oldest rubbish to antique experts who tell them how much the grimy old painting is worth, or their dust-covered vase, or grandma’s old sideboard.

And the best part of the show is the look on someone’s face when they’re told the old rubbish they’d ignored for decades is actually PRICELESS. And they never KNEW IT.

They were so close to just throwing it out. Because they thought it was JUNK.

And it’s the same with the religious leaders in Jesus’ time. As Jesus is bringing the sermon on the mount to a close, he says to them, be careful what you’re throwing away. Be careful that what you’re treating as RUBBISH doesn’t turn out to be INCREDIBLY VALUABLE. Be careful that you’re not throwing your pearl necklace in front of pigs. Don’t toss the masterpiece into the rubbish skip. Look how he puts it. Verse 6 in chapter 7.

Don’t give dogs what is SACRED; don’t throw your PEARLS to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

If you squander what’s really valuable, if you throw away your treasure… he says the time will come when you’ll regret it.

Now it’s interesting. Because it’s not too much later Jesus is telling a parable about pearls. Chapter 13. He says “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

The pearl of great price… is to be part of the Kingdom of God. You’d give everything for that. It’s treasure in heaven. Treasure that LASTS. And yet Jesus says what the Pharisees are doing, what the people of Israel are doing… is they’re at great risk of throwing their treasure before pigs. By which he means they’re treating the kingdom of God… as if it’s worthless. And if they’re not careful, they’re going to lose it.

In short, if they want to be part of the kingdom, things will have to change. If they’re going to value the treasure like they should, they’ll need a change of heart. They’ll need to start working on the FOUNDATIONS instead of the paintwork.

That’s the way to make sure of their place in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Three Warning Signs

And, as they travel along the road that gets there, Jesus has got three warning signs he wants to make sure they notice. The Pharisees, all the rest of the Israelite people. But US TOO. He wants US to take note of the warnings. To make sure we’re not focussing on curtains and paintwork instead of foundations.

Warning 1 v13: Narrow road ahead. Watch out.

Warning 2 v15: Fake direction signposts. Watch out.

And warning 3 v24: Dangerous weather and road slippages ahead. Follow all instructions EXACTLY.

Check very carefully, Jesus says, as you travel along. That you’re on the right road. Just because the road’s full of people, doesn’t mean it’s heading where you want to go.

Check very carefully that it’s the narrow gate you’re heading for. Because, verse 14, small is the gate… and narrow is the road that leads to LIFE. And only a few find it. Life is what you want. Not destruction.

If you just follow everyone else in front of you. If you just assume they know where they’re going. If you assume that politicians, and lecturers and newspapers and the neighbours and the TV know where they’re going, then before you know it, you’ll be through the WIDE gate. And you’ll have missed the narrow gate that leads to God.

Warning sign 2. Fake Direction signposts. False prophets. V15. They might sound like prophets. They might dress to impress. They might pray on the street corners. But they’re wolves in sheep’s clothing. And just like a tree, you can tell that/ by the fruit they bearing.

See, you might be able to dress up the outside. Say the right words, impressive actions. But in the end you can’t dress up the inside. And Jesus says, by their fruit… you’ll recognise them. Because you don’t pick grapes from a thornbush. If they’re bearing les and thorns, don’t kid yourself that it’s a grapevine.

Listen to it twice. Verse 19. Every tree that does not bear good fruit… is cut down and thrown into the fire. You’ll recognise them, says Jesus, you’ll recognise the wolves, you’ll recognise the misleading leaders of Israel by their fruit. And it will be the bitter fruit of judgemental self righteousness. Hardened hearts. Without a glimmer of mercy and love.

And he says they might call on my name and they MIGHT EVEN PERFORM MIRACLES… but if they’re not interested in doing God’s will and reflecting God’s re… I’ll tell them plainly, I never knew you. Get away from me, you evil-doers.

Watch out who you’re following. Who you’re listening to. Check their FRUIT. Because they might be focussing on EXTERNALS and IMPRESSIONS, rather than INTERNALS and FOUNDATIONS.

(Don’t just follow the crowd. And watch which leaders you follow)

And finally, warning 3. Dangerous weather and road slippages ahead. Follow all instructions EXACTLY. V24 The two builders. Right at the end of the whole sermon.

Jesus says, What are you going to DO with what I’ve said? Because there’s a choice to be made. You can do something about it. Or you can keep going the way you’re going and face the consequences.

Jesus says, there’s the WISE man, who builds his house on solid rock; and the rains can come and the streams can rise and the winds can blow. And yet it won’t fall, because its foundations are on the rock. And then there’s the fool. Who builds on sand.

There’s been some footage on the news recently. Of heavy rain and mudslides somewhere overseas. You could watch the home video of that house; the floodwaters are raging past, you can see the corner sag as the foundations are undercut. And within a more seconds, the walls come down and the whole house is swept away in the torrent. And everything’s gone.

