In Matthew chapter 18 Jesus employs six illustrations to teach about the nature of love within the church community. The first three call us to a humble and self-denying love that is relentlessly tough on oneself, so as to not damage the faith of others. The last three call us to love one another in a way that demonstrates passion for other individual disciples in the church. As Matthew reports these stories he is sequentially building to the climax in verses 15-20 – what is often referred to as the process of church discipline. Here Jesus teaches the sin-confronting process whereby straying individual disciples are won back into the family.
Jesus describes a four-step process to apply when a wandering disciple strays from an occasional struggle with a weakness, into willfully participating in something that is clearly sinful. When a disciple goes over the line from weakness into wickedness, Christ commands the covenant community around him to confront the individual disciple and urge him to repent. If there is one thing that is very clear in Jesus’ teaching, it is that He is protecting the reputation of the sinning one; He is in no rush to expose sin. The matter is to be contained first between the one in sin and the person confronting him, and then between the witnesses; ample time must be given to repent. Church discipline is not a matter that is to be taken lightly; to do it right requires time, patience, and energy, as love always does. The ultimate goal of this process is restoration and reconciliation. Even if the final step of church discipline is carried out, and a person is removed from fellowship, the church ought to continue to love and pray for his repentance.
“The church” that Jesus speaks of, refers to the local assembly. This is not a reference to the church leadership. Though the elders are involved in the process, it is the assembled church body that takes the responsibility of the final step of discipline. This shows the authority that Jesus entrusts to local congregations. Jesus authorizes the local church to remove (bind) or allow (loose) someone from their communion, and seals that decision with a promise of His presence with the church, and that wherever this “binding” or “loosing” is done on earth, it has the authority of heaven behind it.
It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. Matthew 18:9
D.A. Carson said, “… precisely because our culture finds it relatively easy to believe that God is a God of love, we have developed notions of God’s love that are disturbingly spongy and sentimental and almost always alienated from the full range of attributes that make God, God.” Sadly, in what Calvin referred to as the “idol factory” of the mind, human beings tend to craft gods who make them comfortable. We readily accept those characteristics and actions that we judge as loving, while rejecting deeds and appearances of harshness. It’s the same with people. If someone is deemed to be “accepting” or “tolerant,” he might be counted as a “loving person;” while a person who confronts or challenges sin in another person’s life, is counted as “judgmental” and “unloving.” Even within God’s attributes, it is difficult for some to reconcile the love of God with His judgment of the wicked in hell. But it is not right to count the doctrine of eternal judgment as unloving, because the most loving Person to walk the earth taught it. And it is the most loving thing one can do, to warn people of the severe consequences that lie ahead of them on their present course. It is unloving to appear “tolerant” while you know a person is headed for his destruction.
On Sunday we will examine a Scripture text from Matthew chapter 18, where Jesus teaches the nature of love within the church community. We are called to love one another in a way that demonstrates passion for the individual disciple in our church. We find first, in verses 6-9, a love that is relentlessly tough on oneself, so as not to damage the faith of others in the church. Secondly, in verses 10-14, we read of a shepherd diligently seeking after one wandering sheep. From this illustration, we discover that love for one another leads us to relentlessly pursue the straying disciple, seeking to restore him to the fold. Then in verses 15-17, Jesus teaches the sin-confronting process whereby straying individual disciples are won back into the family. When we think of love, our minds rarely run to “cutting off limbs” or “announcing sin to the entire church;” but the love that God ordains for His church is one that relentlessly pursues its object until it makes sure that he or she achieves the common goal of the upward call of God, whatever the cost.
… the sons are free. However, not to give offense … Matthew 17:26b-27a
Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:4
With verse 24 of chapter 17 of Matthew’s Gospel, we move into another section of teaching that is relevant for our life together as Christ’s church. In these next three chapters (18-20), we will look at congregational ethics (Matthew 17:24-18:35), domestic and monetary principles (Matthew 19), and servanthood (Matthew 20:1-28). God willing, we will cover this section in the next seven sermons, which will contain some very practical lessons about life in the church, at home, and in the work environment.
