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The Good News And The Great News!

Matthew 4:12-25

Just the other day I received a new list of bloopers which have actually appeared in church bulletins. When the bulletins were printed they didn’t quite get the messages right. Listen:

  1. Please note that the cost of attending the Fasting and Prayer conference includes meals.
  2. Our youth basketball team is back in action Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the recreation hall. Come out and watch us kill Christ the King.
  3. Miss Charlene Mason sang “I Will Not Pass This Way Again” giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.
  4. Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don’t forget your husbands.
  5. Next Sunday is the family hay ride and bonfire at the Fowlers. Bring your own hot dogs and guns. Friends are welcome! Everyone come for a fun time.
  6. The peacemaking meeting scheduled for today has been canceled due to a conflict.
  7. The sermon this morning: “Jesus Walks on the Water”. The sermon tonight: “Searching for Jesus.”
  8. Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.
  9. Bertha Belch from Africa will be speaking tonight at Calvary Memorial Church in Racine. Come tonight and hear Bertha Belch all the way from Africa.

Bloopers notwithstanding, in this church we try to get it right. We’ve got the right Christ. We’ve got the right message. The only question is: are we the right people to deliver that message?

I must admit when I first read it I had to read it again. And when I read it again I had to shake my head in disbelief. The Gallup Poll recently stated that 79% of the people in our country claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. That means that eight out of ten you see walking through a shopping mall- if you were to stop them- would say: “Yessiree, I’m a follower of Jesus Christ.” Amazing. That’s enough people to change the world, to revolutionize this globe. In fact, if even half of those people were really faithful, then we would cease to be the masters of mediocrity in our faith and would become instead, redeeming revolutionaries.

This passage in Matthew, chapter 4 is running over with revolution. It is clear that Jesus doesn’t call us just to be people who check “Protestant” on job applications. He calls us to give our lives, to be willing, if necessary, to leave family, kith and kin to follow Him, to build His Kingdom, to do battle with evil- cost what it may. I fear that we’ve forgotten that. I fear that we’ve become rather like Dan Fouts. Do you remember him? He was, for many years, the quarterback of the San Diego Chargers. Several years back he retired from the game of professional football and do you know what he said in his parting news conference? He said. “Now that I am retired, I want to say that all defensive linemen are sissies.” Well, it’s pretty safe to call defensive linemen “sissies” when you are no longer on the playing field. Unfortunately, that’s the way we are too often. We declare war on Satan, but we do it from the safety of the sidelines. We make bold Christian claims but we do it from the confines of our own church building. But then when we are actually out on the playing field of life every single day of the week, faced with the demonic power of evil in the world, we tend to become reticent and reserved. We tend to become nothing more than what I would call “sideline saints.” But here in Matthew Jesus makes it quite plain that He will not let us sit on the sidelines. It’s time for us to take sides and it’s right for us to take sides. It’s the right time for us to take sides.

It’s the right time for us to take sides because we have the right perspective.

Matthew 4, verse 12 tells us that Jesus’ ministry began at the time when John the Baptist was arrested. At first glance that would not seem to be a propitious time to start a revolution. Jesus’ most dominant and most visible ally had been thrown in jail. Had we been advisors to The Christ, we would have suggested that Jesus put things on hold for a while. “Let’s just let the dust settle a bit, Lord, before we press too hard”- that’s what we would have told Him. But right here Jesus teaches us a great principle. He gives us the right perspective. What appears to be an obstacle for us is always an opportunity for God. From the human perspective it was a time of pain and difficulty for Jesus. But from the perspective of God, it was nothing other than the birthpangs of the revolution. What appears to be an obstacle for us is always an opportunity for God.

Now that’s easy for me to say, but it’s not always easy for me to see. It takes a lot of faith to see it sometimes. I mean, when we are sitting in a folding chair under a canopy out in some cemetery before a loved one’s coffin, we wonder how in the world this could be an opportunity for God. It’s easy to say it but it’s hard to see it when the one who swore to love you as long as you both shall live suddenly decides the vow didn’t count and moves on to someone else. It’s hard to see how our obstacles can become opportunities when it is our child in that hospital bed or when it’s our house that’s burned down or when it’s our job that is terminated. It takes a lot of faith to see God at work in those circumstances and situations.

You may have heard the story about the two Roman Catholic nuns who were driving home from their work as nurses at the hospital and they ran out of gas. They saw a gas station up ahead but they didn’t have a gasoline can to carry the fuel, so they reached into the back seat and pulled out a bedpan. They went down to the station, filled it up with gasoline, came back and were pouring the gasoline into the car with the bedpan. Two old boys in a pick-up truck drove up at that point, looked at what the nuns were doing, and one of them said: “Now that’s what I call faith!”

Well, sometimes it takes tremendous faith for us to believe that God is active and working in our lives, but the fact is GOD IS. Here in Matthew Jesus says, “even though John the Baptist is in jail, I am going to work.” What appears to us to be an obstacle is always an opportunity for God. That’s the right perspective.

And then it’s the right time for us to take sides because we have the right proclamation.

