Episode 78: Hard Sayings from Our Lord Jesus, Part 3

Peace to Live By Episode 78: Hard Sayings from Our Lord Jesus, Part 3 - Daniel Litton
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       We are finishing up our series today on hard sayings from our Lord Jesus which come to us from Matthew’s Gospel. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been considering many of the tuff things that we find in Matthew’s Gospel from Jesus’ mouth, perhaps even things that we have had personal struggle with as we have examined them. Hopefully, by now we have a better understanding of them, and hopefully in the future we will not be afraid or bothered by them when we come across them in the future. We should remember that God is on our sides, and that he is not against us. That’s important for every believer to keep at the forefront of his or her mind. Satan can often try to use the weaknesses of others and varying circumstances in our lives in order to try to get us to believe that God is against us. He even takes Scriptures and twists them, or gets us to view them only with negative eyeglasses on. And then we walk away with the wrong impression, believing something about God, or how God expects us to act, that he never intended.

       So, let’s consider three final sayings from our Lord Jesus in wrapping this series up. Again, these are passages I have chosen for us to focus on from Matthew’s Gospel. These are texts that we may try to avoid, or ones that we simply don’t want to think about. But, instead of passing by them today, let’s face them head on. Let’s try to have a more in-depth grasp of them so that we can learn more about what our Lord has in store for us, what he wants us to understand through the things he has told us in his Word.

       Turn or tap to Matthew 19, and let’s go to verse 20. We are going to pick up here at the end of the conversation that Jesus is having with the rich young man in this passage. The man originally came to him and asked him what good deed he had to accomplish in order to inherit eternal life. And Jesus had asked him if he had kept all the commandments. Now, let’s pick up in verse 20: “The young man said to him, "All these I have kept. What do I still lack?" 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." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:20-22, ESV).

       This passage here relates to a couple of others we’ve gone over during the past couple weeks. First, consider that the problem the rich young man has is that in entering the kingdom of God, he’s going to have to give up a sin. Likely, we would say it is the sin of covetousness. Recall, we talked about the tearing the eye out or cutting the hand off from Matthew chapter 5:29, 30. Jesus said there are going to be certain sins that prevent people from accepting him. That is, people don’t want to let go of their sin in order to become a Christian. They would rather keep whatever sin it is in their life, and then end up going to Hell when they die rather than forfeit the sin and yield to Jesus’ way. I think a lot of people are like this in life, and it’s a tremendously unfortunate thing. It’s a shame because Jesus’ actually gives us what we truly want, the desires of our hearts. Sin can only produce a pleasure that is temporary, one that wears off when the sin is over, or when the sin’s season is complete. Jesus’ ways, however, bring fulfillment in life. This also relates to the passage we read last week in Matthew 16. There, Jesus said, “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?” (v. 26, ESV). We can either seek everything this world has to offer us—the pride of life—or we can seek to make God happy and often have both.

       In this passage, there are many things about the rich young man that Jesus is not saying. Number one, Jesus is not saying it is the responsibility of a new convert to sell everything he has and give to the poor. If that were true, how would a Christian live life? How could one have a family? How could one even give to the church? Even Jesus himself likely owned things. Number two, Jesus is not making the point that a disciple who sells all he has is greater than one who does not. That may be another way someone may incorrectly interpret this passage. Just selling everything a person has and giving to the poor does not make a person perfect. That’s not what Jesus is articulating here. Number three, Jesus is not saying it is wrong for a Christian to in fact be rich. Many of us who Jesus has called are rich. Most Americans are rich compared to the rest of the world. It’s not wrong for a person to be rich provided that he doesn’t value his goods too highly. And that’s where we find the problem with the rich young man. He loved his possessions so much that he was unwilling to part from them to accept Christ.

       Really, if you stop and think about this passage here, Jesus is putting the man to the test. If the man really wants eternal life the most, above all other things, then Jesus asking him to sell all of his possessions shouldn’t be a problem for him. But it was a stumbling block. Jesus knew the man loved material goods too much. When Jesus was listing commandments from the Ten Commandments and asked the man if he had kept them, one particular command he did not list was one that says, “You shall not covet…” (Exodus 20:17, ESV). You see, in order for a person to come to Jesus, that person has to be willing to surrender all known sin and follow him. The trouble here is that this man had an issue with covetousness. He wasn’t willing to give it up to come to Jesus. He wasn’t willing to tear his eye out for the sake of the kingdom. He wanted to keep his sin and yet have Jesus at the same time. But as we all know, Jesus wouldn’t have it. It doesn’t work that way. And sadly, many people are the same way, no matter what the sin actually is they are keeping.

