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Approaching a Christian in Sin

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

As the elders here have requested, every year Clay and I preach at least one sermon on the process for withdrawing from a Christian who is living an ungodly life.  Obviously, neither one of us has any problem with doing so.  It’s part of the whole counsel of God, and our job as preachers is to declare it along with the rest.

However, I worry that across the brotherhood, sound teaching on withdrawal can lead us to unsound conclusions.  We can infer first that God’s solution to the problem of unrighteousness in the church is withdrawal, and second that going to such Christians is the elders’ business and not ours.

Both of these conclusions are wrong.  God does not want to see those brethren withdrawn from; He wants to see them repent and be restored.  Second, He wants to see every single one of us involved in that restorative work.

Sad to say, it is all too rare for Christians to go to a brother who needs help.  We don’t want to get involved in a messy situation, and we’re afraid of having a difficult conversation.  Nonetheless, these things are part of our responsibility before God.  To help us carry out this responsibility, let’s consider the example of the apostle Paul in approaching a Christian in sin.

As we analyze this issue, we’re going to be looking at 2 Corinthians 13:1-10.  We almost never study this text, but it shows us clearly what Paul’s strategy is for dealing with sin in the Corinthian church.  The first thing we learn from him here is to ADDRESS THE PROBLEM DIRECTLY.  This appears in 2 Corinthians 13:1-4. 

The first thing that we see Paul doing is seeking a face-to-face conversation.  Letters haven’t gotten the job done, so he is going to go to Corinth in person to resolve things.   I think that modern-day American Christians struggle with doing this for two main reasons:  our society is averse to direct conflict, and we prefer electronic communication to in-person communication.

Consequently, we are much more likely to talk about a straying Christian (which is gossip) than we are to talk to them.  If we do talk to them, we’re much more likely to use a text or a Facebook message than we are to have a sit-down conversation.

The first is obviously evil, but the second is a mistake.  I’m here to tell you:  I spend more time on social media than almost anybody, and writing is the thing that I do best in all the wide world, but trying to persuade somebody in writing on social media is a waste of time.  No matter how good a writer you are, writing can’t contain the non-verbal cues that are a vital expression of love and goodwill.  There is no substitute for looking somebody in the eye and telling them lovingly that they need to repent!

Second, we must be willing to speak with authority.  Notice that Paul warns the Corinthians that he is going to be coming to them in the power of God.  When he shows up, nobody is going to be able to disregard him!

Obviously, none of us are apostles, but we still can speak with the authority of God.  We do that when we use the word to convict the sinner.  Again, this is not our natural tendency.  Even if we’re having that face-to-face conversation, we’re inclined to dance around the problem and not say the hard truths that need to be said.  This might seem kind, but in reality it is deadly because it allows the straying Christian to continue in the delusion that they are not in danger.  If somebody is in sin, we need to show them their sin, citing book, chapter, and verse if necessary.  Our speech must be gracious and loving, but it also must be clear and plain.

The second part of Paul’s strategy is to ENCOURAGE SELF-EXAMINATION.  This is exactly what we see going on in 2 Corinthians 13:5-6.  Frankly, I think this highlights a way in which brotherhood culture is much too debate-centric.  In a debate, there’s a winner and a loser as judged by a third party.  If you win, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve convinced your opponent or not.  You’ve still won.

I believe that there’s still a place for debate today.  My brother and friend Bruce Reeves is a skilled debater, and he does valuable work for the kingdom.  However, I think that place is much narrower than we often think it is.  In our preaching and teaching, it’s awfully tempting to get up and own the denominations or get up and own the liberals, and at the end we congratulate ourselves because we won the debate against somebody who wasn’t even in attendance.

So too, I’ve seen Christians try to correct those in error by winning the debate against them.  “I’ve proven A, B, and C, so you’re a sinner.  Boom!  Done!”  To be honest, I’ve been that Christian.  However, that behavior reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the restoration process. 

