Matthew Series | Matthew 15:29-16:12 | Pastor Duane Smets
This week is an exegetical sermon on Matthew 15:29-16:12 where Jesus talks about knowing and recognizing God and how he viewed his own miraculous works. It takes in in depth look at the popular cultural beliefs and practices of astrology, social justice and environmentalism. This sermon was originally preached on July 4th, 2010 at The Resolved Church in San Diego, CA.
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The Resolved Church
Pastor Duane Smets
July 4th, 2010
“Jesus Talks Signs & Stomachs”
I. Sign Seeking and the Sign of God (16:1-4)
What Jesus thinks about how we know and recognize God, his will & his work
II. Stomach Feeding and the Sermon of Jesus (16:5-12)
What Jesus thinks about what he does, says & how it’s received
Things have been ramping up in the story of Jesus in the book of Matthew. It’s been a while since we’ve been in Matthew on Sundays together, so just to remind you here’s what basically been going on.
In the first part of the book we just sort of got introduced to Jesus, learning some stuff about his birth and coming into the world, seeing him get baptized, pick his disciples and then start his ministry. Right away there was a lot of hype surrounding him. People were astounded by his preaching, teaching and his miracles.
Then as Jesus starts increasingly calling out the crowds not just to be hyped but to really follow him and as he starts training and calling his 12 main disciples to the mission of making other disciples…we started seeing some backlash, particularly from this group of dudes called the Pharisees and the Scribes, who are basically these old school pastors of the day that didn’t really like Jesus. That’s a problem. If you’re a pastor and you’re not into Jesus that’s not good and there’s actually a lot of “pastors” running around today who are like that.
Well, what’s happened in the book of Matthew is that we’ve passed the mid-way point of the book and more than mid-way point of Jesus’ three year ministry. In just a couple chapters he’s going to cruise in Jerusalem where he’ll end up dying on the cross and rising again. And what we’re seeing where we are at in the book of Matthew is Jesus ramping things up, really pressing people to understand who he is and to put their faith in him, really challenging the disciples to get it, and really showing how far the divide is between him and the Pharisees.
So what we have today is Jesus in a Gentile region doing what we’ve been seeing him do already so many times. He heals a bunch of people…lame, blind, crippled, mute and then he does another big feeding, 4,000 last time.
Now, on the surface there’s not much new here with these stories…some healings and a feeding. On the feeding all the basics are the same as before, there bread and fish, Jesus has compassion on the people, it’s a large crowd, and there’s a bunch of baskets left over. The difference with it and when he fed the 5,000 is mainly details, the numbers of things…how many people were there, how much bread, fish, baskets and days there were.
But here is the real difference with this scene. If you go back and re-read through it, verse 29-38 of chapter 15, you’ll notice something if you look carefully. No teaching that takes place. In fact there’s barely any conversation at all. What we have is purlely a descriptive narrative.
And that’s wierd. Because almost every other time we see Jesus do something, perform some miracle, heal some person, it is intermixed with either a teaching conversation, sermon, or training for the disciples…but here there is none. Matthew just tells us what happened. At first.
Then in chapter 16 Matthew introduces the theological discussion and interpretation of what just happened, first by giving us a dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees and Sadducees and then a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples where he directly refers to the feeding that just took place.
So what I’m going to do this morning is pretty much skip verses 20-39 and go straight to 16:1-12 and deal with what Matthew and Jesus have given us for how to undertsand and interpret the healings and the feedings. So only two main points in my outline today: “Sign Seeking and the Sign of God” and “Stomach Feeding and the Sermon of Jesus.”
I. Sign Seeking and the Sign of God (16:1-4)
What Jesus thinks about how we know recognize God, his will & his work
Now we don’t have any direct textual clue here in verses 1-4 that this discussion with Jesus and the Pharisees about sign has in mind the healings Jesus just did, in fact Jesus was in a Gentile region, so it would have been unlikely for them to be there. Most likely Matthew is making the connection for us theologically by inserting this discussion right before he has Jesus directly talking to the disciples about what just happened with the feeding.
