Last week we looked at this passage in Matthew and we thought about how this passage was there to convince us that Jesus is God’s Son who has come down and become flesh. I do think that we could spend much time delving into every nook and cranny of this passage. It does present us with many truths that are good for the soul. But I want to come back today and next week to one particular verse, verse 21.
I have said before that when we think of Christmas we are to think of nothing more than Christ. Christmas is not about presents. It is not about family. It is not about feeling jolly. It is about Christ. But the verse before us this morning tells us what Christ is all about.
“You will give him the name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
We Americans like our options. We like having a lot of choices and a wide variety of things to choose from. You need only to go to the grocery store or the fast food joint to see that. When you go to the store you have a whole aisle of breakfast cereals to choose from. When you go to the Wendy’s you have a plethora of hamburgers to choose from and a schmazzel of things to choose from to fill your combo meal. There is no doubt about it, we don’t like being limited.
But when we turn our eyes to the Bible we find ourselves being faced with salvation. Though we would like it otherwise, we find that the Bible says that salvation is limited. When we look at the Bible we find that salvation is not a wide and varied thing. A lot of things can be said about this salvation, but one thing is very clear: Salvation is exclusive.
That is what the passage before us tells us anyway. This verse deals solely with our salvation and it tells us of its exclusivity. It tells us that salvation is exclusive because it tells us there is one particular savior, and He saves one particular people.
Since salvation is the most important question that one has to deal with, it is imperative that we address it thoroughly. And it is good for us to begin by asking, “Who is it that saves?”
I. Who is it that saves?
In the verse before us we find that the one who saves is the one who is given the name Savior. That is what Jesus means. The angel bids Joseph to give the baby this name because this name identifies who he is and what he is to do.
The Savior then is Jesus, and we may (and should) emphasize this by saying “Jesus alone.”
This is a critical issue: An issue that has been attacked throughout history and continues to be assailed even in our day. If there is one thing that is found to be abominable in the eyes of the world, it is that there is only one Savior of men.
This was one of the issues that sprouted during the time of the reformation. The Reformers emphasized, over against the Roman Church, “Sola Christos.” What they meant by that was that salvation was through no other means except through Jesus Christ.
Rome taught that, yeah Jesus was the savior, but he alone couldn’t save you totally. Rome said—and continues to say even to this day—that if you are going to be saved, you must add to Christ’s work. Christ can save you from some sin (or Christ can take you so far), but you must do the rest: You must take the Lord’s Supper and offer penance. In their view, these are works that you do to add to Christ’s salvation. You have to do other things to keep that salvation and complete that salvation.
And then there is the whole doctrine of Purgatory. The doctrine of Purgatory was developed because Rome believes that Christ did not satisfy all our sins. They believe that after death a Christian goes, not directly to heaven, but to a place where they must make satisfaction for the sins that Christ did not atone for. And that satisfaction comes in the form of suffering. It is only after this unknown period of suffering that one can enter into heaven.
So, it is not a stretch to say that Rome believes there are two saviors: Jesus and yourself.
This you see flies in the face of our verse. The verse says, “He will save his people from their sins.” It does not say “He will help save his people” or “He will help his people save themselves.” It says, “He will save his people from their sins.” And we can say, “He alone will save his people from their sins.”
Jesus is the sole savior. Just like it says in Acts 4, “There is no other name under heaven by which you must be saved.”
Unfortunately, Rome is not the only one who errs on this doctrine of Jesus being the only savior of men. In our pluralistic culture, we are told that there are many roads to God.
Just this week I heard how big the religious melting pot has become in our society. Nancy Pelosi, the House representative from California, gave a speech this past week (I’m not sure exactly to whom and when). At the conclusion of that speech she wanted to bid the people good tidings. She ended her speech by saying, “May you all have a happy holiday—Merry Christmas, happy Hanukah, or Kwanza—or whatever else you may be celebrating.” Basically, she was affirming that all of these religions are legitimate, and each of them offers a legitimate way to salvation.
But we cannot stand with Pelosi on this matter. Jesus is not “One among many Saviors.” The Bible says of Jesus, “He [and he alone] will save his people from their sins.”
But really, should we be so exclusive? Isn’t there any room to fudge? Are there no other options? The Bible tells us there is no other way. Jesus himself even said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Some of you may remember the old TV show, “Let’s Make a Deal.” In that show people were given three doors to choose from. Behind one of those doors there was the grand prize. Behind the other doors there was nothing of much value. So people had to make a choice, and there was only one right answer.
In our day there are many religions to choose from. There is Buddha, Mohammad, and a bazillion other options. One of the steps of AA is that you must choose a “higher power” to assist you in your recovery. But what AA doesn’t tell you is that there is only one who is able to save. The good news is that you don’t have to guess which one is it like those contestants on “Let’s Make a Deal.” The one who can save has been revealed to you. He is Jesus.
No doubt people make thousands of objections to the Bible’s declaration that Jesus is the only way of salvation. One of the most popular things people say is that “It doesn’t really matter what you believe, just as long as you are sincere.” But this is nonsense.
A while back a woman who was a nurse in a hospital was changing an oxygen tank for one of her patients. She sincerely believed that the tank was full when she changed it. But when she went to check on her patient a while later, she found him dead.
Was she sincere in her belief? She sure was. But though she was sincere, she was wrong. And that had terrible consequences.
And there are terrible consequences for those who think your religion doesn’t matter. There are terrible consequences for those who do not receive Jesus Christ as their sole savior.
So, if we are to receive salvation, we must receive the one who God appointed as our Savior, and him alone.
Our verse points out not only who the savior is, but it points out who are the recipients of this salvation. The Lord tells us not only who is the Savior, but he tells us whom is to be saved.
II. Who is it that is saved?
The passage says. “He will save his people from their sins.” If he is to save his people, then it necessarily means he is not going to save those who are not his people.
There is a belief called Universalism” that is widely held today. This belief, which is held by even many in Ashland (religious leaders included!), says that everyone is saved in the end. A universalist believes that everyone is going to go to heaven when they die. This belief is so widely held that RC Sproul has said that today we believe in justification by death. He says that so many people believe that the only thing we need to get to heaven is to die.
Don’t think that sounds silly either. I received an email after 9/11 which basically said we shouldn’t be too upset about the twin towers falling because 2000 people entered heaven that day! In other words, they were saying that everyone who died that day was saved.
But the Bible clearly teaches that not everyone is saved. Throughout the Bible you see that humanity can be divided into two groups: Those who are God’s people, and those who are not God’s people. Those who are God’s people are the one’s who receive God’s special favor. They are the apple of his eye, the desire of his heart, and the objects of his affection. He is for them. He is a hound who searches them out, saves them and brings them into his fold.
Those who are not his people are not favored in this way and will not be saved. To some people Jesus will say, “Depart from me, you wicked person, I never knew you.” These people will be subject to his unrelenting wrath for all eternity.
Even now God cannot stand them. They are not his people, and he loathes them beyond all comprehension.
I wouldn’t doubt that this sounds very strong to you. We have been taught ever since we were small that we are to be nice to everyone and accept them for who they are. This is true. We are. But we should never think then that God accepts everyone. God cannot stand wicked people. He is incensed by them at every minute and holds them in the greatest contempt. And when he deems it proper he unleashes his wrath upon them.
Of course his wrath is like a damn that has a bit of a leak. Throughout this life ungodly people experience his judgments as they trickle forth from heaven. Every misery that one of them experiences is a small instance of his judgment. Every headache, every sickness, every sorrow, every calamity is but a sip of his eternal curse that is yet to be unleashed.
None of these people who are not of the Lord’s assembly will be saved. The Lord’s salvation is an exclusive thing. It is reserved only for his people.
You might wonder then, “How do I get to be one of those people?” Or you might be asking yourself, “Am I one of those people?” Well, the Bible tells us that God’s people are those who put their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. They see their need for him, they embrace him, they pledge to follow him and make every effort to heed his word. God’s people are those who are defined by those two traits of godliness “Faith and repentance.”
I’m afraid there are a lot of self deceived people out there today. They are not one of God’s people because they do not have both of these traits.
I hear so many say, “I believe in Jesus.” But their lives do not prove that they are one of God’s people. They make no effort to follow Christ. In all actuality they could care less about Christ’s word. So their lives reveal them to be numbered among the ungodly. They tell me, “I went forward at a meeting and got saved. I prayed the prayer! Now I got a free ticket to heaven.” To that I always want to reply, “If you are saved, then I’m a millionaire!” By that I mean you can claim anything you want, but you don’t have anything to back that up. I can claim that I am a millionaire, but if there is no money in the bank to back it up, then I am not really a millionaire.
Anyone who thinks he is one of God’s saved people but does not act like one of God’s people is foolish. His salvation is as real as one of my daughter’s imaginary friends.
But what about the person whose life is pretty clean? There are many people in the world who are, for the most part, very moral people. Are these people God’s people? Not necessarily. They may have a life, but if they do not have faith, then they are just as deluded as the other person. If he does not receive the Savior, he too is damned.
How can you tell if you are one of those people? You know if you possess those two great traits of God’s people: Faith and repentance. If you posess them, then you may have the full assurance that you are one of God’s people. And you can know that you are eternally secure.
“No,” somebody says. “I could never be one of God’s people. I am just too wicked. I have too many sins.” But that is not so. Christ came to save his people. The depths are not too deep for him. He is the savior, and he is able to save even the chief of sinners.