We don’t win by winning the debate, at least according to us.  We only win when we convict the sinner.  We win when they listen to what we’re saying, internalize it, use it to indict themselves, and say, “You know, you’re right.  I need to change.”  That’s what a win looks like.

In striving for this goal, we should use the lightest touch possible.  Much of the time, the straying brother or sister has 99 percent indicted themselves already, and they just need a little nudge to get them back on the right track.  On multiple occasions, I’ve persuaded a Christian who hasn’t been assembling to come back simply by asking them via Facebook message what they’ve been up to recently.  They know.  They have a good heart.  They just need a little help.

Third, we must SEEK THE OTHER’S GOOD.  Paul exemplifies this in 2 Corinthians 13:7-10.  He makes clear that his concern isn’t his position or his reputation.  It’s the souls of the people he loves.

Let’s put ourselves into this passage for a moment.  Imagine that you are driving by a liquor store in town, and you happen to notice a sister’s minivan parked there.  The next time you drive by, you see the minivan again.  Third time, you see the same thing.

You decide you need to talk to Sister Irma.  After services one Sunday, you ask her, “I’ve been seeing your car parked at Buzz’s Liquors an awful lot.  What’s going on?”  In response, Sister Irma explains that she’s been baking a lot of bread recently, and the kind of yeast that she prefers is only available in the brewing-supplies section at Buzz’s Liquors.

How do you feel?  Embarrassed that you brought it up?  Angry that you look like a fool?  Disbelieving that yeast is all that Sister Irma is buying?  Or, instead, are you relieved that she hasn’t become an alcoholic?

 Paul’s perspective is clear.  He tells the Corinthians that he would rather show up and prove to be wrong about them than show up and be right about their sins.  He doesn’t care about being right himself.  Instead, he cares about the Corinthians being right with God.  He prefers to be wrong because then the Corinthians don’t have to repent!  The soul of the other Christian should be our priority, and if it is, that will be evident in everything we say.

Out of the Depths

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

The other day, I was talking on the phone with a dear friend of mine who is writing a book about the fear of God.  She’s doing this in part because of her concern that the Lord’s people aren’t discussing the fear of God as much as they should be.  We like to hear about grace and mercy, but we’re not so fond of teaching about the fear due our Creator.

I found this particularly striking because like sin and grace go together, fear and mercy go together.  If it is not a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, then God’s mercy to us doesn’t matter much either.  None of us are deeply appreciative when the doctor fixes our hangnail!

It’s obviously true that God’s fear leads us to appreciate His mercy.  Though it’s less obvious, it’s also true that His mercy leads us to fear Him.  Indeed, if our appreciation of the forgiveness of God doesn’t produce the fear of God, we’ve missed something.  This morning, then, let’s see how this idea emerges, along with many others, when we cry to God out of the depths.

Naturally, we’re going to be studying Psalm 130, and the first portion of this psalm concerns A GOD WHO LISTENS.  Look at Psalm 130:1-2.  Even in this introductory section, there are two valuable lessons for us to consider, and the first is that even God’s people can find themselves in the depths.

Even in English, the idea of crying out to God from the depths is powerful, but in Hebrew, it is even more so.  To the Israelites, the depths were a place of primordial chaos, and if you were in them, it was a sign that you had been cast out from the presence of God.  This is why Jonah is swallowed by a great fish that goes down into the depths.  We can end up there too, whether because of sin or tragedy.  Things can get so bad in our lives that we feel isolated from every source of goodness.

This certainly is where the psalmist believes himself to be, but even though he is there, even though we might be there, calling on God is always possible.  This one seems like a sin problem.  The psalmist has sinned so egregiously that he has ruined himself, but even there, he cries out to God in the hope that God will listen.

So too for us.  It’s possible for Christians to wreck their lives utterly, and some do.  Nonetheless, as long as we are alive, it’s never too late to seek the Lord.  Everything else may be gone, but if we humble ourselves and come to God, we are sure to find Him.

