Matthew 11:1-17

New Traditions

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Matthew 11:1-17

New Traditions

By Robbie Baldwin

The Truth can be a scary sight!

I know you may be thinking, “What is he doing up there?  Well, let me tell you, that is the same thing that I have been wondering for the last three of four weeks.  And I have come to appreciate the hard work and dedication that our Pastors go through each and every week to craft a message that is meaningful to us on Sunday.  Mikah, we owe you and all our pastors a debt of gratitude.  And I hope that in some small way I can measure up to that high and holy standard that you all set.

Isn’t it a beautiful privilege to come together in the house of God?  You know, I get goose bumps just walking in the door.  I mean, this is the house of God.  His presence is in this place—He walks among us.  It is a joyful occasion.  Right?  It is also a time to remind ourselves just who it is that owns the house-not us, but Him.

I read a cute story a Pastor tells about a little six year old boy, Spence.  One Sunday he notices Spence staring at a plaque on the wall of the church vestibule. He goes up to him and said “Hi Spence, how are you today?”  “Pastor, Spence asks, what is this?”  “Oh, that is a plaque that honors all our men and women that have died in the service.”  Spence, in a very sober manner, looks up at him, “Which service, the Contemporary or the Traditional?”

Well, I hope that we don’t lose any of you here today, although I must warn you, there is a dual threat: I may well bore you to death; I hope not.  On the other hand, it is possible that I might scare you to death!  And I say that not in a jocular sense, because you see, the Truth can be a scary sight.  And in this passage Jamey read today Jesus is giving us the Truth.  It is the boldface Truth. “Go and tell John what you see.” No need to look further, for I am the way, the Truth and the life.

You know there are a lot of things that we could talk about from this scripture.  I read it, and read it, and read it, and I looked at four or five commentaries and exegetical works.  But I kept coming back to the same thing that first struck me.  It wasn’t the doubt of John the Baptizer, we can all relate to that, or the reassuring nature of Jesus’ response to him.  No, what kept coming back to me was not “Will I know him?”  But rather, will he know me?  And how will he know me?  The truth can be a scary sight.

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Jesus certainly knew John.  John was special.  Jesus referred to John as the “greatest man on this earth that has come out of a human womb.”  Why?  I suspect it was for this reason: John was and is a real live example of a true Christian.  He came as an embodiment of Old Testament philosophy, as a preacher of repentance, and as one who points to Jesus by example.

Get ready he said, “The Messiah is coming; the kingdom of God is near.  Repent and be saved! John knew the Truth—he also recognized hypocrisy.  When the scribes and Pharisees came out to him to be baptized what did he say?  “Ye brood of vipers! Who told you to flee from the wrath that is to come?  Bear fruit worthy of repentance!”  John is also speaking to us today.

You like playing make believe?  Well, me, I am much the dreamer; I like asking what if and then searching for the answer.  Well, What if John the Baptizer happened to find his way into this church, came in through the door back there, and wandered up to the pulpit here.  What would be your first response? Would you run and hide, call the police, charge and subdue him?  I mean, he is dressed in camel hair and munching on some locusts dripping with honey; and He doesn’t smell very good, after all, it has been a fairly long trip from Heaven.

He would probably amble up to me since it looks like I am in charge here.  “Is this a church that I have heard Peter talk about so much in Heaven?”  “Yes, Mr. Baptizer.”  “Well, tell me about it.”

I would have to tell him that we have 4,750 members.  But only twenty per cent of those are active, i.e., they come to church at least once a month.  Our attendance averages just over 1,000.    Not all the 1000 or so that come are here to serve the Lord their God.  Only 400 or 500 or so of our members actually do most of the work.

“Yal’day tzif’onim! Mi hiskeel et’chem!”  Yikes, somebody out there help me out here.  I think the Baptizer just said that we don’t cut the mustard.  Are we just another “brood of vipers?”   The Truth can be a scary sight.