Coming out of chapters 13-17 with the call to “walk by faith” still ringing in our ears, in this next section we see what “walking faith” looks like among the people of God. In our text for Sunday we will cover the first two of six accounts in chapter 18, that teach how self-denying love: 1) limits personal freedom (17:24-27), and 2) redirects ambition (18:1-5). In the first story about the payment of the temple tax, we learn that “the children (of the kingdom) are free” (vs. 26); however, it is a central truth of Christian love that freedom is limited out of concern of offending others – that is, of driving them away from the Faith. Of course the non-Christian community around us is going to be offended by certain Gospel truths that we uphold. However, in the application of our Christian walk we must be careful that those around us are not stumbling over the political and cultural views that we may count as important, but are personal freedoms and not Gospel truths. In the second story, Jesus uses a child to illustrate the posture of a true Christian’s faith. Self-denying love takes one’s own personal ambition and success and relegates it to a place behind serving others.
In the first account, we see how as Christians, we have been set free to love others. In Christ we become the free servants of others. In the second story we learn that humility is the path to greatness. Both of these anecdotes are so antithetical to the world’s philosophy and way of living. The world sees freedom as a pathway to do whatever one wants; and the world links greatness with personal ambition. We are called to live with an “out of this world” self-denying humility that considers others better than ourselves.
“I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth . . .” (2 John 4a ESV)
Truth is of utmost importance and absolute. Coming to understand truth is a privilege. If we have received the truth, we ought to study the truth, proclaim the truth, and guard the truth.
We’ve seen the significance of truth in our expositions in the John’s First Epistle. John was writing to believers who, like us, were threatened with lies from false teachers. John writes to them from the heart of a pastor, warning them about these wolves while assuring them of their standing with God. Reading the epistle inspires even 21st century Christians to defend the truth.
While examining, preaching, and contending for truth are vital disciplines, we must also ask: do we rejoice in truth? The truth that you guard from attack – do you truly love it? The truth you preach to others – does it delight your own soul? The truth that you parse, exegete, and scrutinize – does it bring you joy? Are you encouraged when others walk in truth?
The joy of truth is the spirit of John’s Second Epistle. Though much of the material overlaps with his first letter, the emphasis on rejoicing in truth stands out in the first few verses. Indeed, the epistle contains warnings against false teachers. But we do not start with a defensive or negative posture; rather, in our quest to see the truth of Christ exalted, we begin with a heart that is so captivated by the glorious truth of the gospel, that anything less or anything contrary is automatically spurned. Our hatred for every false way should be a natural outgrowth of our love for what is true.
As we prepare for our brief time in 2 John, let us ask the Lord to search our hearts and reveal our real attitudes toward the truth. Is truth something we use to win arguments, or is it something that has won our hearts? Is truth something we enjoy telling people to obey, or is it really our delight to walk in truth? Does hearing truth conjure up judgmental attitudes about others or does it cause us to rejoice in God? Brethren, let us remain diligent in our study of truth and vigilant in our defense of it, but most of all, let us rejoice in the truth and in knowing the Truth-Giver!
And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” Matthew 17:17
Imagine for a moment the disappointment that Moses must have felt after having been in the presence of the Lord God on the mountain for 40 days, to come down to find the children of Israel steeped in the idolatrous worship of a golden calf (Exodus 32). Moses was so upset by the shameless display that he actually smashed the stone tablets that contained the Law written by the very hand of God (Exodus 32;19). In our text for Sunday we find Jesus, coming down from His communion with Moses and Elijah and the very voice of His Father. As He does He is descending more than just a physical mountain; like Moses, He returns to find the enemy has triumphed over His faithless followers. Imagine how jarring it must have been to His heart to come from the heights of heaven to return to such an unbelieving company of disciples who were unable to cast a demon out of a young child.
There is an eternal difference between the experiences of Moses and Jesus, however. Moses came down the mountain, leaving God at the top; the disciples however, did not leave Jesus on the mountain; He came down with them. Now their failure is transformed into an opportunity to learn from Jesus and grow in faith, as the transfigured Christ who is the “Beloved Son of God,” now comes down the mountain as the “Son of man,” to teach His disciples how to live by faith, suffer, and help and serve others.
