A parishioner once approached Martin Luther for some personal counseling. He seemed to have been troubled with what was then called “a melancholy spirit.” Today we would call it depression. The parishioner confided in Luther hoping that he could provide him with some solace. The world seemed against him, all seemed dark, and he had no energy or desire for life.
Luther knew the worth of good old fashioned work. He certainly did not wish to downplay this person’s spiritual and emotional struggle. Luther would certainly have acknowledged it. But basically he said, “Life must go on and some physical labor is good for the soul.” (He probably thought that there is nothing that will make one’s outlook on life better than a nice big, old whiff of manure. That will cheer you right up!)
One of the very first institutions of creation was work. Adam’s life was to have a natural rhythm to it: It was to be a pattern of work and worship. Six days he was to handle the plow, the seventh day he was to handle the hymnbook. The Sabbath was there for a variety of reasons. But one of those reasons was to assist him in his work. He rested and was renewed for his job. And the woman that was given to him, she was there to help him in his life’s work.
Adam’s life was to center around the Lord, but it also revolved around the Lord’s calling for his life.
The same is true for us. A seventh of our lives is to be spent in the holy contemplation of God. But the majority of our lives is to be dedicated to our everyday labors and employments.
Our proverb this morning touches on that topic which consumes much of our lives. This morning we are talking about labor. Our life is a life of labor. In this proverb we find three lessons on labor to help us become better servants of God in the work force.
The first lesson we learn concerns the dignity of manual labor.
I. The dignity of manual labor
The first part of our verse talks about a man who “works his land.” It is obviously talking about a farmer.
The ancient world was mainly one of agriculture. Most of the people made their living off of the soil. And, as you know, that kind of work was toilsome work. It caused calluses. It involved sweat and oftentimes created blisters. It was an occupation where one worked with his or her hands, put in many back breaking hours, and involved a great deal of sweat. It was labor intensive labor.
Yet this occupation, as we see here and throughout the Bible, is a noble profession. And this labor, which was Man’s first vocation, represents all physical or labor-intensive occupations.
Each calling in life, no matter how insignificant it may be in our eyes, is blessed of the Lord. As long as it is a lawful employment—that is to say, as long as your work is not illegal—it is a noble work and there is dignity in it.
We are currently living in a day where we deem certain jobs as more noble than others. Many people think that a physically oriented job is “lower,” or “a more demeaning job” than say working in an office or teaching in a college classroom.
We see this often when people are introduced to one another. Someone might look to get acquainted. They might say, “What is it you do for a living?” The person would respond with, “I work for the government.” That sounds like such a dignified profession.
Then when the question is reciprocated, one might find themselves a bit ashamed to answer because they don’t see their job as significant. They might bashfully say, “Well, all I do is pick up trash.” We might even try to laugh it off by saying, “I’m a grease monkey.” With a little joke we hope that the conversation will quickly move to a different topic.
Our denigration of manual labor has become so ingrained in our society that we have sought to make up for it through political correctness. We now label jobs with pretty titles such as “Sanitation worker” or “Administrative Assistant.” We think that these fancy titles will give more meaning and dignity to our work. We think that these titles will make our work more meaningful.
But the Bible shows us that every job, no matter how insignificant, is an honorable profession. Adam was called to tend the garden of God. Abraham was called to watch over sheep. Other Bible figures were called to be craftsmen and artisans. Even our Lord Jesus Christ slung a hammer and dirtied his body while stooping to the ground. He did not enter a more noble calling when he began his public ministry. No, he simply changed from one praiseworthy job to another.
One of the greatest things that came out of the Reformation was the biblical idea of vocation. Before the Reformers emerged on the scene, life was divided into what was called the sacred and secular. People thought that if you really wanted to please God—if you really wanted a job in this world that would really mean something in the eyes of the Lord—then you would get a “sacred” job. You would become a monk or priest. People who worked the land or hammered out steel were considered second class citizens.
But with a return to the Bible, came a return to the biblical understanding of vocation. Luther would note the dignity of manual labor frequently in his ministry. He would say things like, “God himself will milk the cows through him whose vocation that is.” And “He who engages in the lowliness of his work performs God's work, be he lad or king.”
I know that this teaching is still needed today, even in evangelical circles. I was talking with a friend of mine who worked in a local factory. As we talked I came to see that he had a low view regarding his manufacturing job. He said that his real calling (meaning what was in his mind the highest calling), was to preach the gospel and win souls for Christ.
But a preacher’s work is no more lofty than one who turns bolts for a living. Each of us has been called by God to do a special work. God has ordained us to go about each of our callings. He has gifted some particular people with a green thumb. Others he has given the ability to drive a flatbed truck. Some can poke needles; others can change diapers and tend to the affairs of the house. Each of us fulfills a role in this world. And each one should remember that our work is a work filled with great dignity.
But our passage talks about something more. It not only talks about work’s dignity, it talks about work’s diligence. That is to say our diligence will be rewarded.
II. The reward of diligent labor
Look at our verse again. It says that the one who works his land “will have plenty of bread.”
Here is a man who has worked hard. He has poured his energy into his work. He has applied all his strength and knowledge to his occupation. Now, when the harvest time comes, he will not be disappointed. He is going to be rewarded for his diligence. Literally, he will be able to eat the fruits of his labors.
This is God’s ordinary working in the world. The one who punches the clock everyday and works at his job heartily, will find that he will never lack sufficient food. His stomach will always be satisfied.
Why is that? It is because he has obeyed the Lord’s commission to work.
I just mentioned that out of the reformation there came the biblical doctrine of vocation. That is to say, every calling in life, as long as it is a lawful calling, is a noble calling. It has a dignity to it. But hand in hand with that doctrine there sprang up what we now call “the Protestant work ethic.” People saw that God not only called them to salvation through faith in Christ, but they saw that every area of their lives was to be governed by the Word of God. That included one’s occupation.
Preachers began to talk about the 10 commandments again. And when they came to the 8th commandment, the people heard what it really meant when the Bible said “Thou shalt not steal.” And they began to hear sermons on passages like Colossians 3, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your might, as unto the Lord.”
They heard that industry is one of God’s guidelines for life. And as a result, during the time of the reformation, there came to be a rise in economic prosperity. A middle class emerged out of the radically polarized nobility and peasant classes.
What was really happening? God was rewarding the obedience—the diligence-- of his people.
Time and again in the book of proverbs you will find that Solomon talks about the sluggard. He is someone who is idle. He will not work, and even when he does get out of bed and get to work, he won’t apply himself. He will chatter with the other employees’, shoot the breeze here and there, or milk a project for a long period of time. And you find that the Lord condemns that kind of person. He will suffer poverty.
But time and again in these proverbs you see that the industrious person is rewarded. God blesses him for his obedience. And here you see one of those forms of blessing: He may eat. But not only is his stomach full, but he is at ease. He doesn’t have to worry about where his next meal is going to come from. That’s because his pantry is full. He not only has food, but he has food in abundance.
Think about the slothful man again. Being a sluggard he may work, but most likely he will not work much. He does enough to get by. But you know, when you’re just doing enough to get by, what oftentimes happens? You get behind. So you end up worrying.
We need to remember that the “life of ease” (i.e. the sluggard’s life) eventually leads to a life of ill-ease. It becomes a life of worry and frustration. But the industrious life—a life that might not necessarily be “the easy life”—that life leads to the more comfortable life.
I really want to press that home to you young people. A lot of young people think that their time in school doesn’t mean much. They think, “Hey, when I graduate, that’s when life is really going to start.” But that is not true. You are preparing for your future right now. And the work that you put in now, will determine how full your refrigerator is in the future.