Let me ask you this question.  How many of you believe in the afterlife?  How many of you think that “heaven” will be a blissful place, peaceful and serene?  How many of you want to go there one day?  Who wants to go right now?

So, there is a difference in profession and belief.  Why not right now?  Is it because we are fearful that it might not be there?  Or is because we’re afraid that we do not measure up?  Sometimes facing the Truth can be a scary sight.

In our scripture passage today, even John the Baptizer had some doubts the Truth.  But he was in a bit different situation than we are today.  John unabashedly went about his business, rather his calling, until he wound up in Herod’s jail.  It was from his prison cell, just days before his head was served up on a platter, that he sent two of his disciples to Jesus asking “Are you the one?”

Well, we’re not calling out from a prison cell here today. After Christ went to the cross and then rose again in all his glory, and 2,000 years of theological study and reflection, there is no reason for us to have any doubt about who the risen Christ is.  Yes, Jesus was just the opposite of what everyone had expected. As Mikah said in his sermon two weeks ago, He turned the world upside down.  And for that reason, the Truth can be a scary sight

Be reminded, the Bible tells us “We are the body of Christ, but Jesus has no hands or feet but ours.”  We must do His will on earth as it will be in Heaven.  Recreate the image of God here on earth.   The Baptizer said, “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees, every tree that does not bear fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

So, just what is it that God expects of us?  There is a song that captures the answer and you’ve probably sung it many times: Trust and Obey (with choir).  Trust equals faith; obey equals obedience.  Faith plus obedience equal salvation. Yes, obedience is the caveat in God’s love.

Expectations?  John Wesley said the purpose of life is to become more Holy—loving God with all your heart, the Greatest Commandment, and loving/serving all others, the second greatest. In Hebrew psychology that word heart doesn’t have so much to do with emotions, but primarily with the intellect and the will.

Expectations? Jesus said, “Take up the cross and follow me.”  He also said that “Those who do not take up the cross and follow me are not worthy of me.”  In James we are told, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”  John Wesley said, “Faith without holiness and righteousness isn’t worth much.”  The Psalmist (89) tells us thatRighteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.”
Our Bishop says so many of us Christians say “Yes to the cross, but then, confronted with the radical call that presents say “Whoa, wait a minute;  I didn’t know you were going to take this thing all the way up to Calvary.”  When Simon of Cyrene relieves us of our burden we do not do, as Jesus did, struggle on up Golgotha to our destiny in the name of God the father.  Instead we say, “Hey thanks Cy; I think I will get on back home now and take a little nap; I’m really tired.” Again, the Psalmist, “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who [is worthy] to stand in his holy place” (Psalm 24)? Yes, the Truth can be a scary sight.

A professor of Religion tells the story of a young student, who was an atheist, coming up to him after one of his classes and saying, Professor, I don’t believe in worshiping God.  The professor looks at him for a moment and says, “Tell me, just which god is it that you do not believe in worshiping?”  Humanity loves idols.  But the Psalmist tells us, “All worshipers of images are put to shame, those who make their boast in worthless idols” (Psalm 97).
It seems that we are so busy becoming something that we forget we should be becoming someone. Someone that is defined by their character, their virtues, and their love.

Too often we cannot get close to Jesus because of the car we drive.  Too often we do not realize that God is all we need until God is all we have, and usually that is in a time of crisis.  Revivals come mostly in times of panic.  But it shouldn’t take panic like it does so many times, and admittingly like it did for me.  The Truth can be a scary sight

Socrates once said “The unexamined life is not worth living.  But do we ever stop!  Take a little time to ourselves, contemplating such things as these.  Like, “What really matters?”  Like, “Can I learn to be holy and righteous?”  To the latter, why yes, but it takes a will and a way.   Know this:  Learned behavior can become instinctual.

