Feb. 20, 2011
INTRODUCTION – Well we are jumping back into our Matthew series this week. And I want to quickly review for you where we have been, and then proceed on from there.
Most of chapter 13 of Matthew is devoted to 7 parables about the kingdom of God. Jesus spoke in parables to hide these truths from the hard hearted skeptics, and to reveal these truths to those who had ears to hear. These parables talked both about the joys and delights of entering this kingdom, and the horrors of not entering it. In our passage for today, starting with Matthew 13:53 – Jesus had just finished giving all these parables.
Let’s pick up the story there and read through 14:12. “When Jesus had finished these parables, He departed from there. He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief. Ch. 14 “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the news about Jesus, and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” For when Herod had John arrested, he bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Phillip, For John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Although Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded John as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod, so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Having been prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist. Although he was grieved, the king commanded it to be given because of his oaths, and because of his dinner guests. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. His disciples came and took away the body and buried it; and they went and reported to Jesus.”
So Jesus is heading off to Nazareth – His hometown. He immediately entered the synagogue, and began teaching therein. As He proclaimed and explained the kingdom of God from the law and the prophets – – His hometown citizens responded in astonishment. Because they knew what family Jesus came from, and how He grew up; and they knew there was nothing extra-ordinary about his family, whether it be his father, mother, brothers or sisters – – they couldn’t figure out for the life of them – where He could have gotten this wisdom. They recognized it as wisdom; and they witnessed and/or heard about His miracles. But in both cases, instead of bowing down to Him and worshipping Him for the Lord and Savior that He was, …. They wasted their lives and opportunity by hypothesizing about where He might have gotten such powers.
What should have caused deep worship and devotion, only produced hard hearted offense and skepticism.
In response to their response, Jesus – proclaimed, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And the sad result was that Jesus did very few miracles in Nazareth because of their negative response, and their unbelief.
Knowing that while Jesus was fully God, He was also fully human, I think it is safe to say that He longed for His hometown to be saved from their sins and to enter into His glorious kingdom, just like many of you have longed for your own family and neighbors and co-workers. He longed for the kingdom of heaven to invade His hometown; and for every man, woman, young person and child to get swept up into it. But alas, it was not to be. From a human perspective this had to be a tremendous disappointment to Jesus.
Any of you ever felt this kind of disappointment and sadness – when those you most love – seem the least responsive to the King and His kingdom?
Well while Jesus did not do many miracles there, He did do some. And by now the miracles He had done there and elsewhere – were the talk of the town. Herod the tetrarch or governor of Galilee and Peraea was very aware of this steadily building buzz on the streets. One day as he and his servants sat around his conference table, he conveyed to them that this guy that everyone is talking about must be John the Baptist, who must have been raised from the dead – – and therefore has the ability now to do all these miraculous things, that he was not known for before. Herod was very intimately acquainted with John, because some weeks or months previous, he had arrested, bound and put John in prison – – not for any crime mind you – – but rather because John had the nerve to dare confront him about his adulterous, and therefore evil relationship with Herodias – his brother Phillip’s wife. The text says in vs. 4 that “john had been saying to him”, which implies two things: 1. John didn’t just confront him about this once and run for cover. But he did it repeatedly. 2. He said it to his face, not through twitter or facebook or an anonymous letter.
Now think with me about the implications of this. John was clearly called by God to prepare the way of the coming of the Messiah, and His kingdom. Matthew states this by connecting John in chapter 3 vs. 3 to Isaiah’s prophecy, and I quote, “For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, “The voice of One crying in the wilderness, make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight.” John’s ministry was to point people to Jesus. And we know from the gospel accounts that that is exactly what John did. One day he was standing with two of his disciples, and Jesus walked onto the scene and John said to them, “Behold the Lamb of God.” His disciples heard His words, and immediately began to follow Jesus. And John didn’t flinch or in any way try to stop or dissuade them. He was glad to decrease so Jesus could increase.