And Jesus says in verse 26, everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice, who hears what I’m saying and does nothing about it… is like the foolish builder who built his house on the sand. And the rain comes down and the streams rise, and the winds blow, and beat against the house… and it falls, he says. With a great crash.

The thing with foundations is/ both houses can look identical ABOVE the ground. Solid bricks, nice paintwork, big wide windows, lovely tile roof. But it’s the foundations that will determine whether the house stands or falls.

Two people sitting out there this morning (tonight) can look the same from THE OUTSIDE. They’re wearing their Sunday best. They sing the songs, they close their eyes in the prayers, they sit with their Bibles open. They laugh and smile at morning tea.

But one hears what Jesus says. And DOES it. Hungers for righteousness. Sets her heart on heaven. Seeks first his kingdom. And her house stands firm.

The other one hears the same words. Perhaps loves the SOUND of them. Takes notes during the sermon. Even podcasts the talk so he can hear it again. But he does it to score points, to show how much better he is, to build his reputation, pad his resume. He does it because that’s what he’s always done. To work on the OUTSIDE.

But his heart’s somewhere else. And there’s no life on the inside. And his house is being undermined at the foundations. And it will collapse.

Two men. Which are YOU?

As Jesus says those words about a house built on rock. Not far away in Jerusalem, King Herod is putting the finishing touches to a SPECIAL house on a SPECIAL rock. A house where the eyes and hopes of all Israel are firmly fixed. The new temple. GOD’S house. Built on the solid rock of Mt Zion. The throne of God. A sign of God’s presence among them. Of God’s favour.

The expectation was that with the TEMPLE rebuilt, then Israel would be on the road to success. A sign that God was looking favourably on them again.

But it’s all about EXTERNALS. Jesus is saying the ULTIMATE foundation is not found in a building. Or the bedrock of a mountain. Or in national pride. Or anything else for that matter.

Herod began the work in 19 BC. And even though he died in 4 BC, the temple wasn’t finished for more than 60 years.

But even with such an exhaustive construction process, it only lasted for seven more years. Just as Jesus prophesied. Mt 24 v2. The final days before his crucifixion. He’s looking at the temple, and he says

2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

As strong a foundation. As impressive a building. None of it mattered. Because the people’s HEARTS weren’t right with God. And, in AD 70, Jesus’ words came true. Roman soldiers set it on fire, and then razed it to the ground.

Instead, Jesus says the house that will LAST is built on obeying his words. Not IGNORING them like the Jewish leaders did. Not saying Lord, Lord, but doing whatever YOU want.

Not following the crowd through the WIDE gate, and missing the NARROW gate.

Not storing up treasure on EARTH, rather than building it in heaven.

The ultimate foundation is to HEAR Jesus’ words. And then DO them. That’s the way to avoid being destroyed by the floodwaters of God’s judgment. Waters that sweep away false prophets and hypocrites. The proud and the religious. The self-serving and worriers.

(pause) A few chapters on in Matthew, Ch 16 v16, Jesus is talking about ANOTHER rock. The disciple Simon, whose nickname, Peter, means ROCK. And when Simon confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, here’s Jesus’ reply.

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter (ROCKY), and ON THIS ROCK I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

The church would be built on the disciples of Jesus who proclaim Jesus as the messiah, the son of the living God. In other words, the foundation is JESUS HIMSELF.

That’s the house – the church – we’re part of building today.

And, AS A CHURCH, as we work on doing that. Studying Jesus’ words together. Meeting in home groups, praying together, encouraging each other. Singing and praying together. Being REAL with each other. About struggles and victories. Serious about encouraging each other to DO WHAT Jesus SAYS.

That’s the foundation we have to be building on. Seriously, consciously, persistently, unswervingly hearing what Jesus says, and then removing every barrier and excuse that stops us from obeying it.

That’s the foundation that will keep us strong, not just from the storms of God’s judgment. But strong through the storms of human opinion, of false teaching, of persecution, of unemployment and sickness and breakdowns, and other sorts of trials. The storms of loneliness and hopelessness. Of false accusations and discouragements.

Hear Jesus’ words and PUT THEM INTO PRACTICE.

Years later that same disciple, Simon the Rock, wrote to Christians scattered all over the known world. In 1 Peter 2, he describes the church, wherever Christians might be as a house firmly built on a solid foundation.

4 As you come to him (that’s Jesus), the living Stone-rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him- 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Jesus is the PRECIOUS stone. The most VALUABLE treasure there is. Hear his words and DO them. That’s the way to build the ultimate foundation for your life. A foundation that will stand up to whatever comes your way.