You don’t have to grow up to be a doctor or a lawyer. Your area of work does not matter. What matters is your diligence. And your present diligence will put you all the farther ahead when you graduate. And the farther ahead you are then will mean the fewer worries you will have when it comes to your earthly needs. If you work now, you will find that the Lord will reward you richly later.
The labor of the obedient will not go overlooked. The Lord always regards the diligence of his people.
So when we think about the labor of our life, we need to remember the dignity of manual labor and the reward of diligent labor. But let’s look at the last part of the verse. It too teaches us a lesson about labor. It teaches us the folly of worthless labors.
III. The folly of worthless labors
It says, “He who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.”
A. Vain pursuits
Now, here you have someone who is working hard, but he is not getting anywhere. He is pursuing (following like a hound) a most elusive prey. It is a “worthless pursuit.” This venture may seem like it will pay good dividends, but in the end it --most likely—is not going to be profitable at all. It is going to leave you empty.
In other words, it is a gamble. It is the get rich quick scheme. It is the risky business venture. It is investing a lot in something that might end up leaving you with a little.
You might readily think of something like the lottery or the slot machines. You can invest a lot of money in such things. And they tout great prospects, don’t they? But what usually comes of it? The thing that you get is usually an empty pocket.
The Ohio lottery has advertisements on the radio and television. And those advertisements say how great it is to play the lotto. And at the end of every commercial it has a jingle that says, “Odds are, you’ll have fun.” Well, it should say, “Odds are, you’ll lose.”
Now there is nothing wrong with doing this as a leisure activity. Putting your money in a slot machine is just as moral as putting your money in a soda machine. In both cases you are getting a return. For one it is a can of soda pop. For the other it is the thrill of “playing the odds.” In both cases you have to consider whether or not it is proper stewardship of your money.
This proverb is not condemning that sort of recreation. What this proverb is getting at is investing yourself in such a venture. This proverb is telling us not to substitute a “easy, get rich quick scheme” for good old fashioned, hard work because if you do, you will end up with nothing.
Why is that? It is because God doesn’t bless the person who puts stock in that kind of practice. That’s why that person is said to “lack sense.” Because that person is not living by the rule that God has establish.
That’s not only true when it comes to your pocket book, it is true for your spiritual life too. You can follow after worthless pursuits, or you can invest that time in good old fashioned Bible study. You can make a habit of sleeping in on Sunday morning, but what profit is that going to get you spiritually?
A church can follow after drama’s and try to maintain a spiritual diet on 1 line choruses, but what will such labors really get you? It won’t be all that profitable. Not compared to regular reading and preaching through the Scriptures. Those are worthless things. Whereas the means of grace (the word, sacraments and prayer—all of these) are profitable things.
No one will get anywhere by worthless pursuits. Those kinds of labors are foolish. And worthless people are just as bad.
B. Vain people
Some of you may have that in your translations. You might have “He who follows vain people lacks sense.” That would be a right translation too. A literal translation would be “He who follows that which is vain lacks sense.” So you can see how it includes things and people. It is very comprehensive.
You’ve heard the saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.” That’s true. There are certain people who, if you hang out with them, you will end up being just like them: worthless. They will keep you from going anywhere in life.
They are “empty” people because they are not filled with the Holy Spirit. They aren’t going to help you make the right decisions. They are not going to edge you one in your spiritual life. They are not going to follow Christ. They won’t help you make anything of your life. You’ll just end up wasting away. And in the end your life will become worthless too.
It doesn’t matter if it is worthless people or worthless pursuits. If you follow them, you will find that your life’s labors will not have profited any. It’s foolish.
So what is the final lesson? Saddle up the horses, get out in the field and start spreading the manure. God calls us to a life of labor. Today we are to labor in the work of worship. We rest our bodies by refraining from our regular employments, but we exert our efforts spiritually. Tomorrow and until we meet again, God calls us to diligently pursue our careers or studies. If we honor him with an industrious spirit, he will honor us in return.
In the book The 19th Hole Golf immortal Arnold Palmer recalls a lesson about overconfidence:
It was the final hole of the 1961 Masters tournament, and I had a one-stroke lead and had just hit a very satisfying tee shot. I felt I was in pretty good shape. As I approached my ball, I saw an old friend standing at the edge of the gallery. He motioned me over, stuck out his hand and said, “Congratulations.”
The lesson Palmer learned that day was the lesson of pride. When he shook that hand he became arrogant. And once the pride had seeped in it poisoned his concentration and made him lose the trophy that he so diligently sought.
All of us must learn that lesson too. All of us must come to understand that pride is a poison that is more lethal than any snake bite or anything one might receive by way of a needle’s injection.
Our proverb for this morning certainly makes that clear. Our proverb makes it clear that pride is a fatal toxin. For once it seeps into your system it has the ability to poison both your relationships and your mind.
Our proverb starts out by talking about how pride poisons our relationships.
I. Pride poisons your relationships
It says, “by insolence (i.e. by pride) comes nothing but strife.”
In other words, it is saying that pride is an irritant. It is, by its nature, an aggravator. It takes what could otherwise be a peaceful and enjoyable relationship and frustrates it.
You see, the thing about pride is that it is focused only one the self and one’s preeminence. And if the only thing that matters in the world is you, then you will become an annoyance to everyone else in the world.
When I was young we used to play a game called, “King of the Mountain.” And that was one of the most contentious games I ever played. Even more than football. You may know what I’m talking about already. In King of the Mountain, everyone starts out at the bottom of a hill or snow pile. When you say go, everyone scrambles to the top of a hill. The one who gets there first tries to push everyone else down so he can be king of the mountain. So there is constant friction. One person comes from one direction and you have to push him down. Someone else comes from a different direction, and you have to push him down (or else be knocked off).
That is what this proverb is talking about. If you are full of pride, then you are going to want to be king of the mountain. So you are going to try to push everyone else down. And there is going to be constant fighting going on because you have to stay at the top. You have to look good. You cannot bear to be the one who is not the winner of the argument, the victor or the one to whom everyone else looks up.
You might remember that this was one of the first lessons of history. Pride poisoned some of the most glorious relationships that ever existed: The relationships that existed among the angels in heaven.
Think about Satan. What was his sin? It was pride! He was the most beautiful of all the angels. He was also the highest ranking angel. The only one above him was God himself. But then he became proud. He wanted to be the “King of Heaven.” He wanted pre-eminence over God and did not want to be subject to Him. And his pride caused nothing but strife. He bucked against God and God bucked back. As a result heaven was divided. Satan was cast down from heaven and so were a third of the angels who had allied themselves with Satan.
That same episode occurs here on earth among us, wherever pride manifests itself. Wherever you find pride, you are going to find people butting heads.
That’s true in marriages isn’t it? Why do married couples bicker so much? Why is the divorce rate in our nation so high? It is because of pride. Men are too proud to say to their wives, “You know, honey. I did was wrong, will you forgive me?” Women are not humble enough to pray for their husbands! The poison of those relationships is pride.
The same is true in the church. The Corinthian church is one example of this. There were a lot of things wrong in the Corinthian church, weren’t there? But what was their real problem? What was the root of all their woes? It was pride! Their fundamental issue was their arrogance.
You could look at almost every issue in that church and attribute it to pride. There was strife over who to follow (Paul or Apolos). There was strife over the gift of tongues. There was strife regarding the Lord’s Table. There was strife over what to eat and where to eat. Why? Because they were full of pride! They were only concerned about themselves—how they looked, about how they felt—and that’s pride!