Matthew 4, verse 17 tells us: “Jesus began to preach saying ‘repent’ for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’” Every time Jesus opened His mouth He taught us something about the Kingdom of God and His words ought to be our words.

Think of the power of those words. There may be many words which you esteem and honor in your life. For example, you may love the prose of Shakespeare or the poetry of Wordsworth, but the fact of the matter is that at a moment of personal or family tragedy, at a moment when life is slipping away from someone you love- at that moment you would never think of quoting Shakespeare or Wordsworth. No, only One person’s words fit any situation. That One is Jesus Christ. I have been present a number of times when people have left this life. I can testify to you, as can others, that after the consciousness of the dying ones has become clouded, after they no longer see the light or hear the song of birds, after the ones they love the most have faded from their vision and their attention, even at that time, the words of Jesus whispered in their dying ears are heard and inevitably draw a response. I have seen it happen in my own experience so many times that it simply cannot be denied. There is no other word like the word of Jesus Christ and it is His Word that we are to proclaim, to tell, to share every day that we live.

I shall not soon forget a conversation I had with a man who had been a faithful and noted preacher for 35 years. He had lost his wife to death and I had called to express my sympathy. He proceeded to tell me that three months earlier, after his wife had learned of her terminal illness, he heard her weeping one night. He said to her: “Why are you crying?” She replied: “Because I don’t know if I will be saved when I die.” He was stunned by that. He couldn’t sleep the rest of the night. Here was the woman he loved, a woman who had dedicated herself to church and family and she didn’t know whether she was saved. With devastating impact he realized that she had been hearing him preach for thirty-five years and he had emphasized more what we do for Christ than what Christ has already done for us. As we continued our conversation, he went on to tell me that starting that next morning he and his wife began a morning ritual. He would say to her: “Honey, what is your greatest blessing?” And she would answer: “Jesus.” And he would then ask: “Why is He your greatest blessing?” And she would reply: “Because He forgives me.” As a result, this preacher said, “In the last months of his wife’s life, even in the hospital, even on her deathbed, she was alive and sharing her faith- and she died knowing where she was going.”

My friends, we have the right proclamation. We have the right message. Who is our greatest blessing? Jesus. Why? Because He forgives us. That’s preaching the Kingdom. That’s the Kingdom message. The Kingdom of Jesus Christ is not a place of food and drink. It’s a place of righteousness and joy and the peace of the Holy Spirit. If our faith brings us only pain and guilt and agony, then we’re in the wrong kingdom. If our faith brings us no joy, no life, no sparkle to our eyes, no dance to our step, then we are not in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Do you remember what H. L. Mencken once said? “Christians are people who are scared to death that someone somewhere is having fun.” Not true. Living in obedience to Jesus Christ opens us up to the greatest, most joyous adventure we can ever know in life because we are forgiven by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. We are heaven-bound. We can live and we can die knowing where we are going! That’s the good news which is ours to share. That’s the right proclamation.

Well…

Just days ago, a disturbed man filled with hatred for the faith, stormed into a youth rally at a Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas and turned a sanctuary into a slaughterhouse. God help us, we are living in a time and a place where attacks upon the faithful are becoming commonplace. Therefore, I think it is worth recalling an incident which took place in Stuttgart, Germany during the years of World War II.

It was Reformation Sunday, a day of special meaning for the German people, a day when German churches are usually thronged with people. The services on Reformation Sunday in Germany always conclude with the singing of Martin Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” On this particular Sunday, the Nazi leaders ordered the people not to go to church. Consequently, there were only a few people in the great church at Stuttgart. The choir loft was completely empty. The minister and the organist had to carry on alone. As the service neared its end, the minister, Dr. Helmut Thielicke, announced the traditional hymn. The organist played and the handful of people began to sing. At the end of the third verse of the hymn, Thielicke stepped up into the pulpit and asked for silence. He then said: “We Christians in Germany have always been proud of this hymn. It was written by Luther in an hour of danger not unlike our own. However, the difference between Luther and us is obvious in the last verse. Though Luther faced the prospect of death for his faith, he so believed in Jesus Christ that he wrote:

Let goods and kindred go
This mortal life also
The body they may kill
God’s truth abideth still
His Kingdom is forever.

Today, because of a few threatening words, most of our people have failed to attend church. It is clear that we do not share the faith that produced this hymn. It is clear that for most of us, faith is just a Sunday faith. It does not stand as the supreme, central power of our everyday lives. Therefore, as the organist plays the last verse of the hymn, we dare not sing the words which we as Christians in this nation no longer believe. As the music then filled the church, the people lowered their heads and began to weep. They saw, perhaps for the first time, that they had let their faith in Christ and their devotion to the church become weak and inadequate.

Dear friends, here is the Good News of the Kingdom: Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. Jesus is the right Christ. That’s the Good News. Here is the Great News: Jesus is the right Christ for us. Jesus will not let us sit on the sidelines of faith. It’s right for us to take His side in life. It’s time for us to take His side in life. It’s the right time for us to take His side in life. He’s the right Christ. That’s the right message. This is the right time. The only question is: Are we the right people and the right church to deliver the message to the world?

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