George Whitfield had a brother who would often grieve over how wicked he was. He was so distressed by how helpless and unworthy he was that he would sometimes become deeply despondent. On one such occasion a lady was able to speak to him about his soul’s salvation. She tried to induce him to come to Christ. But he answered all of her urgings by saying, “It is of no use. I am lost!” She piped up, “Well thank God for that!” The man looked at her in astonishment and asked, “Why do you say that?” She replied, “Because Christ came to save the lost. If you are lost, he is just the one who can save you.”
It doesn’t matter how lost you are or how sinful you are. Christ is the Savior of his people.
“But I don’t have enough faith,” cries somebody else. That is not a worry. It is not your faith that saves you. Christ is the savior. You are not to put faith in your faith. You are to put your faith in Christ. And no matter how miniscule you faith may be, Christ is greater—He will save his people.
You see then that I was not lying when I said that Salvation is exclusive: There is only one savior of sinners and he will not save everyone—He will only save his people. This is not to say that salvation is totally exclusive though. There is one thing that is not exclusive: It is the invitation to receive this savior and become one of God’s saved people. And perhaps that is the greatest thing about Christmas. Anyone who hears this message may become one of God’s people and be saved, if they only turn to this sole savior, Jesus Christ.
 Some of you reading this sermon should check to see where your pastor stands on this issue.
There once was a minister who had made it his mission to preach to a certain group of slaves. He dedicated himself to them and preached quite passionately and persuasively to them. Yet despite his continual persistence he did not have much success among them. After inquiring into the reason, he came to find that his status was the hindrance.
And rightfully so. These words, though simply spoken by the mouth, compose some of the most intriguing words of all of Scripture. I don’t think that there are any can compare to them.
One thing that makes this passage so difficult is the mystery we see in it.
I. A cry of mystery
A story is told about a man who for a long time sat and thought about these words. Then finally he arose and said, “God forsaken by God; who can say anything about that?”
Yes, there is some mystery here. But it is not an unsolvable mystery. I would even suggest that the greater mystery is contained in the phrase, “My God, my God, why have you accepted me?” That is a profundity that I will never grasp.
But these words of Christ need to be addressed. For when we first hear these words we might be tempted to think that this is impossible: Christ, who we confess to be very God of very God, is said to be forsaken by God.
I admit that I cannot explain the whole of the mystery. No one can fully wrap their minds around this. But I can present some clarification on the matter. When Christ says that he is forsaken by God, we must understand that he was not forsaken as to his deity. He is forsaken as to his humanity.
Don’t think for a moment that we have a split in the Trinity. God cannot forsake God. It is impossible for God to deny (or more aptly put, sever) himself. The Son of God cannot be separated from the Father for they are one God.
You must remember that Christ had two natures. He was not only fully God, he was also fully man. And when he lifted up his voice Christ was speaking with regard to his human nature. It was man who sinned against God, it is man who deserves to be punished by God. And for this purpose Christ became man; that he might suffer this miserable curse.
And what suffering it is! While we might easily address the mystery of these words, we should not tread so lightly over the agony expressed in these words.
II. A cry of agony
I remember a time when my mother had left my friend and I at church. She had gone to a Bible study and I had to go along. Fortunately, I was also allowed to bring my friend with me. While she mingled with the grown ups, my friend and I went to the back room to play. There we enjoyed a jolly good time. I remember that we stacked the pillows and mattresses from the couch. And, after a running start, we would hurl ourselves headlong into the fluffy mix. It was one of those experiences you only get when you are not supervised properly.
I remember that it was so much fun. We had so much fun that we lost track of time. But we eventually realized that we had been there for quite a while. And we went out to see if my mother was finished with her study. The only thing was that she wasn’t around. As a matter of fact, no one was around. And as old churches can be, it was pitch black. We couldn’t see a thing. For the first time in my life I understood what they meant when they said, “I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.”
My friend and I groped around in the darkness trying to make our way to the door. We thought we might be able to catch up to her in the parking lot. But when we got to the door we found that the parking lot was empty.
Upon witnessing this, my friend fell into a fit of hysteria. He immediately cried out, “Oh, she left us here! We’re Going TO DIE!”
My friend was in agony. But that was nothing compared to what Christ experienced. When he was forsaken, it was infinitely more painful.
The One Christ loved most; the One He most depended upon and trusted in had turned his benevolent face from Him.
We often speak of the physical torments that Christ endured. And what pains they were! He faced beatings, scourges, whips, not to mention all the horrors of crucifixion. But let’s not forget that none of those physical pains could compare to the terror he experienced in his soul. He was forsaken by the one with whom he enjoyed the sweetest communion.
Do recognize that whatever happens to your physic, is nothing compared to the loss of fellowship with God and to be denied his favorable presence. That is what makes hell so hellish.
And here on the cross, Christ expresses the pain of that hell he experienced in this lamentation.
But, you know what? The mystery and the agony expressed in this text are not the most difficult features of this text. They are not even the most poignant features of this text. You might be boggled by the mystery. You might weep at the agony. But, if anything affects you, it should be the affinity that is expressed in this text.
III. A cry of affinity
This is a prayer. It is a prayer to God; the one who has just cast him away. But though the Father has forsaken the Son, the Son has not forsaken the Father. Christ is just cast away as a reprobate. Though thrown into the outer darkness of hell away from the presence of the Father, Christ still clings to Him.
Do you hear the affinity with which he speaks? He calls him “My, God.” The word affinity denotes affection that one has for another. And that is what you have here. He cleaves to his Tormentor.
And you see in this that Christ, as the second Adam, corrects what happened in the Garden of Eden. After Adam had sinned, what did he do when he heard God coming? He ran from God. He hid himself so that he could not be found. So when God came looking for him He had to call out, “Adam, where are you?”
But not so with Christ. Christ would not run away. He would only run toward God in his darkest hour. Even though God would not listen to Him, He threw himself upon God. Even though he is forsaken by God, he would not let himself be separated from God.
In Psalm 73 Asaph cries out, “Whom have I in heaven but you, and there is nothing on earth that I desires besides you.” He expresses his yearning for God—that God is his sole desire. But Christ goes one step further than the psalmist. He cries, “Whom in hell have I but you and there is none that I desire even in the midst of your torments but you.” To put it simply, Christ demonstrates an affinity for God, even though God has none for him.
This is what lead one theologian to say that Christ was the perfect stranger. We know that He is not accepted in heaven. God will not welcome him because He has just been forsaken. But neither does he find a home in hell. When you think of hell, you must think of a place filled with people who absolutely hate God. They are like prisoners who, while being tormented, still find the tormenter utterly despicable.
But not so with Christ. On the cross—while experiencing the pains of hell, he cleaves to God. Though he cast into the deepest pit of hell, he knocks at the gate of heaven.
And this is why He is the Redeemer, not just because he endured the agony of hell, but also because He maintains this affinity for God in the midst of hell.
Yes, that is why He is our Redeemer. Though we have turned our backs on God, Christ, the perfect lamb, never turned his back on Him. He stayed true to God, even through the flames. And in doing this he became the perfect sacrifice. This is why the doors of heaven are open to us today. This is why we might be able to freely enter into Glory through Christ. Because Christ clung to his tormentor.
Tonight we have enjoyed seeing some in our midst stand up and profess their faith publicly. And it is appropriate that we do this in our evening time because we are studying what it means to “have no other gods” before our God.
Those of you who stood up here have just declared that Jesus is going to be your God. In professing your faith in Jesus Christ and taking the vows to this church you have said that Jesus is Lord and he alone is going to rule over your heart.
In looking at the first commandment we have said thus far how important it is for us to Know God. It is so important for us to study to show ourselves approved unto God. A relationship is built when two people get to know each other. As they get to know one another they grow together.
But it is not enough for us to simply know God. If God is going to be preeminent in our lives we must also acknowledge him.
Let’s say that I am sitting down to fill out some paperwork at the doctor’s office. I am going along checking all the boxes and filling in all the necessary information. But then I come to a question that asks my marital status. Let’s say that I purposely check “single.” What is that going to say about how I regard my wife?
The litmus test of how important someone or something is to us is our acknowledgement of it. The same is true with our relationship to God. If God is number one in our lives we will acknowledge him—and we will acknowledge him publicly, passionately, and intelligently.
The first and most obvious way we show that God is preminent is by acknowledging him openly.
That is to say, we claim him before others.
In Matthew 10:32-33 we read “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
The Bible makes it clear that a hidden faith is no faith at all. If you hide your faith in Christ Jesus, you make a declaration that you have no faith in Christ Jesus. If you don’t own him before the world, then you don’t own him at all.
You can easily imagine a person who might say, “I am a Christian. I go to church, but I don’t like to talk about it. I don’t want people to know about it at the office, because if they did, it would really ruin how things are going for me.”
That is not openly confessing your faith. That is being ashamed of God. He no longer has the number one place in your life, but your job does.
All of you who have stood up here this evening have openly acknowledged Christ. That’s a great thing. You have just proclaimed to the world that Christ is your Savior. But don’t think that this is the only time that you need to do that. It needs to be affirmed everyday, outside these walls. I might even say, “its easy to do that here.” This is a safe environment. Here we are surrounded by people who are like minded. Nobody is going to make fun of us or oppose us here. But on the outside, it’s a different story. And we have to be ready to make the same profession—even when the tide is against us and we are in the minority.
Let’s be sure, we can all sin. We can lapse when we are called to affirm our faith openly, and still be a Christian.
This morning I mentioned the persecution that existed under the Roman Emperor Decious. I mentioned that there were many Christians who boldly professed their faith in the midst of that persecution. When the authorities told them that they had to renounce Christ, they wouldn’t do so. They would rather face the lions than speak such a terrible thing.
