The Church’s Call to Serve – Matthew 20:1-28

Whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Matthew 20:27-28

In Matthew chapter 19, after encountering a rich young man, Jesus proceeded to teach his disciples about the danger of pursuing riches and the blessing of surrendering all to follow Him. He concluded this teaching in verse 30 by saying, “but many who are first will be last, and the last first.” This statement summarizes the teaching that those who pursue financial gain may be counted first in this world, but they are last in the kingdom of God; while those who, like the disciples, surrender their lives for the name of Christ, are counted first.

There is a close connection between the stories of chapter 20 and those of chapter 19. This is clear as Jesus repeats the same phrase in verse 16: “the last will be first, and the first last.” Chapter 20 also begins with the Greek conjunction gar, which emphasizes the continuity. Just how the parable of the hired workers in the vineyard (chapter 20) is related to the teaching on riches (chapter 19) is not immediately clear, but what is clear is that Matthew uses this illustration as a segue to the events he reports later in verses 20-28, where he teaches about the value of being a servant.

 “The last will be first, and the first last,” is a summary of the counter-cultural way the entire Gospel of Matthew calls the Christian disciple to live. In this present order, those who are first are the rich and famous; as Jesus puts it in verse 25, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.” In our society, “the first” are served; “the last” are the servants. But Jesus calls us to a different life, saying in verse 26, “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” Jesus demonstrated this as He who is “the king of the universe” turned the world on its head, by coming “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Christ’s servant’s nature is most demonstrable on the cross where He gave His life to save others. In preparation for Sunday read and pray through Philippians 2:3-11.

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The Necessity of Holiness – Isaiah 6:1-8

Any of us who have been in the faith for some time know that we are called to a life of holiness.  However, living at a time when the culture is becoming increasingly ungodly, and while the church continues to lower the standard of holiness in order to accommodate the culture, we tend to lose sight of God’s standards of holiness.  It is helpful from time to time to reflect on God’s holiness so we can refocus our goal.

We read in 1 John 1:3-5 that God is Light (absolutely holy), and if we are to have fellowship with him, we too must walk in the light.  There were many who claimed to know God in John’s day, as in our day, but were walking in darkness.

So in our study on the necessity of holiness in a believer’s life, we need to start where John starts, and that is by establishing the standard of holiness that God calls us to in 1 Peter 1:15.

RC Sproul in his classic book on The Holiness of God describes God’s holiness in this way:

“When the Bible calls God holy it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be ‘other,’ to be different in a special way…. when the word holy is applied to God, it does not signify one single attribute. On the contrary, God is called holy in a general sense. The word is used as a synonym for his deity. That is, the word holy calls attention to all that God is. It reminds us that His love is holy love, his justice is holy justice, his mercy is holy mercy, his knowledge is holy knowledge, his spirit is holy spirit.”

As Hannah said in 1 Samuel 2:2, “No one is holy like the Lord, For there is none besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God.”

There is nothing that will abase man more than beholding the holiness of God . It is only when we see ourselves in light of God’s holiness, as did Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5), that we will truly see our need for Christ’s perfect righteousness; and with that sense of humility and gratitude for the cleansing mercy of Christ’s blood, we go forward to preach and live out the glorious gospel (Isaiah 6:6-8).

 

The Church’s Call to Give All – Matthew 19:16-30

We concluded last time in Matthew 19 verses 13-15, with Jesus receiving the little children unto himself, surprisingly announcing in verse 14, “to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” In stark contrast to the poor and weak nature of these children, Jesus was approached next by a rich young ruler who seemed to be living quite a good moral life. Perhaps more surprising than the nearness of the children to the kingdom of heaven, is the shocking discovery that this moral nobleman would find himself outside of the kingdom of heaven.

What is it about this rich ruler that is separating him from eternal life? After all, in his own estimation, he has kept the commandments well for his whole life. As a rich man, he probably gave a lot of money to charities and religious causes. He is even kneeling before the good Rabbi Jesus, in order to pursue what he must do to gain eternal life. If this man were to enter our church today, we would most assuredly embrace him, perhaps lead him in a prayer, pat him on the back, and assure him that he was on the right track to gain eternal life. But we learn in the text that both this man, and Jesus, knew that there was something he lacked.