Here’s what I mean. Look at verse 1 of chapter 16. “The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign.” But what did we just read. Jesus doing a bunch of healings. Healings were seen as signs by the people. But that wasn’t good enough for the Pharisees. They want a sign from what? From heaven.
Jesus has been giving signs on the earth but they want one from heaven. I’m not quite sure what they were expecting. I mean when Jesus was baptized the clouds opened up and a dove decended down on Jesus and a voice speaks, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” But apparantly voices from the sky and healings on earth are not enough to convince them, or they just wanted him to do it again.
Most likely scholars have said they were wanting Jesus cause some supernatural phenomenea to take place on his command, like something in the stars, or a pillar fire or smoke as in the Exodus. But Jesus will not appease them. Interestingly, in the next chapter he does do something like this in front of the disciples when his face lights up, a voice speaks from a cloud and Moses and Elijah show up…but that’s reserved for just the disciples.
So Jesus will not allow people to maniuplate him, to say, oh, so you’re from God huh…then prove it, we’ll believe if you do this. Instead of choosing to exercise his divine power Jesus chooses to exercise his divine wisdom and attempts to get behind the motive that’s at work in this sign seeking.
Check out what he does. Verse 2-3, “He answered them, ‘When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You now how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.’”
This is interesting and genius. Jesus keeps with the sky motif and basically says, look even if I did do something like that you still wouldn’t believe because your so blinded. Here’s Jesus point. You know how to understand natural phenomena, understanding the weather. But I’m right here and I’m from God, I’m the messiah, I’m doing signs all over the place, the kingdom of God has been initated in me. This is the time. I’m the sign. The sign of the times is me, I’m what you’ve been waiting for and longing for. But you don’t believe me. If you don’t believe me now then there’s no way you’d believe if I did some supernatural wonder from heaven. You’d come up with some excuse or explanation and still reject me.
You see that phrase, “the sign of the times” is a loaded one. It’s not just casual, like we’re in a time of economic ressession. This is all of history language. In the grand metanarrative, in the grand story of God and humans and all of history…a key juncture and shift has taken place in me being here. The sign of the times.
When God became man in Jesus, that was a huge critical juncture in the course of human and world history. It was huge. When we understand that we better understand why Jesus remarks in verse 4 are so scathing…I mean he’s upset, he calls ‘em evil whores.
Check it out, look at verse 4. “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Let’s camp on this verse for a minute because Jesus hits some big things here about our motives and how we approach life and decisions.
First, he straight out says that sign seeking is wrong. So often, so many of us are constantly looking for a sign of what we’re supposed to do about this or that and we look for some sort of answer in all kinds of things.
Some of you are really into astrology, and you know your “sign” and you check your horoscope regularly to see what it means for you and your life. You’re probably not fully convinced but even if it’s just casual, you think that what month you’re born in and what the stars are doing and what other people have said that means actually provides some interesting, insightful and meaningful things for your life.
Some of you are not into astrology but you’re all hyper feelings based and you try to spiritualize your sign seeking by praying and asking God what he wants you to do and then when you think you’ve heard God you start going around saying “God told me this” and “God told me that.”
What’s Jesus say? First, just the fact that your seeking a sign is bad. So is Jesus saying we shouldn’t try and seek God about decisions of life? No, he tells us to do that. Matthew 6:33 “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” What he’s condemning is the kind of seeking where we are testing God and asking God to prove something to us. It’s when we already know or ought to know the answer but don’t want to accept it.
Then what’s the second thing Jesus says about sign seeking? “No sign will be given…except the sign of Jonah.” Now this one really throws you for a loop. What the heck is that?
If you’ve never heard about Jonah, here’s the story of Jonah. It’s like something you’d read on the cover of the Weekly World News tabloid…”man eaten by fish, in his belly for three days, and lives to tell the story.” The difference is it’s actually in the Bible.
Here’s the story. God told a man named Jonah to go be a missionary to a place called Nineveh. He didn’t want to go, so he took a boat in the opposite direction. That didn’t make God happy, so he sent a storm on the sea that almost shipwrecked the boat. Jonah realizes his sin and tells the people on the boat to throw him overboard and everything will be alright. So they do. A big fish comes and swallows Jonah whole, he says in there three days and three nights in his belly. While he is in there he repents. Then the fish spits him back up and he goes and preaches the gospel to Nineveh.