That’s why Paul says in the famous Love chapter, “Love is not arrogant. It does not boast. It is not rude. It does not insist on its own way.” Pride cannot bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, or endure all things. Pride cannot be patient or kind because it is the incubator of anger, hate and division.
All those things Paul talked about lead to peaceable relationships. Love considers others first and seeks to promote other’s welfare. Love produces a harmonious atmosphere—like that of heaven.
Pride cannot do that. There cannot be peace where there is pride. That’s because pride poisons relationships. It pits people against one another. It creates a hellish environment where there is constant friction and arguing.
You know why that is? Because there can only be one God. Really, that’s the poison of pride. You are trying to become like God. This is why homes are broken and churches are destroyed. Because people have not humbled themselves before God. And since that relationship is distorted, all other relationships are going to be broken as well.
When God is at the center of your life, the God who is Love, will help you to be loving. But when you are at the center of your life, you will be all that matters in life. As a result you will not be able to admit that your wrong, or be willing to be thought of as wrong. You will not be willing to be misunderstood or let themselves be wronged. That’s because a prideful person has to be king of the mountain and he has to beat every one else into submission!
I want you all to be aware of pride. Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought. Otherwise you are going to be riddled with strife. Pride produces rivalries in relationships.
But don’t think it stops there. Pride poisons more than just your relationships. It also poisons your mind.
II. Pride poisons your mind
The second half of our proverb says, “With the well-advised there is wisdom.” Do you hear that? Do you hear how the prideful person is poisoned?
This is saying that someone who is humble is going to be willing to listen to other people. A humble person knows that he does not know it all. And he knows that God speaks through various instruments. Ministers, parents, friends, fellow believers and the Bible. These are all God’s mouth-pieces. And the wise man considers these to be resources of knowledge and he is willing to weigh what they have to say. As a result his knowledge is ever expanding. He is growing ins wisdom. His mind is increasing with knowledge and understanding.
But that’s not happening with a proud man. A proud person won’t listen to others. A proud man is a close minded man. He won’t listen to anyone. He already thinks he knows it all. He doesn’t think he needs people to give him any advice because he is the expert.
So what happens? His pride poisons his mind! Since he is so proud, he will not receive instruction. He ends up being none the wiser. His mind isn’t going grow. His understanding isn’t going to expand. If anything, it degenerates even further than it is. So he goes on acting like a fool.
It is interesting how Paul advises Titus regarding such people. Turn over to Titus 3. In Titus 3:10 Paul gives Titus some advice on how to administer church discipline. He says, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him.”
Do you see the pride in these people? If a person stirs up division in the church—isn’t that the initial sign of pride. That’s exactly what we just talked about. They are poisoning the relationships in the church. So Paul says, warn him once. Warn him twice. If he doesn’t listen to you, have nothing to do with him. In other words, excommunicate him. If he is so arrogant that he will not listen to your advice—and if he is so haughty that he will not submit to your authority—then cast him out of the church.
Paul goes on to say that such a person is “warped.” Have you ever seen a piece of wood that is warped? That means it is twisted or bent really funny and won’t lay straight.
That’s what a person who is prideful is like. He is twisted inside. His mind is perverted so badly that he cannot think straight.
And that is exactly what this proverb is getting at. A proud person doesn’t think right and will not be willing to have others tell him how to think. His mind has been poisoned with pride. Who knows what else might result if that happens?
Former President Richard Nixon was known as someone who typically gave and took a lot of advice. In his presidential campaign against John F. Kennedy however, he paid the price for not listening to the wise counsel of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Otto Friedrich in Time magazine wrote:
Eisenhower and others warned Nixon not to accept Kennedy’s challenge to a televised debate—Nixon was Vice President after all, and far better known that the junior Senator from Massachusetts—but Nixon took pride in his long experience as a debater. He also ignored advice to rest up before the debate and went on campaigning strenuously until the last minute. So, what a record 80 million Americans saw on their TV screens was a devastating contrast. Kennedy looked fresh, tanned and vibrant. Nixon looked unshaven, baggy-eyed, and surly.
Kennedy went on to win the election by a very slim margin. Most analyst say that if it had not been for the televised debate, Nixon would have won. If he only would have listened to those who had tried to counsel him he would have won. But it would not be so, because his mind had been poisoned by pride.
Young people, I want you to realize something. If you ever come to the point where you tell someone, “Get off my case” that can be a dangerous thing. Your mom or dad can nag. That might be true. But when someone comes up to you and has the courage to say, “Hey, I’ve seen that you… and I don’t think you should be doing that.” You can either hear what they have to say, or you can tell them to get lost. If you choose the latter, you may just have drunk the juice. You need to be aware that the poison of pride might already be in your veins. Your mind already may be affected with that devilish serum of arrogance. And you may well be on your way to reaping the effects of your pride.
Martin Luther once said that that the pope he most feared was not the one in Rome. It was the pope in his own heart.
Luther recognized that poison of pride resided within him. Popery is nothing other than a prideful self exaltation to the place of Christ. And none of us are immune to it.
All of us, of course, need to be on the lookout for this venomous vice. You have to remember that Satan is the Great Snake, and he would like nothing more than to sink his teeth into any one of us. He, of all people in the world, knows the devastating effects of pride. And he would like nothing more than to have each one of us become just as puffed up as he is. He would like nothing more than to have our minds become numbed by our own selfish conceit. He loves it when our heads swell with pride. Because when that happens our ears close and the word of God is silenced. And he loves having us pitted against one another. Because if he can drive us further away from each other, he can drive us further away from God.
So beware of the poison of pride.
There is a book in my house that I’m absolutely sick of reading. I’m sure a number of you have read it too: Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? It is advanced reading, I know.
Well, today’s sermon is going to be called, “Blind man, blind man, what do you see?” This passage is an interesting one because it is all about man’s blindness. It is actually ironic because the only one who can really “see” in the passage is the blind man. Despite the fact that he can’t see anything, he has the clearest perception of where things stand.
Then, we noted what Jesus meant when he said, “What is impossible with man, is possible with God.” We said that man’s condition is so bad, his sinful nature is so debilitating, that it is impossible for him to come to a state of salvation on his own. Salvation is only possible by God’s sovereign doing.
Well, in our passage today, our Lord wishes the press that home again. As we look at this passage, I think it will become apparent that man, because of his sin, is completely blinded to the saving work of God. There is no possibility to overcome this blindness on our own.
Our passage begins by describing the blindness to us.
I. The blindness is described
In verses 31 and 32 Jesus predicts what is going to happen to him in a few days. He says, “See we are going up to Jerusalem and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”
Now, notice how the disciples react. Actually, notice how the disciples didn’t react. Verse 34 says, “They understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”
Did you notice the repetition? Luke takes up some extra space on his papyri to let you know that what Jesus just said didn’t sink in. It wasn’t that they were a little fuzzy on the details. They had absolutely no comprehension what Jesus meant.
Understand too that this is at least the third time that Jesus has predicted his death. If you go back to chapter 9 you can read of two other instances where Jesus said that he was going to be handed over and killed.
Now, how many times do you have to say something to get it to sink in? Some of you parents have probably asked that yourselves. You’ve said to your kids, “How many times do I have to tell you to pick up your toys?!” But that’s different isn’t it? It’s not that your kids don’t understand you. They hear you. They know what you mean. They have perfect comprehension. They just don’t do it.
This isn’t like the disciples heard Jesus and simply chose to ignore it. They are not tracking at all. They are completely blank. Their eyes are glazed.
Look at it again. Look at how specific Jesus is. Jesus says, “Guys, I’m going to be handed over, spit on, mocked, shamefully treated and killed.” He’s pretty specific here about what is going to happen. He’s not speaking a parable or hiding anything from them.
