Sunday, September 26, 2021

Matthew Series, Week 20 - Greatest in the Least

  Recently my wife and I attended a pastor’s retreat in Wickenburg, Arizona. The focus of the retreat was to connect pastors within our Alliance denomination with each other. I was able to connect with one pastor who attended one of our youth events several years back, and another who our has spoken at our church several times as he is a missionary to the Navajo people. But it was one pastor and his wife that had the most impact on me. 

Dan and Wanda were there names. Both grew up on the Navajo reservation, Wanda’s father was a pastor and she married Dan later in life. The two of them run a church in the middle of nowhere. At their house there is no electricity and no running water; at the church there is no water or plumbing. Over the course of this last year, due to the Covid pandemic, one-third of their congregation passed away with Covid infections. They’re tired and discouraged, yet they press on. Though they and the other Navajo missionaries are a part of the Alliance, they feel isolated from their brothers and sisters. This past weekend was a refreshing for them, and a wake up call for the rest of us. These, like many others, minister in the unglamorous work of God. Their names will most likely not publish the next highest grossing Christian book. They will not be globally known, yet they work in the unnamed corners of the kingdom, faithfully working as their Lord has called them.

This unseen faithfulness is what brings us to the twentieth week in our Matthew series where we will be looking at the first half of chapter 11. So as we open up to the third section of Matthew in chapter 11 starting in verse 1, let’s recap where we are in the book so far. 

We’ve talked about how Matthew divides his Gospel into sections based on five sermons of Jesus. In the first section of Mathew’s Gospel, we discussed that how Jesus wrapped his identity around who is disciple would be. In other words, who Jesus is, encompasses who is disciple are. If we are to be a disciple of Jesus, we cannot hope to do anything outside of what he has spoke or shown us as an example. We cannot hope to be saved without Jesus, we cannot hope to be acceptable to God without Jesus, we cannot hope to live out Jesus’ eternal life with him, and we cannot live this life without him. Who Jesus is must make who we are as his disciples.

In the second section that we finished up last week, we could summarize it by saying that, like Jesus who is not of this world yet seeks to save it, his disciples must also not be tethered to the world, yet be active in his work. Because this world is hostile to the things of God, when God himself arrived to save humanity, the world rejected him. Jesus wants us to participate in his saving work, all the while realizing this world is not our home. 

As we get into the third section of Matthew we will see a lot more of the kingdom motif that began in the first section. We will also see, not so much in word but action, Jesus’ authority. This all leads into a series of parables that Matthew has placed together to emphasize these two running themes.

This section is bookend with two stories about John the Baptist. The first is his arrest and the second is his death. It is in John’s capture that we can learn several lessons about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the kingdom. Let’s start reading in Matthew chapter 11, verse 1.

1 After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.

2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 Whoever has ears, let them hear.

16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: 17 “‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

If you notice, the word deeds appears at the beginning and end of the passage and within the emphasis on deeds shown throughout. John hears of what Jesus is doing and sends his disciples to see if Jesus is the awaited Messiah. It seems that there’s a hit of doubt in John as he sits in prison. Is Jesus who he thinks he is? John needs to know, because what good is it that he is in prison, what meaning does his life have if he is only going to die for a nothing.

So his disciples show up and ask Jesus point blank, are you the Messiah? Jesus in turn doesn’t say “Yep,” instead he says, you take a look at what’s going on. John had heard of Jesus’ deeds, now Jesus is telling his disciples, see those deeds for yourself. Then Jesus gives a little encouragement for John, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

This is a, keep the faith, hold the line, stand strong, type of encouragement. Jesus is telling John, don’t stumble in your faith, you are blessed because you are doing what God is calling you to. And the end result of that call is death.

It’s then interesting to me that Jesus’ next words come after the disciples of John begin to leave. Instead of telling these disciples this really encouraging word about John, Jesus waits until their leaving to share it with the crowd. This encouraging word is that John is a prophet that is greater than any other that had come before. Think about what Jesus just said. John is greater than Daniel who slept next to lions. John is greater than Elijah who called down fire from heaven. He is greater than Isaiah who prophesied of the God being with his people. John is greater than Moses who gave the Law of God to the people. This John, who’s greatest accomplishment was to point others to Jesus, is greater than any other prophet in the whole history of Israel. 