Awesome fun story. Why’s Jesus bring it up? For one, it’s in the Bible. For Jesus and for us, the Bible is our guide and like him we treat every story as wholly true and factual and helpful.
So you want to know God’s will for your life? Here’s how you find out. Read the book God gave you. So many times we are asking God for direction when he’s already given us very clear directions in his book. Jesus is like, you want to know what to do with your life? I already gave you a whole book, go read that. It has everything you need.
The other reason Jesus brings up Jonah is because he already said that what happened with Jonah is a picture of what he was going to do which would be the greatest sign man would ever know. Here it is from Matthew 12:40 “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the bellow of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three night in the heart of the earth.”
What’s Jesus talking about? His death and resurrection. Jesus died on the cross and rose again three days later and Jesus’ resurrection is the heart of the Chrisitian faith. The apostle Paul said that if Jesus did not rise from the dead our preaching is useless and our faith is in vain and we are fools (1 Cor 15:14,19). And truly if you look into it, we don’t have the time to do it this morning, but the evidence surrounding the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is insurmountable…it’s by far the biggest sign of all that Christianity is in fact true and that Jesus was in fact who he said he was.
But really this is quite a crazy thing for Jesus to say isn’t it? I mean it be one thing if he’d already died and rose but that hadn’t even happened yet at this point in the story of Matthew. But Jesus basically says that his death and resurrection is the key to understanding all of life.
So what’s that mean for us? It means this, who we are, what we do, how we live, the decisions we make…all of it, everything ought to be driven by the gospel, the good news that Jesus died and rose again for our sins. (repeat) Jesus is telling us that who he is and what he was about to do in dying and rising informs or has something to say about everything…more so than some crazy supernatural occurance in the sky.
How do you recognize God, his will, his work? Look to the gospel. Ask yourself how does this relate to the gospel. What does Jesus death and resurrection have to say about this? How is this going to help or hinder the gospel’s work in my life? How will this benefit others hearing and knowing the gospel? How do I know whether this or that is of God, well does it glorify or detract from the gospel?
So for example… You’re thinking of what you’re going to do for a career? Ask yourself how it will help or hinder the work of the gospel in your heart and your ability to spread it to others. You’re thinking of moving somewhere? Ask yourself how will this move help or hinder your ability to grow in the gospel and do you have a heart for the people where you’d go live. You’re thinking of considering a relationship or marriage with another person? Ask yourself will this person help me be more like Jesus and love Jesus more or will they distract me from him and pull me away from him.
The sign of God is Jesus. So let the gospel of Jesus inform and determine every major decision you make. Don’t just understand the natural phenomena of life, like the weather…understand how the supernatural pesron and resurrection of Jesus changes everything down to the smallest details of life. You need a sign? Don’t look to the stars or to voices in your head, look to Jesus. Jesus is the sign. Look to him.
II. Stomach Feeding and the Sermon of Jesus (16:5-12)
What Jesus thinks about what he does, says & how it’s received
Okay, let’s move on to our second point today. The first conversation happened between Jesus and the Pharisees and the Sadducees, this next conversation takes place between Jesus and the disciples after the boat ride probably back to Capernaum. So let’s check out what happens and work with “Stomach Feeding and the Sermon of Jesus.”
First let’s backtrack a little bit. Remember, there was no theological conversation that took place between Jesus and any of the people he healed or between him and the disciples in this second big feeding, the feeding of the four-thousand. Now Jesus decides to take what happened at the feeding and teach the disciples something about it.
And this is big for us. Personally I am especially concerned over a lot of sloppy handling of the stories of Jesus’ healings and feedings to the poor, which seem to easily get reduced to just doing good and nice things for poor, underprivileged or even abused people thinking whatever is done is the end goal in and of itself.
I’m afraid we too often and too easily jump to that conclusion without ever stopping to ask questions like: How did Jesus see what he did? What was Jesus goal and purpose in doing what he did? Why did Jesus do what he did? How did Jesus mean for what he did to be understood?