       If we continue reading in the passage in Matthew 19, we can see Jesus further elaborate. The text says, “And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 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” (Matthew 19:23, 24, ESV). The rich person sees no need to accept Jesus oftentimes. This is because he or she has everything needed in life. The person perceives no needs. He or she has a nice job, a house, a car, a spouse, a child, whatever the things and people are, and doesn’t see the need for Jesus. Frequently, it isn’t until God permits trouble to enter a person’s life that a person actually sees a need for him. And I think this is particularly true here in American society as most people are rich. Most just don’t see a need for God, and they think they know better. Although, the problem is that everything a person has can be gone at no moment’s notice. Even our very lives can be demanded of us from God at any time, and if we have put all our chips in on this life, we’re going to be in trouble. Really, it’s the next life that matters.

       Back in Matthew 6, Jesus had talked about where we should invest our wealth. He said, ”Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, ESV). Things we have here on earth are only temporary things. As the Apostle Paul told Timothy, “We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (1 Timothy 6:7; see also Ecclesiastes 5:15, 16). However, we can invest now in the next life. We have a 401k, per se, that is located in the next life. And we invest into it by loving God, being obedient to him, following his Word—and by loving others as we already love ourselves. When we do these things, we are storing up eternal possessions for ourselves that we get to have forever. They are things we will never lose. And God’s match to what we put into it is much more than some random percentage that we get here on the earth. Jesus said he is building places for us for eternity, and the quality of those homes is based on what we are doing right now, as sobering as that may seem.

       For our next hard saying from our Lord Jesus, turn or tap one chapter over, to Matthew 20. Let’s go to verse 12, and pick up at the end of the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. Many of us are familiar with this parable. It is about a master of a house who recruits laborers for his vineyard, and he hires them at different times during the day. Now, the workers who had started first get upset because the workers who had come toward the end of the workday received the same payment as those who had worked all day. Let’s pick up in verse 12 with the response from the workers. They say: “'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' But he [the master of the house] replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:12-16, ESV).

       I believe this passage comes at an interesting time here for us because we just talked about storing up for ourselves treasures in Heaven. And, at first appearance, this parable would seem to indicate that people who start later will get the same thing as those who started earlier. Nevertheless, Jesus in this parable is not talking about rewards we, as believers, will get in Heaven when we die. What this parable is talking about is the salvation that is given to all who accept it through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. In the parable, the master of the house represents Jesus. The idea here is that people who are saved early in their lives will get the same thing, that is, salvation, as those who are saved late in their lives. A person might be saved when he is three or four years old, and a person may be saved as a 77 year old man on his deathbed. But both people are going to get the same thing, which is salvation from sin and Heaven for eternity. God can save people when he chooses to save them. This doesn’t mean a person should put off salvation and accept Jesus later in life, wishing to have so-called fun in sin during life. For one does not know when he or she will die, and such an idea would be foolish. A person can be killed in an unexpected instant, and then spend forever in the future in Hell. Besides, God is not mocked—and it’s not a smart idea to put him to the test.

       In other words, a person who accepts Christ as a young person and a person who accepts Christ later in life are equal as pertains to salvation. Nonetheless, it should be noted that this doesn’t mean each of these individuals will have the same experience in Heaven. The person who has served Christ all his life will likely have an abundance of rewards in Heaven, a great amount of friendships and possessions. The person who accepts Christ toward the end of his life may not have much to show in regard to rewards. This is just another reason not to put off salvation for anyone listening today who is not a believer, who hasn’t accepted Jesus as Savior and Guide. If you really want to have abundance in friendships and possessions in the future, those that last for all eternity, the earlier you can get started investing the better.