And he says that everything that has been foretold in the OT by the prophets is going to happen.
But look at what it says in verse 34. It says that “they understood none of these things.” Actually, the original language says that they couldn’t put 2&2 together. It says “they could not put these things together.” They couldn’t connect what Jesus said with what was going to happen. It was like a puzzle piece that just didn’t fit into their brain.
Now, I wonder if this is referring to their preconceived ideas of what a Messiah was supposed to do. You know, they were expecting a warrior and a political figure. But how do you get that? Where did that come from? It was from the OT. In particular, it was from the way they read the OT.
Now, we do this too, don’t we? When we read Scripture, this is the way we do it: We see verses that talk of God’s love and we highlight them. If there is a passage that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy, we underline it and put little hearts beside it. But when we come across a passage that talks about judgment, we kind of skip over that. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,” Let’s put that on facebook. Psalm 137: “Happy is he who dashes their babies against the rocks.” Well, that’s weird. We’ll skip over that one. “God is love.” Now that’s a good one. That deserves to be highlighted.
That’s likely what the Jews did when they read the Scriptures. They looked at the political stuff; they saw what they wanted. They didn’t see things like Isaiah 53 and the Suffering Servant. That just didn’t fit with their construction of things. So, when Jesus came and started talking about suffering, “they couldn’t put it together.” It was a puzzle piece that doesn’t fit in their brains.
The next thing it says is really interesting too. It says, “The saying was hidden from them.” Now, who hid it? Did Jesus hide something? No. We just pointed out, he couldn’t be any more clear on the matter. He’s very open and specific.
It was hidden because they needed the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Their minds, being darkened by sin, could not allow them to understand it. They needed the Spirit to reveal it in order to comprehend it.
Then finally it says, “They did not grasp these things.” Literally it says, “They did not know” these things. This is a statement of simple knowledge. Jesus spoke and gave them knowledge. But, without the Spirit’s illumination, they couldn’t even pick up that. They were not tracking at all. It was basically bouncing off of them.
All this shows that men are deadened to the things of the Lord. We are completely blind to the gospel and have no ability to embrace it in even a cognitive way, let alone a true spiritual comprehension—a believing way, without the working of God within us.
We are described as being completely powerless to gain even the slightest bit of insight.
And this becomes even more clear in the next portion. In the verses we just looked at our blindness is described. But in verses 35-39 we see how our blindness is demonstrated.
II. The blindness is demonstrated
In verse 35 we read about a blind man who is sitting by the roadside begging for money. Now, recognize that he is in a strategic place here. We are coming upon the Passover Celebration and there would be thousands of people crowding through these streets on their way to Jerusalem. This was the hay day for beggars. You have all these people on pilgrimage and he plants himself right where he is bound to make a killing.
Verse 36 tells us that the blind man hears this crowd going by and he asks what is going on. Now, notice what they say. In 37 the tell him that “Jesus of Nazareth” is passing by. And how does he respond? He cries out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
Two things to note here. First of all, it is interesting that the blind man calls out for mercy. He didn’t call out for a healing of his eyes. This blind man recognizes that his problem is not primarily physical. He isn’t struggling with bad case of glaucoma. He recognizes that his eye problem is symptomatic of something deeper. His blindness is just a periphery thing. He understands that his real problem is his relationship with God. His real dilemma is his sin and his need of salvation. He recognizes that he needs to get right with God. He understands that he is under the wrath and curse of God and needs to be forgiven and restored. And the only way he can get that is through God’s mercy.
But there is something more important to see here: This blind man has more perception than the any of the other people of the crowd. Keep your eye on how the people talk about Jesus. The blind man asks what the ruckus is. They say, Jesus of Nazareth is coming. He says, “Jesus, Son of David.” The crowd just refers to Jesus as an ordinary guy. But this blind man confesses as king; Messiah! They say, “It’s just Jesus;” he says, “The long awaited Deliverer is here!”
And it goes on in verse 39 to say that the people tried to hush him up. “Settle down you! You keep your mouth shut. We’ll have no more of this nonsense!” But what is his reaction? It says that he cries out all the more. The word there actually means to scream or screech. In other words, he kicks up the volume until the decibel level is ear piercing.
The blind man sees who Jesus really is. No one else does. And this blind man is essentially preaching to this crowd. Every time he cries out, he is proclaiming the gospel: the King has come, mercy is at hand!
But the crowd just wants him to hush up. What should they have done? They should have said, “You’re right!” and everyone should have fell at his feet. They all should have cried out for mercy. But they are too dense. They are the blind ones. They don’t see that their messiah is standing right there.
That’s the thing about our sinful estate. It doesn’t matter what language you use. It doesn’t matter how loud you shout. It doesn’t matter how good your argument is. It can be the most eloquently stated gospel presentation with the most airtight argument. You can have every detail exact, but it won’t make any difference if the Spirit does not bring with it light and life.
This event right here is not so much about the blind man’s faith as it is about Israel’s faithlessness. What we have here is a dead people. They are a blind. The blind man sees much more than all Israel put together. Every cry is a sermon. But he is preaching to people who have absolutely no interest in what he has to say.
Back in Isaiah 59 the Isaiah talked about how depraved the people of Israel were. One of the ways he described them as being blind. It says that they hope for light, but there is only darkness. He describes them as groping for the wall and stumbling about despite it being noon (the brightest portion of the day). Really, that’s what we have here.
And I think that is a good way of describing much of the church today. Perhaps you heard how one of the members of the Christian rock group “Jars of Clay” has come out in support of homosexual marriage. How can he do that, despite the clear testimony of Scripture on the subject? Well, one reason is because he could probably care less about the clear testimony of Scripture! But it is mainly because he is groping for truth. He’s blind.
The sad part is, I highly doubt that his statement is going to affect his record sales. I wouldn’t even doubt it if his albums start flying off the shelf! Most of the people in the church today probably won’t see anything wrong with what he said.
Men today are just as blind to the truth of God and the revelation that he gives of himself as they were here in this passage. No matter how clearly Christ is revealed, men are going to remain numb to his Lordship until it is broken by God’s power; which brings us to verses 40-43.
We’ve seen how this blindness is described and demonstrated. Now, in verses 40-43 we see how this blindness is destroyed.
III. The blindness is destroyed
In verse 40 Jesus commands that this man be brought over to him. Now remember this is in front of a great crowd of people. So understand that the stage has been set. This has become more than a lesson to this blind man. Jesus put this guy right in front of this huge mass of people to make a point.
And look at verse 41. Jesus asks him again, “What is it you want me to do?” Jesus knew what he wanted! The man had just cried out for mercy. Jesus knew exactly what he wanted. But he’s setting it up.
And notice how the man responds, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” The man asks that his sight might be restored. In other words, he had it before, but he lost it. He now wants to recover it. He had once been able to see, but he became blind. Now he wants to recover his sight so he can see again.
Now, think about this: Isn’t that what has happened to Israel? They had once been devoted to God, but they lost their sight of that devotion. In their apostasy they lost sight of God and now they needed to recover it.
How is that possible? Well, the miracle says it all. Jesus responds by saying, “recover your sight, your faith has made you well.” The way that this blindness is overcome is through a miracle of God.
That is the beauty of redemption. That’s what makes salvation really the God glorifying thing that it is. This is what makes our salvation all of grace. God, in his loving-kindness, extends his saving grace to us when we were blind; when we were helplessly lost and reeling around in the darkness.