And yet, Jesus says, even the least in the kingdom of heaven will be greater than John. Let that sink in. When people look at the big names of Christianity, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, D.L. Moddy, Bill Graham, they think wow, if only I could be used like they were. And I don’t think that it’s bad to want to be used of God, yet the least in the kingdom is greater than the greatest. 

The missionary in Africa who no one knows their name, the single mom raising their children to walk with Jesus, the old couple who pray for their family and neighbors, the Navajo couple who work without the luxuries we take for granted, these least are the greatest. The glitz and glamour of the modern Church cannot hold a candle to the faithfulness of the disciple, who, even in doubt trusts in the Lord. 

It is so easy for us to think that our little corner of the kingdom isn’t important, yet, to God the faithfulness of his people in adversity, and in day to day monotony, is just as important as the preacher speaking to 10,000 people in a colosseum. Those who recognize and rejoice in Jesus need never be ashamed of the path that he has laid out for them to walk. This is what Jesus is wanting us to understand, to hear. The world wants everyone to think that their life does’t matter unless you’re on TV, in the movies, on the sports team, or have thousands if not millions of followers on social media. And if we’re honest with ourselves, recognition feels good. When people recognize us, when we feel appreciated and unique among others, it feels good. It makes all that we do worth it. 

John was seeking a little of this recognition, and little encouragement that what he was doing was worth it. To this Jesus said look at what is happening; look at what God is doing. Find encouragement and purpose in the work of God and not in your own circumstances. Is God’s work being accomplished? Have you done what God has called you to? If you have, be encouraged that you are great in the Lord’s eyes. 

It is here that Jesus changes his tone for one of encouragement to one of indictment. We pick up Jesus words in verse 20.

20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin (core-a-zin)! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

These two moments in Jesus’ ministry contrast each other. The glamour of the miracles that Jesus had performed could save no one. It was repentance and faithfulness to Jesus himself that was meaningful. Deeds were emphasized in the first nineteen verses, relaying the reality that glamour without response was meaningless. Those who think that the glamour will save, will be sorely mistaken in the kingdom. 

On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given out to the Church and they spoke in unknown languages, the people responded to Peter’s indictment of humanity for the crucifixion of their Savior on the cross, by asking, “Brothers, what shall we do (Acts 2:37c)?”

Peter didn’t respond with glitz and glamour but called for action, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

A repentant heart is what God seeks. A humble walk with him is what Jesus desires. God desires us to walk daily in a life that seeks to honor him, relying on the Holy Spirit to empower and direct us. Miracles will come, they are a byproduct of the kingdom, but they are not the kingdom itself. The kingdom is the presence of God working out in the lives of his people. 

And to those who seek to be great in God’s kingdom, look no further than being faithful to the call on your life. A call of seeking God in his holiness and pointing others to the salvation that in only found in Christ Jesus, the Risen Savior. 

My challenge for you this week is to ask the question, “Do you I struggle with being noticed, or wanting glamor?” You might, I know I have struggled with it many times. I’ve wanted to be the big name pastor, the one that everyone hears and tunes into, and God has had to do some extreme tempering in my life to quash that desire. Not because being heard my thousands is bad, Peter spoke to many thousands in his first sermon. No, God calls me to humility, seeking his glory and not my own, and so, he has placed boundaries in my life to teach me to seek him over these other things. 

But you might not struggle with wanting the recognition, by you might be struggling with being warren down by the day in struggles and you need some encouragement. First, you need to share that with one of your Christian brothers or sisters. Remember last week we talked about having that ministry partner, this is one of the reasons why. We need that little bit of encouragement as we walk through the daily grind of life. But how do we know to encourage unless we know that you are struggling. We are here to lift each other up, but if we come together and some asks, “How are you,” and we say, “Fine,” the other person won’t know that you’re really hurting. Share you hurts, so that they can be pray for you and you can be encouraged. 

Jesus sees the least in his kingdom, and he wants us to know that we’re not toiling about with no rhyme or reason, but rather he has purpose in what he has called us to. The Messiah’s work is being worked out through the faithfulness of his people. Let us then seek to be faithful disciples of our King, for his glory. Amen.

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