What was it that he lacked? First, he had a poor understanding of his own sinful nature, particularly when contrasted to the One God, who alone is good. Many today fail to understand that goodness lies outside of themselves, and any goodness within is only the result of God’s gift. Second, his approach to gain eternal life was wrong; he saw it as something he could get by doing. Many evangelicals hold this view, thinking about eternal life as something that they attain by doing something themselves, for example, by praying a sinner’s prayer. Thirdly the young man asked about “eternal life,” whereas Jesus referred simply to “life,” demonstrating that following Jesus is not merely about the future, but is living life now. Again many fail to realize this, making the Christian faith all about a future heaven and nothing about life on earth today. This man was hoping to work his way into heaven by doing something, but what was needed was for him to become child-like and abandon all to follow Jesus. The sad conclusion is: When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions (Mt. 19:22).

The Implications of the Resurrection – (Acts 2:22-26)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit was the most significant event in the history of the human race. Its implications were not only felt in the first century, but continue to be felt today, as the resurrected Christ continues to spread His reign and rule in the hearts of men everywhere.

Let us look at some of those implications.  First of all for the apostles: prior to seeing the risen Lord, they were all huddled in an upper room with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. After the resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they are in the middle of Jerusalem proclaiming that Jesus is the promised Messiah and that He rose from the dead and everyone who believes on Him will be saved.  Peter, who once denied his Lord for fear of being arrested, is now fearlessly and boldly proclaiming to the world that Jesus is the Christ. All of the apostles, except for John, went on to seal their testimony with their blood.

Skeptics have tried to come up with theories regarding the empty tomb and resurrection appearances of Christ, but none of these theories even comes close to explaining the transformed lives of the apostles and hundreds of millions of people since then, who bear testimony to the work of the risen Christ in their lives. In fact the scripture tells us that there will be “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” standing before the throne and worshiping God and the Lamb.

Secondly we’ll look at the implications of the resurrection to the world.  The resurrection validates all of Christ’s claims to be the Son of God and Savior of the world.  It testifies to the world that the Word of God is true.  As Paul states in citing an early Christian creed (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), everything about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was done in accordance with scripture.

Finally, the implications of the resurrection to us believers: We have the joy of knowing that God has accepted Christ’s payment on the cross for our sins; we have access to the throne of God through our advocate; we no longer fear death, because to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord; and we can live victorious Christian lives through the power of the risen Christ. Amen!

Present Hope, Future Victory – The Epistles of John

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2 ESV)

Having considered John’s three epistles separately, we close our expositions in this series with a unifying summary of 1, 2, and 3 John. While each section of each epistle contains different emphases, all three letters share some commonalities: the same setting, the same applications, and the same hope.

1, 2, and 3 John are all written to first-century believers who were ransacked by apostasy. John writes from the heart of a pastor, giving these believers ways to recognize false believers while leading them to assurance of their own salvation. In addition, he exhorts them how to interact with those who deny the faith.

In each letter, John also stresses the same application – walk in the truth and love one another. Love and obedience are so central to John’s letters that these two characteristics are used to reveal whether an individual truly as eternal life or not.

Finally, the cord of hope winds through each epistle. This hope is found only in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Despite the difficulties of apostasy and false teaching, John’s audience has every reason to have hope because Jesus has defeated Satan, the light has overcome the darkness, and faith overcomes the world!

The theme of Christ’s triumph is something the Apostle John stresses in all his writings, including the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation. Perhaps this inspired insight is what kept John from a depressed countenance and gave him a positive outlook. To be sure, John recognizes – as we should – the despair of apostasy and difficulty, but he does not let these things sway him from the hopeful expectation of the future triumph of Christ. It is precisely this triumph that serves as the grounds of why we love one another, why we walk in truth, and why we have hope and assurance in the midst of trials.

