A Hard Saying
March 21, 2021 | Jeff Crotts
Passage: Matthew 6:14-15
We are living in circumstances that can be called an “Are you saved moment.”
- I was sitting with my daughter on what I would call a spiritual date and the TV screens were flashing images from the Grammy Awards.
- Out of the corner of my eye I could see what looked like something from a future-aged dystopian movie.
- Gender neutrality. Feather boas on men. Fleshly attire as normal.
- The hypocrisy where women call for respect and dignity toward themselves from men while dressing and parading themselves in alluring attire in the name of entertainment.
- Applause toward men acting effeminate, while the culture demands men be dignified and respectful.
These days are different; we have been praying for pastor James Coates who was imprisoned for his church gathering to worship and hear preaching.
- Incidentally, Pastor Coates is likely to be released (3/18/2021) this week but is scheduled to still stand trial in May.
The Edmonton Journal reported last Wednesday, GraceLife Church Pastor (Coates), jailed since mid-February, accused of violating C-19 restrictions would be released after prosecutors agreed to withdraw one of the charges against him.
- Lawyers understand one of the two charges will be officially withdrawn and the other slated for trial in May.
- Coates did not agree to the bail conditions, requiring him not to hold in-person worship services.
- You can get details online and watch a video of a powerful letter James wrote to his church.
- He called his church to pray for his release and to be clear in his proclamation of the Gospel.
- He also called his church to excel still more in love unity with each other and he specifically called the church to forgive each other offenses, remembering that they were forgiven.
- This stood out, because of our text but also because of how fundamental this is to be an authentic church.
These days call for higher levels of authenticity for what it truly means to be a Christian.
The context of chapter 6 is that of Jesus combating the sin of hypocrisy.
- Being two-faced or a playactor in the name of God.
- This is always a dangerous mode to be in within the church; naming the name of Christ when you really have nothing to do with Christ altogether.
- What is the extreme danger to be in is when you have no idea that you are in this condition.
To wake up one day standing before Christ:
ESV Matthew 7:22-23 On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' 23 And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'
If you look back at the beginning of chapter 6 you see Jesus' clear warning to those gathered there to “Beware practicing your righteousness…to be seen by them…” (v. 1).
- To “sound no trumpet…as the hypocrites do in the synagogues…praised by others” (v. 2).
- Verse 5 continues this warning “not to be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and the street corners, that they may be seen by others…” (v. 5).
- Verse 16 picks back up on this with the discipline of “fasting…do not look gloomy like the hypocrites” (v. 16).
Two themes are traceable through Jesus’ warning.
The first, has to do with motive.
- We have said how all religions call for the disciplines: Giving, Praying, and Fasting.
- Authenticity comes down to motive.
- All religions outside of Christ promote self.
- True religion promotes Christ.
- Either works-based which is self-based of grace-based which is Christ-exalting.
Second theme, connected to the first is the real warning and that has to do with the word, “reward” (vv. 2, 4, 5, 6, 16).
- Reward is synonymous with “heaven.”
- Heaven is never merit-based.
- You do not earn heaven, so how is Jesus using this concept of reward?
- Simply put, a true child of God receives what James called, “the crown of life” (Jas. 1:12), and someone pretending to be a Christian does not.
- Putting on a good face in the name of Christ might get you somewhere with people within your lifetime, but will mean loss in the next.
Like I said before, this is rubber meets the road time to call yourself a believer.
- Hypocrisy’s bluff will be called out by growing and pressing persecution.
That said, verses 14-15 call you to a real heart examination. To look inside.
ESV 2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
This is the first application of the Lord’s prayer and I see this as connecting directly with the final two prayer request the Lord tells us to pray.
ESV Matthew 6:12-13 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
True believers forgive because they know they have been forgiven so much.
“You are never more like God then when you forgive” [Mac].
- It is as if Christ is commanding, we pray like this and the way we can examine whether we are just going through the motions is to ask ourselves, “Am I bearing a grudge against someone?”
- Then to conclude, “If I am bearing a grudge, then how can I know I am praying real prayers, or merely going through the motions.”
But it is also important to see that what Jesus is verifying is not the quality of your prayer-life but deeper than that, the authenticity of your soul.
- If you harden your heart, you are giving over to Satanic temptation, unwilling to be “delivered from the evil [one]” (v. 13).
Verses 14-15 connect your willingness to forgive others to our Father’s willingness to forgive you.
- The key to this text is to not see this as conditional in terms of your practice but spiritual in terms of examination.
- Christ is never works-based but always faith-based.
- The core of our spiritual examination is our state of heart.
- Hearts unwilling to forgive are not yet transformed or not yet forgiven.
- Hearts willing to forgive are transformed and thus forgiven.
James 2 says as much:
ESV James 2:14-20 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.18 But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder!20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
- Works or actions that flow from genuine faith to vindicate a living heart behind it all and vise versa.