But don’t think that everyone was so bold. There were many Christians during that fierce persecution that failed to stand up for Christ. There were many Christians, who were weak. And when given the choice to say “Caesar is lord,” or be fed to the lions, they chose to renounce Christ. A lot of these people would then come back to the church weeping because they had turned their backs on Christ.
Even the Apostle Peter denied Christ openly, and three times in a row at that! When that little girl asked him if he was one of Christ’s disciples he cursed and said “NO WAY! I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He was weak, wasn’t he?
All of us probably have had times where we have failed to stand up for Christ. But let’s remember, that is a sin. It’s not the unforgivable sin. To be sure Christ can forgive you. But we should never presume upon him. As the Apostle Peter says, in our hearts we must “set apart Christ as Lord.” That is to say we need to convince ourselves of Christ’s exalted position. And we need to be ready to affirm our faith in him before the world at a moment’s notice.
And that really leads us to our second point. To acknowledge God openly, we must also acknowledge him passionately.
Turn in your Bibles to Rev. 3. If you are familiar with the layout of the Bible you may already know that these are the letters that Jesus sent to the seven churches in Asia Minor.
In Rev. 3:15 Jesus says to the church in Laodicea, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
It seems that the Laodicean church wasn’t as passionate about Christ anymore. They weren’t cold—they hadn’t fully turned away from him, they didn’t hate him. But they weren’t passionate about him either. They had become indifferent. They were lukewarm.
It is like a couple who have been married for a while and are starting to drift apart. They still acknowledge one another, but their heart really isn’t in the relationship anymore.
Nobody wants to remain in that kind of relationship, and neither does God. As a matter of fact, God shows by this passage that he hates people who are lukewarm more than he hates those who are cold!
Lukewarmness is a terrible condition of the heart, and we must guard against it. Matthew Henry with his usual eloquence says, “If religion is a real thing, then it is everything…. If it is a worth anything, it is worth everything.”
Many people think the puritans were the least passionate people alive, but that is not true. Of all things they were the most passionate people who lived—That’s because they had a fervent passion for God. As a matter of fact, we have what we call “Devotions.” When we say we are going to have our devotions, we mean we are going to read our Bibles and pray. That finds its roots in the Puritans. They believed and taught that one’s love for God was nurtured in those things.
Jonathan Edwards even picked up on this notion of passion for God. In his book, The Religious Affections, he said, “If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will affect the heart.”
One of the greatest weapons in Satan’s arsenal is convince us that we need not press on in the faith. If he can lead us to be satisfied with how things are, and make us not wish to upset the status quo, then he will become the victor.
God hates someone who is complacent in the things of religion. Someone who claims to be a Christian, but really isn’t on fire for Christ is detestable to him.
Acknowledging God means we must do it publicly and passionately. But be careful. God does not want misdirected passion either. That is why we have to acknowledge God…
III. Properly (Rom 10:2,; luke 9:54-55)
Do you remember how zealous Paul was before he became a Christian? He was a Hebrew of Hebrews, wasn’t he? He was so zealous for his faith that he persecuted Christians. He actually thought he was doing a great thing for God.
In the book of Romans Paul talks about the same sort of Jews—those who shared his former convictions. He said, “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” They were passionate about God. They professed him publicly, but their zeal was misdirected.
We can be like that, can’t we? We can be so zealous for the truth that we really lay into someone. How come that happens when we are talking about the Bible. Instead of having a meek and patient spirit, we can become angry and lose our temper.
Such action does not flow from the Spirit of Christ. That comes as a result of our wicked impulses. How we show that the Lord is our God, can’t be done in any old fashion. Even how we express our love for God must conform to his desires.
Johannes Vos gives a good illustration of this in his commentary on the Larger Catechism: He said that a newspaper reported that somebody inscribed the words, “JESUS SAVES” in the fresh paint of someone’s car. Somehow I don’t think that God was pleased with that.
I find it funny that the ones that Jesus often became the most upset with were his own disciples. When you read the gospels, you find that he comes down on them pretty hard sometimes. And they deserved it because a lot of the time they had misdirected zeal.
We have to be careful how we acknowledge Christ. That old adage, “Look before you leap.” That’s good advice for Christians. Before you do anything, look at the Scriptures. See if Christ will really be pleased with it.
Peter Cartright, a Methodist circuit preacher in the 19th century, came to a town in which he was to preach. Before the service he was informed that President Andrew Jackson was in the congregation, and that he should temper his message so that he would not offend him. When it came time for Cartright to preach he stepped into the pulpit and said, “I hear that Andrew Jackson is in the congregation. He should know that if he does not repent, then he will go to hell.” After the service President Jackson came up to Cartright, shook his had and said, “If I had a regiment of men like you I could whip the world.”
That was a rather bold profession. And it was most proper for him to do so. And it certainly shows us that Cartright was not afraid to acknowledge God publicly and passionately.
We too may be tempted to turn the other cheek on God, but we should never do it. God calls us to courageously acknowledge him.
Before he died the great English leader, Winston Churchill, set in order how he wanted his funeral to be conducted. It was to take place in Saint Paul’s Cathedral and it was to include many of the great hymns of the church. And as was the custom of the land, it was to follow the regular Anglican liturgy.
At his direction, a bugler was positioned high in the dome of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Then after the benediction that bugler sounded the tone of “Taps,” the universal signal that the day is over.
But then came a dramatic turn: as Churchill instructed, after “Taps” was finished, another bugler, placed on the opposite side of the great dome, played the notes of “Reveille,” the military signal to wake up. “It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up in the morning!”
That was Churchill’s testimony that at the end of history the last note would not be Taps; it would be Reveille.
For those of us who are Christians certainly that is most certainly the case. And we gather this day to remember that very thing. On this Easter day we gather to remember that death was not the final signal of Christ’s life. As this passage clearly shows us Jesus Christ rose again from the dead as the Redeemer of Life.
And I want us to meditate this morning on this historic event. I want us to look at this passage and see what God want us to learn about the resurrection of Christ? This passage tells us at least three things about this monumental event in Christ’s life.
The first thing we learn is something of the nature of Christ’s resurrection.
I. The nature of the resurrection
The question that we immediately ask is, “What kind of resurrection this was?” Was this, as the Jehovah’s Witness believe, some sort of ghostly spiritual appearing? Was Jesus floating about like Casper the friendly ghost?
The text is very clear on this. You see, the gospel writer was sure that people wouldn’t believe that there was an actual, physical resurrection. So he writes specific things here to guard against that.
Now most of us here probably have heard this story a number of times in our life. So we are probably a little immune to it. But this should be a shocker. If you’ve never heard this story before you should be blown away. Your first reaction should be, “No way.”
Moreover, we live in a “scientific age.” We have people all around who say that once you are dead, you are dead. That’s a fact of science. And these kinds of people scoff at the resurrection and mock it.
For instance, Hank Hanegraff, in his book Resurrection, gives the example of Thomas Jefferson. Some of you may know that Thomas Jefferson created his own version of the Bible. He cut out all the parts that had anything to do with miracles. He simply couldn’t believe in the supernatural. So Jefferson’s Bible basically ends with chapter 27.
But I want you to notice that Matthew writes just for that kind of person. You know those Jews, they weren’t stupid people. They would have been the most skeptical of all. If you are going to convince them to follow Christ, you had to convince them that he was physically alive. Spiritism was a crime punishable by death in the OT. So they would have been the first to deny this.
But look at what Matthew says. First of all you have the testimony of the tomb itself. Verse 2 says that an angel came down and rolled away the stone that enclosed the tomb. Why would he do that? Well was so that you could go in and see for yourself! There was nobody there. Literally, there was no body!
But then you also have the testimony of the angel. What did the angel say in verse 6? “He is not here; he is risen, just as he said.” This divine messenger gives his courtroom testimony that there is no body in the tomb.
Ok, so you don’t believe in angels. That’s fine. Believe the hard evidence then. The women freaked out and ran away. But what happened? Jesus himself, in his physical person, met them. Verse 9 says that He talked with them and they clasped his feet. Why would Matthew say that they grabbed his feet? It is an indication that this was a real human person that they were handling.
So Matthew goes to great lengths in these few verses to provide us with extensive testimony that Jesus really did, physically rise from the dead.
I know that the tide of unbelief is against us. The Materialists find this to be the most repulsive doctrine in the world. The cultists and others who deviate from orthodox Christianity can’t bring themselves to believe it. Liberal theologians say, “Who cares is Christ really rose from the grave or not.” They say you can take it or leave it—it doesn’t matter if he physically rose from the dead or not.
But this is the testimony of Scripture. This is the testimony of God: Flesh and blood has been brought up from the grave. Christ, as a whole person, is now at the right hand of God. That’s what Easter is all about: Our redeemer physically rose from the grave.
So the Bible clearly answers the question regarding the nature of the resurrection. But what is the significance of the resurrection?
II. The significance of the resurrection
The resurrection might astonish us as an amazing event. But let’s not forget that this event was of the greatest importance to our faith.
You have to ask yourself, “Why does Matthew include this section in his gospel?” Why was it important for him to detail the fact that Christ really did physically rise from the dead? We might even tweak the question a bit, “Why is it important for us to believe in a physical resurrection of Christ.”
Well, Matthew includes this section for a number of reasons. The first is simple enough: The resurrection verifies our redemption. It is a proof that Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, had most certainly defeated sin and its consequences. Christ died on the cross for sin. He suffered the consequences of sin. But if he would have stayed in the grave, what proof would we have that he had certainly defeated sin and death?