As we ourselves bemoan our current cultural and ecclesial climates, we can be prone to doubts, fears, and anxiety. John’s inspired message is timeless. We serve a Lord who has defeated the very powers of darkness behind these attacks. He has triumphed over the grave and will ultimately triumph in glory. We look to that triumph to press on. Even more encouraging, perhaps, is that while we are waiting with hope for this final triumph, we have present hope right here and now because our Lord is indeed present with us, giving us victories every day.

The Church’s Call to Forgive – Matthew 18:21-35

So far in this sermon in Matthew 18, Jesus employed five accounts to teach Christian disciples how to love: 1) those in the world by limiting our freedom (17:24-26); 2) fellow-Christians with humble service (18:1-5); 3) weaker brethren through self-denial (18:6-9); 4) wandering Christians with relentless concern and outreach (18:10-14); and 5) sinning Christians by confrontation, and if necessary discipline or excommunication (18:15-20). What may be striking to us as we have been studying Matthew 18 is the seriousness with which sin is dealt with. No measure is to be left untaken in our effort to put sin to death in ourselves and in our brothers and sisters in the church. This shows us the importance of our “mission field” within our own local church. Our integrity as a church depends on our placing an equal emphasis on outreach to the world and “inreach” within the church. When we join ourselves to a local body of Christ, we become “our brother’s keeper,” as we strive together to make it to our final destination. So mortification of sin is a group-project, where we help each other to identify and root out sin.

But Jesus does not want to leave us with excommunication as the final word of this sermon – His last word is, forgiveness. In the course of living life together, individuals in the church will inevitably sin against each another. Part of our growth as Christians involves bearing with one another’s different sinful tendencies, and forgiving one another is paramount. In Matthew 18, verses 21-35, Jesus concludes this sermon on how to love one another with a strong exhortation of the absolute necessity for the Christian to forgive. The illustration of the unmerciful servant in our text reveals that forgiveness is so essential to our faith, that if we do not extend it to others, then we will find ourselves under God’s judgment. This parable stands as a warning to those in the church to examine themselves for the damning sin of unforgiveness. This text, along with parallel teaching from the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13, reveals that extending forgiveness to others is a behavior that comes as a result of the heart-change that we receive when we are forgiven our massive sin debt by Christ. It is with an overwhelming sense of gratitude then, that the Christian’s life becomes defined by charitable forgiveness.

 

The Altar, Sacrifice, and Worship – Exodus 20:18-26

Previously we have witnessed one of the most epic scenes in the Old Testament in Exodus 19:1–20:17. The Lord displayed his awesome presence to the people at Mt Sinai. He also spoke to them from the mountain in what we know as the Ten Commandments. Israel’s reaction was to tremble! They told Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” Verse 21 concludes, “So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.”

In our text in Exodus chapter 20 verses 18-26, the Lord continues to speak with Moses upon the mountain. First, the Lord essentially reiterates the first two commandments concerning having no others gods and making no idols. While we may just pass over this, we must realize that when the Lord repeats something, the people of Israel (and we today) need to pay close attention! Secondly, the Lord continues with instructions for altars, sacrifice, and worship in verses 24-26. The Lord sets guidelines for making altars. While we have seen sacrifice and worship throughout Genesis and Exodus, this is the first time we read a set of rules for making an altar. Back in that time, pagan altars were quite elaborate. But God is very clear that this altar was not to demonstrate the craft of man. Whether it was to be an altar of earth or stone, it was to be constructed simply, thus directing attention to God and not to the work of man’s hand. Also in these verses we find the Lord giving guidelines for sacrifice and worship. He directs Moses to two types of sacrifices upon the altar, burnt offerings and peace offerings. In His mercy, right after giving the Law, which the Lord knows they will break, God makes a way for the people to atone for their sins.

On Sunday we will look at altars, sacrifice, and worship in the Old Testament, but we will also look at these things from a New Testament perspective and see how they even apply to our corporate worship today. It is wonderful to see how revelation progresses in Scripture from the Old to the New Testaments. We have seen it before most strikingly in the Passover in Exodus 12, and we will see it again in our text and beyond as we move forward through Exodus.