Again, we could go back to Isaiah 59. For 15 verses Isaiah talks about how rebellious God’s people are. And by verse 12 or 13 you start to wonder, “Is there any hope for these people?” And in verse 15 it says that God’s stretched out his arm and brought them salvation. They were saved, not by any power of their own, but by the direct intervention of God.
That’s what is being described here in this healing. This healing is (ironically enough) a visible sermon. It is a visible expression of what God does in redeeming a man.
Now, before we finish, there is one more thing that you need to see about this blindness. It is important that you see that this blindness is decreed.
IV. The blindness is decreed.
We would not be doing justice to this passage or the GOSPEL if we did not see how God is sovereign in all of this. I don’t want you walking away from here thinking that sin is just running amuck and there is nothing God can do about it. You have to understand that even as man is groping around in the darkness is still part of the divine plan of God.
Look back at verse 31. Our passage began with a prophecy. Jesus predicted his death. And, it wasn’t just a vague horoscope where he predicted that somehow, somewhere he was going to die. He predicted how everything was going to happen, even down to the most precise detail.
So Jesus knew exactly how things were going to turn out, and that is because he knew the end from the beginning. He knew that this was part of God’s plan. These wicked men were going to treat him shamefully because that was what God had intended from the very start.
And you have to understand it had to be that way.
You see, this blind beggar expressed what we all need. He cried out for mercy. And the Son of David just can’t grant mercy. As a king he has to uphold justice. A king is concerned for righteousness and it wouldn’t be right if justice wasn’t served.
So, you see, this is the predicament: Men are sinful. They’ve broken the law and they deserve to die! How is it they can receive mercy? It is through the cross. The old saying is that justice and mercy kiss at the cross. It is there that we see justice upheld and mercy poured out.
It is awesome to see that man, even in all his blind rebellion, is still doing the work of God. As they were executing Christ they were fulfilling what God had decreed for our redemption.
And this is the wonder of it all: If your eyes have been opened, you can rest assured that Christ has died for you. If God has spoken to you today and you see just how blind you have been—if you today understand that you have been rebelling against him and groping around in your sin, then you can know that salvation may be had. God has provided a way for you to receive mercy in the death of his Son.
What does death taste like? Every dying soul knows that it doesn’t taste good. It is an elixir that makes one’s pallet shudder. But scripturally speaking, death tastes fruity.
The pungent wine that Christ consumed on the cross should tingle our spiritual pallets. For it points us towards an equally pungent truth: redemption.
It should not go unnoticed that the last act of Christ’s life was his partaking of the sour wine. For the spoiled fruit that touches his tongue hearkens us back to the beginning of the story.
In Adam’s fall, sinned we all. His sin was what plunged men into the bitter ruin of sin and death. When once his lips touched the forbidden fruit, he forfeited his life. As its juices flowed down his chin the havoc of hell fell upon humanity.
Certainly, the fruit was not a poison in and of itself. All had been created good. This fruit was no less good than any other in the garden. Yet it was a probationary fruit. God had forbidden it. The law said, “In the day you eat of it, you will surely die.”
Some scholars like to speculate and say that God would not have withheld the fruit forever, eternally dangling it before him as a form of temptation. They like to suggest that the forbidden fruit was much like any other item requiring patience, like sex.
Sex is a glorious creation of God, but it forbidden until the proper time. The Lord requires us to wait until we are united to our spouse in the bonds of marriage. He reveals the glory of it only at the proper moment.
So theologians opine that the forbidden fruit was much like a dessert that the Lord wished to save until that proper moment of its revealing.
But we will never know that for sure. For Adam, the fruit was ripe to eat.
Death came through one man, and it came once his lips set upon the fruit. He tasted death, and all of its repulsive tartness.
Yet, that last act of Adam’s life is reflexively expressed in the last act of the Second Adam. There is no coincidence. The sour wine that was given to Christ in his dying moment was ordained of God. Christ must taste death too. If redemption is to be had, his lips must savor the fetid fruit of Adam.
Life was first quenched through a fruit that hung on the branches of Eden’s tree. The fruit that dangled from the hyssop branch on Calvary also brought death. But it was a death that brought life.
To be sure, the Savior’s fleshly thirst was not quenched. As mentioned before, it aggravated his state and only served to vex his yearning for hydration. We can say, however, that his primary thirst was quenched.
Christ lived to do the will of the Father. Unlike the first Adam, His sole craving was obedience. And in opening his mouth to this fruit he was performing an act of compliance.
He must die. The Father demanded it. When in Gethsemene he asked if this cup could pass from him. But he realized that he could not avoid it. “Not my will, but thy will be done,” said He.
So, as his final deed he opens his mouth and bites into the sponge. He obediently tastes the punitive flavor of death....and he swallows the curse of hell.
There is no comfort in hell. At every moment those who are damned are afflicted with pain. There is no dulling of it; nor is any “getting used” to the sensation.
The puritans would talk about souls “writhing” in hell. That is an apt description because there are no comforts to be had.
If you’ve ever had a bad back, you have tried to get comfortable. It isn’t possible. You keep turning and twisting. You are writhing on your bed because the pain will not let you sit long in any given position.
Such is the experience of one who is in hell, and such was the experience of Christ in his death.
His body languishes away on that cross, and with it comes the pains of dehydration. He has had nothing to drink for at least 12 hours, and the day’s trauma has taken its toll. He thirsts.
Typically, when someone is in their dying days and last moments of life you do everything in your power to set them at ease. You give them a pillow and lay them in a position where they might be comfortable. If they are thirsty, you may put a cool cloth to their lips or give him some ice chips so as to offer them some sort of reprieve.
Today we even have hospice care. It is a whole business developed around the idea that the sick and dying should be given as much comfort as possible before they pass from this life into the next.
Yet when Christ was in the throes of death he received no such succor. His thirst was not quenched with a damp cloth or even a sweet wine—a sensation that would have brightened his eyes exceedingly, if even it be only for a fleeting moment. No! This reprieve is refused him who was damned of God. Instead they shoved upon him a putrid prick of sour wine.
His bitter death was made even more bitter.
My friend Lyle used to make his own wine. Before he moved to Alaska, he gave me his collection of wines that he had made. Let us just say he was an amateur at best in his wine making. It was not altogether good and I left it sit in my basement. As a matter of fact, I just threw it away a couple weekends ago. It had been down there for 6 years and I figured it was time to get rid of it.
Of course, we had to open every bottle and pour out the contents before we disposed of the bottles. As we did so, the fragrance of the fermentation was quite strong, but not exactly repulsive. It made me wonder, had this stuff aged well? Had time improved its taste?
I dabbed my finger in the wine and I stuck some on my tongue. I gagged. My tongue immediately lurched and my body’s reflexes induced coughing and spitting. My daughter, wide eyed with alarm, cried out, “Are you okay?!” Due to the recoil of my choking fit I couldn’t exactly answer her. I simply went into the house to get a drink of water and wash my mouth.
Christ was literally dying of thirst. To compile his anguish they made him imbibe a repugnant swig of sour wine.
Hell is a place where every comfort in life is removed. As God pours out his wrath and curse he strips away every grace and every blessing that he allotted you in life. Water and refreshment is a luxury that is afforded to us now by means of God’s benevolence. When we are deprived of it we should recognize that it is the due wages of our sin.
Jesus himself expressed the nature of hellish thirst in his own ministry. He told the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus. In death, Lazarus went to the bosom of Abraham and received comfort. But the rich man, what of him? He descended into hell, and his sufferings were so great that he yearned for a drop of water—just a drop would have been soothing to him.