Where’s YOUR priority? Are you preoccupied with the stuff OTHER PEOPLE SEE? Could even be good, ministry stuff. But you’ve forgotten about what’s INSIDE. Your attitudes? Your personal godliness? Your priorities? Your prayer-life? Your giving? Stuff nobody sees.

Matthew 8: Trusting the Ultimate Lord

Good news! The cricket’s back on TV. Just in case you wives were worried about what your husbands were going to do with themselves this summer.

The first game of the season was on TV last week. And one of the players to feature was Adam Gilchrist.

He’s been my favourite cricket player for ages. A great sport. A real gentleman. And probably the most exciting hitter of a cricket ball the game’s ever seen.

He’s retired now. But he was back playing a charity game.

And he’d just kept wickets for a bit, and he’d gone off to have a rest. And the camera showed him sitting in the stands next to a little boy about 10 wearing a cricket shirt. He was talking to the boy, and watching the cricket. Like a thousand other dads in the crowd. Mind you, he was surrounded by about 50 people signing autographs and getting his picture taken.

But I reckon it summed up Gilly perfectly. With a cricket bat in his hand, there’s no one who exerts more authority over a game. But here he was, showing the common touch. Hanging out with the insignificant and everyday people who just WATCH stars like him.

And we see the same sort of picture of Jesus in Matthew Ch 8. The effortless power and authority of the Son of God, combined with the gentle compassion of a servant. Side by side. Wrapped up in the same body.

Just say the word

Let me show you what I mean. Have a look, firstly, at the AUTHORITY of Jesus. We’ve just finished the sermon on the mount, where Jesus TEACHES with authority. It’s the authority that comes from God himself. Authority the whole crowd recognises. See there at the end of Ch 7?

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had AUTHORITY, and not as their teachers of the law.

And into chapter 8, we’re going to see him using words with great authority. But this time to HEAL and RESTORE. And the crowds will be JUST as amazed. And all he has to do is JUST SAY THE WORD.

First up, we see his authority over UNCLEANNESS AND IMPURITY. He comes down from the mountain, and there’s a man with LEPROSY. People aren’t allowed to come NEAR this guy, let alone TOUCH him, because they thought leprosy was so contagious.

But a word from Jesus. BE CLEAN! And v3 tells us, he was IMMEDIATELY cured of his leprosy. It literally says he was CLEANSED.

A powerful word from Jesus. And what’s UN-clean becomes CLEAN.

Next up, Jesus meets a Roman centurion. V6.

6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.”

When Jesus offers to come to his home, the centurion shows his trust in the power of Jesus’ WORDS. V8.

JUST SAY THE WORD, and my servant will be healed.

This is a man who knows what it is/ to do as he’s told. AND to give orders. His whole life is about recognising authority. And he SEES it in Jesus.

9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

If Jesus says the word, his servant will be healed. He doesn’t even need to SEE him. And Jesus is amazed at his faith. Down in v13. He says the word. Doesn’t need to do anything else. Just as the Roman believed.

“GO! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.

Authority over UNCLEANNESS and PARALYSIS. Next up authority over FEVER. Peter’s mother-in-law. V14. A touch from Jesus, and she’s up, getting dinner ready.

Jesus NEEDS to keep his strength up, because after dinner there’s MORE people to be healed. Demon-possessed, and sick. All healed (v16) WITH A WORD.

Jump down to v23. So many people crowding around to be healed, Jesus decides to cross to the other side of the lake. Probably at the end of that same long night of healing people.

But, with Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat, a huge storm whips up without warning. The disciples are scared they’re going to drown. They wake up Jesus, “Lord, save us, we’re going to drown!”

Instead he stands up, rebukes them for their fear, and lack of faith. Then he turns to the storm. And REBUKES the wind and the waves.

He SPEAKS to them. Tells them to pull their heads in, and just calm down. To stop being so hot and bothered. AND THEY DO AS THEY’RE TOLD!

At which point the disciples, who’ve seen everything else Jesus has done, recognise something EXTRA. Something they haven’t seen before. They’re AMAZED at the authority of his words. “WHAT KIND OF MAN IS THIS? Even the wind and the waves obey him!

But there’s still MORE to amaze them. They land on the shore on the other side of the lake. And they’re ambushed by two demon-possessed men. So violent, the whole neighbourhood steered clear of the area.

And the demons know they’re UNDER ATTACK from the one with REAL power. V29

29 “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to us before the appointed time?”

They know they’re beaten, so they offer a tactical response.

30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

Jesus replies with ONE WORD. Go! That’s all that’s needed.

The demons come out of the men, and go into the pigs. At which point, the whole herd rush headlong down the steep bank into the lake and drown.

That’s a POWERFUL WORD!

The guys looking after the pigs run into town. And when they come back they’ve brought the whole town. To see the person who spoke with authority over demonic forces. And, v34, when they see him, they plead with him to leave their region.