The second part of the psalm is about FORGIVENESS AND FEAR.  Let’s keep going in Psalm 130:3-4.  This is not the way that any of us would have written it.  We might have said, “If You marked iniquities, we would be afraid of You, but since You offer forgiveness, we rejoice in You.” 

That’s not where the psalmist goes, though.  Instead, he asks rhetorically who could stand before a God who remembered sin.  We know the answer to that one.  Not I.  Not any of us.  Imagine if that were what existence was like.  There is a God, He knows everything we do, and one day He will condemn us, fairly but unmercifully, according to His perfect standard.  I haven’t found many depictions of the afterlife that make nihilism look attractive, but that one does.  If all we had to look forward to were eternal torment, we would long not to exist, and there would be no point to anything.

However, that is not who God is!  He will execute justice if we force Him to it, but He longs to forgive, and His forgiveness makes fearing Him make sense.  Who would worship a God who is just going to squish them no matter what?  On the other hand, because mercy is on the table, we have a reason to honor Him, to revere Him, and to follow His commandments.  Mercy and fear aren’t opposites.  Instead, they work together.

In the third part of this psalm, we see a truly beautiful description of WAITING FOR THE LORD.  It appears in Psalm 130:5-6.  The first part of this section, though, explains why waiting for the Lord makes sense at all.  We wait because we hope in His word.  The better we know the Bible and its promises, the more motivation we have to trust God.  Conversely, if we don’t know the Scriptures, we will find waiting on the Lord to be very hard.

This tells us, then, that Bible study is one of the most important tools we have for preparing for disaster.  My crystal ball is broken these days, but this I know:  the day will come for every one of us when we have no other hope but God.  The time we spend with the word now will give us the assurance we need then to persevere through trial.

This is necessary because in the midst of disaster, waiting for the Lord isn’t easy.  In one of the loveliest figures of speech in the whole Bible, the psalmist says he waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for morning.  I’ve never been a night watchman, but I can imagine what it’s like, especially back in the day when every little village needed one.  It’s boring, it’s frightening, it’s miserable, and it’s dangerous.  How grateful the watchman would have been to see the sun rising and realize that he had made it through the night without being eaten by a lion or slaughtered by a Philistine!

Waiting for the Lord is like that, only more so.  There have been times in my life when the seconds dragged by, when the minutes felt like hours because of the depth of my despair.  And oh!  How eagerly I waited for deliverance from God.  In times like that we long for Him because nothing and no one else can help.

The final portion of the psalm explores further the value of HOPING IN THE LORD.  Let’s conclude our reading with Psalm 130:7-8.  Hoping in God isn’t only for the psalmist.  It’s for all of His people.

This is because of God’s faithful love.  As always, when we see “faithful love” or “steadfast love” or “lovingkindness” in our Old Testaments, we should think chesed, that untranslatable word that is probably the best single-word description of the whole Bible.  Chesed is the great covenant love of God, the love expressed in action that continues despite everything.

Right now, God regards every single one of His people with chesed.  He feels this faithful love for me and for every Christian in this room, right now.  Because it is faithful love, we can be sure that God will make His goodness known in our lives again.  However massive the mess, however deep our grief, sooner or later God will make it right.

His chesed for us also leads him to offer redemption that is not minimal or grudging but instead abundant.  Because of God’s faithful love for His people, He eagerly overflows with grace for all of our transgressions.  We don’t have to worry that the greatness of our sins has exhausted His mercy.  As long as we return, He always has more to give.

Godly Living in an Ungodly World

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The older you get, the better able you are to see the changes around you.  I find that this is increasingly true for me, even though I’m only middle-aged.  I remember what it was like to be alive in the 1980s and 1990s, and when I look around now, I see that things are very different.