       But I brought up this parable also because I think as we read it, many of us come away from it still feeling like somehow the workers who came early got ripped. We may feel like they should have gotten more, like they argued for. And really what we need to see here is that there is no lack of justice on the part of the master of the house here. The problem is that the early workers, in seeing the later workers get a full days wages for their work, made an assumption. They assumed they would get more than the people who came late. They played the comparative game. They compared themselves with the other workers, just like we so often do in various areas of our own lives. And we can have the temptation, like they did, of pointing the finger at God when we feel we are not being treated fairly compared to so and so. We have a prideful attitude. We can say, “But my friend over here was married when she was 25 years old, and my other friend when she was 27. I’m 33 and still not married. That’s not fair, God.” Or, we can say, “My friend makes $55,000 a year. And my other friend makes $70,000. I only make $35,000. God, what’s going on? That’s not fair!” We can play the comparative game all day long. That’s what Facebook is about for a lot of people, right? But the reality is, is that God is doing no wrong in giving one person this, and another person that, and whatever he gives us. Everything belongs to him and he can do as he pleases. In reality, he didn’t even have to give us all that he has. But this likely strikes a prideful nerve in many of us.

       The key for us is to be happy with what God has in fact given us, to be thankful for it, and if there is anything else we want him to give us, we need to ask him for it and keep a patient attitude. It is true that for most of us God has already given us a great deal of things, most of which we cannot even count. He has given us salvation, the guarantee of Heaven when we die, his Holy Spirit to help us in life, his very presence with us at all times, and on and on the list goes. He has given many of us, if you stop and think about it, an overflow in relationships, both family and friends. And as far as material possessions, he has given us a great amount of things. Most of us have much more than we could ever really need on this earth. Many of us have a variety of possessions, at least some money, and usually whatever we want to eat. And if there are things we want God to give us, if we need more things, or more money, or would like to eat better—whatever it is—God tells us to ask him for it and to believe he will give it to us. God loves to give us more things, he loves to bless us with abundance. He likes it when his believers have cups running over. Our problem, a lot of times, is that we either have wrong motive, like the early workers in the parable, or we just have a problem with unbelief. But there is great comfort in knowing that God chooses to give to us as he wishes. I think often times when we haven’t received what we want yet, we worry we’ve done something wrong, but many times it’s just that the right time hasn’t come yet for us.

       Now, for the final passage we are considering in hard sayings from our Lord Jesus—and this one is one of the hardest—let’s jump down here in Matthew 20 to verse 25. We read: “But Jesus called them [his disciples] to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles Lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28, ESV).

       Before Jesus tells us what he expects from us as his disciples, he talks about the way the world works. And I think all of us are familiar with the world’s ways. We know how government is set up, we know how our military works, with the differing ranks among the soldiers. We know how our workplaces are set up, as most of us are either boss or have a boss we answer to, and even most of the bosses answer to bosses, and that unless your the owner or the chief operator. So, we know how the world works when it comes to perceived greatness—to perceived power. Interestingly enough, Jesus here says that his disciples are not to operate this way. Or, at least, they are not to think in this way as it pertains to who is greatest. Jesus says that a person does not become greatest in his eyes by reaching a command over the most people. Jesus says things are to work differently with his disciples.

       So, what is it that makes the disciple great? Well, Jesus says here in the most basic sense that it is he who has become a servant, and really, servant of all. Now, before we are turned off too much, I think there are some things we need to consider here. There is also the danger here to become immediately legalistic and prideful at the same time. We learn later in the New Testament that God in fact gifts each believer with varying gifts that they then use to serve the body of Christ. It is through the way God has gifted us that we become a servant. So, that being said, serving, or even becoming a servant of all, is not something that is to be dreaded or something that is to be done in a legalistic, frowning, or unenjoyable way. That’s where a lot of brothers and sisters falter here with this passage. No, we can in fact be servants of Christ, and even servants of all, while having a good time.

       I really believe that Jesus enjoyed his time here on the earth, and God’s call on his life. I believe it came from his heart. He did what he did in serving us, and serving the people then, from his heart. Undoubtedly he liked to teach, he liked to come up with his sermons and his parables, he liked to go from place to place and share the Good News. He wanted to do the things he was doing, and be pleasing to God. And it is the same way with us. God gifts us to serve him in such a way that we will enjoy and want to do whatever it is that we are called to do for him. If we don’t have that drive from the heart, if our work is not coming from an inner-heart desire to do it, then I think it’s safe to say that God hasn’t called us to do it. But God places desires in our hearts to want to do things for him.