There’s a new force in town. They USED TO be scared of the two demon-possessed guys. Now, they’ve found someone with greater power than that. More authority. And they’re scared witless.

Jesus doesn’t just TALK about power. His word IS power.

How do YOU respond to this Jesus? Whose word has the power to control all these things.

The compassionate touch

That’s ONE side of Jesus. But there’s another theme running through these verses. Side by side with Jesus’ incredible POWER is astonishing COMPASSION. Let me show you what I mean. Back to the leper at the start of the chapter.

Now, leprosy was a very PUBLIC disease. Obvious to anyone who looked at him, or smelt him. There’s no hiding it.

So this guy’s SUFFERING, not just from the illness, but from the anguish of being permanently ritually-UNCLEAN. Of people wrinkling up their noses, crossing to the other side of the street, as he walks by.

And he’s SO used to rejection, his appeal to Jesus is heart-breaking (v2). “Lord, IF you are willing, you can make me clean.” He trusts Jesus has got the POWER to help him, he’s just not sure of his MOTIVATION.

But Jesus IS willing. He’s willing AND able. And, even though he could have just spoken the word. Look what ELSE he does v3, he REACHES OUT HIS HAND and TOUCHES the man. Risks becoming unclean himself. But instead of the clean becoming unclean, it’s CLEANNESS that’s contagious. A word and a touch, and he’s healed.

This is the common touch from the compassionate Saviour.

And then, to COMPLETE the restoration, Jesus tells him to go and show the priest. To make sure he gets a clean bill of health. And fits back into normal society.

It’s a bit like Princess Diana. One of the reasons everyone LOVED her was because she had the common touch. Just as happy sitting in a corner reading a story to a pre-schooler, or talking to a war veteran in a secluded hospital ward as walking the red carpet in a glamorous gown.

She’s perhaps BEST remembered for a visit she made to an AIDS hospice. When concerns were greatest about how contagious it was. And there was a mixture of fear and admiration when she was photographed holding the hand of a dying AIDS sufferer. A Princess, actually touching someone with the world’s most feared and shunned disease.

The common touch. Getting down and dirty with the lowest of the low. And it’s what Jesus has got.

But it’s not just the leper. The Roman centurion tells him about his paralysed servant at home. A Gentile home was definitely off-limits to Jews. It would make you UNCLEAN.

But, once again, it doesn’t bother Jesus. V7. He offers to go and heal him. To go to the Gentile home. Not afraid to get his hands dirty.

Lepers, and Gentiles. Jesus doesn’t turn his nose up at ANYONE.

And the word gets out. To people who’ve given up hope. V16. And Peter’s house gets surrounded by crowds of desperate people. Sick, demon-possessed, lame, and blind. And Jesus heals them ALL.

Which Matthew points out (v17) is exactly what you’d expect God’s servant to do. Promised long ago by the prophet Isaiah. The one Isaiah said would come to take up our infirmities. And carry our diseases. And JOIN US IN OUR WEAKNESS. And ultimately, in the words of Isaiah 53, be bruised for our transgressions. And wounded for our iniquities.

That’s the ULTIMATE common touch. Dying in the place of sinners.

This is him. And so you’d expect when God’s servant came… that he WOULDN’T be aloof. And distant. And uncaring. But that he’d GET HIS HANDS DIRTY. And connect… with the unclean world. Even with the ones that people like the Pharisees consider right out of the ballpark. Like a leper. Or a Roman. Or a woman with a fever.

So?

That’s the portrait of Jesus Matthew gives us in this chapter. The authoritative word of power over everything on the ONE hand. And the gentle compassionate touch for the weak on the OTHER.

So what do we DO with a Jesus like that? How do we RESPOND?

Just consider for a moment what a privilege it is that we actually have a CHOICE about how we respond. Did you notice that everything else in the chapter MUST submit to Jesus’ word.

Sickness, storms, Satan.

Disease, demons and downpours.

Jesus SPEAKS and they HAVE TO obey. They don’t get a choice. Everything is FORCED to submit to the One with ultimate authority. Everything that is except for PEOPLE. God’s granted us the DIGNITY of having a choice.

You can see it from v18. Different people who make different CHOICES about how they respond to Jesus. A teacher of the law who CHOOSES to follow Jesus anywhere.

Another guy (v21) who chooses to put SOME CONDITIONS on it. “Let me go and bury my Dad first.” Jesus commands him, “Follow me and let the bury their own !”

And what happens?

We DON’T KNOW. We don’t know HOW the guy responds. Because Jesus gives him the dignity to CHOOSE. He MAY have followed. He may have buried his father, and followed LATER. He may NEVER have followed.

You’ve been given the dignity to CHOOSE how to respond to this Jesus with such authority.