These questions are important for us, especially because of uniqueness of San Diego. Now I know some cities and some parts of cities are super snobby and rich and don’t give a rip about anyone else and don’t ever do jack about anything. San Diego, by and large is not one of those places. San Diego is one of the most activistic cities in the country. Activist San Diego lists over 180 different organizations based at and at work in San Diego for some form of social justice or enviromentalism. Here’s a few to give you an idea…
Depending on what race you are there’s Alliance for African Assistance, San Diego Alliance for Asian Pacific Islander Americans, Students For A Free Tibet, Raza Rights, Indian Voices.
If you’re for all the races there’s San Diego Coalition for Peace & Justice, The Unity and Diverstity, World Beat Center, Stop Esso, and Amnesty International. Depending whether you’re for border patrol or against it there’s either Save Our Centro or Stop Gate Keeper.
If you’re gay, there’s San Diego Pride, Gaycities, and The Center. If you’re old there’s the American Association of Retired Persons or the Voice Of The Elderly. If you’re young there’s Silent Tears Foundation, New Alternatives, Foundation For Change, Invisible Children or Stand Up For Kids.
If you’re homeless there’s Shelter From The Storm, Girls Think Tank, or Serving San Diego. If you’re an addict there’s Alcoholics Annymous, Narcotics Annoymous, Gamblers Annonymous, Pathfinders, Smart Recovery, Sex Addicts 101, Conscience Eating, and the OCD Recovery Center.
If you’re not into people but you like animals then there’s People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
La Jolla Friends of the Seals, Turtle & Tortoise Society, California Wolf Center, Ratty Rat Rattery.
If you don’t care about animals but just like the earth there’s, EarthSave San Diego, I Love A Clean San Diego, San Diego Earth Works, San Diego Earth Times, San Diego Oceans Foundation, People For Trees or the California Native Plant Society.
I mean the list goes on and on and on, this is just a sampling. These are only a few and it doesn’t even count the grassroots organizations that are not even sophisticated enough to develop their own non-profits and business or other international groups like Save Haiti, Africa and Afghanistan.
We live in a cause saturated city. It doesn’t matter what your cause is as long as you’ve got one and you’re passionate about it, right? If we’re involved in a “cause” then according to our culture that makes us a good person who does good things, right?
Here’s my question: what is a cause and why does it matter if there really is no such things as objective truth or morality? If everything just sucks and we’re all gonna die and that the end, what’s the big deal? If there’s no God why does it matter?
Most of these groups get categorized on some form of “justice”, social justice, environmental or animal justice. But what is justice? Isn’t that an ethical or moral thing? What is just or right? And if we’re going to bring God into the picture I don’t think we want to start calling him on justice and what’s fair because we know we’re a mess obviously.
We’ve jacked things up pretty good. If God rained down justice in response that would be the end of everything and the end of us. Justice equals judgment. If we need anything it’s mercy…not getting what we deserve.
Ok, so I know even though I haven’t really said anything, yet…I’m probably making some of you uncomfortable and ruffling some feathers in questioning the value of giving our time, energy and money to some of these efforts. But my goal isn’t to just make you all mad at me by the end of the sermon but to get us to grapple with how Jesus sees things and wrestle with what he would have to say about it. And this text is a massive help to us in attempting to answer some of these questions I’m raising. So hear me out as we look at what Jesus says here.
He starts up a simple discussion with the disciples to bring up this issue and he does it by saying, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” The disciples immediately think Jesus is talking about not buying bread from them since leaven is what is used to make bread, so they reply, “We bought no bread.”
Now check out what Jesus says, pick it up in verse 8 with me, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered. Or the seven loaves for the four thousand and how many baskets you gathered? How is it you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread?”
Wow. Get this. Jesus, right here, just tells us something gigantic about how he sees his own ministry. He does three things here.
One, he says this is a matter of faith. So the fact that they are thinking outwardly and physically rather than inwardly and spiritually is a faith thing.
Two, he directly connects faith to being integral to truly understanding his feeding of both the five thousand and the four thousand.
Three, he says straight out, it’s not about bread. So if you think it’s just about bread you don’t get it. You don’t understand.