When two guys are going at it in the boxing ring, how do you know who is the winner? It’s the guy who is left standing. The champion is the one who, after getting knocked down, can get back up and remain standing in the end.
That’s the way it is with Christ. He came to defeat sin and death. He might have gotten knocked down, but he wasn’t down for the count. In his resurrection he proves that he is the victor over sin. By his resurrection he proves that he has defeated death. He is the champion.
But the resurrection not only verifies our redemption; it is also significant for the fact that it secures our future.
This passage does not say it, but the other gospels record why exactly the women had gone to the tomb in the first place. These women went there, not to be the first ones to see Jesus risen from the dead, but because they had unfinished business to tend to.
The other gospels tell us that the women had brought spices and such. That was for the purpose of preserving the body. It was equivalent to the embalming process of today. They didn’t have enough time before the Sabbath to prepare the body properly for burial, so they came back after the Sabbath was over to do it.
Now, ask yourself, why did they do that? Why did they care about preserving the body after the life had gone out of it? Why not just chuck it into an incinerator or leave it out for the birds? It was because they believed in a future use of the body.
We can use my wife’s childhood toys as an example of this. After my wife grew up, why didn’t my in-laws chuck all her toys from childhood? Why were they so careful to see to it that those toys were preserved nice and neat in their basement? It was because they knew that there would be a future use for them. Those toys have been, in a sense, resurrected because my daughters now get to play with them!
That is the same hope that those Jews had. That’s why they went to such great lengths to preserve the bodies of the dead. And though the women didn’t know it, Jesus had come to secure that future life for his people.
Job did a lot of complaining in his day. A lot happened to him. But in the midst of his complaints he said this: “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I myself will see him with my own eyes.”
Job was confident that he would participate in the resurrection. Why? Because his Savior lived. Because he rose again, Christ is the Living God. And his life is our life too.
And if you want to participate in this life, it is open to you. All you need to do is receive and rest upon Christ alone for your salvation. Do that, and you too can look forward to life beyond the grave.
But there is one more feature we should notice about the resurrection. We should make sure that we remember the impact of the resurrection. Matthew not only points out the nature and significance of the resurrection. He also hints at the fact that the resurrection radically alters the daily flow of life.
III. The impact of the resurrection
You’ll notice that at the beginning of this passage it tells us what day of the week Jesus rose from the dead. It was the day after the Sabbath, or the first day of the week. Matthew wants his audience to realize that a new era has dawned. This event is so tremendous that it changed the rhythm of daily life for the Jewish believers.
You remember that the seventh day used to be the day of God’s Sabbath. But with the triumph of the grave, a new day has dawned. And a new day is established as the formal day of worship and rest. We gather today to call upon God’s name to commemorate the day which Christ established for us eternal rest.
Really, this is something that took hold of the church quite early on. As a matter of fact, Jesus himself, by his own example, after his resurrection regards the sanctity of this new day. We can look over in John 20:19. This is talking about one of the post resurrection appearances of Jesus. And we find out that it takes place exactly a week later. It says, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
You may remember too that Thomas was absent from that assembly. The other disciples told him what had happened and he didn’t believe. But for Thomas’ sake (and perhaps still for the sake of the other disciples) verse 26 says that Jesus appeared again 8 days later (that being the first day of the week again).
Really this can only be Christ’s way of affirming to his disciples that His resurrection has inaugurated a new day. The Sabbath day has been altered to the first day of the week.
We can also look at the rest of Scripture to see that the early church got the message. For instance we read in Acts 20:7, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.”
Well what are they doing here? It is obviously a worship service. Paul preaches and they gather for the purpose of “breaking bread;” that is to say to observe the sacrament of communion.
1 Cor. 16:2 also hits along these lines. It says, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” Why did Paul designate the first day of the week? Well, what better time to take up an offering than when all the saints are gathered together for worship?
Let’s look at one more text. In Rev. 1:10 the apostle John says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” What is the significance of this? Well what do we read every other week when we recite the 10 commandments? “But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God.” In other words, this day was supposed to be God’s special day. It was His day.
John refers to “the Lord’s day,” or the day that Christ claims as his. And what can that be but the day he instituted in commemoration of his having finished his work of redemption!
Well, what does this mean for us? Well, one thing it means is that Easter is not observed once a year. It is observed once a week! The early church knew that well. They used to start every corporate gathering on Sunday with the leader standing and saying, “He is risen!” The congregation would then respond by saying, “He is risen indeed!”
Every Sunday they celebrated the fact that their redemption had been most definitely procured in Christ and his resurrection. And we should do that too. And the way we do that is by setting this day apart from all the others; distinguishing it as Christ himself distinguished it from all the others.
Indeed, we should feel the impact of Christ’s resurrection should be felt every week. What he did was so significant that it should alter, not only who we or where we will one day be, but it should influence what we do from week to week.
He is the all sufficient Savior. He gives us this day to rest and be renewed in body and soul. But it is simply so that we can remember that one day we who hold fast to him shall be renewed in full.
Thanks be to God. He has risen indeed.
“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.” Matthew 27:45
There is a life giving force to the light. After coming through the deeps of winter, we embrace the illumination that accompanies spring. I know for my family Daylight Savings is on the par of a national holiday.
I don’t think any of us would deny that there is a renewing affect of light. Perhaps this was why light was the first gift of creation. The first recorded words of God were “Let there be light.” This light is appreciated so much that it comes to signify that which is good and joyous. The climax of this comes in the Savior’s designation of himself. He said, “I am the Light of the World.”
But in this passage we see that light was taken from our Lord as he hung on the cross. Jesus was stripped of that first and great blessing of creation. We might say that the Light of the World was not allowed to enjoy the light of the world.
We might not think much of these words, but we should not overstep them. These words show us something of Jesus’ sufferings. Though we cannot see anything through the darkness, when we hear these words we must understand that we are peering into the pit of hell.
This should have been the brightest hours of the day. The 6th to the 9th hours was a roman way of talking about Noon. to 3 p.m. But it seems like midnight. Is this a freak occurrence? Is it an super eclipse of the sun?
No. Science cannot explain how the sun, moon and stars were all deleted for a space of 3 hours. It can only be explained one way: The rays of the sun forsook him. God had turned his back on Christ. Therefore he is excommunicated from the presence of light. All of God’s favor is removed.
All of us know something of punishment. We certainly know that there are different forms of punishment. The form with which we are most familiar is the use of brute force. Parents spank their children. Criminals receive whippings or floggings. As we have seen in other places tonight, Jesus certainly received his fair share of brute force as he was beaten, whipped and crucified..
But the use of blows and scourges are not the only way to punish. Some of the worst punishments are ones that do not involve contact. By that I mean the elimination (or removal) of blessings. Sometimes children can endure a spanking pretty easily. But if you tell him he cannot go a much anticipated party he might break. If you forbid him from going out to a game you can bypass his skin and bones and touch a part of his soul.
As he underwent the wrath of God, Jesus suffered more than simple afflictions upon his body. He was stripped of all good things. Even this most basic good: the one that all men enjoy to some degree. God makes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust. But at this point, the Sin Bearer could not be permitted to have even the most basic joy. A blanket must be cast over the sun.
He must experience the cruelty of the great Day of the Lord. This is what the Prophets foretold. Isaiah said, “Behold the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both in wrath and fierce anger, for the stars of heaven and the constellations shall not give their light: The sun shall be darkened in its going forth and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.
Again Isaiah said regarding the day of the Lord, “I clothe the heavens with blackness and make sackcloth their covering.” Jesus himself had even spoken of this terror. He said that the evil doers would be cast into the outer darkness. Now, as the darkness descends upon him, we understand (in a chilling way) that he is descending into hell.
Don’t forget too the effects of the darkness on one’s mental capacity. Why is it that we love Daylight Savings? It is because it brightens our spirits as well as our neighborhood. Some of you know that doctors prescribe more anti-depressants during the months that the sun seems to slumber. Up in Alaska darkness covers the land for days on end. During these times the government holds events (carnivals, races, etc) to try to lift people’s spirits. Our brother Lyle tells me that lots of people end up committing suicide or drinking to cope with the despair that accompanies.
Think about that. Think about the mental agonies that accompanied his physical pain. Klass Schildner has made the comment, “No man saw what terrors distorted [Christ’s] face or how the affliction of hell entered his body… He allowed no one to look into hell.”
The furry of hell takes on new dimensions, doesn’t it? You might not see flames, but you certainly feel them. That’s because God’s wrath burns deeper than skin in the darkness.
Could there be a darker message? Certainly not. But as we try to look at what we cannot see, we do see the glimmer of good news. What? Good news? Where do we see that? If we see anything it is the horror of hell, isn’t it?
That is not the only thing we see. We do see one more thing. We see that Christ is fulfilling his office of Mediator. He is saving his people from their sins.
At our other meeting place—at Armstrong—I find a good illustration of this. Each night when I go there to prepare for evening service, it is pitch black in that room. I open the door, but the light switches are on the other side of the room. Someone has to walk across the darkness to allow others to experience the light of the room.
Is that not what Christ did? In those three hours He made the trek through eternal darkness. By doing so he saves us from the darkness and despair of God’s wrath. Christ allows the light of heaven to radiate around those of us who are his people. We have opportunity to enjoy the inexpressible light of God’s presence because he took upon himself the dark curse of hell on our behalf.
Though we cannot see anything, we see something miraculous. Even though the cross is hidden by a wall of black velvet, we see something beautiful: We see the Son of God bringing light and life to his people.
