A different man with a different message - Matthew 4:17-25
The speaker was a prominent businessman addressing a conference near Oxford University. 'As you know' he told his captivated audience, ' I have been very fortunate in my career and I've made a lot of money- far more than I ever dreamed of, far more than I could ever spend, far more than my family needs.' His steely determination showed through his well tanned face, but then a single tear betrayed a much deeper emotion, for he went on: ' To be honest, one of my motives for making so much money was simple- to have the money to hire people to do what I don't like doing. But there's one thing I've never been able to hire anyone to do for me: find my own sense of purpose and fulfilment. I'd give anything for that.'
Deep down we all have a passion to feel that we are fulfilling a purpose. Thomas Carlyle wrote: 'The man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder- a waif, a nothing, a none-man.' You see, at different stages in our lives this quest for purpose rises within us. Teenagers feel it in terms of the world of freedom beyond the home and school with its dizzying array of choices. Graduates feel it as the excitement of the 'world is my oyster'. People in midlife feel it when a mismatch between their gifts and their work reminds them daily that they are square pegs in round holes. Those in their later years often face it again. 'What does life add up to?' They ask. 'Were the successes real and lasting? Were they worth the trade offs? Having gained the whole world, what have we sold our souls for?' How many a successful businessman like the one I have just mentioned would not give their millions to turn back the clock for just one minute with their little boy who is now a grown man and distant, simply because he never really had the time for him when he was small?
But there was one young man who was consumed with a purpose, whose whole life was a mission of one thing and that was the Lord Jesus Christ. No one ever lived a fully integrated life like this man, he understood just who he was and what he was about. What is more, he claims to satisfy the deepest longings of everyone's heart- offering not what we necessarily want, but what we desperately need- a direction and purpose in life which is inextricably linked to who God is and the way he has made us and what he has made us for. And what Jesus offers makes all the difference in the world. And to find out just what that is do turn with me to Matthew 5: 1-2 and let's first of all look at the masses: 'Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.'
Many people measure success and sense of purpose according to 'the bigger the better' principle. It may be in terms of possessions: a bigger house, a bigger car, a bigger salary. If it is a business then it will be measured in terms of expansion, greater turnover. But what about Christian ministry-what is the sign of a fulfilled and purposeful ministry then? Well, that is gauged by the size of the crowd isn't it? The numbers in your congregation. But it is interesting here that when Jesus sees the crowds, he doesn't rub his hands with glee, he actually pulls away from them in order to teach his disciples. What an extraordinary thing to do. Especially given the immediate context of 4v25 'Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.'. Where the crowds come from is very impressive, for when you look at a map you see that the people have been travelling some considerable distance. From Jerusalem up to Galilee was about 95 miles as the crow flies. Given that in those days you did not have 'A' roads and motorways, but small dirt tracks which had to go around mountains, that meant that you could add on a further 60 miles before you get there. And that is if you go straight through Samaria which most of the Jews didn't like doing because that was like the early American pioneers going through Indian country, so they tended to avoid that and take the longer route across the Jordan river, which meant dropping down a couple of thousand feet and then up another couple of thousand feet when they crossed. So we have a situation in which people are travelling over 300 miles there and back. And given that they didn't have the latest Mini Cooper or Cruiser Espace, they had to travel on foot or at best a four wheel drive donkey. So how long are you going to be travelling 150 odd miles in order to see this man? Well, quite some time isn't it? But it is in fact worse than that. Why have the crowds come? Look back at 4v23-24. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralysed, and he healed them'. They were not travelling on foot quickly, they were travelling carrying sick people, and sick people do not travel very fast, not without an ambulance they don't. How many of you having a fever, feeling totally washed out, would be keen on taking on a hike from Hull to Carlisle? That's about 150 miles Tell me: How long is it going to take carrying your relatives and friends in that sort of condition, paralysed, dehydrated? At least a week, two weeks there and back if not longer. And we are talking about crowds coming from everywhere, the whole place was heaving with hundreds, thousands even. Now friends, that is what happens when you do real miracles.
I could guarantee that if I could heal anyone of say eyesight problems- shortsightedness, astigmatism, blindness. Then next week you would not be able to get into this place. There would be people with eye problems stacked to the rafters. You wouldn't even have to advertise , because word would soon get round. Chances are this building wouldn't be big enough we would have to move down to the KC stadium because you would have people from all over Hull , Yorkshire, and you never know, even some from the south might venture up here, and no doubt there would be more than one or two optometrists with placards protesting because of me putting them out of business. That is what real authentic healing does- it attracts the needy in their hundreds. And Jesus is healing all kinds of people, exorcisms are taking place and so the crowds are coming.