Wow. Do you see it? Hear verse 11, “How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread!” Jesus is not happy here. His charge is deep and sharp. Do you think it’s just about bread? Do you think that whole reason I fed people is simple because their stomachs were hungry? Do you really think I give a rip about where the food comes from? I make food out of nothing. That’s not a problem for me.
Okay Jesus. So what’s it about? Verse 12, look at it. “Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” So what’s it about? The teaching. His teaching versus the Pharisees. It’s the message that matters!
Why does Jesus do miracles, healings and feedings? The teaching! That’s what matters. The teaching. The message of the gospel. You can do all the social activism you want and if there is no gospel message in it, it is worthless because it’s not about the bread….it’s about Jesus.
Some of you who care so much about being active, being involved in causes, caring for the earth, people, animals…all of those are good things but is there any Jesus in it all or do you care more just about feeling like you’re doing a good thing and you don’t want to bring up Jesus because that might rock the boat and then they might think you have an ulterior motive.
Um…yeah you do or you shouldn’t be doing it. And it’s not just that we have an ulterior motive we have as superior motive…to do something that counts for eternity and not just for a few hours until someone’s stomach is hungry again. We have something and someone far superior, Jesus. It’s about Jesus. Do something for Jesus, don’t just do something!
If I sound like I’m torqued today it’s because I am mad. I’m sick and tired of losing people to veganism, environmentalism, animalism, and socialism that has no Jesus in it. I’m frustrated at four differnent things.
One, I’m frustrated at the fruitlessness of efforts I have personally given myself to and efforts of others that I have supported. And when I say fruitlessness I mean it never translated into anyone coming to know and love Jesus and his church. I’m not speaking from some high tower who has never got down in the mud and worked in these type of ministries, if they even deserve to be called that. I spent four years working with the homeless downtown here in San Diego and saw zero fruit. I’ve spent the last four years working at group home for abused kids and seen very little fruit. As a church we’ve done ministry to the homeless, beach clean ups, community service projects…all kinds of stuff in the past and seen very little gospel results. Which has caused me to ask the question, why?
Is this just part of our duty, our job, something we’re supposed to do as Christians but it’s never really going to go anywhere or make any difference? I don’t think so. We’re supposed to be fruitful and make disciples. And if it’s not happening, people are not receptive we’re supposed to kick the dust off our feet and move on. I think in part some of the fruitlessness has been because Jesus has not been the main motive driving some both my personal efforts and some of the efforts our church has been involved in, in years past.
Two, I’m frustrated by the reinterpretation of the gospel by “Christians” and pastors who think that the gospel simply means doing good works. And this happens from the top down from the academy to the local and popular level and has been at work for years in what is known as the social gopsel or liberation theology. The gospel is not do good deeds. The gospel is Jesus alone is good and he did the greatest deed of all in dying on the cross and rising again for our sin! Nothing else can save us.
The gospel is a message about Jesus, who he is and what he did. The gospel is not something we do. John Stott said this, “Man’s essential trouble is rebellion against God and his need of salvation, therefore (as D. Martin Lloyd Jones said) “preaching is the primary task of the Church.” This is what the Bible teaches. Romans 10:13-17 “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” …So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Listen, no one will be helped or ministered to or really be benefitted in anyone UNLESS they are hearing the word of Christ. They’ve got to hear. They’ve got to hear. They’ve got to hear. If they do not hear the name of Jesus, who he is and what he has done, you can feed stomachs and clean up the earth until you’re blue in the face and dead and it will not help anyone one single bit in the end.
Three, I’m frustrated at Christians and Pastors who know the gospel is about Jesus but are encouraging all their people to put their energy and efforts in causes as though if we really loved Jesus and we really loved people that’s what we’d be doing.
I heard one Pastor I actually like and respect a lot, I won’t tell you who, but a very well-known Pastor, I heard him say recently…”at the end of your life what are you going to have to show before God, what are you going to say for yourself when you knew that people we’re hungry and dying in Africa and you didn’t do anything about it.”