Faced with a demon-possessed boy, Jesus teaches that if the disciples had but a small amount of faith, nothing would be impossible for them (17:20). There is one reason that God’s people are not walking an overcoming, victorious walk; there is one reason that God’s people are not serving one another in love; there is one reason that Christians are not living as we ought – it is faithlessness. The good news though is that we can accomplish great things with even the smallest measure of faith. This is where we find the answer to our inability. The Father’s command in verse 5: “Listen to Him,” necessitates obedience, and obedience requires faith. May we exercise our mustard seed of faith to obey the Lord Jesus Christ.
In His glorious covenant with Abraham, the Lord promised that He would make Abraham a blessing to many nations (Genesis 12) and also that Abraham would: a) have an heir, b) his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, and c) they would inherit the land of Canaan (Genesis 15). Today in hindsight and with the progressive nature of revelation, we can see how all of these promises have come to pass, but the fulfillment was not as evident at the time Moses wrote Exodus. Abraham had an heir and his descendants were many, but they were bound in slavery in Egypt. The Lord miraculously set them free from their bondage and is bringing them into the Promised Land. On this journey they are called to the very mountain on which the Lord spoke to Moses in chapter 3. In what is truly an epic event within Exodus and all of the Old Testament, the Lord will again speak; this time not only to Moses, but to all the people of Israel. In our text and the verses that follow, God gives what is known as the Mosaic Law. It is a covenant that God made with Israel.
We’ll open up our text with first looking at the giver of the Law who is none other than Yahweh! Then in verses 3-17 we will see how the Law reveals certain attributes of the Lord Himself! Finally we will find Israel’s reply after receiving the law. Israel already answered Moses and said, “All that the Lord commands we will do” (Exodus 19:8) and will affirm this again in Exodus 24:3. But of course, they could not keep their word.
Why could Israel not do as they said they would? Was there a problem with the Law? No; it was with the people’s heart. They needed the Law written afresh on their hearts (Deuteronomy 30:6-8). They needed to be born again! Their failure to keep the Law points the Israelites to their sinful hearts and their need to repent and trust in the Lord. The Law also points to the sinless One who would come and fulfill the Law completely. So, the Law points forward to Jesus Christ! (See Matthew 5:17; Hebrews 4:15; and 1 John 3:5). We will close the message looking at the many tests in the New Testament about the Law and its function in the life of the believer in Christ.
… a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” Matthew 17:5.
Following Peter’s great messianic confession at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus began teaching His disciples that both He and they must suffer (Mt 16:21-26). In order to encourage them in the midst of this, Jesus promised His disciples that, “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Mt 16:28). Many find the answer to this promise in what takes place six days later when Jesus would take Peter, James, and John to a high mountain to be transfigured before them (17:1-2). These disciples witnessed Jesus Christ in all of His past and future glory, in the very form that He would occupy for all eternity after His resurrection.
With the transfigured Jesus were the two great figures of the Old Testament: Moses (representing the law) and Elijah (the prophets). Again it is impetuous Peter who speaks up with the typical human response to any great historical moment: “Let’s memorialize it!” He announced, “I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (17:4). No sooner does Peter say this, than God replies, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (17:5), leaving them with Jesus alone.
There are a number of things that we can learn from this momentous event. We see the continuity of the Old and New Testaments in the friendly conversation of Jesus with Moses and Elijah; we also find, however, the supremacy of Jesus Christ as the Beloved Son of God, who is more than a mere prophet like Elijah and who fulfills the Law of Moses. We also see our sinful human tendency to memorialize events with something physical to adore. And we find that Jesus alone is the final authority whom we are called to obey. The transfiguration also gave the disciples a hopeful glimpse of the future triumph of Christ and the restoration of His glory after He would suffer and die. This glory was that which was inherent to Jesus’s nature, which He had in the beginning when He dwelled eternally in the bosom of the Father. It was this glory that Jesus temporarily shrouded in flesh in the incarnation, the glory which now became visible for this brief but life-changing moment in time known as the transfiguration.