Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sermon: Matthew 7: 1-12 Kingdom Living


The Christian life isn’t lived in isolation - it’s not just about me and my God. When we become Christians we become part of God’s family the church. And just like any (or many or most) families, there can be up and down patches.

I wonder if you’ve ever heard, or ever had to say - when you’re under my roof, you’ve live by my rules. The head of the household sets the standards, and the children have to live in that way. We find something similar in the church.

In this next section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches on how we are to relate to our brothers and sisters, as well as to our heavenly Father. So how should we live in God’s family?

First up, Jesus calls us to avoid judging others. Here’s what he says: ‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.’ Now, very often, those words are taken out of context. We’re told that Christians are never ever to express any judgement, never to have an opinion, never to criticise.

But in a few verses time, Jesus speaks of people whom he describes as ‘dogs’ and ‘swine’, and in the next section he warns us to beware of false prophets - we obviously need to be critical in these situations, to come to a decision on the false prophet. So what is Jesus condemning here? What is it we’re called to avoid?

It’s not having an opinion - rather, it’s about not sitting in judgement on someone else. Being judgmental can be a popular pastime for Christians - or at least that’s how the world outside views us. Jesus is clear that those who want to sit on the judge’s bench will find themselves in the dock - ‘For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.’

Imagine the situation where you overhear someone giving off about a lady who is prone to gossip - she always gossips, it’s like her native language. The irony is that the one judging is also gossiping completely unawares!

You see, there is only one person who is qualified to be the judge - the Lord Jesus. To take his place is to set ourselves up for a fall.

Jesus then gives us an almost comical example of the problem of judging others - the famous story of the speck and the log, the mote and the beam: ‘Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, let me take the speck out of your eye, while the log is in your own eye?’

It’s a ridiculous situation - attempting delicate eye surgery to remove a little speck of sawdust while being blinded by a log! There’s no doubt the sawdust needs removed, but you first need to get rid of your own bigger problem.

We think it’s an exaggeration, and yet it happens more often than we imagine. Just think of King David. He sent his army off to battle, but stayed behind in Jersualem; caught sight of Bathsheba bathing on her roof; committed adultery with her; then arranged for her husband to be murdered. Shortly after, the prophet Nathan comes to see him, and tells him the story of a rich man who steals a poor man’s only lamb for his dinner, and David is outraged at the rich man. Straight away Nathan says: ‘You are the man!’ (2 Sam 12:7)

David judges the little offence, yet fails to see his own greater sins, and in so doing pronounces judgement against himself. Are there times we do the very same? We criticise and pronounce judgement on a brother or sister in the church family, condemning them, while ignoring or being blind to our own faults and failures? As we’re stricter on ourselves, as we grow in God’s grace and find his strength changing us, then we’ll be in a better position to sensitively help others with their struggles and problems.

Yet even as Jesus says don’t be judgemental, he calls us to be properly discerning. Don’t give up your critical faculties entirely. His next words show that at times we do need to realise the people that we’re dealing with on the outside of the family, and act accordingly. ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample hem underfoot and turn and maul you.’

Now these aren’t little cuddly lapdogs he’s talking about - rather the picture is of the wild hunting dogs that roamed the streets, living off whatever they found. Dangerous wild animals. Similarly swine were unclean animals. Jesus says not to throw your pearls to them - they might think it’s a tasty treat, but they’ll be disappointed and turn and attack you.

But Jesus isn’t giving some instruction on what to do with your jewellery, so what is this all about? Remember later on in Matthew the parable of the pearl of great price? The pearl points us to the gospel, the thing that is of greatest value. But there are some who don’t recognise its value; those who utterly reject it. It would be a waste to continue to present the gospel to them.

It’s a similar image to the one when Jesus sends his disciples on their teaching and healing mission - giving them instruction to shake the dust off their feet in the towns where they are rejected. Yet this is not a quick or easy decision to make - we’re called to continue to hold out the word of life. Eventually, though, there may come a time or circumstances when it’s wiser to not continue to present the gospel, when opposition and refusal and rejection is so strong.

In order for us to live generously towards others, not judging others, we need God’s help to do it. And what Jesus says next gives us the encouragement to pray - and to keep on praying: ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.’ And then he encourages us again as he promises the answer for a second time. There’s also that great contrast between us and God.

Imagine that it’s family dinner time, and your child asks for bread. Would you give them something that looks a bit like bread, but wouldn’t feed them - a stone? It would be a bit of a sick joke, wouldn’t it? It’s unthinkable. Or how about if they ask for a fish supper, and instead you give them a live, poisonous snake, and watch them flee the table?

‘If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!’ If you, in the grand scheme of things are evil, yet you can do good sometimes, then what about God, who is perfectly good? He’s obviously going to give us good gifts.

You see, sometimes we imagine that God gets pleasure from seeing us squirm; that God delights in not hearing and answering our prayers. We couldn’t be further from the truth - God is our heavenly Father, and delights to give us good giftsl He gives us his grace, to help us to change, as we critically assess ourselves, as we judge not others but ourselves, and seek to remove those logs that blind us.

In the very last verse of our reading, Jesus closes this big main section which started away back in 5:17. Jesus came not to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil them. He has been presenting what it looks like for us to have his exceeding righteousness - our duty towards our neighbour is to love them as we love ourselves, or as Jesus says here: ‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.’

How would you like to be treated? With generosity, grace, and understanding, or with strict judgmentalism and condemnation? What you desire, do to those around you.

This sermon was preached at the Lent Midweek service in Aghavea Parish Church on Wednesday 21st March 2012.

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