Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Matthew Series, Week 16 - Willing God

  When I was in construction, there were times when we had to do some weird stuff to get the job done. We did a Sisco distribution center where we had to build an enclosure with 1” sheet rock for the oven hood, that went from the first floor through the second story roof. Tweaking our bodies this way and that to get the job done. There were times when we had to work our in the pouring rain to get a facade to a grocery store built. Then there was the time we had to work from 10pm to 6am on a facade for a Toys-R-Us. Now, there was times when the environment of the job was so hard, or hot, or cold, or whatever, that I wanted to quit, but of course I didn’t. I needed to get paid, and so I pushed through.

But there was one job that I absolute hated. I’ve been handing Sheetrock with my Dad since I was twelve. I’ve been helping him pick up scraps since I was eight, and I have been on jobs sites since I can remember. There’s been a lot of jobs, but the one that I almost lost it on was a demising wall in some no name warehouse.

The majority of the time I would work with my Dad, especially when I was older, was framing metal studs. When there were no metal stud jobs, the companies we worked for would have us hang sheet rock. Now sheet rock isn’t so bad if you do it consistently and it’s simple stuff, like eight foot walls. But this wasn’t. If you don’t know, a demising wall is a wall that separates two areas from each other. Usually two business from each other. 

In the case of this warehouse, the wall was two hundred feet long, and about thirty feet high. The first several rows had already been hung, so we were put on a scissor lift to hand the higher rows. Now, I’ve been on all types of lifts, handing off of them and everything. After my initial hesitation with lifts, I got over it. This particular lift was a massive thing. Long enough to hold 12’ sheets of rock, and wide enough to where I could lay down. Now these things are pretty stable, unless you get them rocking pretty good. Well, we started handing these 12’ sheets, and with the momentum we were building, that thing started to rock. We lift a sheet up, slam it on the wall, tack it on, and slam the next one. It was like a boat in the ocean and the waves were beating it. 

I got sick and couldn’t keep going. With every sheet, the ground got further, and my hands got slippery. My Dad laughed; he had done this stuff hundreds of times. Me? That was my last time. The height coupled with the sway, I couldn’t do it. We probably hung ten, maybe twelve sheets that day. I’m sure the boss ate the cost on that one. But the next morning, I was back out to another job, hoping that it wouldn’t be like that again. The reason, I needed the work. I needed the income to live. I wasn’t out there because I wanted to be, I was out there because I had to be.

But I was willing. I was willing to to do it, and deal with all the crummy jobs that awaited me. One of the greatest lessons my Dad ever taught me was to be willing to do the work that  was necessary.

And it’s this idea of willingness that bring us back into our Matthew series, where we will be picking up in chapter 8, starting in verse 1. And as we get into verse 1 of Matthew 8, let’s look back at where we are in our summer series so far.

We talked about how the first 7 chapters of Matthew can be summed up in one idea: Jesus’ identity encompasses the identity of his disciples. Jesus’ identity is established in the first four chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, and then in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus wraps his disciples’ identity into his own. In other words, were shown and told, that if we are to be Jesus’ disciples, we must understand that who we are is only found in Jesus. Therefore, our salvation is in Jesus and no one else. Our good deeds are in Jesus and not from ourselves. And our beliefs must be built on Jesus and nothing else. Everything a disciple is, has its beginning and end in Jesus himself.

Then last week, we looked at the overarching themes of chapters 8 and 9. We looked at the three-fold, three part structure that Matthew uses to help us get a deeper understanding of the mission of a disciple.  This we saw could be summarized like this: Like Jesus, a disciple must view their home as being with Jesus and not in this world. Like Jesus was, a disciple cannot be biased against anyone with the Gospel message. And as we see Jesus at work, a disciple must work diligently for Christ in the harvest fields.

Now, it’s within chapters 8-9 that we return to look at each of the parts that make up this greater whole. Let’s begin in Matthew chapter 8, starting in verse 1, where instead of reading the whole section together, we’re going to read them in three parts. That way we continue to see the three-fold structure we’ve already talked about.

