Sunday, September 8, 2013

The End

That pretty well tied up the morning.  Jesus has been teaching his disciples about a whole range of subjects involving the kingdom of God and now he ties it up with a pretty bow and hands it to those who were listening and basically tells them, “You are responsible for what you are going to do with what you have heard.” 

Christ knew the reality of life, he realized that as persuasive as he might be that everyone in his audience would have the opportunity to respond to his message in one of two ways.   They would either accept it or they would reject it.  In other words the people who listened to Jesus Christ the Son of God preach had the same option that you have today, either accept what you hear or reject it, there is no middle ground.

These words come at the end of the Sermon on the Mount arguably Jesus’ best known message.  It all started in Matthew 5:1-2 One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them.

And for the next one hundred and five verses Christ shakes his disciples’ preconceptions of religion to the very roots.  Everything they had been taught, everything they had been led to believe, everything they had ever seen was turned inside out.

Not content to have his disciples think that his was an easy road to walk he spoke of problems, and persecutions, trouble and tribulations.  If Christ was preaching today we would say that he was controversial. 

And so by the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus brought people to the place that they had to completely re-examine their ideas of happiness and success.  Where they had to review what they believed and why they believed it.  And in so doing he destroyed many of their concepts of the law, murder,  adultery, divorce, oath taking, service, love, giving, prayer, fasting, money, holiness, worry, and judging. 

And the words of the Sermon on the Mount were Red Letter words.  This is the end of our summer series, not necessarily the end of summer, there are actually 13 days of summer left.  We started our Red Letter summer series a little before summer actually started so only fair that we should end it a little before summer actually ends.    

Probably the most famous of Jesus’ Red Letter Words are those found in the Sermon on the Mount which in many ways is the foundation of Christianity. 

Kurt Vonnegut, made this comment in his book, A Man Without a Country “For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, the demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
"Blessed are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are the peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break!” 

And at the end of chapter seven Jesus has the nerve to tell his listeners that his teachings  aren’t options, but instead they are to be standard equipment for the believer.  The last verse of chapter seven explains why the people were compelled to listen to him, Matthew 7:29 for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.
He knew what he was talking about.  From time to time I have been able to teach as one who had authority. While I was in High School and then again in 1984 and for a while in the 90s  I worked part time selling suits, and I spoke with authority on that subject. 

Reminds me of the story of the man who had stomach pains, went to doctors  and specialists, had x-rays and ultra sounds but they couldn’t come up with a reason for his pain.  Well he figured that he was going to die, so he decided that he’d go on a trip, and he went to a clothing store to buy a new wardrobe, the tailor looked at him and said “You look like you’d wear a 42 jacket, 16 shirt, 33 sleeve, and a 32 inseam.  A 7 1/2 hat,  11 ee  shoe and 36 underwear.”  To which the man replied “Ah hah you’re wrong I only wear size 34 underwear.”  And the tailor said “Oh no sir if you wore size thirty four underwear you’d always have pains in your stomach.”   Now there was a man who spoke with authority.

When I preach I try to preach with authority.  And sometimes when I’ve tried to teach with authority I’ve gotten in over my head.  But it was very obvious to the people who had gathered around that Jesus had the authority and knowledge to preach that way.

Every once in a while you will hear someone say “I don’t think they know what they are talking about.”  And that’s fine if it doesn’t matter, but those are words you don’t want to hear about your doctor, or your lawyer or your plumber. 

And they are definitely words that you don’t want to hear in reference to the one who is talking about your eternity.  If you are going to stake your eternity to a particular teaching you will want to be sure that the one doing the teaching has the authority to deliver.  
You ever talk to a car salesman and think you have a deal and then they say “I’ll need to have my sales manager approve this.”  You thought they had the authority but in reality they didn’t. 
But those who listened to Jesus that day were convinced that he had the authority to close the deal that when he said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”  That he had the authority to make that statement. 
And so to tie everything together Christ does what he does so well, he tells us a story.  And he divides all the listeners of his sermon into two categories. 

So often in Christian circles today we hear that we are not to be judgmental, people say “But you don’t understand, it’s not clear cut, you don’t understand the circumstances.” 

But Christ drew very clear and decisive lines.  As my daddy says, sin is black and white and grey is just a colour of paint.

And Christ tells a story of two men, because one wouldn’t have been enough and three would have been too many.  And these two men have several things in common.  Just as each one of us have several things in common.