But what is Jesus doing? v23 'Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.' The crowds are coming because of the healing, but Jesus is teaching about the kingdom, that is the message of God's saving, restoring rule breaking into the world. And as he teaches about the kingdom he is bringing about its effects - sick people are made healthy, demon possessed are set free- the effects of the fall are being reversed here for life and salvation is being ushered in by the King. But the King is preaching- he has a message.
What is the message? Exactly the same as John the Baptist- look at 3:2 , 'Repent -change direction, stop living like you are, selfishly as if you are the only one that matters, and reorientate yourself towards God for the Kingdom of heaven is near'. Then in 4:17 when John is put away in prison Jesus takes up the same message, 'Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.' It is a message of repentance and because the kingdom is literally right on the doorstep, so comes the Good news of the kingdom, of life, health and recovery, a fresh beginning with God when all the things that trouble your guilty conscience can be washed away and finished with- that the message.
But the Kingdom is not as people are going to expect it. They thought, as some people today think, that when the Kingdom comes it will be all powerful and spectacular and life will be hunky dory- never to be troubled again- as if it is all to do with the here and now. Well, if we are going to understand the message properly, then we have to understand the man properly. And for that let's take a quick look at what happened at Jesus' baptism: 3:16-17 'As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'
Now I think it is significant that in the only two places in the NT we hear God the Father speaking, at Jesus baptism and Jesus transfiguration- on both occasions all that we hear is God quoting Scripture-Psalm 2:7 'This is my Beloved Son' and Isaiah 42:1 'With him I am well pleased.' Now doesn't that tell us something about where we are to turn if we want to hear the voice of God? We don't turn inwardly-that is mysticism and who knows whether the voice you hear is simply your own thoughts anyway or some other spirit. No, we turn to the place God himself turned, the Scriptures, after all his Holy Spirit inspired them and they speak of his Son, Jesus, he is the content. So here we have all three persons of the trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and no new message is given, just a drawing of our attention to the message already written down. However, something new did take place by the quoting these two passages and it would have blown people's minds then as it should ours now.
The question we need to ask: why these two passages of Scripture? Well, Psalm 2 is the Royal Psalm, it is the national anthem psalm, it is the patriotic psalm, like 'Rule Britannia'- you have heard at the Last Night of the Proms- 'Rule Britannia ,Britannia rules the waves Britain never, never, never shall be slaves'- which is a bit of a joke given we hardly have a navy to speak of and we have been in economic slavery since the Second World war. But it does capture nationalistic aspirations-that is Psalm 2. What is happening in this psalm is that the whole world is ganging up against God's appointed ruler, his messiah, his Christ. And he says to this Messiah 'You are my beloved Son. Today ask of me and I will give you the nations as your inheritance.' And the nations are exhorted to bow down and kiss the Son because he is coming in judgement, he is going to bring the kingdom and rule over them. But they will not. In line with fallen human nature people will not have God's King lovingly rule them, they want to assert their own freedom and independence. So they rebel. That is the essence of sin. So the question is, how then is God's messiah going to bring about God's rule? How is he going to be enabled to bring people under his loving authority without first obliterating them in judgement which is what we deserve?
That is where Isaiah 42 comes in. This is the beginning of a series of songs which are all of one piece ,called the Songs of the Servant, for they all concern this mysterious figure known as the Servant of the Lord. I guess the most famous of these songs is in chapter 53- 'All we like sheep have gone astray but the Lord has laid upon him the iniquity of us all.' This is the one led like a lamb to the slaughter-yes, Isaiah wrote it before Graham Kendrick! This is the climax of the series of songs about this unimpressive character, whom the world beats up and upon whom God lays the sin of the world, who takes the world's punishment-so God beats up on him too. This man has very little going for him, from a worldly point of view. He seems unimpressive, not likely to make it on Popstars- he is not good looking enough. But while people may not have much time for him, God loves him, he is pleased with him, he delights in him as the opening verse of the opening song in chapter 42 makes abundantly plain. This is God's man.
Now if you want evidence for the divine inspiration of Scripture here it is. On the one hand we have Psalm 2 which is the great royal song which speaks in majestic terms of God's great King who will subject all the nations of the world. On the other hand we have Isaiah 42 and the nerd whom everyone kicks around including God. Who on earth would dream of putting those two together and saying, they refer to the same person? Indeed, that the way in which God's King, God's Son, will bring about his kingdom is by being a servant who suffers. No man or group of men would put those two together and make the connection would they? But here we are told God does. It is a divine genius that does it. That is why I take the account of Jesus baptism at face value- it is God's voice we are hearing, and why the whole of the OT ,and the New, are divinely inspired and trustworthy, because mere humans couldn't make such connections. So the way in which God's Son can bring people under God's loving rule without destroying them in judgement is by being at the same time, the suffering servant who takes their punishment in their place.