In every sphere of life there are two types of people. There are those who do what they are told, those who don’t (except when the supervisor is around). Throughout my academic life I have held various summer jobs. And it never fails that I saw these two categories of people in whatever work place I found myself. Usually there is one guy who is always skittering here and there. He is diligent and persistent in his work. Sometimes he is even ridiculed by his co-workers because he makes them look bad by his work ethic. Then, on the opposite extreme, there is the guy who never seems to get out of first gear. The only thing that keeps him from being productive is his attitude. But when their supervisor comes around, there is a Jeckle and Hyde like transformation. Almost instantaneously he becomes the most diligent employer in the factory.
You young people are probably familiar with this too. As soon as the teacher steps out of the room to run an errand, what happens? The class’s true colors begin to show, don’t they? There are those who diligently work on the assignment they have been given, but there are also others whose pencils go down immediately. They begin to talk with their friends, tease, or even do their best impersonations of the teacher. But as soon as the teacher comes back, suddenly everyone is the model student.
Within the church we also find this phenomena. Among God’s people there are different levels of commitment. Some are productive, while others are idle. We all know that this is true from experience. We know that some are about the Lord’s work while others are coasting along. Jesus also knew this. Jesus was in no wise naïve to this fact. That’s why he tells us this parable. He shows us that preparing for his return means productivity.
In other words, waiting for our Lord means working for our Lord.
In our parable Jesus identifies us as his servants. And as servants, our duty is to promote the interests of our master. But may we be all the more encouraged to do so because ofthe trust the master bestows, the reward the faithful obtain, and the punishment the negligent receive.
I. The Master’s bestows a special trust
In verses 14-15 we see that Jesus has given us a trust. It was common in those days for a wealthy businessman to entrust his possessions to his servants. When his business would take him away for a period of time he would call upon his servants to tend to his property. Jesus likens himself to just such a man. His business as Mediator has taken him into heaven. There he sits at his Father’s right hand interceding for us. And when he ascended on high he gave gifts to men. Each of us has been entrusted with his property.
We see in our parable that the trust comes in the form of Talents. A talent was the largest unit of money. In our day one talent would come out to approximately $600,000. So you see that the Lord has given you no small trust!
Now the word talent has made its way into English, and today we understand it as one’s giftedness. We even associate it with people who excel in certain activities. We say that they are talented people. But we should not limit our parable so narrowly. What is in view here is much more comprehensive. We should think of a talent here as representing anything that God has given to us. A talent is anything that has come from God’s hand which we can use for his glory.
That means all that we have is the Lord’s property: our gifts, our money, our position (by that I mean our status in the church, community, or employment) all of these things have been bestowed upon us by God’s hand. The same could be said of our health, our strength, our intelligence and the list could go on and on. All of these things belong to in the truest sense to God. We are merely stewards.
Why is it important that we recognize this? Because understanding who owns these things governs how we use them.
We must never say that we own anything in any ultimate sense. And we must recognize that we haven’t really earned anything either. That can be a bit harder for us to admit. For we think that we have what we have because we worked hard to get it. I would suspect that many of us have grown up with the mentality that if we work hard, we will get what we want. And because of this we have fallen into the illusion that we have built for ourselves a little kingdom. So we believe that we have the right to do anything we please with whatever we have.
But this is not so. We are not sovereigns. We are stewards. We are people who are indebted to God. Everything we have is on loan from God, and we must use it for what it is: an instrument for His greater glory. He has in a sense drafted us into his service, and given us the raw materials with which to work for Him. Therefore everything must be subject to him. Of course I don’t want anyone to think I am disregarding a hard work ethic. We are to work hard. But the purpose is not to horde, it is not simply get, but primarily to give.
How might this look? I don’t know. Perhaps it will be using your free time differently. Not that necessarily means you have to be reading your Bible all the time. Certainly that is not excluded, but it is not exclusive either. I merely suggest that this too is from the Lord, and there is a right way to use your recreation time for His glory.
Maybe that will mean that you forego certain luxuries. Perhaps you already have too much and the money would be better put to a different cause. Then again it might be that you don’t do anything really different at all. Maybe it is just the attitude with which you do it. Perhaps it is simply that you now do it as a service to God rather than yourself. Whatever your situation and whatever you have the question ought to be, “How can I use this best for God’s glory?” For we must always possess something for what it really is: a grant from God for his glory.
As servants we must labor because of the trust our master bestows. But we must also labor because…
II. The faithful receive a fitting reward
In our parable we see three servants, two of which are faithful. Each of them wasted no time, but set about their tasks diligently. Their diligence is seen in that they accumulated a 100% profit for their work. (Read verses 16-17)
Their faithfulness is not only seen in how studious they were, and the profit they made, but even in their presentation of their gifts to their master. When the Master came back they were excited to present their work to the Lord. (Verses 20, 22)
You see, working for the Lord is the faithful servant’s joy. He who loves the Lord takes delight in his work because he longs to bring the Lord glory. It is no drudgery or chore for him. The true servant loves his master and loves to serve him. He loves his Master, and therefore his energies are focused, not on how he may please himself, but on how he might please his Lord. It is in the truest sense a labor of love.
That’s why his reward is so satisfying. (Read verse 23)
When we first read this you might have thought it was tough break for the faithful servants. The payoff of all their hard work was only more work! That’s because we have a wrong understanding of work and responsibility. We live in a culture that abhors work. We are told to avoid responsibility at all costs. Most of the time it is like going to the dentist, only do it if you have to.
Work has come to be something we are always trying to get finished. Our goal is simply to get done with this project. When the day starts, we want it done. And we think about it, all of our working lives are spent looking forward to retirement. We can’t wait to be done with our occupations so that we can finally do what we want to do. This has affected our understanding of heaven, has it not? We tend to think of heaven as some sort of 4 star resort. To us it’s a place where we sip colored drinks by the poolside while being fanned by a palm branch.
But work is a blessing. As a matter of fact we were fashioned for service. When God created Adam he created him as an employee, so to speak. God set Adam in a garden to work it and keep it. So when we work to promote God’s glory we are fulfilling our true calling. And, as a result, we find fulfillment.
This might sound a bit profane when I say this, but I hope you understand what I mean. We ought to be motivated to serve God because it is what brings us true happiness. Our hearts’ greatest desire ought to be the longing to see our master’s glory multiplied. And when we seek to bring honor to our master we ought to only be fulfilling our deepest yearning.
How could this not be so? If you certainly believe that God has created you, even more has redeemed you, and in so doing recruited you, the unworthy sinner, into his service, how could you not long to serve him? Your delight ought to be in what the Lord gives you to do, and your heart should rejoice in knowing you shall have even greater responsibility in the age to come.
He bestows a special trust; the faithful receive a fitting reward. And as we wait for our Lord, we must work for our Lord because the negligent receive a severe punishment.
III. The negligent receive a severe punishment
You heard what happened to the third servant in our parable. He was stripped of all that he had been given and then cast hell. All this happened, not because he did anything terribly wrong, but because he did not do anything. When he had received his talent he stuck it in the ground (verse 18). You could say that the servant took care of the talent. Certainly he wasn’t doing anything perverse. He did not squander it in any way. He brought back exactly what he had been given. You could do a lot of things with $600,000. But no, he kept it in a secure place. In that day it was common to burry valuables. It was the safety deposit box of their day.
But this just goes to show that many will be condemned, not for what they did wrong, but what they failed to do. You see, negligence is just as abominable to God as outright transgression. Inactivity reveals our hearts. It shows that we really do not love Him.
Failing to increase the glory of God is not excusable. That’s why it can be said that we will be judged on the basis of our works. If we think that we can just sit back and coast along because we have made a profession of faith we are seriously wrong. A lot of people think the Christian life is like a recliner. They have made their profession of faith, and now they can jut put their feet up. Others treat the church like a safety net. They put in their time each Sunday but that’s as far as they go. They do not seek to advance God’s glory beyond that.
But when the day of reckoning comes God is not going to check the attendance chart. He will look for how zealous you have been for Him. That is why those who profess faith in the Lord cannot neglect their God given gifts. If your heart does not manifest a passion for God’s glory—if there is no evidence of your love that you may point to in the Day of Judgment—you will have no share in the kingdom. You will be punished.
Perhaps you are one whose hands have been in your pockets. Perhaps you know that though you haven’t been a great sinner, but you realize you have not been very active on the Lord’s behalf either. It is my hope that you be shaken from your lethargy. It is my hope that you are awakened to see that your sloth testifies against your love for him. We do not know when he will return, but we do know that he has been gone for a very long time already. You must spurn him no longer by your neglect. May it be that you truly embrace the Lord. Turn from your wickedness and begin to serve him. Submit your life to him and his work. And may it be that the Lord does not call you wicked and lazy, but rather good and faithful.
During his 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy often closed his speeches with the story of Colonel Davenport, the Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives.
One day in 1789, the sky of Hartford darkened ominously and some of the representatives, glancing out the windows, feared the end was at hand. Quelling a clamor for immediate adjournment, Davenport rose and said, “The Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. Therefore I wish that candles be brought.”
This is the attitude that we ought to have concerning the Lord’s work. As we await our Lord’s return we too must be found faithful. The Lord has called each of us into his service, and given us the necessary materials for our work. So may it be that we take what the Lord has given us and put it to use for his benefit, maximizing your potential in order to benefit the kingdom.
I’m not one who believes in making pictures of Christ. But I always found it interesting what Mel Gibson said regarding the production of his movie The Passion of Christ.