These differences are perhaps most striking when it comes to the moral decline of our society.  Sins that I didn’t even know existed when I still was in high school now are openly promoted and celebrated.  For the first time in many years, most Americans are not associated with some house of worship, whether church, synagogue, or mosque.

Though this new world may be unfamiliar territory for us, it is not foreign to the experience of the people of God.  In fact, the climate of the first century was much like the climate of our time.  Most people back then were ungodly and immoral too.  As a result, Scriptures that may not have mattered much before now are increasingly relevant.  This morning, let’s look at one such context from 1 Peter to see how we can live godly in an ungodly world.

In this context, Peter gives three basic commands to Christians.  The first of these is to ABSTAIN.  Let’s read from 1 Peter 2:11-12.  Here, we see Peter’s famous admonition to abstain from fleshly lusts.  It’s tempting to read this as being about sexual desire only, but I think we need to read it more broadly than that.  We need to watch out not only for thoughts that are impure, but also for thoughts that are bitter, contemptuous, greedy, and self-righteous.  If it wasn’t in the Lord’s heart, it doesn’t belong in our heart either.

Next, we need to consider Peter’s call to excellent behavior.  Notice, though, that he has a particular kind of excellent behavior in mind.  It’s excellent behavior in the areas where the people of the world slander us.  In other words, in order to apply this passage, we must listen to our enemies.

What kind of things do they say about us?  They say we’re judgmental and vicious.  They say we care more about politics than we do about Jesus.  They say that we hypocritically condemn sin in our political enemies while overlooking it in our political friends.  They say that we covertly support white supremacy and don’t care about the plight of black and brown people.  Make no mistake, brethren!  There are people who used to worship here who never will return because they believe these things about us.

It’s tempting to fire back when we hear things like this, but that’s not what Peter urges us to do.  Christians don’t reply to slander with angry rebuttals.  We reply to slander with good deeds.  We use our lives to show Christ even to our enemies.

This means that today, we must be people who are quick to show mercy because we have received mercy.  We must spend more time with the Bible than we do with cable news.  We must apply the standards of the Bible to everyone without partiality.  We must prove by the way we treat others that we care about everyone with a soul.  On the other hand, if we aren’t willing to do these things, we reveal to others that maybe those slanders aren’t slanders after all.

Second, we must SUBMIT.  Consider Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:13-16.  As always, it’s worth noting that our political system is very different than that of the Roman Empire.  Christians then had zero influence in selecting their political leaders, but today, we can vote and even advocate for the candidates we believe are best.  There’s no sin in doing any of those things.

However, when the election is over, our role is clear.  We are to submit to the government, whether our candidates got in or not.  We don’t have to agree with the decisions the government hands down, but we have to obey them anyway.  The only exception, of course, is when the laws of the government require us to disobey the law of God.

Interestingly, though, Peter’s reasoning here is different than Paul’s in Romans 13.  Rather than being concerned with submission to God, Peter tells us to submit in order to silence the ignorance of the foolish.  Here again, this has a strangely modern ring.  Aren’t people right now slandering Christians because they claim we won’t submit to the government?  Once again, our response is clear.  We silence them by doing right.

Finally in this section, let’s consider Peter’s warning against using freedom as a covering from evil.  For the past year and a half, I’ve shied away from talking about vaccines and masks, but this is a place where I believe I would not be honest with the text if I didn’t discuss those contentious issues.

In recent days, I’ve heard a lot from Christians about their freedom to refuse masks and vaccines.  As long as earthly authorities like governments and employers allow us that liberty too, there’s no Biblical issue with that.  However, when those governments and employers start mandating masks and vaccinations, we must use our freedom to submit.  If we insist on being free from those things instead, that’s not heroism.  It’s ungodliness.

I’ve heard Christians say that their conscience does not allow them to mask or vaccinate, so the obeying-God exception applies.  The problem is, though, that our conscience is not equal to the commandment of God, and there is no divine commandment about masks or vaccines.  Obeying God by submitting is the right thing to do, and if our conscience says otherwise, we have to squash it.