Matthew 8:1-4 reads, “When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.' 3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. 4 Then Jesus said to him, ‘See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’”

As Jesus leaves the mountain where he was giving the Sermon on the Mount, we see a man with leprosy coming to him for a healing. Now there’s a lot in this small passage, but we need to see two major aspects to this interaction. First, this is the first miraculous act of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. That’s extremely significant, because the other Gospels give us two different miracles of Jesus as the first one they mention. Mark and Luke both give us a cleansing of a demon possessed man, while John gives us the water into wine sign. The purpose of Matthew giving us the cleansing of the leper, isn’t to give us a chronological time frame of the first miraculous work of Jesus, but rather to help us understand Jesus more. 

Up to this point, the divinity of Jesus has been emphasized, through God the Father’s proclamation, Jesus’ own words of “You have head it said…but I say,” and how we are to build our lives on Jesus’ word. That would place Jesus as divine, and therefore beyond the creation. Yet, by the Holy Spirit directing Matthew to show us this moment right after an emphasis on Jesus’ divinity, it brings greater emphasis to Jesus’ words. Look at what the leper’s says, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” The leper has accepted the identity of Jesus, and because of that doesn’t say, “if you are powerful enough”, but rather
“are you willing”. This interaction is important because it shows us that people do have an understanding of who Jesus is at this point in this ministry. He is God come down. The question then begs to be answered is he willing to actually enter into the hurt of the creation he’s step into. 

To this Jesus replies, “I am willing…” Jesus being the God come down, makes his willingness to act in human lives all the more wonderful. And the fact that a leper, an outcast of outcasts is the one Jesus is willing to heal, is amazing. And so, we need to recognize Jesus’ willingness to act in human lives even to ones that would be lowliest of humanity.

But not only is Jesus willing, but we must notice that it says that, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.” The physical act of touch, coupled by Jesus’ verbal willingness gives us a clear understanding that Jesus will reach down to the lowliest in all of society. The final scene, shows Jesus sending that man off to be presented to the priests and offer sacrifices as was prescribed in the book of Leviticus (14:4-7). Thus fulfilling the Old Testament law.

Now, let’s drop down to verse 5 of chapter 8.

“5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.’

“7 Jesus said to him, ‘Shall I come and heal him?’

“8 The centurion replied, ‘Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 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.’

“10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, 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.’

“13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.’ And his servant was healed at that moment.”

From one end in the social structure in the leper, we swing to the other side of the sociality in the Roman Centurion. Instead of the outcast and untouchable leper, we get a captain in the Roman military. And there’s a couple things that we need to notice from this situation. First, from a Jewish perspective, the leper was an outcast, but so was the centurion. Sure the Roman was highly respected in society and allowed in the public square, unlike the leper, but the centurion was a Roman and a Gentile. These were things that a good Jew would try to avoid. 

Yet, this man comes to Jesus, and Jesus responds. And its Jesus’ response which is interesting. It's Jesus who asks if he should come to heal the servant who is suffering. The centurion doesn’t request Jesus’ presence, and when given the chance for Jesus to come, the centurion does something that’s strange. The centurion uses his own understanding of his authority to understand Jesus’ authority. 

It’s here that the Holy Spirit through Matthew helps us understand a key detail of Jesus. Whereas Jesus’ first healing was done through a physical touch of an untouchable person, this healing is done solely on the word of Jesus. By following up the leper’s healing with that of the centurion’s servant, we can better understand that it’s by Jesus’ command, which we are to build our lives upon, that healing occurs.

But not only this, but we are given a short monologue by Jesus commending the faith of the centurion, because unlike the Jewish people, this Gentile got it. With these comments, us as the reader are to begin to understand not just the power of Jesus, but also the scope of Jesus’ work. This will carry over into the second set of Matthew’s three-fold structure. From here we must realize that it’s not by Jesus’ physical presence that people are healed, but rather because of Jesus’ authority, that they are healed. 

The centurion’s story helps us realize that Jesus is beyond our finite understanding of God’s power. Whether by touch or not, Jesus’ ability to heal doesn’t come from sorcery, but from authority. In fact, this authority concept can be seen in the people’s reaction to Jesus Sermon on the Mount, and is an apologetic to when the Jewish leadership will eventually equate Jesus’ power to that of satan. Here, Matthew helps us see that it’s Jesus’ authority which is one of the keys in the ministry of Jesus.

We end with then Jesus’ proclamation that the servant is healed, though Jesus has not seen him. Pointing us to Jesus’ fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that a light to the Gentiles would come from Galilee (8:23-9:1).