In an interview prior to its release Gibson said that as they went about trying to depict all that Christ went through, they had to think about how they would do it. He said that there were some things they simply could not portray on the screen. It was not because they didn’t have the ability. He said they couldn’t show certain things because the audience would find it too disturbing. Some of the things would have been so graphic the people watching would not be able to stand it. They had to find ways to convey how horrid Christ’s crucifixion really, but tone it down so that people would not be repulsed to the point of sickness.
And this is so true. What Christ endured during those last two days of his life was an immeasurable amount of agony. What his flesh endured is enough to make a strong stomached man swoon.
In this season we have the opportunity to remember the passion of our Lord. And if we take time to study his execution, or if we meditate on the events surrounding it we will be faced with some of history’s most disturbing details. And if we focus on these events and consider his sufferings, there is a chance that we might become distressed or unsettled by them.
That is why it is important that we consider our passage this evening. In this passage our Lord prepares us for his execution with divine insights into its reality. Even before we enter into the last two days of our Lord’s life, our Lord prepares us for what lies ahead. Our Lord comforts us with hidden details concerning the execution of our Passover Lamb.
I say that we have here divine insights because we are given details about Christ’s death that only God could know. The first insight we have concerns…
I. The meaning of Christ’s death
“When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, "You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified."
Jesus has just finished a long discourse concerning future events. And he turns his disciples attention away from the distant future to focus on the imminent events. He reminds us that the glory of his final conquest will only come through the gore of his cross. There will not be a people to gather together unto himself if he does not first atone for their sins.
The Passover was a feast that the Jewish people celebrated annually. It commemorated their release from bondage in Egypt. It was called Passover because the angel of death would pass over certain houses as it came through Egypt. The people of God were commanded to slay a lamb and put its blood on their doorposts. That would be the signal to the angel of the Lord that He was not to enter that house. And so it was that the blood of the lamb protected the people of God, it covered them so that they would not face God’s judgment.
In our passage Jesus equates the death of that lamb, and the shedding of his own blood. Jesus was telling his disciples that his crucifixion was Passover protection. It is his blood that makes God’s judgment to pass by us.
During the heights of the cold war there were times when America thought it was on the brink of attack. The people of America were so afraid of missiles landing on our turf that schools held drills in case of just such an emergency. Children were instructed by their teachers that they were to climb under their desks and cover their heads.
Looking back it seems so silly. That they would find protection under such flimsy structures is about absurd. But that is how some people will react to God’s judgment when it comes. In the book of Revelation we are told that people will flee to find cover in mountains. They will even go so far as to wish that the mountains collapse upon them to hide them. But even the bowels of a mountain will offer no comfort.
But there is comfort in the blood of Christ. If this lamb’s blood covers you then you will be protected. God’s judgment will pass over you when the day of reckoning comes. It will be like a secure bunker in which you can take refuge. Just like the people of God in Egypt, you will be safe from the righteous destroyer. The Lord will not see any of the wrong you have ever committed. Instead He will see the perfect and spotless blood of Jesus Christ. So he will pass by.
It might be good to pause here and ask, “Have you been covered with the blood of Jesus Christ?” If you have not asked for it, but realize that you are exposed to God’s justice, then you must ask to be covered with His blood. After having done so you may rest in the comfort of Christ’s blood. You may rest knowing that you will no longer liable to God’s wrath. And on that Day when He calls man to account for what he has done you will be safe.
Christ offers us comfort by giving us insight into the nature of His death. But he also comforts us by giving us insight into…
II. The timing of Christ’s death
You may have noticed in the second verse that Jesus predicted the exact day of his death. He said to the disciples, “You know that the Passover is in 2 days. But I know something you do not. I know that in 2 days I am going to die. I’m going to be betrayed and then crucified.”
You would think that if someone knew when, where, and how they were going to die, they would do everything possible to avoid it. If you knew that there was a conspiracy to kill you here in Ashland, most likely you would pack up your things as discretely as possible and move to another town.
But Jesus didn’t do that. Despite his divine foreknowledge, this insight into the future, he did not back away from it. He just as well could have left Jerusalem and returned to Gallilee (or gone to another country for that matter), but he doesn’t. He remains in Jerusalem. And as a result, He continues to advance towards the cross.
It shows us how Jesus willingly undertook this mission. Of His own free will and without any hesitation he stepped into the hands of men. Compelled to offer himself up as a sacrifice, he remained where he was.
Doesn’t this highlight the wonder of Christ’s love for His people. Jesus willingly became the sacrificial lamb because He knew that His people needed to have a blood canopy over them. Without that umbrella the he knew that we would be swept away in the day of Judgment. Jesus has just spent the last two chapters talking about how terrible God’s judgment will be, and now, despite the terror, he makes himself its target.
You must wonder how the Jewish people of old felt when they brought their animals to the temple to be slain. Though sheep aren’t the smartest animals, when they see a knife pulled toward them they probably get the idea of what’s going to happen. I would assume that they wouldn’t take kindly to that, and begin to squirm & squeal.
But here is the Lamb of God, not putting up any fight. He submits willingly to His Father’s bidding. Thus, we have a Lamb greater than any other. He offers himself as a sacrifice that would be most pleasing to God.
Because his submission so pleases God we can have comfort knowing that God will not and does not demand anything more from us. And this should be good news to those of us who might have a Catholic background. Catholics make much of the death of Christ, but yet the death of Christ does not provide great comfort. For they believe that they still must suffer more after death in purgatory until their sins have been fully penalized.
And we cannot blame the Catholics only, for all of us in some way think that something must be demanded from us. When we do something wrong its almost instinctive. We think we have to make it up some way. We have to pay for it. If we steal something and we are sorry for it we try to do something to make it up. But sometimes that’s not enough, we think we need to go through some sort of suffering in order to really make up for it.
It seems absurd to us that God would have it any other way. But Christ tells us that his death satisfies all God’s demands. His sacrifice pleased God because He was most willing to undergo all its pain. And he was willing to do it so that we who are His disciples might be comforted in the fact that we do not have to go through it.
ØBut our Lord comforts us not only by revealing the full meaning and the precise timing of his death. He comforts us by revealing the frivolous planning of his death.
III. The planning of Christ’s death Divinely ordered
In verses 3-5 we have another divine insight. In a sense we peek behind the closed doors of the High Priest’s palace. We are told that the various religious leader convened a secret meeting about this same time. And we are told what their agenda was: They came together to discuss how they might kill Jesus. We are not told much about their council, but we are told one very important fact: They didn’t want to carry out their wiles during the Passover feast. They postponed their plans because they didn’t want to instigate a riot.
During the Passover there would have been tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of people in Jerusalem. Added to the regular traffic of a busy, metropolitan city would have been the thousands who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Adult males were required to attend this feast, and most likely many of them would have brought their families.
From the rest of the Bible we know that Jesus was loved by the masses. Great crowds followed him most of his earthly ministry. And this is most evident from his entrance into Jerusalem just a few days earlier. The throngs virtually declared him to be the Messiah. Of course, the people were looking for a Messiah who would establish the kingdom of God by running over the Romans. So the temperature would have been just right for insurrection. The religious leaders loved their place of prominence, and they didn’t want to lose it. That’s why they didn’t want to be the spark that started a raging mutiny.
So when we read our passage we are presented with a paradox. Jesus clearly testifies to the precise day when he would be crucified by his enemies. But while his enemies want to kill him, they don’t know when they can.
So we come to see that Christ’s crucifixion was not primarily man’s doing. Jesus did not go to the cross because he was compelled by the schemes of men. He went to the cross because of the decree of God. It was God’s plan that was unfolding. Christ’s execution was divinely ordered. Men were merely the instruments God used in carrying out His plan.
So true is this that Peter could stand up on the day of Pentecost and say that Jesus, “was handed over by God’s set purposes and foreknowledge.” (Acts 2:23)
You may think, “What kind of God is this that He would kill His own Son?” It almost sounds like a madman. But it is not. It’s a God who is madly in love with His people. He’s a God who would spare nothing to have the companionship of His people, not even His only Begotten. You might think this odd, but that is where we find our comfort. That God, from the beginning of time, ordained an acceptable offering for himself.
You don’t need to worry about doing anything. You don’t have to make it up to him, you don’t have to bring him any sort of gift that will make him happy. He has taken care of everything. You need only rest in the fact that He has.
Before he proceeds into the height of his sufferings Jesus paused to prepare his disciples for the things that were about to happen. In essence he prepared them for what lay ahead by telling them that he was fully prepared for it. Jesus willingly proceeded toward what he had been ordained. The Old Testament rites spoken of in the Scriptures, the shadows of the Passover were coming to fulfillment. He would present himself as his people’s Passover lamb. We need only to rest in that truth.
I do hope that you have had a good Christmas. Indeed this is a special time of year. Really there is no other part of the calendar that compares to this season. Even Easter does not compare with Christmas. The music evidences that. Part of the reason everyone loves Christmas is because it is filled with such good music.
But Christmas is not always filled with happy emotions. Statistics show that most suicides occur during this time of the year.
Christmas is an emotionally charged holiday. And it has always been like that. Even from the very first Christmas.
The passage we look at tonight also contains an emotion mixed message. On the one hand it declares the good news of Christ’s Advent. But on the other hand it declares the bad news of Christ’s advent.
You’re probably asking “What do you mean by that?” Well, you have to remember something about the book of Matthew. Matthew was a Jew, and he was writing to his countrymen. So when you read this book you have to put yourself in the shoes of a Jew. And when you do that, you may begin to see how the message of Christmas is a mixed one.