Any golfers out there?  You know who Dave Peltz is, the famous instructor of the short game.  He says you must repeat the new swing 10,000 times before you can do it right every time when you are thinking about it.  You must repeat it 20,000 times for it to become natural, even when not thinking about it.  Minds and habits are no different—it takes the will to change and then the practice to make perfect.  And what a perfect instructor and example we have in Jesus.  And only though knowing Him and His love can we graph the paradigm for our lives-find meaning and purpose.

Expectations? Jesus gave us the Two Greatest commandments, but He later raised the bar on the second one when he said, “Love your neighbor as I have loved you.”  And Jesus loved with perfect love, from the Greek, agape love.  This love is self sacrificial love; it is caring so much about all others that out of love you go to serve them.  And it is meant for everybody, even the foul smelling homeless man or women, even the prostitutes be they on 5th Avenue North and 18th street or in a suit and tie on Wall Street or the boardrooms and backrooms of our corporations, or even the fallen priest decorated in all his adornments from the vestry, and yes, even those in prison.  Oh my God, a prisoner.  What is it about God’s love that we Christians still don’t get today?  The Truth can indeed be a scary sight, and we tend to step back in fear.  Can we cut that Gordian knot that binds us?

Plato once said “The cave you fear to enter contains the treasure that you seek.”  My wife said a while back, “I can’t believe that you are going into a maximum security prison for ministry.  You were always such a scaredy-cat; you wouldn’t have dared step into a prison.”  But I said to her what I will repeat to you here today, “Jesus will do that to you.”  Now it is where I receive much of my reward.

Imagine Jesus there standing in Plato’s cave, beckoning us into His service.  Will we step in and join him, and just how far in do we dare to go.  Yes, the truth can be a scary sight.

It requires Obedience? Jesus said, “Those that obey these commandments will show their love for me and also for the Father.  I will go and prepare a place for you and We will come back and take you there.  Those that do not obey these commandments do not show love to Me or the father.”  We all know there is another place set aside for them.  We must not just trust; we must obey; and we must serve.

It boils down to this: On that final day we will all have to meet our maker.  We will have to stand under His judgment.  Tom Long imagined how it might all go down.  Jesus will be in the Kingdom welcoming all those who have loved and obeyed him.  John the Baptizer will be chastising and turning away the others at the Gate.

Imagine Heaven being lined with windows.  These throngs turned away will be pressing their faces against the window panes of heaven, contorted by the pressure, yelling out “Lord, Lord.”  Jesus hears them, and he turns toward them.  “Lord, Lord, save us from the wrath that is to come.”  He looks intently.  Will he say “Damn you!  Go and burn in Hell.”   No, not the Jesus I know and love.  He will say, “I don’t believe I recognize you. No, I don’t know who you are.”  You see, the Truth can be a scary sight.

The poet says, “Life is but a brief wisp of time, and as the tender flower fades, like a moonbeam from this earth does disappear.”  We remember that the Baptizer had said to us “the end is near,” but when our faces are pressed against the windowpanes of Heaven it has already come.  “He played His flute, but nobody danced.  He wailed, but nobody mourned” (v.17).  Will He know who you are?  Brothers and sisters, in Christ, let that question be burned into our hearts and etched in our minds as we leave here to day.  Will He recognize me; will He know who I am.  Yes the Truth indeed can be a scary sight.

But there is another side to this story.  God’s Truth, this Essence of the universe, is not meant to be a scary sight, but a beautiful one.  But it is only beautiful when you see it through the lens of Jesus, His love for us and ours for Him and all others.

John Bate (First Catholic Apostolic Apostle) said “Today is given to us by him to whom days belong.  We have the power to use it as we please.  We can travel twenty-four hours of time nearer to Heaven or to Hell.  Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is not, only today is ours.”

Let us to go forth from these hallowed halls as “one” and by the grace of God, have a beautiful day! No, no, better yet, begin to live a beautiful life in Jesus, through Jesus, for Jesus, by Jesus, with Jesus, always drawing, “Nearer, nearer, my God to thee.”

Praise God!  Hallelujah! Amen!

Copyright 2008, Robbie Baldwin. Used by permission.