Verses 14-15 constitute what is called a “Hard Saying of Jesus.”
“Why does Jesus say it like this?”
Someone caught up in the sin of hypocrisy will not listen unless their reward is stripped from them.
Christians acting like hypocrites, non-Christians who think they are Christians who are hypocrites and knowing hypocrites - need to be stripped of their reward so they will pay attention.
- Jesus, at risk of popularity does this very thing.
- Jesus had enough credibility as a Rabbi to gather a hearing.
- Crowds of disciples gathered to hear him preach while religious onlookers eavesdropped in to hear what he would say next.
- So, for Jesus to reach this kind of mixed crowd, he had to offend everyone.
- Why Jesus is called a “stumbling block.”
ESV Matthew 21:44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him."
ESV 1 Peter 2:7-8 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,"8 and "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
The word “forgive” is the same as verse 12 [aphn] meaning “to let go” but the word “trespass” is different than the word “debt” and “debtor” (cf. v. 12).
- The word, “trespasses” also translated “transgressions” simply means that someone crossed the line.
- Their offense meaning, they went too far.
- They broke the relationship, broke trust.
- When unwilling to let something go, you are in a very dangerous position with God.
People who struggle with the assurance of their salvation should just reconcile this single question. “Am I bearing a grudge?” Or, “Am I unwilling to let something go?”
- This does not preclude that reparations should not be made, or conversations should not happen.
- But this does mean that you are required to let go of the offense committed against you.
And this means that if you are unwilling to do so, your salvation is in question.
Hard statements are meant to break through hard hearts.
- Why they are hard.
“How does this statement compare to other hard statements made by Christ?”
ESV Matthew 8:19-22 And a scribe came up and said to him, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go."20 And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."21 Another of the disciples said to him, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."22 And Jesus said to him, "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead."
ESV Luke 9:57-62 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."58 And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."59 To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."60 And Jesus said to him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."61 Yet another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home."62 Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
ESV Matthew 10:25-28 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. 26 "So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
ESV Luke 12:4-5 "I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!
ESV Matthew 10:32-40 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.34 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.40 "Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.
ESV Luke 14:25-27 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them,26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
ESV Matthew 16:21-28 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you."23 But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."
ESV Matthew 19:16-26 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" 17 And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments."18 He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself."20 The young man said to him, "All these I have kept. What do I still lack?"21 Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.23 And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?"26 But Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
One of the most dramatic statements in Scripture is God’s pronouncement on Esau:
ESV Romans 9:13 As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."
This statement must be understood in the context of God’s will for his chosen people.
- God blesses one line and not the other.
- Not double predestination but Paul In Romans saying God chose before anyone did anything to achieve merit.
- Esau, instead of being blessed, was cursed.
This statement should also be understood in the context of one of the most beautiful stories of restoration in all of Scripture. Two brothers broken and restored from Genesis…
Turn to Genesis 27.
- This begins with the sins of the parents, Isaac and Rebekah.
- A mom’s favoritism leading to deception.
- The name “Jacob” means a cheat.
- Do not miss Isaac’s lust for comfort in his old age.
- Here physical blindless leads to his lapse in spiritual judgment.
- Isaac was lust for food is also to be noted, for comfort leading to self-deception and resulting in unspeakable guilt.
- Lust for stew.
- Here physical blindless leads to his lapse in spiritual judgment.
- An appetite for comfort.
Jacob takes Esau’s birthright which speaks to material blessing or inheritance meant for the firstborn.
This brings up all kinds of sin.
- Think of issues surrounding wealth distribution through an executor.
- Family matters run deeply.
- This brings out some of the hardest scenarios.
- Sentimental heirlooms and issues of perceived or real favoritism. Jealousy, greed, envy, rebellion.
Isaac’s formal blessing on Jacob is in view of the line of “faith” from Abraham to Isaac and now through Jacob, and this rather than through the line of Ishmael.
The timeline between these events is largely unknown.
- We do know the time between Jacob fleeing Esau to their restoration is 20 years.
- Seven years for Leah, seven years for Rachel (though married within six days), and six years for Laban’s flocks (cf. Gen. 31:14).
Even with this severe damage was done and twenty years passing, there is forgiveness and restoration in the relationship.
- This is amazing.
- Esau desiring to kill Jacob.
- Rebekah sending Jacob away to not be killed.
- Esau in bitterness marrying outside of Gods covenant people, an Ishmaelite.
- And yet forgiveness.
John Calvin: That Esau meets his brother with unexpected benevolence and kindness, is the effect of the special favor of God.”
Jacob’s desire to make physical restitution by gifts of livestock is to symbolize the restoration of what he had stolen.
Neither the birthright nor blessing could be restored but their relationship could.
Ending with forgiveness highlights God’s grace.