Lastly, we must HONOR.  Look at 1 Peter 2:17.  The first thing for us to notice here is our responsibility for honoring the king. As I said earlier, it’s lawful for Christians to participate in political discourse and advocacy, but when we are participating, we must participate in godly ways. 

Unsurprisingly, the way the world does politics is ungodly.  Commonly, we see political partisans attacking elected officials with sarcasm, slander, and lies.  Every mistake is an occasion for mockery.  Every policy decision is an opportunity for misrepresentation and distortion.

Because this bad behavior is so common, it’s easy for us to conclude that it’s acceptable.  It isn’t.  We are free to express disagreement, even strong disagreement, with our nation’s leaders, but we always must do so in a respectful way that honors them and honors God.  When we adopt worldly words to express our contempt and amuse our friends, we dishonor the name by which we have been called.

Note also that the king isn’t the only one we are supposed to honor.  Indeed, Peter says we are supposed to honor everyone.  We are supposed to speak to everyone and about everyone with courtesy and respect, always. 

This is hard!  As you know, I have a snarky sense of humor, and when somebody irritates me, I want to react by turning that snark on them.  It’s satisfying in the moment, but it also makes me blend right in with the snarky, meanspirited world.  If we want to stand out instead, if we want to shine as lights in the world, we do that by taking the high road.  When we are kind and respectful, even when others would not be, we show others the value that God places on everyone.

Death and Life in Jesus

Monday, August 23, 2021

Only God knows how many times y’all have heard me declare about some Bible passage, “This is one of my favorite verses!”  However, favorite contexts are a bit rarer.  On that list, though, must appear 2 Corinthians 4-6, the heart of what Clay called “the Great Digression” last week.

However, that much Scripture is a bit much for even me to tackle in a single sermon, so this evening, we’re going to zero in on the section from the middle of 2 Corinthians 4 to the middle of 2 Corinthians 5. 

I think this portion is especially valuable because it shows us just how different the Christian perspective on life is from the worldly perspective.  People of the world generally will agree that you need to go through life not causing trouble, looking after your physical health, and generally making yourself a priority.  After all, if you don’t look after yourself, who will do it for you?

To Paul, though, life isn’t focused on the self.  It’s focused on Christ, not only in seeking life through Christ but also in embracing His death.  This evening, then, let’s consider how earthly existence looks when viewed through the lens of the death and life of Jesus.

In the text, this duality shows up in three contrasting pairs, and the first of them is SUFFERING AND SPEAKING.  Let’s read from 2 Corinthians 4:7-15.  In this text, two main things are going on.  First, he describes his suffering.  Second, he describes the effect that his continuing to speak has had on the Corinthians and others.

The first part of this text isn’t as famous as Paul’s later description of his hardships in 2 Corinthians 11, but this is still not a list that anyone would want to take on!  He is afflicted.  He is perplexed.  He is persecuted.  He is struck down.  He is delivered over to death for the sake of Jesus.  However, there are also things that he isn’t.  He isn’t crushed, in despair, abandoned, or destroyed, and everywhere he goes, he displays the life of Jesus. 

This teaches us a vital lesson:  the Christian is never totally defeated.  There might be all kinds of things going wrong in our lives, but God won’t let us be overcome by any of them.  Additionally, the more we are given over to death, the more the life of Christ becomes evident in us too.

Indeed, suffering gives us a powerful voice.  Like Paul’s suffering allowed him to bring life to many, our example of faith in suffering gives us a platform.  When we stand strong through trial and continue to glorify God, we inspire other Christians, and we pierce the hearts of the people of the world. 

Suffering is a fact of life.  It will come to all of us.  The question is how we are going to suffer.  Are we going to suffer like a worldling or like a Christian?  That choice makes all the difference.