When the Psalmist cried out that his tongue was sticking to the top of his mouth, he was articulating through parched sensations that the heavy hand of God had come down upon him. It was a lamentation of how ghastly the curse for sin was.
Here on the cross Christ was taking that curse. But he must drain this cup to the dregs!
It was not enough for him to be deprived of the soothing sensation of hydration though. The bitterness of the judgment of God must be tasted in its full. It was not enough for him to thirst, he must writhe. He must have his pains increased and intensified. He must be vexed. His taste buds must be aggravated through the irritating stimuli that sin justly deserves. He must gag and choke even to his dying breath. Even that last breath must not be easy. It must come through a throat clogged with a cocktail of death.
This episode of sour wine is only a momentary event. Two verses are perhaps too long to describe the length of what happened. But this moment, however brief it is, conjures up every judgment God ever inflicted through drink. Moses made the people drink the ground up grains of their venerated golden calf. The adulterous woman was made to drink the bitter dust & ash from off the alter (Numbers 7:1-35). Jeremiah prophesied of the cup of the furry of God’s wrath that the nations were made to drink.
Here in this wine upon Christ’s lips we see the anger of God’s judgment being poured out. The hot hostility of justice must be shoved down his gullet to the very end. No mercy can be given to this sin offering. No comfort can be afforded him who has become sin for us. He must writhe and he must suffer.
The Apostle Paul talks about how the saints in Corinth are continually comforted with every comfort that there is in Christ. When we read those words, let us not gloss over them lightly. As we see Christ die in such an excruciating way, we must remember that it was for us and for our salvation. It was so that we, poor wretches that we are, may have the comforts of heavenly life secured for us.
The sponge that was lifted to Christ’s lips is a reminder to us that he has soaked up every ounce of the extremity of God’s justice. Christ endured the severity of hell, even to his dying breath, that sinners such as us might not taste even the slightest drip of its bitterness. It was so that we, through faith in Him, might be allowed to drink deeply of the refreshing wells of God’s grace and mercy.
Savalas asked me to speak tonight on giving. I joked with him about it. I asked him if he wanted me to come in here and try and soak you guys. I could do the whole tele-evangelist thing and get you to dig down deep and fork over whatever you got. Unfortunately I don’t have the hair or teeth for such a thing.
I would like you to turn to Ephesians 4:28. Here in this text we find what I call God’s way to prosperity. And I want you to notice, as we go through it, that the way to prosperity is the way of giving. Prosperity comes through giving. Read with me…
Now when you look at this passage, what you find is that there are three things said here about giving. As matter of fact, it mentions three ways of giving. You know, when we think about giving usually we only think about the financial side of things. We only think about giving money. But there is so much more to giving, as this passage shows.
As you look at this passage, I want you to notice that one thing God wants us to give is simple respect.
I. We must give simple respect
This passage starts off by saying, “Let the thief no longer steal.” Now, all of you know exactly what that means. You are not allowed to take things that do not belong to you.
But you know, we can turn that around and state it more positively. Instead of saying, “do not steal.” We could say, “You need to respect your neighbor’s personal property.”
As a matter of fact, that is the sum and substance of the 8th commandment. The 8th commandment reminds us of the sanctity of one’s property. God has created wealth and has seen fit to entrust it to certain individuals. And since God has committed those things to his care, we are not to overstep that boundary by stealing it.
So I want you to understand that giving begins right here. This is the most basic form of giving. When we think about giving we have to remember that the most fundamental form of giving is the respect we show for another person and the things that God has given them.
And this is very important for us to stress. We have to go back to baby steps here because I do not doubt that a good number of you have been involved in some form of robbery. Some of you might be here because you were guilty of larceny or theft. Maybe you hopped in a car that wasn’t yours and you took a little joy ride. Or maybe you are here because you robbed a convenience store or cheated someone out of some money.
Others of you were thieves, but you just didn’t get caught. That wasn’t part of your sentence. You might have been caught for drugs, and you might be serving time for the drugs, but they didn’t catch you for the money you were pilfering from your mother’s purse or from your family. Because of the addiction you had you were going after any money you could get your hands on.
And even right now, you still don’t get it. There might be guys here who don’t understand this concept of respect when it comes to your dealings with other people and the things that are theirs. You don’t mind swiping your bunkie’s candy when he’s not looking. Or if you borrow something, you are not careful to return it.
It doesn’t seem like much to you—it’s not like you are swiping the guy’s wallet or anything, and you justify it by using that kind of rational: “Its small, and he’s not going to miss it.”
You have to understand that that’s wrong. You are disrespecting him at that point. What’s more, you are disrespecting God.
God calls you to seek the welfare of the people in this place. God has determined to bless that person and if you put your fingers on their stuff or you hinder their prosperity in any way, then you are violating the most rudimentary principle of giving.
So the first and most basic form of giving is the restraint we show in not taking our neighbors stuff. We give by way of simple respect. But our text goes on to say that we give by way of honest labor.
II. We must give honest labor
It says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands.”
This is talking about being productive. It’s talking about having an occupation. The Apostle Paul says, “You need to go out and get a job. You need to work for a living and do something productive with your life. No longer are you allowed to engage in this destructive lifestyle, but you need to do make an honest living and contribute to the general welfare of society.”
I know that work is typically thought of as a 4 letter word. And some of you might be thinking, “did he just say the ‘l’ word?” Labor!
I know that we don’t typically have a good view of work. Work is usually thought of something that you should avoid at all costs. We view it as an evil thing, or, at the very least, we view it as a necessary evil. It is something we have to do in order to eat and get by in life.”
But that is not a Biblical view of work. The Bible tells us that we are to view work as a form of giving!
I know, that sounds odd to us. Work is not giving, we say. Work is selling people things. Work involves getting paid and exchanging goods and toil and pain and all round not too much fun.
But think about it. When you have a job, what you are really doing is serving people. You are giving people your help; you are providing a service for them; and you are contributing to the welfare of society because you are giving them something they want or something need.
As a matter of fact, they want what you have so much they are willing to pay you for it!
Work is a form of giving. Actually, work allows you to give in three ways. When you work you 1) give God glory. That’s the greatest form of giving. When you pick up a paintbrush and you slap some paint on a fence or a house or a wall, you are honoring God with your time and your effort. You are making something beautiful and as you do so, you are pleasing God with the energy you use.
God created us to work. When he created Adam, God put him in a garden and said, “Go to it man!” And every time you involve yourself in good old fashioned work, you make God extremely happy.
2) Work is also a means of giving to others. You are not just giving praise to God, but you are giving someone something they want. They come to you because they have a need and you are able to fill that need. Maybe they need a ditch dug and you can dig that ditch for them. So you are giving them your time and effort to get that ditch dug. What happens is that when you are done they are happy. They are just so pleased that they got their ditch that they give you money for it.
3) The third way you give is through that money that you just received. Now that you have money in your pocket, what are you going to do with it? You are going to buy something! And you end up giving that money to somebody else. You are going to go down to the McDonald’s and buy your little lady a hamburger. They are so happy that you give them that money, that they give you a hamburger back! You just made their day! Because you were so giving and bought a hamburger.
Or, maybe you decide to save it, and you put it in the bank. The bank is so happy you did that that they are going to give you this thing called interest. You actually make money from saving it! Woo-whooo!
You see how everyone benefits? When you work, there’s this funny little thing that happens: It is called “prosperity.”
Prosperity is the direct result of work. When you give by means of your labor you give this little gift called prosperity to the economy. And God loves that, just as much as you do.
Now, let’s bring this home. I don’t want you to think that work is something that is waiting for you on the outside. Work is something you can do right here in the prison.