       So, Jesus says that the one who is a servant is the one who is a slave. Now, obviously, a slave virtually had no say in what he was doing when he was working. He did whatever his master told him to do. That’s the true attitude of a servant. But that doesn’t mean the slave didn’t want to do his work or didn’t enjoy it while he was doing it. Paul told slaves in his day to work heartily. Remember what he said: “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:22-24, ESV). Rewards that we will receive in the future when we go to Heaven are further motivation for us to succeed and do a good job.

       Jesus himself obviously gave us the perfect example of one who served, and then who suffered greatly in his execution on our behalf. It is true that initially he asked the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane if he would let the cup of the cross pass from him. But God in essence told him that if he didn’t go to the cross that everyone in the world would be condemned. So, the writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2, ESV). Jesus went to the cross for us because he loved us. The Apostle Paul told the Thessalonians, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, ESV). Jesus spent his life helping us by teaching us and giving light to the dark world, and then ultimately through the sufferings of the cross so that anyone can be saved from sin and its power. He loved us that much, and wants us to follow his example of obedience to the Father and serving our fellow man with all our hearts.

       In fact, in closing today, the reality is that Jesus wants everyone to come to him with an open heart. He wants everyone to believe in him so that they can be saved from their sins and have eternal life with him forever. The fact of the matter is that when he came to earth, some 2,000 years ago, he died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, for every person who had ever lived at that time, and for every person who was to live in the future. By trusting in his sacrifice on the cross for sins, making a payment acceptable to God the Father for sin, anyone can be saved from God’s wrath to come in the future. You see, God requires every person who ever lives to have a payment for sin. Everyone, the Bible tells us, has sinned and fallen short of what God expects from us, how he expects us to live in our lives. The only sacrifice that is acceptable to him is Christ’s perfect sacrifice on the cross. Trusting in that sacrifice is the only way we can be made right with God. No other way will get us to Heaven; no other way is acceptable to God. No amount of good works can get us there.

       Anyone can come to God today through Jesus Christ. No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done in your life, no matter how many sins you’ve committed against God or how big or small, you can come to God today and he will completely accept you. If you are willing to turn from your sins—the things that you know are wrong in your life—and come to God today, he will be more than willing to accept you. God receives people with open arms, and it is his desire to shed his love on people. But people have to be willing to let him in; they have to be willing to make the choice to come to him for forgiveness and acceptance. God is not going to force his gift of acceptance and salvation on anyone. So, I plead with you to make that choice today—to choose Jesus, to choose his love, and to realize he is not too hard to please. He doesn’t expect too much of us that we will never be able to make him happy. I believe God is more easy to get along with than we often believe that he is, and he wants to show that to you today.

       So, if you would like to accept Jesus as your personal Savior and Guide in life, then please follow my lead in this simple prayer.

God, I have done many wrong things in my life. I have not lived up to your standards. But today I understand that Jesus can make me right with you. I want to accept his sacrifice on the cross for my sins I’ve done against you and against others, and I do believe that he rose from the grave and is with you today in Heaven. I want to turn from trying to do things my way and accept you as my Guide. So, please, Father, start to change me, and make me to become like you want me to be, like Jesus. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

       Let’s pray.

       Heavenly Father, I thank you for the opportunity to finish this series today on hard sayings from our Lord Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, and how when we examine these things—that they really are not too much for us to bear, but that your yoke really is easy, and your burden is light for us. I pray for those who accepted your truth today, who accepted Christ as their Savior and Guide: I pray that you would help those people to overcome any false beliefs about you, and that they would seek to be obedient to you, in their thoughts, what they say. and what they do, so that they can become more like Jesus.

       I pray for those of us who are already in right relationship with you, that we would be continuing to become more like Jesus, that we would not be going the other direction, away from you, but that our thoughts, our words, our actions, that we would be seeking to align those with your truth. Help us, Father, to not believe wrong things about you, but to always see you as we ought to, as our loving and caring Heavenly Father. Help us to consider different areas of our lives in light of what we have learned today about these sayings from your Word, and how we can be more pleasing to you, and further helpful and thoughtful in serving those around us. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

-Daniel Litton