Umm…if I stand before heaven’s gates and God asks me why he should let me in, if I point to any of my damnable good works as reason for why I should get in, he will reply “depart from me I never knew you.” The only acceptable answer is there is no reason why you should let me in God, I deserve hell. I could never do enough good works to gain my way in and work off the infininte debt I owe. That’s the religion of Islam by the way. The only acceptable answer is Jesus. I plead the blood of Jesus on my behalf. I am a sinner and I believe he died for me and that his good work of the cross is enough to cover all my sin.
I heard Pastor Kevin DeYoung say recently, “Many Christians are getting all excited about digging wells in Africa but not talking about the well of salvation that is found in Jesus.”
You see here’s the deal. Yes it’s true. Many in Africa are poor, hungry, thirsty and they are dying and they need help. But it’s their lack of money, food, and water which is blinding them to the gospel because they think if they just had those things then everything would be okay and it wouldn’t…they need Jesus most of all.
America is rich. We have a lot. It’s true. We are materialistic, consumeristic, individualistic and nationalistic and it’s blinding us from seeing how sinful we are so that we don’t see how much we really need Jesus. And it is personally offensive to me to hear another pastor tell me that even though I’m giving my blood sweat and tears for the sake of the gospel in San Diego, that if I really loved Jesus then I should just quit my job and leave and go dig a well in Africa. No. I’m not wasting my life by preaching the gospel and pleading all of you do something for the sake gospel in your life in San Diego. That’s a worth while cause.
Lastly, my last complaint, the fourth thing I’m frustrated about…I’m frustrated that so many of these causes are pulling people away from Jesus’ church. What’s happening is people are giving their time, energy, talents and money to these causes so much so that they don’t have anything left for Jesus’ church and many actually don’t think they need the church anymore because their already getting their religious fix through their social actvisim. It really does become a religion for many.
This happens even with Christian groups, often times parachurch ministries get started or people get involved with them because they have this negative bent toward Jesus’ church. It goes something like this…the church isn’t doing this, the church really ought to be doing this, but it’s not, so we’re just going to go do it without the church.
No. No, no, no no. Don’t do that. Jesus set up the church very intentionally in the way he did with elders and pastors who lead his churches. If you’ve got a vision to go do something, do it through the church under the covering, support and protection of the church leadership Jesus has provided for you. Don’t throw that away. It’s a blessing for you.
I mentioned Pastor Kevin DeYoung a minute ago. He wrote a great book along with a guy named Ted Kluck titled “Why We Love The Church.” DeYoung talks about how many today are into Jesus but just don’t like the church. There are many ministries and organization and people involved in them who may have a genuine love and committment to Jesus but they don’t love Jesus’ church.
DeYoung says that’s like decapitating Jesus. Jesus is the head of the church (Eph 4:15), you want to cut his head off? No. Jesus calls the church his bride (Rev 21:19). You want to invite your friends over to your house and make fun of Jesus’ wife and make fun of her and talk about how much she sucks and all the stuff you enjoy doing without her? No. Don’t do that.
For me, I’m a church planter. I love Jesus’ church. I’m trying so hard to show people how exciting, fun, and glorifying to God it is be a part of a church and to invest your life in it and I feel like I’m constantly faced with this battle that people would rather give their time to other things, that when it comes down to it…they believe is a more worthy cause.
Ok. Maybe you’re like dude, chill out…why you so worked up today? What’s the deal? Here’s the thing. This is an issue that has been brewing in me for awhile. I think I actually told all of you a few weeks ago, you’d hear more about it from me.
Here’s why. After being over five years in on our church plant here in San Diego, I think I’ve begun to understand something about our city. I think what I’ve begun to see is an overly active city whose getting fat on good deeds. I think the “cause-centric-ness” of our city has probably at least in some ways become one of our gods, one of our idols that we’re real proud of. I mean really. I’ve probably made some of you uncomfortable today and you might not be quite sure why. It may be because this good deedism has become engrained in us and has become a cultural idol.
If I’m right what’s the solution? Just say forget doing anything at all? Some that’s what some churches and pastors say. Their attitude is, “It’s all gonna burn anyway, so forget the environment. Bums, minorities, and other societal outcasts all deserve it anyway so forget ‘em. Let’s just hunker down. Hide in the church and protect the walls.” No that’s not the answer.