The second pair is DYING AND BEING RAISED.  Look at 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:5.  Once again, the death-versus-life contrast is clear.  Despite his faith—indeed, because of his faith!—Paul knows himself to be dying.  However, he also knows that through Jesus, he will have an eternal life in heaven that is perfectly secure.

There are two things that we should draw from this.  First, it shows us that dying should remind us of eternal life.  Whether we feel it or not, it is true for all of us that our outer man is decaying day by day.  In my case, I do feel it.  One of the primary early-stage ALS symptoms is fasiculation.  It’s a bunch of little involuntary muscle twitches all over my body.  They are caused by motor neurons that have been poisoned by toxic proteins and are dying. 

I feel them every hour of every day.  They certainly remind me that my days are numbered!  However, they also remind me that my inward man is being renewed every day, and that I have an incomparable and eternal weight of glory waiting for me.  Thus it is for all of us.  What hastens us toward our doom also hastens us toward our goal.

Second, this also shows us that we can be confident in our resurrection.  In particular, Paul says that we can know that we will be raised because of the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment.  Some might say that this is about the feelings of confidence that the Spirit gives us, but that doesn’t make sense to me.  Have you ever heard of a bank that would accept a feeling as a down payment?

Instead, this has to be something tangible that fills us with justified confidence.  In the case of first-century Christians, it was the miraculous gifts.  When you could speak foreign languages or predict the future, that proved to you that your faith was more than a matter of wishful thinking.

Today, the Spirit carries out this work through the word.  I don’t merely feel that I will be raised.  I know that I will be because of the Biblical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.  The Scriptures assure me that my faith isn’t based on wishful thinking either.

Our final pair of the evening is BELIEVING AND FOLLOWING.  This plays out in 2 Corinthians 5:6-15.  Believing seems like an odd thing to link with death, but Paul does so in two ways.  First, he points out that because of our faith, we no longer fear death but rather even long for it.  It is much better to be away from the body and at home with the Lord! 

However, and more provocatively, he says in v. 14 that believing in the death of Jesus leads us to die to ourselves.  When we understand that the holy Son of God loved us so much that He died for us, it’s a life-changing realization.  If we’re decent people at all, we don’t shrug that one off.  It moves us to devote ourselves to Him like He devoted Himself to us.

The following part is twofold too.  First, following Jesus leads us on the path to heaven that He blazed.  When we are in heaven, we are not merely at home.  We are at home with the Lord, and it is the presence of our Lord that makes heaven our home at all.

Second, when we die to ourselves because of the awe-inspiring sacrifice of Christ, we don’t stay dead.  Rather than continuing to live for ourselves, we live for Him.  He died and was raised, and we strive to conform to that pattern as closely as possible, knowing that union with His death means union with His resurrection too.

The Rich Young Ruler and Grace

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Last week, a Facebook friend of mine posted a lengthy complaint about what they perceived as too many rich elders and rich preachers in the brotherhood.  Their discussion of Scripture focused on the story of the rich young ruler, and they illustrated the post with a cartoon of a camel trying to force its way through the eye of a needle. 

As you might imagine, this post caused several things to come to my mind, but one of them was my conviction that there is more to the story of the rich young ruler than we commonly think.  Simply because two different gospel writers tell the same story doesn’t mean they’re using it for the same purpose, and I believe that the story of the rich young ruler is one that is used differently in different gospels. 

In Mark and in Luke, it’s about the problems associated with wealth, no doubt, but in Matthew, something else is going on.  Matthew tells the same story, but he adds a parable to it, and that parable should transform the way we understand his account.  This morning, then, let’s consider the connection between the rich young ruler and grace.

Not surprisingly, we’ll begin with Matthew’s discussion of THE RICH YOUNG RULER.  It is found in Matthew 19:16-22.  This is a familiar story, but I want to highlight some different elements this time through.  The first concerns the rich young ruler’s problem.  If you ask any of our Bible-class kids what his problem was, they’ll probably tell you, “He was rich and loved money.”  That’s true, but it’s incomplete.