I don’t know exactly how that may look. But you can work. You can do what Paul says here: You can labor, doing honest work with your hands. Now I know that there are probably going to be a lot of hindrances. There are a lot of things you can’t do. Your resources are limited. But you can be creative and you can do things for others around you to some degree.
Some of you can get involved in the work program. If you can’t do that, ask yourself how else you can serve the Lord? If you have the ability to write, sit down and start pumping out a book. Write a devotional and circulate it around to the brothers.
There is a famous pastor named John Bunyan. He was sent to prison for preaching the gospel for 12 years. You know what he did during those twelve years? He wrote books and made shoe strings. In order to support his family, he took scraps of leather and made shoestrings. His family would bring him the leather and he would fashion the shoestrings. Then he would give them back to his family who would then go out and sell them at the marketplace. That’s the way he supported his family while in prison.
He also wrote a number of books. The most popular is a book called Pilgrim’s Progress, which you need to read at some point. It is one of the most famous Christian books of all time.
But understand that work is a way to give.
And now that you understand that work and personal respect are forms of giving, you are ready to think about giving in the normal sense of the word. The last thing Paul says in this verse is that giving also comes by way of heartfelt charity.
III. We must give heartfelt charity
In this verse he says you need to get a job, “So that you can have something to share with anyone in need.”
I hope you see that this completes the circle. You are no longer taking, but you are working, so that you can give to someone in need. You’ve gone from being a burglar to a benefactor.
Of course, the only way you can do that is if you are working. When you are gaining wealth, you are now in a position where you can help others.
Now what kinds of people are we to give to? Well, this obviously includes people who are poor and destitute. There are some people who do not have the means to provide for themselves. For some reason, they are providencially hindered and unable to make a living. Perhaps they have been injured; maybe they’ve lost their job. Maybe they’ve had some sort of trama and now are stuck with a huge medical bill.
You can think of widows and orphans too. A number of years ago there was a single mother in our church. Her husband had left her and now she was faced with a problem. If she went out and got a job, she would end up neglecting her kid. Her kid would then be without a father or a mother! You know what our church did? The church took her in and allotted a sum of money to them so that she could stay home with her kid and raise him the way she was supposed to.
Now that her boy is grown, she has a job of her own. He’s out working and she is too. All that was possible though because there were people in the congregation who were giving regularly to the church. They were being blessed by God and then giving back to the Lord a portion of that blessing.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all the moms off welfare?
Now think of this: there is another way to give. It is giving to the ministry of the gospel. Kingdom work requires money. I know that God can do all things, but he has chosen to allow ministers of the gospel the opportunity to eat. They typically do a better job when they have food and shelter and clothing. Kingdom work requires us to give. Missionaries will be sent out to the ends of the earth only when our churches can afford to support them.
Listen to this: I heard of one instance where missionaries are being asked by Muslim leaders to come to their areas and teach people about free market capitalism. That’s just biblical economics. They want to learn the principles of economics so that their countries will begin to prosper and grow a solid economy. That’s great! We’ll teach them the principles of economics; while we are at it we’ll teach them the gospel too!
We have countries where missionaries are actually being invited to come and speak. But that means we need to fund those missionaries.
The same thing is going on right here in this place. Through your contributions and your dues, gospel work is being carried out. Guys are able to hear the gospel. I’ve heard that the FCA dues may need to be raised. I know that’s not something you want to hear, but at least it means that the Lord is doing something in this place. There is kingdom work going on, and that is a good thing. And by giving to this you have an opportunity to have a hand in supporting all that the Lord is doing here.
So just think how far your giving can go. As you give financially, the Lord is able to take that and make it abound further than you initially imagined.
This is what Paul means in 2 Corinthians 9. In that passage he’s talking about the generosity of the Corinthians. And he says that their contributions are not only supplying the needs of the saints, but in fact this help is causing an overflow of thanks to God. In other words, by helping the needy saints, more people were coming to know the Lord! The initial generosity of meeting those needs are being multiplied so that there was even greater impact evangelistically around the world!
My friends, these are the Scriptures guides to giving. And I hope you take them to heart. Remember how God has called you to give; through personal respect, honest labor, and heartfelt charity. God’s way to prosperity is a glorious thing, and it begins when we give.
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
[This message was designed for the Christian men at Richland Correctional Institute]
One of the things that makes our church distinct is that we are a “family integrated church.” You don’t find a lot of churches around here seeking to integrate children into their worship services. But the reason for this is because we believe something unique about children. You might say we have a family integrated theology.
As Luke wrote to this gentile friends about the kingdom of God and sought to clarify who was in it, he was sure to remind them that the kingdom did not simply consist of believers. It also incorporates the children of believers as well.
Now I understand that some of you might raise an eyebrow at this. You might be sitting there saying, “Did he just say that children are de facto members of God’s kingdom?” This is, no doubt, something new to you, and perhaps it sounds downright heretical.
Before you cast any stones or jump up and storm out, I want you to look again at the text with me. As you listen to the text I believe it will become more clear.
As we look at this passage I want you to see three things about a child’s membership in God’s kingdom. I want you to see that their membership is affirmed by Christ, cultivated by parents, and, ultimately, internalized by personal faith.
Now, I know some of you might be shaking your heads and wondering if you really are hearing me right. “Did he really say that children are members of God’s kingdom?”
And the first thing I want you to see from our text is that Christ affirms as much here in this text. Look at verse 16.
I. Christ affirms it in his word
In verse 16 Jesus says, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Of course, He says this because his disciples were telling the people who were bringing children to him to skedaddle. They evidently thought that Jesus was much too busy to bother with little babies.
But Jesus rebukes them, and he says, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
I know there are some who interpret this to say, “for the kingdom belongs to such as these.” And they say that this refers not to children, but adults who are like a child in that they have simple, childlike faith in God. But I would suggest to you that does not do justice to our text. Jesus is rebuking his disciples for running off the little babies. It wouldn’t make sense to say, “Let the little children come for the kingdom of God belongs to adults.” That would be completely contrary to the point he is trying to make.
The best way to interpret this is to understand that Jesus is talking about the children. “Let them come to me, because the kingdom belongs to them.”
Christ is telling his disciples that he puts a priority on these little guys because they are just as much members of his kingdom as any professing adult. He welcomes them because they are just as precious to him as anyone else and have right of access to their God by virtue of their birthright.
Now, let’s examine this a little closer. Make sure your see that Luke specifies what kind of children these were. In verse 15 he makes sure to point out that they are infants. They were babies.
The word that Luke uses is the same word that is used to describe John the Baptist when he leaped in the womb of his mother. The same word is used in reference to Jesus when he was a day or two old. The angels told the shepherds that they would find a baby wrapped in cloth and laying in a manger.
So I want you to understand that Jesus is talking about newborn children. He’s affirming that these infants, ones who were so small that they had to be carried by their parents, were in fact members of his kingdom.
Do you understand this? These are not children who have grown up and reached some nebulous “age of accountability” where they can now make their own profession of faith. They were ones who were so fresh that they had no capacity to speak, let alone the cognitive ability personally understand the gospel. Jesus says, “These guys who are still in diapers, they are part of my kingdom.”
Of course, when we take into consideration all of what God has revealed up to this point, this shouldn’t be a shocker to us. Back in the Old Testament, children were very much a part of God’s kingdom. If you were born to Jewish parents, then you were members of the kingdom of Israel. You were very much a part of God’s kingdom here on earth. There was absolutely no question about it. As a matter of fact, if you were a boy, you would be circumcised and physically distinguished as being part of that kingdom.