1) They Both Heard the Word.  Both of these men had heard what Jesus Christ had to say.  The relevance of this message has to be directed firstly at those who have heard the word.  And that isn’t difficult.   Much of the world has at least a passing acquaintance with the bible and Christianity organizations like Wycliffe continue to translate the bible into different languages and world literature and others continue to translate the word into national dialects. But most people in our country and our community have a least the opportunity to hear the word.

And Christ always lays responsibility on the person who has heard the word.  When Christ spoke of the sower in Matthew 13 he once again emphasised the necessity of hearing the word.  Regardless of the soils reaction to the seed, the seed was never the less there.  All too often we place the onuses on the church or the preacher.

Christ laid the responsibility for a response on the hearer.  If I failed to preach the gospel, if I failed to lay it on the line concerning salvation, if came to Cornerstone every Sunday and I never mentioned your need to embrace Jesus, then I might be responsible for your eternity, but I have preached that you need Jesus Christ to be saved, that you need to repent, and so from this point on you is paddling your own canoe, and once you have heard it once it is in your court.

Christ never commanded the disciple to go to extraordinary measures to ensure that people got saved.  He commanded them to preach the gospel, but he said in Matthew 10:14 If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave.  Everyone should get to hear the gospel, but as Oswald J. Smith asked, “Should some hear the gospel twice before others have heard it once?” 

Some people insist that the church has an obligation to hound people into heaven, especially their kids.  Uh-huh we have an obligation to preach the gospel, we have an obligation to encourage Christians, we have an obligation to represent Christ to a lost and dying world, and everyone in that world should hear the gospel once.

But you have each heard the gospel; your eternity is not in my hands or anybody else’s.  I have spoken the words of God, and you have chosen to respond by either rejecting or accepting them.  Don’t ever try to lay a guilt trip on me about your lack of salvation, or the lack of the salvation of anyone else in this church.

In the parable of the soil Jesus said, “The sower went forth and sowed.”  But the sower wasn’t credited when the seed landed on the fertile soil, nor was he criticized when the seed landed in the rocks, he just went out and sowed.

Both of these men were in the crowd, they both heard the words of Christ, they had equal opportunity to respond.  We may not have the chance to sit at the feet of Christ today, but his message continues, and his word continues.  Through personal evangelism, through preaching, through the  scripture.  Jesus Christ is still speaking to people today, young and old, rich and poor, religious and non-religious.  And they are still accepting him or they are still rejecting him.

2) They Both Reacted to the Word.  They were both doers.  They didn’t stand still in life.  Both men built houses and of course the houses that were constructed were allegories of life.  Both men after hearing Jesus Christ speak got on with living.  And in their lives I’m sure there were many similarities.  They probably had a wife and family, probably had an occupation, a job of some kind.  They would have had concerns, and worries. 

Because admit it or not, like it or not, we have a lot in common with those of the world.  The bible says that we are in the world but not of the world.  But many would deny that we are even in the world.   Yet we have so much in common with those who have never accepted Jesus’ offer of grace.  Pain, suffering, triumph, heartache, we laugh and we cry.

A decision to follow Christ does not exempt us from living, it doesn’t pull us out of the arena of life.  Instead Christ said in John 10:10 My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. And that is the point, when the world sees just how the Christian deals with life, and tragedy and even ultimately with death we are a witness.

3) They Both Had Tribulations.  The greatest common denominator in the human race is tragedy.  None of us will ever escape tribulation.  It will always find us one way or another.  Death and tragedy are non-selective, we are told that the rain falls on the just and the unjust. 

A number of years ago a young man by the name of Scott McNaughton was stabbed and killed outside of a bar here in Halifax.  It seems that Scott’s wife and young daughter had been away for the weekend and he went out with a couple of the boys and ended up in an argument over somebody else’s girlfriend and was stabbed to death. 

Scott’s father was a friend of mine, another pastor in Truro.  I wonder if even for a moment Scott’s assailant considered the pain that he would inflict on Scott’s Christian parents?

In both cases here the bible says  The rain came in torrents and the floodwaters rose and the winds beat against that house.: in both cases the exact same tribulation fell upon each man.  Now that isn’t the way it usually is, usually our tragedies are uniquely ours.  But even if the circumstances aren’t always identical the fact remains that we will all suffer in this life.

Sometimes it’s tempting to think that if we are believers that we will be exempt from the troubles that plague the world, but that’s not the case.  Our commitment to Christ doesn’t give us a “Get out of life free” card.