Now then, you are here tonight and you wonder why does God allow so much evil in the world. You look at the wars and hear rumours of wars and you ask: ' Why doesn't God do something?' The point is-he has. All the troubles and the wars are evidences of the rebellion we see in psalm 2 against God's King. The fact is if everyone tomorrow because Christians the problems would almost disappear over night. I say almost, because Christians are sinful too, but nonetheless the difference would be marked. And it is quite safe isn't it to point to the conflicts in other lands, or the crack dealers on our estates and say' What about them?' while missing out on the crucial question which we can do something about and ask: 'What about me?' Let me say, that belonging to Mark 2, TNT, MU. CU or any other group in this church will make precious little difference to your eternal well being if you are not rightly related to the King- Jesus, none of these things make you a Christian. Let me ask you: Have you ever really been crushed. Maybe you have done something which when you think about it makes you feel so utterly ashamed, to be honest you wish you were dead? Or someone has done something to you, which has almost destroyed you and you feel hurt and abused. Multiply that feeling by infinity and then you will have a glimpse of what the Lord Jesus felt when he was hanging on that cross bearing your sin and mine, absorbing the full force of God's righteous anger towards the worlds sin. It is horrendous. This was the first holocaust- at the cross and Jesus bore it-for you. And that is why his Father says to him: 'You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased.' because this King cares for sinners and rebels.
And so having identified the man- the Suffering Servant King- Jesus begins his mission at the beginning of chapter 4. He is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And all these temptations are not the temptations we will have, they are specifically related to Jesus mission, the temptation for him to establish his rule by some way other than the cross. He is hungry so the devil says to him 'If you are the Son of God', that is if you are Psalm 2:7, turn these stones into bread.' That is put your own personal comforts first-that is what kings do. Then taking him to the temple he says 'If you are the Son of God throw yourself down'- that is perform some miraculous stunt get the crowds that way. But then again he shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, those mentioned in Psalm 2 rebelling , and says, 'If only you will bow down and worship me' I will give you these. That is acknowledge that the way of cruelty, of power and deceit of which I am master - the stuff of much politics- and you can have it. And although these were temptations specific to Jesus as Messiah, you and I as God's people who claim to be subjects of the Messiah, face them again and again don't we? Forget service, what is in it for you? God doesn't want you to be hungry or in need, he is there for you not you for him. Or why bother with the hard slog of evangelism and all the tears and disappointments associated with that- the way to pull in the crowds is with the big and spectacular show- the miracle crusade. Or then, politics- get into positions of power and influence then you can make laws which will change things- and so we have the way open for religious tyranny-not just the Inquisitions but the brow beating of dissenters by the ruling religious group. But Jesus rejects all of these and instead starts to- preach 4:17 ' From that time on Jesus began to preach: Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is near.'
So how is this Suffering Servant King going to change the world? Well, not by being self-centred and waited on. Not by impressing the crowds with knock down miracles. Not by wheedling his way into the court of Herod or the council of the Sanhedrin and engaging in political machinations. He is going to do it through a handful of nobodies. Look at 4:18 'As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed him.
The King is out to fish for people. And no doubt the disciples looking at the crowds would have thought- 'What a catch! What a fishermen! If anyone knows how to do it-he does. Anyone who can get people to travel these distances can get them to do anything. We have hitched our wagon to a star.' So here they all are, and what does Jesus do, he pulls away from them, goes up a mountain and preaches a sermon. What is he doing?
This sermon is really about the kingdom, what its values are, what characterises the subjects-what marks out Christians from non-Christians and so what will both attract and repel people at the same time. This is radical stuff, revolutionary stuff if we dare to take it on board. You see, if the King is a servant who suffers for humanity, can his followers expect any less? If the King is first and foremost a messenger, calling people to repent and trust, can we do any less? If it is through proclaiming a God given message and living a new God empowered life that men and women and boys and girls are caught like fish, then surely that is what we are meant to be doing? And what that involves in detail is the subject of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. But the question I want to leave you with is this: what purpose is driving you, shaping your plans, ambitions, future? Now, if Christ, his kingdom, his honour doesn't figure in your answer, then you are on the wrong track. You need to stop, turn around and get on track. And the only way to do that is by coming wholeheartedly to the Suffering King.
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