And it all comes down to TRUST. Do you TRUST Jesus? Trust that he CAN help you. And that he WANTS to help you. Trust that he’s got the POWER to impact your situation. AND the concern.

The leper knew Jesus had THE POWER. He just wasn’t sure about the INCLINATION. V2. “IF you are willing, you can make me clean.”

The disciples in the boat weren’t even sure about the POWER. Petrified of drowning, while Jesus slept.

But it’s the Roman centurion’s response Jesus wants to draw our attention to. V8. “JUST SAY THE WORD, and he’ll be healed.” I’m the expert at recognising authority, and YOU’VE got it in spades.”

And Jesus is ASTOUNDED. Not one ISRAELITE has faith like that. God’s people who are SUPPOSED TO be expecting the Messiah. Supposed to RECOGNISE him. Recognise his power and his compassion. And follow him.

But they’ve MISSED him. And it’s THIS GENTILE who’s SEEN it. V10

“I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

That’s the risk they’re running – that YOU’RE running – by failing to RECOGNISE the one with the authority and the compassion to rescue you.

But it’s more than just RECOGNISING it. That’s not faith. The DEMONS recognise Jesus’ authority. And are REPULSED by it. The TOWNSFOLK recognise Jesus’ authority. And they FLEE it. Tell him to leave town.

Faith is RECOGNISING it, then TRUSTING it.

Faith is heading off to the priest after Jesus has cleansed you.

Faith is heading home to your servant after Jesus has said the word.

Faith is following Jesus wherever he leads you. Putting him above EVERYTHING including family.

And when it comes to OUR greatest problem, our sin, and the judgment and and separation that flow from it. Faith is trusting that Jesus has both the concern AND the power to deal with it.

And in case you need a reinforcement beyond what you’ve seen in this chapter. Dwell on the cross, and the empty tomb.

The cross shouts to us of Jesus’ CONCERN. Jesus said it in John 15:13

13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

1 John 3:16 says

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.

When you doubt Jesus’ LOVE, look to the CROSS.

And when you doubt Jesus’ POWER, look to the empty tomb. He defeated . The greatest enemy of all. And he wins victory FOR US TOO. 1 Cor 15.20.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the , the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since came through a man, the resurrection of the comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

Christ has the POWER / AND the CONCERN to help us in our greatest need. Faith LEANS on that. Leans on the picture here in Mt 8. It leans on the empty tomb. It leans on the cross.

And one final thing I want to say about faith. Faith means we FOLLOW him. IMITATE him. We show compassion for the sorts of people Jesus had a heart for.

Perhaps it begins with CHILDREN. Not just YOUR children, but OTHER people’s kids too. How much time are you willing to give children. Before you dismiss their opinions or insights. And move on to something more important.

Then there’s the uncomfortable people. The NEW ones. The QUIET ones. Or perhaps it’s the NOISY ones. The ones who are hard to talk to. Who rub you up the wrong way. At church. But not JUST here. In your street, or school, or workplace.

Jesus had compassion on them. And you should too.

Let’s think a bit wider. There’s the smelly. The rejects. The ones who’ll probably try to use you. The needy, the risky. The ones who soak up your time and your energy and your compassion. But Jesus still shows costly compassion to them. And calls us to as well.

What are you RISKING for Jesus’ sake?

What is it COSTING you?

We’re a fairly middle class church here. But we’re surrounded by great need. You don’t have to look over too many fences to find them.

Are your hands reaching out like Jesus, or reaching up to cover your eyes, and pretend you don’t see?

What do our priorities, or programs, say about us as a church? About how well we follow Jesus. The one with great power and authority. But also, the one with the common touch.

Would that be what people say about US. “They’ve got the common touch?”

(pause) And if we wonder whether we’ve got the ability to DO it. Just remember the Lord we follow in showing compassion. Is the Lord with the great authority over everything. Who can work his purposes through us, as we learn to trust him.

May our prayer be the prayer Paul prayed for the Ephesian church.

18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

Matthew 9:1-17: Fixing the Ultimate Problem

What is our greatest problem?

Let me give you some suggestions from the news in the last week.

1. The Reserve Bank has just put up interest rates. And of course the banks are following suit. Apparently the Global Financial Crisis is weakening, and it’s time for some solid financial policy.

Is the Global Financial Crisis our greatest problem.

2. Iran is building 10 nuclear enrichment plants. Seems like they want to develop nuclear weapons. The United Nations is worried. Even China and Russia are worried.

Is nuclear warfare our greatest problem.

3. The government and opposition are at loggerheads over the legislation for the environmental trading scheme. There’s new leadership in the Coalition, talk of a double dissolution, resignations, by-elections. And that’s even before you GET to the problem of the environmental trading scheme itself. OR the problem causing all the fuss – climate change.