John was a powerfully anointed man who lived for one purpose and that was to point as many people in Jesus’s direction as he possibly could – – and to help them think through the implications of following Him and living for His kingdom.
He was doing this with great passion and success. His whole life from his time in Elizabeth’s womb prepared him for such a high calling. So why would you potentially sabotage that by sticking your nose in an ungodly politician’s private life? John wasn’t called to politics! When he told the crowds they needed to repent because the kingdom of God was at hand, they repented. John spoke with authority, and they knew there wasn’t a selfish or false bone in his body. Even the Pharisees and Saducees cowered in his presence, and shuttered at his words. His message was powerful, his message was true, and the average person was at least listening to him if not repenting on the spot. The main reason Herod didn’t kill John sooner was because of the high esteem the crowds held him in. Why would you risk perhaps 20 or 30 more years of such fruitful ministry for a powerful ,evil dictator that you are not going to change anyway?
Did I say evil dictator? Was that adjective justified? Well for starters Herod took his own brother’s wife away from him with no regrets whatsoever. And even after repeated appeals from John, Herod did nothing to rectify the situation. Then he arrested, bound and put John in prison for no legitimate or lawful reason. He wanted to put him to death for no legitimate or lawful reason, but feared an uprising from the crowds. He allowed his own daughter – the princess – at his birthday party, which we know from vs. 9 was attended by some number of guests – he allowed her to do what normally only slave girls did, which was entertain the mostly male guests with some form of sensual dance. He foolishly promised his daughter, who was probably only a young teenager – whatever she could possibly ask for – in grattitude for her willingness to sacrifice her dignity for the sake of his fleshly guests. And when she – in response to her mother’s directive – asked for the head of John the Baptist to be brought to her on a platter in front of all these guests – – the king didn’t have the guts and decency to disappoint his daughter or his dinner guests – – so he not only had John killed for no lawful or legitimate reason, but literally had his bleeding head brought in on a platter for all to gawk at – as if it was some athletic trophy or something. Herod was evil, and so is every other politician or gov’t leader who justifies their ungodly actions and uncontrolled passions for the sake of pleasing a lady friend, or dinner guests or a union, or any other constituency.
But I digress. The question I asked and I want to go back to is “Why would you risk perhaps 20 or 30 more years of such fruitful ministry for a powerful evil dictator that you are not going to change anyway, and who could arrest, if not kill you?
Well the answer to that is – while John saw the kingdom, and knew what His calling was, His ultimate calling was to obey the King at every point. You see, your ministry of expanding the kingdom of God is never going to be any more fruitful than your daily obedience to the King of that Kingdom. And if that King tells you to write a letter to Lois Capps or go sit in a town hall meeting with Sam Blakeslee or make a phone call to Governor Jerry Brown or make an appointment with Bruce Gibson for the purpose of sharing your concerns about some clear, black and white injustice or unrighteous action they are commiting or allowing – – and you choose not to – perhaps out of cowardice or fear; or perhaps because you don’t want to offend those who are following you, then you can talk about the love of Jesus and His glorious kingdom all you want, but your authority as His representative – has been seriously compromised.
That’s the funny thing about this glorious kingdom. It is ruled by a King who for some strange reason thinks He has the right to call the shots. And if He wants you to do something that might risk your retirement in that much longed for gated community in Palm Springs, that is his perogative.
I find it very enlightening that when Jesus heard from John’s disciples about this tragic murder as Matthew notes in vs. 12, 13 He didn’t say, “You know guys – if John had just kept his religious views private, or at best – only talked of them to those who clearly wanted to hear, this would have never happened. And my most coveted and trusted co-worker – would still be paving the way for me….” No, Jesus knew – what befell John, would soon befall Him, for they both lived solely to please the Father – – And they both were called – as you and I are called – to proclaim the truth in righteousness, whenever and to whomever the King directs them.