But along with the similarities there were differences as well. 

1) Their Reactions Were Different.  The first thing we said about the men was that they reacted.  And they did, but they reacted in two different ways.  One based the remainder of his life on Christ’s teachings.  What was it that Jesus said about the first man?  “Therefore anyone who hears my words and follows them.”  The words that Jesus was talking about included but were not limited to the Sermon on the Mount.  They encompassed everything he taught from  “for God so loved the world, to take up your cross and follow me”, these were the Red Letter words.

And the teachings of Jesus Christ became the philosophy that this man determined to live by.  How he dealt with his friends, family, work associates and enemies.  This determined how he prayed, how he gave and how he served.

His relationship to Jesus Christ and his obligations to Jesus Christ were of paramount importance.  Today we would say he was a fully committed follower or Jesus Christ.

On the other hand the second man chose a different path. Christ described him as everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice.  There was no response to the claims of Jesus Christ, he heard the words, he understood what Jesus was saying but his prime concern was himself.  He was ultimately looking toward instantaneous gratification.

We really don’t know why he chose that path.

a) Maybe He Didn’t Believe Christ when he said I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me.  Maybe he thought that was a little narrow.  Maybe he thought there must be many other ways as well and opted to follow one of those.

b) Maybe He Thought He Had Plenty Of Time To Get Things Straight. We all do that to one degree or another. But as the man said the only problem with waiting until the eleventh hour is if you die at 10:45.  A number of years ago a good friend of mine, Ed Newell, died of cancer.  At his funeral in lieu of a eulogy his pastor read the letter that Ed had left to be read. That is one way of making sure that the preacher says what you want said at your funeral. And in it Ed said, “Don’t wait for the deep water to come, every one of us needs to get right with Christ now.  Not tomorrow and not next week but now.”

c) Maybe He Felt Like It Just Wasn’t Worth The Effort, kind of like the kid who fritters away his time at school, because he doesn’t think it’s worth his time and then ends up in a dead end job and can’t understand why.

We don’t know why he chose not to follow Christ but we do know that’s the direction he took.

The biggest difference of course was in 2) Their Fates Were Different.  One house stood up to the flood, storms and trials and one didn’t it is just that simple.

One man had the inner resources “which only Christ can give” to stand up to those tribulations.  And the other man relying totally on himself collapsed.  It is interesting to note that the means that Christ uses to differentiate between the two men was not, one was good and one was bad.  It was not that one was moral and one was immoral, it was not that one was religious and one was not religious.  It wasn’t that one was right and one was wrong.

Instead it was the same terms he used in describing others who would hear his message ant that was wise and foolish.  Christ brought it right down to where the rubber meets the road, and said that the spiritual decisions that count in this life are not just decisions of the heart but also decisions of the head.  And in those decisions of life God has provided all the information we need to base our choice on.  Some will make the right choices and some will blow it.  But they will make their decisions and will be judged wise or foolish because of it.

There is no other way that we can separate them.  And remember that wise and smart don’t always go together.  But what was in the difference?  It wasn’t the message, that was the same.  And it wasn’t in the house as far as we know it was the very same type of house.

Instead the difference lay in the foundation that the house was built on.  One winter morning in New York I looked out the window into the back yard and there was an enormous pine tree lying across my back yard.  It had been pulled up by the roots, they had spread out for meters in all directions but they had no depth.

Matthew 7:24 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.  Actually I prefer Luke 6:47-48 I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock.”
It wasn’t just on rock it was dug down deep and laid on rock.  The rock here signifies in the physical sense stable ground, secure ground, and in the spiritual sense represents our anchoring ourselves to Jesus Christ.

In I Corinthians 10:4 Paul refers to Christ as the rock. As a child growing up in Europe I’m sure that my parents took me to the ruins of every castle ever built on the continent.  And I can still remember those castles that had been literally carved out of mountains.  Bearing mute testimony to the finality of rock.

Christ tells us that the second man simply built his house on the sand, or in Luke he says “like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation”.  The man simply built his house on the shifting Palestinian sands without so much as a foundation.  Many who would see the folly of this ploy would do that very thing in their spiritual lives.  So how are you building your spiritual house?  What’s the foundation like, and what are you using for building materials?

I would challenge to read the story of Jesus in a translation that you are comfortable with.  Read the gospels and discover the material that Jesus has provided for the foundation of your life.

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