Is political turmoil, or climate change our greatest problem?

4. Australia has drawn Serbia, Ghana and Germany in the World Cup soccer next year. And we’ll struggle to make it past the group stage.

Is sporting mediocrity our greatest problem?

Or perhaps there’s a few issues A LITTLE CLOSER TO HOME that rate for you. It’s about this time of year the kids start saying “I NEED an iPhone for Christmas, or a xBox 360, or a pony, or an electric guitar.

Or maybe it’s YOU. “I need a new bathroom, a new figure, a new job, or a new car.”

Is our greatest problem a lack of STUFF?

Or maybe it’s less frivolous things. You’re UNEMPLOYED. No money, no reason to get up in the morning. And you need a job.

  • You’re lonely, and you need someone to share your life with.
  • Or you’re sick, and you really NEED healing. Or in PAIN, and you need RELIEF.
  • Or you’re kids are mixing with the wrong crowd, and they NEED to find some good friends.

They’re big problems. But is our ULTIMATE problem unemployment, or loneliness, or sickness, or pain, or unhelpful relationships?

As important as all of these things are, Jesus would say our greatest problem is none of these things. Our greatest problem … is our sin, and alienation from God. And our greatest NEED… is forgiveness. We need MERCY more than we need MOBILITY. We need mercy more than we need mates or money or motorbikes.

Mercy or mobility

Let me show you what I mean. We’re in Matthew ch 9. Jesus has just arrived back in his home town, Capernaum. He’s been healing people, calming storms, and casting out demons. And the word’s got out. He pulls up in the boat on the sand, and the crowds gather almost immediately. With all the great needs we’ve talked about. All wanting Jesus to DO something about them.

And the one guy we zoom in on is PARALYSED. Can’t even make his own way there. He needs his mates to carry him on a mat.

It’s obvious what HIS greatest need is. HIS ultimate problem. It’s there for everyone to see.

Perhaps you saw the story of Kurt Fearnley on the news recently. He was born without the lower part of his spine, including legs. But despite that he’s a champion paralympian. Won the New York marathon four times in a row. And he’s just returned from completing the Kokoda Trail. DRAGGING himself along by his hands.

And he arrives at the Jetstar check-in counter, and they make him put his wheelchair in luggage, and then offer him a specially designed trolley that can fit down the aisles of the plane. But Kurt couldn’t steer it – he felt like  apiece of baggage himself. So he declined their invitation.

And so Kurt had to drag himself again by his hands, through the airport terminal. From the checkin counter to the departure gate. Part of the way he was piggybacked by his brother.

Terrible situation. It must have been humiliating for him. And it’s obvious to everyone what his greatest problem was. Although he might say JETSTAR AIRLINES is his greatest problem. It was LEGS THAT WORK. Surely that’s what he really needs.

And everyone watching Jesus and this paralysed man knew the same thing. They look at Jesus. Jesus looks down at the man. The man looks up at Jesus, His friends look down at Jesus…

Everyone leans forward in their chairs. They’re sure they know what Jesus is going to say next. Fix the ultimate problem. “Get up and walk!”

There’s a hush.. and Jesus says instead, it’s there in v2. He saw their faith – the man and his friends – and he says…. “Take heart Son, your … sins are forgiven!

(pause) Let’s consider the FIRST part of that sentence. Take heart. It’s literally, BE COURAGEOUS.

Be courageous, your sins are forgiven.

Being SCARED would be something this guy had plenty of experience at. Paralysed. Helpless. Exposed to any and every danger. Sunburn, boiling water, animals, thieves, fire. Completely powerless to defend himself. Completely dependent on HIS friends to look after him.

And Jesus tells him to be courageous. Which there’d be some HOPE of / if he’d been HEALED. If his LEGS worked again. And he could DEFEND himself, or RUN AWAY.

But what’s FORGIVENESS got to do with it? How is THAT going to help him be courageous? To overcome the things he’s afraid of?

Since when are SINS more dangerous than SHRIVELLED LEGS?

Imagine the crowd! What’s forgiveness got to do with it? It’s HEALING he needs! ANY FOOL can see THAT – he can’t even WALK!

But somehow for Jesus – the big thing’s eternity- and where you stand WITH GOD. Which is a whole lot more significant than being able to stand simply for THIS LIFE.

Somehow for Jesus, the lame man needs MERCY more than MOBILITY. FORGIVENESS more than FITNESS. Restored relationship more than running races.

Somehow for Jesus, there’s something more FEARFUL than danger from animals or sunburn or insects or thieves. It’s being in danger from the righteous judgment of a holy God.