And here in this passage, Jesus is saying that nothing has changed. Even though the new covenant has come the children of believers are still very much a part of God’s kingdom.
Now, understanding what Jesus says here about a covenant child’s status in the kingdom can help you understand why some of us believe that we should baptize our children. I know that it doesn’t expressly say here “You must go baptize your babies.” But you can see the implication and understand why some of us in this congregation and why many people in the world believe that you should baptize you babies.
We at Providence church allow for freedom on this issue. I recognize that not everyone believes this should be done, but you can at least see why many throughout the church do practice infant baptism. If a child is a member of God’s kingdom, as Jesus says here, then it logically follows that they should be designated as such by water baptism.
For instance, if you are born in Ohio, you are given a birth certificate. It is a sign and a confirmation that you have indeed been born into the kingdom of Ohio. If you, or anyone else, has any question about your citizenship in this kingdom, then you have the proof of this piece of paper.
The same is true regarding baptism. If you have been born into the kingdom, then you ought to have the sign that designates you as a citizen of that kingdom.
Another implication of this text, perhaps a more important one. What Jesus says here can help us if we would happen to have a child die in infancy. The question naturally arises, “What happens to that child?” I believe that a text like this provides us great comfort. It can help to assure us that the Lord’s mercies are not just ours, but they also belong to our children because of his relationship to them.
Now, those are two sides to the issue. Important ones, I think. There are perhaps many other applications we could make. What is important to see here is that Christ does affirm that the children of believers are members of his kingdom.
But don’t think for a moment that that is enough. Their membership in God’s kingdom isn’t static. Yes, it is theirs by virtue of their birthright, as we have seen Christ affirm. But you have to understand that parents have to cultivate their membership in this kingdom through godly, Christian nurture.
II. Parents cultivate it by their nurture
It shouldn’t go without notice that these parents were the ones initiating this whole ordeal. These babies were not pulling up their diapers and running over to Jesus all by themselves. The disciples weren’t chasing the babies around and telling them to scram. No, they were infuriated at the parents who were bringing the children.
This is important for us to understand. Because, if we miss this, we miss a vital ingredient for a child’s participation in the kingdom. Godly parents are the means that God uses to confirm children in His kingdom.
This passage is great in this regard. These parents recognized that their children needed Christ’s blessing. We don’t know if they had a full understanding of who he was as the Messiah. But they certainly understood that their children would benefit greatly by having Jesus touch them. They knew that if Jesus had the power to bless these children and impart to them something profound. They knew that if Jesus had contact with their children, their children would be somehow further confirmed in God’s kingdom.
What these parents were doing was seeking to have their children further ensconced in God’s kingdom. Yes they were members of it, but they knew that these children needed further nurture. They understood Christ could bless their child and foster their spirituality. You might say that they knew that Christ could deepen their rootedness in the kingdom.
Let me put it this way: Some of you are starting to see your flowers pop up in your flower garden. It is amazing! Spring is actually going to make it this year! Now, is that seedling that is starting to spout a flower? Yes, of course it is. It is a baby one; it is a very small one, but it is no less a flower. Now, how does it continue to be a flower? Well, it takes sunlight. It takes water. It has to have all the nutrients it needs. If it doesn’t, it won’t continue to be a flower. It will die. God uses those means to cause it to flourish.
The same is true when it comes to our citizenship in the kingdom of the United States. We become members of this nation when we were born. But as we grow up, we need to be taught the principles of our kingdom. We need to learn about the constitution and about the freedoms that it grants. Those things help to confirm us in our citizenship and guide us to be good Americans
That’s exactly what happens with our citizenship in the kingdom of God. Yes, our children are members of God’s kingdom, but they are dependent upon us to help cultivate that membership. They need to grow and develop as citizens of that kingdom. They need to be raised in such a way as to encourage their interests in Christ and his law.
You might remember from a few weeks ago when we baptized Truman. My wife and I took vows to raise Truman in the fear and admonition of God. We pledged to pray with him and for him. We promised to teach him the Scriptures and set before him a godly example, that he might learn to walk in it.
Now, this is integral for the lives of our kids. Just because they are members of God’s kingdom, doesn’t mean that they are automatically saved. They need to be brought to Christ on a daily basis in order to foster their relationship with him.
In other words, we as parents are responsible to expose them to the means of grace. You know, this is one of the reasons why were call ourselves a “family-integrated” church. We think it is important that children be here to hear the word of God. We want to train them to pray—and I should say, kids, you shouldn’t feel ashamed to pray with us during our open prayer time. That’s a good thing! That’s a great thing! We are glad you are singing with us, and we don’t mind if you pray out loud with us too.
And parents, let me remind you again how important it is to be practicing godliness in the home. Ulrich Zwingli, one of the Reformers, once said that parents who don’t raise their children in the nurture of the gospel are robbing God of his children. That is exactly what happens when a father doesn’t read the Scriptures with his kids. That’s what happens when mom doesn’t sing to her children or stop and discipline her kids when it is needed.
Far be it from you to stunt your child’s growth or be the cause of their rebellion against God’s kingdom. The Lord has ordained that you would be His vessel to raise up kingdom kids. And I hope you take that seriously.
Your role is very important. Otherwise a child will never internalize it for himself. And really, that brings us to what Jesus says in verse 17.
III. Children internalize it through childlike faith
He takes the little babies in his arms and he says, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
What I want you to understand here is that it is not enough for kids to be recognized as a member of God’s kingdom. It is not enough for parents to cultivate them in a kingdom life. It is imperative that children internalize the kingdom for themselves. Ultimately, they need to personally profess faith themselves.
You see, everything to this point has been very external. They’ve been acknowledged as kingdom members. They have parents who are trying to nurture them in a kingdom lifestyle. But those things must blossom into a personal faith. The kingdom must be personally internalized. And if a child does not embrace it—if a child does not come to appropriate the promises of God himself or herself, then what Jesus says here will come true: He or she will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Children, you need to recognize that. You cannot get to heaven simply by being born into a Christian home. Just because you come to church, doesn’t mean anything. Just because you’ve been baptized, that does not guarantee that you’ve been saved. You must recognize that you have been given a special place in God’s kingdom. You must take the things that your parents have taught you and you must embrace the gospel for yourself.
Jesus says that you must receive the kingdom. You must acknowledge Jesus as your king, your God, and your Savior. You must trust his word and obey his law. If you are going to be part of the kingdom that Christ is one day coming back for, then you must believe that it will come to pass and take him to be your personal God.
And that goes for anyone else in this room. If you wish to be part of that eternal kingdom that God is restoring, then you must receive it. How do you do that? Jesus says it is through simple childlike faith. You must receive it like a child.
The thing about a baby is that he is very trusting. Truman, my little guy, is completely dependent upon his mother and I. When we stick that bottle in his mouth, he sucks it. He trusts that it is going to have something good in it and not be a bunch of poison.
That’s the same way we must come to God. We must simply trust him and take his word as true.
In a passage like this we are reminded that God’s word touches every aspect of our lives. Our theology doesn't just cover the nature of God, the way of salvation, or the basic constitution of man. We understand that it touches every aspect of life, even down to the tiniest baby in our household.
What’s more, we are reminded of God’s love for these kids. He holds them in special regard and relates to them in a special way. Our children are not the same as the children of unbelievers. They are not to be evangelized, but are to be disciple and raised as kingdom members.
After what Christ affirms here, not one of us should doubt the love our God has for our children. Instead, we should be encouraged that he does love and care for them. Moreover, knowing that their membership is valid, we must work it out. May we never prevent a child’s coming to Christ. But may we let the little children come to him and do everything in our power to foster that relationship.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.