If you put yourself in the shoes of a Jew and you read verses 1-2 you might begin to feel uneasy. Let me suggest a theme for these two verses that might help to put things in perspective. We might summarize the theme of these verses like this: The nations (i.e. foreigners) enjoy the privileges that rightfully belong to the Lord’s covenant people.
As members in this church you are entitled to special privileges. You get to worship and hear the Word of God. You get to vote when the opportunity presents itself. You are entitled to the special care and oversight of the elders. All these things are your privileges if you are a member of this church.
But suppose you come to find someone enjoying those privileges in your place. You probably wince at the thought.
The same idea is portrayed in this passage. We think of the Christmas story as filled with warm-fuzzies. But that is not the original intent of this passage. This passage was designed to provoke God’s people.
Perhaps we can see that more vividly as we examine the details of the passage. Let’s look at what privileges these foreigners enjoyed. The first privilege we see this that …
I. The revelation of the Messiah’s advent comes to the foreigners
That is to say, these Maji, these foreigners of all people, hear about the Messiah’s advent first. They hear about it before the Jews do.
It would be one thing to say that these foreigners are the recipients of special revelation. The Ninevites were recipients of revelation, weren’t they? And you can think of many other prophets who delivered messages to foreign kings. And even today, we can think of many people outside of the church who hear the preaching, and receive God’s revelation that way. But in all these situations those outside the church (or Israel) received the message second hand. The message first came to the prophet or preacher. Israel (or the church) was the conduit.
But these Maji are unique because they received this revelation before the Jews. Or maybe it would be better put, they received the message without the Jews.
So here you have people who are way out of the loop when it comes to being a part of the people God has covenanted with. But they are the ones who enjoy the privilege of hearing from God about the Christ child.
Perhaps this is God’s way of saying the covenant people are no longer his people. All through history he has spoken to them, but they had not listened. Now he speaks to someone who will.
And that is part of the gospel of Christmas. God has and is speaking to us right now. “We who were far off, without hope and without God in this world, have been brought near.” What the Jews had neglected has come to us.
Whenever someone dies, that person’s possessions are bequeathed to another. You could say that we are the beneficiaries of the Jew’s deadness. We now enjoy the special privilege that once belonged to them. The Word of Christ and his advent has been spoken to us.
And we must never forget how great a privilege that is. And we must remember that we now assume the position of the Israelites of old.
The good news of our enjoying their special privilege also caries with it a warning: Should we become stagnate in our zeal for the Lord, we may fall under the same punishment. If we fail to appropriate the word of God, the special privilege we have of being the ones God speaks to by his Word and Spirit can be stripped from us. God does not guarantee that it is ours forever and without any conditions. Once we fail to serve as caretakers of God’s word, God will find another to fill our places.
That the nations enjoy the special privileges of the covenant people is not only evidenced in the fact that God speaks to them, but it is also manifested in that the Lord speaks through them.
II. The revelation of the messiah’s advent comes through the foreigners to the covenant people.
Now that we have considered that first point, don’t you find it odd that the foreigners are the ones who announce to the Jews in Jerusalem that their long awaited Messiah has come?
I want you to think about how God orders this. To understand the full impact of this we need to consider the star that the Maji followed.
All sorts of ink has been spilled trying to pin down what exactly this star is. Scholars have debated it ever since it appeared. Some have said that it must have been a super nova (A super nova is a star that explodes). The immense amount of energy that would have been emitted in that catastrophe would have produced a light in the sky that shined day and night for weeks. A problem with that theory though is that Herod doesn’t seem to know anything about it. He asks the maji about the star and when it appeared. In other words, the maji are the only ones who were able to see it.
Other hypotheses have also been submitted, such as a conjunction of planets or a comet (that’s what John Calvin supposes). The problem with those theories is that the star stops. It comes to stand right over Jesus’ house. And that is the way the Maji know where to go.
For these reasons some have even said that the star wasn’t a natural phenomena. They supposed that it was a heavenly messenger. In the Book of Revelation Jesus is said to hold the seven stars of the churches in his hand. These seven stars we take to mean the seven men who act as messengers within the church (or the pastors). Some interpret the star that way, the star was a messenger from God (or an angel). This theory has something going for it. It would help us to understand why the wise men were so eager to follow the star: If a messenger of God appeared to the wise men and told them what was happening they might be more willing to pack up and go.
Those theories are somewhat fun to think about (at least to me!). But I think they miss the point. I’m not so much concerned about what the star is, I think it is more fascinating what the star does. It leads them to Jerusalem and then hides. I bet the wise men are thinking, “OK we are here. We just need to find out which house he is in.” So they go around town saying, “Where is the one who is born the king of the Jews.”
Maybe you have read this before and thought that they just needed directions. Well, I bet that is what they were doing. But I don’t think they needed directions. Once they step outside the gates of Jerusalem, what happens? “POP” out comes the star again. And it leads them right to the door of Jesus’ house.
No, these guys didn’t need directions to Bethlehem. God intentionally guided them to Jerusalem. And he guided them there so that they would serve as his messengers. Whether or not the wise men were cognizant of it or not, their question wasn’t an inquiry. It was an announcement. They were bringing the message of Christmas to the Jews.
Odd, isn’t it? The Jews were supposed to be God’s covenant people. As God’s people they were supposed to be God’s “emissaries to the world.” They were to declare to the nation God’s ways and his redeeming love. But here we have the exact opposite. The foreign nations become the evangelists. The Jews become the ones who were evangelized.
The covenant people are stripped of their special privilege as God’s witnesses. And perhaps that is why all Jerusalem was troubled.
If the gospel no longer is no longer declared by us, and is declared to us, the gospel no longer becomes “good news” to us. If the privilege of being God’s witnesses is stripped from us, when we hear that the king is coming or has come, it is to us no longer a message of grace. It is a message of judgment and death.
If we fail to serve as God’s agents in the world to the world, he goes out and gets someone else who will speak. And when the gospel comes round to be preached to us through them, it is a signal that God is no longer using us. It would be then a sign that He has rejected us.
No doubt we see many churches today that have lost the gospel fire. They no longer promote Christ as the only Savior from sins. And this is a great mystery. Those churches that started out as the ones God used for revival early in American history. By this I am thinking of the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings. But now many of those denominations have come to believe that Christ is not the only Savior (if a savior at all). Their understanding of missions has transformed from proclaiming salvation in Christ to helping societies with poverty. While there is nothing wrong with trying to help people economically, it is a far cry from helping them eternally.
In our day we are finding these “churches” open mission fields. The message of Christmas, the message of Christ coming into this world to save sinners, is coming to them. It is a sign that God’s judgment is coming. They must listen to the gospel call before time runs out.
And the same is true for us. The gospel call is alive and well. The Jews were faithful in attending church, yet they needed the gospel preached to them through agents of God. They needed to be awakened to the fact that they needed a living and active faith. So too, we must not think that our being a part of a church alone will save us. Only living faith will save us.
I’m notorious around home for eating anything and everything that is not pinned down. I like to eat. And my family knows that they can’t leave any sweets out without proper notification. If one of my girls happens to have a doughnut and they carelessly leave it on the counter, most likely, I’m going to come along and scarf it down.
That is to say, if they do not take care to possess that blessing that has been bestowed upon them, then they may come to find that I will enjoy it in their place.
I want you to understand that this is exactly what is being communicated here in this passage about Christ. The Savior, Jesus Christ, is a glorious treasure. The word of God is more precious than gold or silver. Each are gifts that God gives for your eternal enjoyment. They are blessings that God graciously bestows upon you.
And if you do not actively embrace them and possess them with a living faith, then you will find that one day they will be gone. If tepid indifference comes to be found in the place of a full blooded zeal, you should not be surprised if one day you find someone else enjoying your place in the kingdom to come.
Matthew wrote this as a reminder to his fellow countrymen. On the one hand it was a glorious reminder that the Lord was patient. He was still extending his hand to his people, offering them life and salvation. But at the same time, it was a sobering reminder that His patience would not last forever.
And the message is the same for us. This passage is a glorious reminder of God’s infinite grace: Christ has been born in Bethlehem. He has condescended to become the savior of sinners. And we must grasp on to it heartily, before time runs out.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
"The first words of your sermon need to be some of the most striking words of your sermon.”
Those were the instructions that I was given when I was in seminary. My professors told me in my preaching classes that the introduction always needs to grab the audience and bring them in. It needs to peek their interest and make them desire to listen to what you have to say.
I admit that I don’t always abide by that rule. Try as I may, my introductions don’t often have the appeal that they perhaps should.
But that was certainly not the case for our Lord Jesus. When he began to preach the Sermon on the Mount he began with these beatitudes. And with them he most certainly would have peeked the interests of his listeners. That is because the Beatitudes present us with something that is of great interest to us all. It teaches us about God’s blessing and what it means to be blessed.
And the first line of these beatitudes is perfectly crafted for the greatest impact. This first line is a gem because it is so shocking. At least it would have been for the people living in the first century. I’m sure that it has lost something to us. But it would have been quite stirring to them.
Even the first word would have been tantalizing to them. I don’t think that it is an accident that the first word we hear from Christ’s mouth is the word “Blessed.” Nothing is a coincidence with Christ. I believe that this is profound for one very good reason: The last word of the Old Testament is the word “curse.” Yet the first word from the mouth of Christ is the word “Blessed.”
Christ was the man of blessing. His life and ministry on earth was for the purpose of blessing. And here we see that he defines for us the essence of a blessed life.