And when you get THAT danger sorted, then there’s REAL reason to be courageous. Your perspective on life changes when you’re in a restored relationship with the Creator of the Universe, and the judge of all humanity. The one who holds your every heartbeat in his hand. Who orders every breath of your lungs. Who’s planned every minute of your eternity. Getting right with HIM is reason for courage. Everything else just falls into place. Assumes a different importance after that.

And getting right with God is fixing the ultimate problem. For THIS GUY. And for YOU TOO. Have YOU turned to Jesus to fix up your relationship with God? There’s nothing more important!

Who does Jesus think he is?

(pause) At this point, we move our attention to some OTHER people in the crowd. Some teachers of the law. They listen to all Jesus has to say, that he forgives sins. And a light bulb goes on in their brain. “Hang on a minute. Did he just say he forgives his sins? Yeah, he definitely said ‘Your sins are forgiven!”

But only GOD can forgive sins. He’s the only one every sin is ultimately committed against. WHO DOES JESUS THINK HE IS? “Your sins are forgiven!” That’s blasphemy! That’s standing in the place of God. It’s making yourself equal to him!

That’s what the teachers were thinking. And they were ALMOST RIGHT! To claim to forgive sins IS to make yourself equal to God. And that’s EXACTLY who Jesus thinks he is. But it’s only blasphemy is Jesus doesn’t have the authority to SAY IT.

We spoke last week about the AUTHORITY of Jesus’ words. And to forgive someone’s sins is just as authoritative as calming a storm or casting out demons. It’s authoritative because it’s claiming the clout of God himself to forgive sins.

Jesus works out what they’re thinking. And then has an OBJECT LESSON for them. V5. Anyone can SAY they forgive sins. Crazy people, and con artists included. But you’ve got no way of knowing whether they can actually DELIVER.

Unless they could SHOW you in SOME CONCRETE WAY. Show you some PROOF. Which is what Jesus is going to do. V5.

5 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.”

A sentence that’s just as easy to SAY as “Your sins are forgiven.” But everyone can tell pretty quickly whether you can BACK it UP or not. It separates the pretenders from the contenders pretty quickly.

And, of course, Jesus CAN back up the talk.

7 And the man GOT UP and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given SUCH AUTHORITY to men.

The crowd are amazed. And the teachers are silenced. But I wonder what it was that AMAZED the crowd. We’re told that it was because God had given such AUTHORITY to men. But how did they SEE that authority? I’m guessing it was the healing of his legs. They saw THAT as the greatest miracle. As the greatest need. Rather than forgiving sins.

But is that the way Jesus saw it?

What was the greatest miracle? legs working. Broken nerves firing. Wasted muscles contracting?

Or a heart made alive. A black conscience cleansed? A broken relationship restored? A perishing soul given life?

For Jesus, that’s the REAL miracle. That’s what REALLY counts. It’s what he did FIRST. It’s what this guy needed MOST. The thing that would last FOR ETERNITY rather than MONTHS or YEARS.

It was certainly the most DIFFICULT thing. The most COSTLY thing. A paralysed body is fixed simply by a WORD. But forgiven sins would take ALL THAT JESUS HAD. It would take HIS LIFE. His . His complete obedience. His life for our life. His punishment for our punishment.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying healing is unimportant. That would be taking no notice of these chapters AT ALL.

Jesus heals the paralysed man, just like he heals the leper, or the sick servant, or the mother in law, because he has COMPASSION. Because his kingdom IS about RESTORATION. Restoring what sin and rebellion have BROKEN. Because he LOVES to reduce suffering, and show love.

But it’s restoration that will only be COMPLETE in eternity. At the moment, Jesus’ physical healing here is only A SHADOW of the restoration God’s got in store. When there’ll be no more pain, or crying, or sickness, or paralysis, or .

But for THAT to happen, it’s got to begin with the restoration of relationship.

The MOST compassionate thing. The most LOVING thing. The HARDEST thing. Is to forgive sins. To forgive the paralysed man’s sins.

Money or mercy

And as Jesus moves on in his travels, we see TWO very different responses to that offer of Jesus. First there’s Matthew the tax collector. There he is sitting in his booth on the side of the road, collecting the taxes as people passed. Counting his piles of money as he wiles away the time.

Jesus walks up to him, Matthew holds out his hand for the tax. But instead of offering him MONEY, Jesus offers him MERCY. Follow me! He says (v9). And Matthew has a choice. What’s his greatest problem? Not enough money, or not enough MERCY?

He gets up, leaves everything behind and follows Jesus. And the words he uses to describe what happens suggest he sees it as just as great a miracle as what Jesus did for the paralysed man. What does it say Matthew did at the end of v9? Jesus said, Follow me. And what’s Matthew do? He GOT UP. Literally says he AROSE. Exactly the same word that describes what the PARALYSED MAN did after he was healed.

Because they’re BOTH miracles. And Matthew sees THIS ONE as fixing HIS ultimate problem.