Let me suggest to you, in fact, that his most serious problem is the one that reveals itself from the first time he opens his mouth.  He asks, “What good must I do to inherit eternal life?”  In other words, he wants to save himself through his own good works.  This sounds praiseworthy, but it’s impossible.  We should read everything else that Jesus says to him as an attempt to get him to see that he’s trying to get to heaven on the wrong road.

The rest of the conversation unfolds from here.  The ruler brings up all of his spiritual strengths, but Jesus zeroes in on his spiritual weakness—greed.  Let’s not miss the forest for the trees here, though.  Greed happened to be the ruler’s problem, but it didn’t have to be greed, and no matter what it was, the conversation would have gone the same way.  There is something in every one of our lives that we don’t want to give up, and we know that there is because we haven’t stopped sinning.  If we came to Jesus wanting to justify ourselves by works, He would be able to call us out on our weaknesses too—because wanting to justify ourselves by works is the problem.

Next, Jesus’ conversation shifts to THE APOSTLES.  Let’s follow this through Matthew 19:23-29.  Once again, this is a familiar text, and here we encounter the camel-and-needle’s-eye comparison.  Some of you probably have heard that the needle’s eye was a narrow gate in Jerusalem, through which a camel could pass with great difficulty.  However, there are a couple of problems with this claim.  First, there’s no solid evidence that such a gate existed.  Second, both Jesus’ discussion with the ruler and His later words make clear that this isn’t about great difficulty.  It’s about impossibility.

It's impossible for a rich man to enter heaven through his good works, but you know what?  It’s impossible for a poor man too.  Indeed, it’s impossible for all of us.  We all must depend for salvation on the God who makes all things possible.  Without Him, we are in camel-through-needle’s-eye territory too.

Notice, though, Peter’s response to this.  He hasn’t really been paying attention to Jesus.  He’s been comparing himself to the ruler, and he likes what he sees.  Peter points out that what the ruler wasn’t willing to do—leave everything behind for Jesus—he and the other apostles did.  Justification by works, back on track!

Jesus replies that those who have followed Him will indeed receive an immeasurable reward.  However, He also knows something that Peter doesn’t.  Very soon, Jesus is going to ask Peter to do something, and Peter is going to deny Him three times.  Peter will leave Jesus sadly too.  Earning your way to heaven doesn’t even work for apostles.

In Mark and Luke, the context ends here, but in Matthew it keeps going, and its final section is THE PARABLE OF THE VINEYARD WORKERS.  Let’s conclude this morning with Matthew 19:30-20:16.  Notice first of all that we’ve got another one of those bad chapter breaks that Clay and I love talking about so much, and here’s how you can tell.  Matthew 19 ends with Jesus’ statement about the first being last and the last being first, but almost same statement appears in 20:16.  Jesus is offering this parable as commentary on His discussions with the ruler and the apostles.

As we read through the story, though, part of us can’t help feeling that the whiny workers have a point.  If they had to work all day long to get a denarius, shouldn’t the guys who only worked for an hour get one-eighth of a denarius?  They got the same thing, and that’s not fair! 

In reply, the owner of the vineyard points out that his generosity to others doesn’t give anyone else the right to complain.  The application is obvious.  Even if somehow Peter did what he thought he was doing—earning his way to heaven—he would get the same reward as the Christian who came to the Lord late in life and never did much work at all.

Of course, Peter was not earning his way to heaven, and neither are we.  I’m not willing to claim that I’m responsible for even one-eighth of my salvation!  All of us depend on the generosity of our Master.  We must not be like the rich young ruler and think that we don’t need Him.  Neither should we be like the apostles and be impressed with ourselves because we think we’re doing better than someone else.  Instead, we must seek diligently after His mercy and be thankful that we serve a God who gladly extends it.

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