Yes, God’s going to remake the earth but he calls us to be stewards of it and to care for his creation. Yes, bums and outcasts are sinners and deserve judgment, we all do. But God’s a God of mercy and has had mercy on us in Jesus and calls us to take that message to the world.
So here’s what am I calling for. I’ll give you an example. Over two years ago a couple guys in our church found this group of homeless ex-cons who all live together in an alley in the industrial area over by the Sports Arena Group. On their own they just started going down there on Monday nights and handing out food. About a year ago they came to me and asked me to help them try and figure out how they could take from beyond just being food. So we ended up adopting this ministry as a church. You know what’s happening now? One they are regularly being prayed for. Two I meet regularly with these guys to oversee and support them. Three, now we got another leader from our church going down there teaching through the gospel of John. So they all eat and whoever wants to stay and learn from the Bible and be prayed for stays. And Jesus is working. I think that’s a good example of how you can do something cause oriented with a Jesus focus and a love for the church.
You want a real easy way to test if something is gospel-centered and is good for the church. Two simple questions. Ask how is this going to help people audibly hear who Jesus is and what he has done? And ask how is this going to help people get connected to and love Jesus’ church?
Use that a rubric and God can birth all kinds of things in, among and through us. You see, just because we may not have some ministry at The Resolved Church that you may be passionate about doing doesn’t mean you can’t do that. In fact I believe God often puts vision in people’s hearts to do things for his kingdom and that’s one of the ways a church grows and becomes increasingly healthier. So if there’s something you want to do we’re not doing, pray about it, maybe write out a proposal, set up a meeting with one of our elders and then let’s start working through it together.
So what I’m saying is go, go feed, go serve, go love and make sure you make it all about Jesus and do it with a love for Jesus’ church. In fact sometimes the most successful mercy ministry, that’s a better term than social justice, sometimes the most successful mercy ministry is the one that’s not just an big thing but something that’s done for an individual person…like your neighbor. Maybe someone needs help moving, needs their lawn mowed, needs a wheelchair ramp built. Sometimes we just need to open our eyes up to see the small things we can do that end up being great things for the glory of God and the spread of the gospel.
So get involved, go serve, do something…just do it because of the gospel and out of the gospel and not in place of the gospel gospel. Make sure it doesn’t end up being about bread. Make it about Jesus.
Here’s how I want to conclude. We’ve looked at a story of Jesus healing a bunch of people and then feeding a bunch of people. Then we walked through two different discussions Jesus had. One on signs the other on stomachs.
First, the Pharisees and the Sadducees wanted a sign in the sky that Jesus was from God. As sinners we will often find ourselves in a place of weakness, confusion, and even hardness against God where we feel we need some sort of sign from God to believe or to continue.
God in his grace actually answered their request. On a hill God hung up his son on a cross and Jesus with his arms stretched out in the sky bled and died for our sin, so that we might know God loves us and has provided a way for redemption. The cross of Christ hangs like a banner set in the sky, the ultimate sign of God forever saying, I am God and I love you.
There’s an old hymn titled, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” The first verse says this, ” Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” No matter where you are at today, look to Jesus for your every need, he is the greatest sign of all.
Second, the disciples misunderstood why Jesus did the things he did and how he meant for them to be received. They mistakenly thought it was just about bread, just about doing good deeds. After Jesus pressed them, the light came on and then they understood it was about the teaching, the message of Jesus.
Here’s the thing, we like the disciples can so easily get focused on what’s happening and what we’re doing that we miss the entire point and end up leaving the message of Jesus behind. We will make it just about bread.
So how do we avoid that? Avoid what Jesus called having “little faith” and “failing to understand.” Here’s how…In John 6:48 Jesus said this, “I am the bread of heaven.” In so far as we look to and have Jesus as our bread, it won’t be about our own works and deeds but his.
As we go to Jesus’ table today to receive his body and blood in the bread and wine, let’s go in repentance, thanks and worship. If you need to repent of seeking some other sign than Jesus then do that. If you need to repent of depending on other bread than Jesus then do that. But most of all let’s go to Jesus and worship him and thanking him for having grace and mercy on us and allow him to work in our hearts to be the kind of servants he calls us to be in the world for his glory.