Now again, first words are important. Jesus is here defining what it means to be blessed of the Lord. Now, what would you expect to be the first thing that came out of his mouth? I bet you would expect to hear something like this, “The blessed of God are the theologically astute.” Seminary professors, with all their bible knowledge and all their degrees, those are the ones that God blesses right?
That’s not what Jesus says. He says that the blessed of God are…eh’em…the poor in spirit. Hopefully you see something of the shock value in this. Jesus was tearing down the elitist perceptions of his day. And he was showing that those who God blesses are not those that we normally thing of.
I would assume this will turn our world upside down too. Who do we typically think of as blessed? We think of people on Wall Street, with their millions of dollars. We think of movie stars and baseball players. We see the guy coming up and getting his Trophy or award an we think, “He sure is blessed.”
But when we look at what Jesus says, we find that the blessed are quite different from our normal perceptions.
I hope that I will have more opportunities to speak to you in the upcoming months. It would be a pleasure to develop a relationship with you all and have the opportunity to talk about what it means to be blessed of God. But as it stands today, I find it a privilege to talk about this one verse and what it says about being blessed.
As we think about this subject, I want us to see who Jesus says is blessed. The Son of God says that a blessed person is, at the very outset, one who is poor in spirit.
I. Who are they?
Our Lord Jesus says the blessed are those who are “poor in spirit.”
Now I want you to be particularly aware of the phraseology here. I want you to understand that it is not merely the poor that are blessed. It is the poor in spirit that have God’s favor.
Some people throughout the history of the church have interpreted this verse in an economic way. They would say that if you take a vow of poverty and renounce all worldly gain, you ascend to some greater spiritual plane than those who don’t. If you have a Roman Catholic or Anglican background, you might be familiar with this. These traditions have typically interpreted this verse in that way. They believe it has to do with one’s financial standing in society.
But there is nothing blessed in being fiscally destitute. Neither is there anything spiritual in renouncing temporal gain. God does not give any special favors just because they happen to be in a lower tax bracket. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Therefore everyone deserves to be stripped of all that they have, and no one stands in God’s good graces—no matter what their bank account may be.
Moreover, there are many people who have been rich in this world who have been blessed of God. I think of Abraham. God opened the floodgates of heaven for him. He was quite wealthy. Then there is King David. The Bible says that he was a man after God’s own heart. But he certainly would have had a great deal of wealth.
So don’t think that your economic standing has anything to do with this verse. God is not countenancing those who are financially poor. He is talking about those who are poor in spirit.
Now what does it mean to be poor in spirit? Well, to be poor in spirit means that you recognize how incredibly sinful you are. Being poor in spirit means acknowledging the fact that you have fallen short of the glory of God—and you recognized how far short you have fallen! To be poor in spirit means you recognize that you are spiritually bankrupt before God!
Some of you might be familiar with the story that Jesus once told a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. These two men went up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee stood up in the middle of the court with his head and hands raised high and said, “God I thank you that I am not like other men, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all that I have.”
His prayer was more of a litany of his greatness, wasn’t it? You could say that the whole time he was praying he was boasting of his self righteousness. “I have done this;” “I have done that.”
But the tax collector was different. He stood at a distance. In other words, he didn’t even feel that he could come close to God. So he found a little corner and tucked himself away. Then it says that the poor wretch could not even bare to lift his head. He only beat his breast and said, “God, forgive me, a sinner.”
Now it should be obvious to you that he was so distraught that his mouth could hardly even function. He makes no eloquent speech. He only says, “God, forgive me, a sinner.” This is barely a sentence. It is more like Morse Code or short hand. And he does not say that he is “a sinner.” The original language says “the sinner.” That is to say, if ever there was a sinner, it is I! He believed himself to be the chief of sinners.
This man knew what it meant to be spiritually destitute. He recognized that before God he had nothing of worth—nothing of merit. He had no righteousness of his own to which he could look or depend. The only thing that he saw when he took an inventory was how vile his life was because of his sin. That was the only thing his soul had to offer.
This is what it means to be poor in spirit, my friends! To be poor in spirit is to admit that you have nothing to offer God but your sin. You have no righteousness of your own.
The thing about poor people is that they have to rely on others, don’t they? Of course, I am not talking about American poor people. I’m talking about poor people—people who are completely destitute. Those little African kids you see on TV commercials—the ones who’s stomach’s are bloated and whose bodies are wasting away. They are people who cannot by any means support themselves. They are completely dependent upon other people for their sustenance.
This is the attitude of the spiritually poor before God. They recognize that they are more than bankrupt. They are utterly destitute. Their only hope of survival is in someone else—someone who has the means of sustaining them spiritually.
Who you may ask is that? It is Jesus, of course! The only one alive who we can take care of our poor wretched soul is our God! His mercy is our only means of survival.
The one who is blessed is the one who goes to Christ for that mercy and finds him to be All in all. If you are poor in spirit, you come like the Tax Collector to Christ and say, “I cannot give you anything, but my sin.”
Think how different this is from what we are used to. Does not Christ completely flip our normal view of things completely upside down? Are we not usually people who are given to self aggrandizement? We typically will do our best to make ourselves look the best, won’t we? And when we think about our standing before God we try to do our best to find something that he would glory in.
But you know what they say, “The man who sings his own praise is usually off key.” And in this case, when it comes to our standing before God, we are way off.
You know, that Pharisee who stood up to pray is a good picture of the way we typically are. “Look at me. Isn’t it great that I fast or tithe. I’m a good boy, aren’t I, God?” The thing is we do not recognize that the good things we do are so soiled and sullied with sin that God would fear even to look upon them if it were not for Christ. And we would never have done even the least bit of good if it had not been God’s all gracious hand there restraining our sin.
You know, after we have dinner, we begin our nightly routine of clearing the table. And it never fails that there comes to be a gross glob of gunk sitting in the strainer at the bottom of our kitchen sink after we’ve rinsed all the dishes. Now imagine having company over to your house. And you take that slimy piece of goo out to them and say, “Look what’s for dinner! Isn’t this a wonderful treat!”
Yet this is what we do when we glory in ourselves. If we ever tried to hold anything up before him and get his approval, it would be like a little impoverished child holding up dung before him.
If you wish to be blessed of God, you must recognize this poverty of spirit. You must come to the point where you admit that you have nothing to give to God and that his mercy is the only thing that will guarantee your survival. For these people are the ones who are blessed of God.
And as you look at the second part of the verse you will notice exactly why they are blessed.
II. Why are they blessed?
The Lord Jesus says “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Now I want you to think about how profound these words are. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It says here that he who has nothing, has everything! Those who are poor in spirit are made rich beyond their wildest expectations! These paupers become princes in a land that they did nothing to conquer or subdue. Christ simply bestows this majestic endowment upon them. And he makes them co-regents. People who will rule with him in and for eternity. He gives them who had nothing, everything! Including a crown to wear and a scepter to hold.
This is the greatest rags to riches story ever. We all love the story of little Orphan Annie, don’t we? Why is that? It is so sweet to see this little girl rise from her low estate to the upper echelons of society. And we think, “How blessed is that girl!”
But that is nothing compare to what the poor in spirit receive. Those who admit that they have nothing, are nothing, and can do nothing for God receive much more than Mr. Warbucks could ever imagine! They receive life in and the fullness of the kingdom of heaven.
The blessing of God is that you no longer stand outside God’s doorstep! The king of heaven opens the door to you. But what is so magnificent is that he not only invites you to come in, but he gives you a deed to the property. He makes you the ruler over it and gives you the right to take full advantage of all that it has to offer.
I hope that you understand in this that this is the glory of the gospel of grace. This is grace at its best. Do you know what grace is? It is giving someone something that they do not deserve and have no claim by themselves. And here you see that a gift, of gargantuan proportions, is given. The entire kingdom over which God rules is bestowed upon them.
Tell me. Which one of you will go out right now and find the poorest man in our area and give him your whole estate? Imagine walking out of this place right now and seeing a beggar at the bottom of the steps. He doesn’t look up at you, he doesn’t even ask anything of you. He is just sitting their in his filth. Would you toss the keys to him and say, “Here you go. It’s yours.”
But that’s what God does to the one who is poor in spirit.
Perhaps you hear something of the parable of the prodigal son in this. Do you remember that story? It is found in Luke 15. It is about a boy who said, “Father, I wish you were dead. That way I could have my inheritance.” That is a nice thing to say, isn’t it? But the father complied with the boy’s wishes. He gave him his share of the inheritance and let him go off. And the boy squandered every penny in licentious living. But then, when he was destitute—when he was looking at the pods that he was feeding the pigs and thinking how delicious they looked—he realized that he would be much better off if he went home and became a servant in his father’s house.
So he went home. And what happened when he got there? His father said, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him.” Then he said, “Put a ring on his finger. Put sandals on his feet!” These were all marks of royal status. His father made him heir of his estate again.
My friends, that is what is true of every person who is a Christian. When he bows before God and casts himself upon his mercy, God lavishes upon him the kingdom of heaven. He is blessed because God gives him not just eternal life, but all that the has! He looks at you and says, “Every square inch of My glorious realm is yours.”
During each of these services, we sing the doxology. We say, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Yet, do we realize the extent of blessing that we really do have? We possess infinite measures of unending happiness. Security is ours in boundless measures. To the poor in spirit, honor is as common as water and sand. And we have not even begun to taste of its fullness! For Christ has not yet come and his kingdom has not yet been consummated.
My friends, there is nothing more rewarding than to find yourself abased before God and holding only to Christ. To him whose life is so characterized, God bestows riches forevermore.
Kindled Fire is dedicated
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.