(pause) The OTHER reaction comes a bit later. Jesus is having dinner at Matthew’s house. There’s all sorts of people who want to find mercy. Who recognise what their greatest need is. Tax collectors and sinners.

But there’s the leaders again – v11. “Why is Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners?” Why doesn’t he just write them off? Doesn’t he care about his reputation?

They might be sinners says Jesus. But at least they recognise they’ve got a problem. And they’ve come the right place to deal with it. The right place for a SICK person is at the DOCTOR’S. v12

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.

That’s the attitude Jesus wants above anything else. To recognise your greatest need. Your ultimate problem. And then turn to Doctor Jesus to DEAL with it.

And it’s what the Jewish leaders AREN’T doing. They reckon they’re FINE. There’s no NEED. No PROBLEM. And Jesus has a word for THEM.

13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Go and do some homework, he says. Jesus is quoting from Hosea 6:6. It’s in the middle of a long section where God is pleading with his people to turn to him TRULY. They’ve turned away from him, followed idols. There’s injustice and greed all through the land. God sends them invaders and sickness and famine. All to make them wake up to themselves, and return to him.

And the people think it’s AN EASY thing to come back to God. That he’ll be happy with cheap words, and surface actions. Hosea 6 v1.Listen to what the people say.

“Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. 3 Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”

But listen to what GOD thinks of that attitude. V4

4 “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. 5 Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth; my judgments flashed like lightning upon you. 6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

Don’t just SPEAK about repentance. Don’t just offer meaningless sacrifices. I’m not interested in external appearances. Recognise your problem. Make your repentance REAL. Show that you’ve understood mercy, by SHOWING it in your relationships.

And that’s what the leaders WEREN’T doing with Jesus. No mercy. No humility. No forgiveness. Just harsh judgmentalism. Go away and think about it, says Jesus. Learn what it means.

Because that’s the attitude I can work with. A recognition of your greatest need. I haven’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.

Matthew and his mates got it. The paralysed man got it. The Jewish leaders didn’t have a clue. What about YOU?

Conclusions

So what’s this have to say to us?

The first thing to recognise is that Jesus’ priorities haven’t changed. What was important THEN is still important now. The ultimate problem THEN is still the ultimate problem NOW.

It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? Especially if you’re struggling with some sort of chronic illness. That you need to repent. And have your sins forgiven more than you need physical healing.

You need to repent and have your sins forgiven more than you need a long life, or a new job. You need to repent and have your sins forgiven more than you need that holiday, or that spouse, or that new house.

If you haven’t repented, and allowed Jesus to be boss, then NOTHING ELSE MATTERS!

So how does this work itself out in the things we do?

What about prayer? What sort of things do you pray about? What sort of things are you determined and committed and regular about praying for?

(pause) Reflects your priorities, doesn’t it?

I know that EVERY NIGHT since before our kids were born, my parents prayed for them. They pray they’ll grow up continuing to love and serve the Lord Jesus. Which is a much higher priority than health or wealth, or any of the other things we fill our prayers with.

What are YOUR prayers filled with? Prayers for YOURSELVES. Or prayers for OTHERS.

Are you PRAYING for missionaries? For the gospel to be powerful in people’s lives. Are you praying for your family, and your neighbours, and your workmates. That they’ll grow in their understanding of Jesus, and their need to repent and turn to him.

Or are your prayers filled with all sorts of OTHER priorities instead?

Or how you use your money? We say WITH OUR HEADS that the gospel is our number 1 priority. But is it backed up with your wallet? Where does giving for missionaries, or Christian books or resources fit in? Do you pinch pennies when your kids ask to go on a Christian camp? Or is that a PRIORITY?

And what about us as a church? There are LOTS of good things we could be doing, but unless we’re telling people the gospel – the good news about repentance and forgiveness and a relationship with Jesus, then we aren’t doing our job.

We could find jobs for the unemployed. Some churches are doing that. Great government funding! We could run injection rooms for addicts. Housing for poor people. Food parcels. Movie nights. Festivals. All sorts of things we COULD do. Some things we ARE doing.

But if we’re not calling on people to repent and turn to Jesus, it doesn’t matter HOW MANY good things we do, we’re not really helping where it counts. We’re not fixing anyone’s ULTIMATE problem.

We need to be a church who’s number one priority is the same as Jesus. We need to be a church who preaches the gospel before all else. Proclaims it to each other. And to outsiders.

A church where we LEARN how to be doing that. Learn God’s priorities, and how HE thinks about his world.

Where we’re BUILDING EACH OTHER UP, encouraging each other, so we can be TAKING those priorities to OTHERS.

It’s OUR greatest need. It’s the greatest need for THE WORLD.

It’s what Jesus was on about. And it’s what we need to be on about too.