Let’s look at the three-fold passage of this section. Dropping down to verse 14 we read, “14 When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. 15 He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.

“16 When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 'He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.’”

From the lowly of the leper, to the high ranking centurion, we are taken to the fevered mother-in-law (Insert mother-in-law joke here). Now, Matthew is trying to get us to realize a few things by giving us Peter’s mother-in-law. First, Jesus doesn’t just heal or respond only to men for healing; no, even women are healed by Jesus. Jesus doesn’t discriminate due to social status, ethnic background, and now sex. Jesus heals those that are in need and who recognize Jesus as the healer. But whereas the first two men come to Jesus for that healing, this third one, a woman, is approached by Jesus. He comes to her. There’s no dialogue in this interaction, just a simple understanding that Jesus healed her. But we are to notice how her interaction with Jesus ends. She gets up and serves him.

The God come down who is willing to heal, the God who’s authority it is to heal, is deserving of our service. The mother-in-law responds with a correct action, without prompting of any kind from Jesus. He heals, she serves. Is there are greater response that we could have? To serve the God who is willingly at work?

Matthew goes on to say that many come to Jesus to be healed of all sorts of afflictions. This caps off the understanding that it didn’t end here but that Jesus kept healing. And where each of the other situations that are presented in this three-fold structure point us to the Old Testament, this final one ends with a clear proclamation of the fulfillment of Isaiah 53 (v.4-5).

These three stories bring us back to who Jesus is. His identity as the Almighty God, who willingly comes to us, who has the authority to act in human affairs, and who is worthy of our submission in service.

This leads up to Jesus’ words about understanding what it means to follow him. Let’s read in verse 18.

“18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’

“20 Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’

“21 Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’

22 But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’

Matthew follows the stories of the leper, centurion, and mother-in-law, by setting them before a time when Jesus was alongside the sea of Galilee. We’re not given that teaching the accompanies this setting, but rather a quick connection from the previous stories to this moment sets them together as to make a point. It was at that shore line, that Jesus is told by one person, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And by another “…first let me go and bury my father.”

Both seem like innocuous statements. One is a proclamation of devotion, the other a sign of a perceived fulfillment of the Law, in respecting parents. But through both we see the teaching that is being linked together by Matthew.

The God come down who is willing to heal, who’s authority it is to heal, and who is deserving of our service, is not a part of this world. In fact, this world rejects him. John writes this in his first chapter of his Gospel, “10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him; but the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him (John 1:10-11).”

This is why Jesus’ has no “den” or “nest”. He has no, “place to lay his head,” because his creation is going to reject him. Even though he is willing to heal, he has the authority, and is worthy of our service, this world will reject him, because it seeks its own wide path away from its Creator. If we are to follow Jesus, we must reject this world as our home, so that it cannot have any sway over us. 

And though the man looks to be fulfilling the law of God, he is placing something in front of his following of Jesus. There will always be a reason why I can’t follow right now. There will always be something in this world that draws us back. But we must follow as God leads, leaving behind the dead things of this world for the life that is only found in Jesus. It’s a hard path, it’s a narrow path, but it’s Jesus’ path, and all those that follow him, must walk it.

This week I want to challenge you to think through these three points. Do you question the willingness of Jesus to work in your life? Do you think that Jesus’ only worked back then and doesn’t today? Or maybe he does work, but only in those that have the strongest faith, but not for you? Jesus is willing, but we must be submissive, bowing to his will in all things.

Maybe it’s not the willingness of Jesus you question, but more base than that. Maybe you’re struggling with the power of Jesus. Can Jesus actually do what he says? Can he actually save me from my sins? Can he actually bring me peace? Can he actually fix my broken relationships? Can he actually heal? This week go before God and seek him to move in a way that will show you that he’s at work. That he would open your eyes to the things that he is doing right now.

Finally, this week, you must be willing to serve. Whether that’s in the service of the Gospel being presented, like we talked about last week, or praying for others in their pains and hurts, like our prayer tree does. We must be willing to respond to Jesus’ work, with service to him. We are not to be idle in our relationship, but active and willing to do what he has called us to do.

We must follow Jesus, the God who came down willingly to work in the lives of people, who has the authority to do so, and who is worthy of our service. Let us reject this world as our home, and let nothing tether us to. Let us follow Jesus as he wills, until the day when we are called home. Amen.

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