Today on the first Sunday of the New Year, we traditionally speak of New Year's Resolutions. Today, based on the reading in Micah 6:8, I suggest these resolutions, for this week, for this year, for life. I encourage you to specifically identity the resolutions you will adopt in these three areas.
A great need is to know Jesus. Do we know Jesus? Have we seen him, understood him, accepted him, altered our lives to imitate him. The first step to loving someone is knowing that person. A contemporary song says, "I keep falling in love with him, over and over again." A great commitment for the new year would be to fall in love with Jesus again. Loving Jesus demands that we know him.
This commitment reflects the first part of our mission statement: I will walk daily with God.
Introducing Our Text
It is important to know where we are in the Matthew text and the progression of the book.
In Matthew 11:1, we find a new set of actions in Jesus' life, initially centered around John the Baptist. This section is consistent with the rhythm of Matthew, discourse/narrative, speaking/acting, beginning with the Sermon on the Mount. This tension can be seen in 4/5-7; 8-9/10; 11/12-13, and so on throughout the book, all controlled by 4:17 and 16:21. This lesson finds us in the first half of the book. From 16:21 -->, we see a different purpose, moving toward the passion, passion predictions.
Today, we examine three important components in this section of Scripture. From these, we attempt to understand afresh the unique nature of Jesus and his call upon our life.
I. Jesus redefines Faith, 12:15ff.
As he acts, questions are raised. Who is this man Jesus? Immanuel? Christ? Messiah?
Many think the power of faith is in belief. In fact, the words are often used as parallels. We tend to think the power is in one believing. This means the power of my faith is in me, the more strongly I believe, the more I can do spiritually. We must restudy the subjective pole of faith. Faith is focused outside us. There is an object of our faith. Faith does grow, Lk. 17:5. Stronger in some, weaker in others. Matt. 17 will speak of faith as a mustard seed. Faith is stronger or weaker in each of us individually from time to time.
Ultimately, however, the real power of faith is not at subjective pole but in its object. If we believe very strongly the wrong thing, that strong faith is meaningless. The strength of faith says nothing about the legitimacy of that faith. Faith may be misplaced (as Paul's), directed toward something false (idolatry), deceptive, powerless to achieve the goal for which one believes or hopes. It is better to have weak/halting faith in the right person and right revelation of God's will than abundant, never-failing faith in wrong person or wrong account of the divine will.
When there is a spiritual power failure, it is a failure of faith. When we fail to grow, that failure is in personal relationship with the source of the power, Jesus. Faith fails when we cease trusting Jesus and start trusting self. Faith fails when we turn to human tradition or personal feelings. Faith fails when we stop trusting divine grace and start trusting human righteousness. Faith fails in its connection.
One story here especially redefines faith: Matt. 12:30. If we do not see Matthew's larger agenda, this may seem trivial, misplaced. From the parallels, we have the larger story. We do not know this man, never named. Former disciple of John? One of 70? Maybe he believed in Jesus through a private interview where none of the twelve were present. The problem was lack of faith in Jesus. Failure of accept his identity. Problem is lack of faith, failure to understand nature of kingdom, Jesus is the fulfillment of the Isaiah prophecy.
Great problem of understand kingdom is interaction of good and evil. Solution is knowing Jesus, loving Jesus, falling in love with Jesus, so we can learn to love those Jesus loves, and grow in love for Jesus' people.
II. Jesus reorganizes relationships, 12:46ff.
Short text, simple, in the kingdom the physical family is superceded by the spiritual family. Family is defined, and so goodness is defined, as doing God's will. Here is a reflection/echo of Matt. 7:21ff.
III. Jesus sets forth kingdom principles, 13:1ff.
We do not have time for all of this parable section--principles of fruitfulness, growth, small beginnings, hidden influence, tremendous value.
Move with me toward end of parables. One more time--interaction of good and evil. What is the nature of the kingdom? Is church only good? Never infiltrated by bad? Are we 100% consistent?
Anyone who has been born of water and Spirit is child of God. One does not have to hear me preach to be a Christian. One does not have to come to this building. When an individual believes the gospel, sees own sinfulness, accepts death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as atonement for sin, repents, and identifies with that death, burial, and resurrection in immersion in water, that person is a Christian. Will be imperfect, sinful, have misunderstandings, fail to live right, fail to believe right, but kingdom is not about drawing lines to exclude all who believe differently or live differently than I think they should. The parable of the net says, the good and bad exist together. Some whom we think good may be bad, some we think bad may be better than we think.
This is not suggesting there are no doctrinal norms in the Christian religion, that all who profess any kind of faith are Christians. One must be born anew of water and Spirit. This does not mean errors of belief, worship, lifestyle are of no consequence. But if one is in love with Jesus, desires to grow in spiritual things, is receptive, teachable hearts coupled with mature believers, continued personal study of the Bible, will lead us closer and closer to Jesus and his truth. None can presume the grace of God in conscious, deliberate error. All must presume grace of God in unconscious error.
Such is repudiation of sectarianism that has characterized us too long. Only need trust God's power as the object of faith. Kingdom principle. The good and the evil coexist.
For this new year, I encourage you to fall in love with Jesus again. Affirm fundamental doctrinal tenets which are essential to Christianity, do Bible things in Bible ways, call Bible things by Bible names, reject human opinions, not seek own preferences, and we can achieve unity in Christ. We can grow. You can be a Christian, just a Christian. Accept absolutes of person and work of Jesus Christ, divine plan for human redemption, moral responsibilities--these have no compromise. Fall in love with Jesus Christ.
Let this church be like a net, drawing people to Jesus, all kinds of people, no selective evangelism.
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