Our theme and the cry of our hearts this year is “Your kingdom come.” I think it is only right that you and I understand this morning what we are asking when we pray this prayer. This kingdom is glorious. And when it comes in power to a family or a congregation or a school or a business or a city, all kinds of healing and blessing and joy results. But this kingdom has a King. And because He not only created us. But also suffered and died for us; And now sits in heaven to pray for those of us who know Him; He is owed and demands our utmost devotion and our immediate and complete obedience.
On the most part, like John and like Jesus, that will be focused on helping individuals whom you have influence with to come to know the King, and to enter into His kingdom. But at times – He may ask you to take a step for righteousness sake, that has no guarantee of success, and will most certainly bring with it some level of persecution, rejection, or even death.
When the apostle Paul said that the church of the living God is “the pillar and support of the truth” – He never meant for that truth to be confined to the four walls of a church gathering.
When the apostle Paul said that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” – it was not an accident that he placed righteousness first in that list. The first thing the kingdom of God is about is people living rightly – – and especially leaders – whether leaders in government, education, business or the church – – these people who have great influence over many – – these people of all people are to deal righteously and justly with those under them. And sometimes the only way they are going to know what that looks like is by us living it before them and proclaiming it to them.
Martin Luther King Jr. put it this way, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”
I believe the Holy Spirit is using John the Baptist’s example to remind us of that today.
Does this mean that we members of LOCF should be spending hours every day making phone calls and writing letters to our local, state and federal gov’t officials about their ungodly lifestyles or positions? I don’t think so.
Do some believers out there spend too much time pointing out every mistake and every ungodly blemish that certain politicians have? Yes unfortunately there are some that do that.
Have some of our preachers in America and conservative politicians waxed eloquent about certain moral issues only to be found later to be having a secret immoral lifestyle themselves? Yes, unfortunately that has sometimes been the case.
But none of this need affect or dampen your obedience to the King when He decides for whatever reason it is time to speak the truth boldly, and yet in love – to someone who possibly has the earthly power to make life uncomfortable for you.
So allow me to share four suggestions on how we can walk this out in a way that is pleasing to Him:
1. Do not neglect the log that is in your own eye. Or put in a more positive way – Carve out time daily to place yourself in an environment where you have the best chance to develop a lifestyle of growth and transformation, so when you are called to speak out, your character and lifestyle will lend authority to your words, not sabotage it.
2. Do not make the mistake of thinking you can hear God clearly all on your own when it comes to confronting someone in authority about their ungodliness or wickedness. Paul says we all see in a mirror dimly. If you think God is calling you to travel to Sacramento and ask for a private meeting with Governor Brown, you need to bounce that off your spouse, your accountability partner, your small group leader, and whomever else God has placed in your life to help you discern such things. I’m not saying God cannot do such a thing. I’m just saying you need to humble yourself and make sure you are hearing correctly, and not deceiving yourself because of perhaps deep anger at and disappointment with a given official, or an inflated view of your calling in society, or of an emotional response to something you’ve seen or heard.
3. When you start sensing the King wants you to speak to your boss, who is having an affair with one of your fellow employees, or to whomever, …. begin first by praying for this person until you have God’s heart for him or her. God’s heart is never to just slam someone with the truth, and then walk away without any regard of how they respond to that truth. I believe the reason John the Baptist spoke to Herod more than once was he truly wanted him to repent and be forgiven and cleansed and delivered from his wickedness.
4. To whatever degree you struggle with the fear of man; and with a lack of boldness and courage to speak the truth when asked to, repent of that; and allow people in your life that you trust to pray for you that you will be cleansed of this sinful and destructive condition.
Susan B. Anthony, (February 15, 1820 – March 13, 1906) was a prominent American civil rights leader who played a pivotal role in the 19th century women’s rights movement to introduce women’s suffrage into the United States said once: “Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.”
John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus never minced words, and were fearless in their proclamation of the kingdom of God. They spoke truth to whomever, whenever. And the kingdom advanced greatly because of that. As we come to the communion table this morning, I believe the Lord Jesus wants to impart more of His courage and boldness and obedience to us.
Closing prayer time & Communion – II Cor. 5:14,15