Description / Transcription
We come this morning to the end of this series we’ve doing through the summer on the parables of the kingdom and we come to the end of Matthew chapter 13. If you didn’t pick one up on your way in, you can. They’re at the doors on the way out, these very nice bookmarks that you can put in your Bible or some other book and they will tell you, Lord willing, what we will be preaching on in the morning, starting a new series next week on Genesis, and on the evening a series on 2 Peter, and you can see a few special things coming up during the course of the fall, so take this and it’s a good way to pray for the preacher and also it really can help if you just take two minutes sometime before Sunday and you read through the week’s passage. It orients you and gets you prepared to receive from God’s Word.
Let’s pray together. Gracious heavenly Father, now we come to Your Word, asking that in place of darkness You give us light, instead of closed minds You give us open hearts, where there is indifference You give us faith. Speak, O Lord, and give us ears to hear. Once again we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I want to address a very specific audience with this sermon. Now, of course, this sermon is for everyone, so once I name the audience to whom I’m speaking, don’t think that you tune out if that’s not you. Every sermon has something for our edification. But some texts lend themselves in particular to a particular audience. And I believe I’ve said in previous messages this is a sermon for skeptics, or for seekers, or this is for the hurting and the confused or the scared or this is for those weighed down with guilt.
Here is the specific audience I have in mind for this sermon. This sermon is for people like me and my kids. Does that sound selfish? No. It’s for people like many of you and your kids. What do I mean? Here’s what I mean. This message is for people who have been familiar with Jesus their entire lives. I have one of those testimonies. Many of you have the same testimony, praise God. I never knew a day when I didn’t know of Jesus. I grew up in a Christian home. We read the Bible around the dinner table. My parents prayed for us at night. We went to church in the morning, we went to church in the evening, we went to youth group during the week. I’ve said before, it’s a good thing church wasn’t open all the time or we would have had to be there. I went to a Christian college. I’ve been to seminary. I have always been around Jesus.
Some of you have the same story. And if you are under the age of 18, watching at home, here in this room, then there is a good chance that you have at least one Christian parent and that’s why you’re here, that’s why you’re watching. And there’s a good chance that you have been around Jesus your whole life.
And let’s expand the circle a little wider because maybe that’s not you your whole entire life, but you’ve been around Jesus a whole lot of your life, for decades and decades. Now that probably describes most of us in this room. You and I have been around Jesus for a long time.
You’ve heard the saying “familiarity breeds contempt.” Well, sometimes familiarity breeds unbelief. I imagine, in fact I don’t have to imagine, it seems true based on my experience, maybe yours, that most of the strident, most vehemently anti-Christian voices you know, whether in your own circle and network of relationships or people online, are those who grew up in the church and have since left it behind.
And that’s unsettling. It’s especially unsettling if that’s a description of your kids, your grandkids. Few things are more heartbreaking in life.
And yet on one level, it’s not entirely surprising. The same thing happened in Jesus’ day. Many of the people who had the hardest believing in Jesus were the ones who had been around Him the longest. You ever stop to think, in the Gospels, when you encounter someone who has been far from Jesus, they’re a sinner, they’re a tax collector, they’re a Gentile, you think this person is probably going to like Jesus. And when you encounter someone who is closest, in a town, in a family, a student of the Torah, a religious leader, then you brace yourself, they’re probably going to have an issue with Jesus.
That’s what we find here in Matthew chapter 13. Let me read verses 51 and 52, just comment on them briefly, and then mainly we’re going to look at 53 through 58.
“‘Have you understood all these things?’ They said to Him, ‘Yes.’ And He said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.'”
This little metaphor is the last parable of chapter 13, but we’re not going to focus here. Just notice a few things about these two verses. Jesus says that a properly trained disciple is akin to a scribe. You can instruct and you can train others. So this business of helping others to understand the Word is not just something that falls on the officers of the church or the pastors of the church, but here He says every scribe, meaning “I’m pulling you into the orbit of these sort of scribe-like disciples.” Jesus is teaching something new, and yet if you go back and see in verse 35, “I will open My mouth in parables, I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”
On the one hand Jesus is teaching something new, and yet He says “what I’m teaching that is new was actually there from the foundation of the world.” It’s old and it’s new.
And we have a wonderful example of the importance of both the Old and the New Testament in verse 52: There are treasures to be brought out in the old and in the new to be valued and to be shared.
But I want us to focus on the response following these parables, and we read at verse 53:
“And when Jesus had finished these parables, He went away from there, and coming to His hometown He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And are not His brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all His sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?’ And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.’ And He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.”
Verse 53 says He went away from there. We know from the parallel account in Mark this was likely Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee, one of the most popular places for Jesus’ ministry, and He travels 25 miles to the southwest and arrives at His hometown of Nazareth, a little hick town of about 500 people. So look around this room, if we have not blown by our sign-up count, we have 500 people in this big room, socially distanced, wearing masks, that’s Nazareth. The whole town. And if any of you have grown up in a small town or had occasion to live in a small town, you know that especially in a town of 500 people, everybody’s going to know something about everybody.
And so these people, when Jesus returns, they’re amazed, but it’s not the amazement of faith, it’s the amazement of huh? Okay, He’s got wisdom, we can see this guy’s gifted, He’s a good teacher. And we’ve heard, His reputation precedes Himself, we’ve heard of these miracles. Word has spread back to His little hometown. But they can’t figure out, this guy? Jesus?
You’ve heard me say many times that scholars have, you know, pieced together from different documents what were some of the most common male and female names among first century Jews, and Jesus was, you know, top five, top ten, this is not an unusual name. Many of us, it seems like “Jesus, Jesus, there’s just something about that name…” But it’s Mike, Jason, Kevin, even. It’s just another name. There was nothing about His name that you should have thought that He was going to be the Messiah, and He looks like everybody else.
If you’re ever worried that you’re too impressive, take people back to your family. That’s what happens. He goes back to Nazareth. You can hear the contempt and the incredulity in their voice. Where did this man get these things? I mean, there’s one thing to have, you know, native son return home and has made good and has become somebody famous and the ticker tape parade. There’s another thing for the native son and it seems like He thinks He’s on a whole different spiritual plane than the rest of you. Well, He is.
Where did He get this wisdom? How did He do these mighty works? They can’t believe because they know Him so well. Is not this the carpenter, they ask in Mark, so apparently Jesus had taken on His father’s job. In Matthew here they say, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” They asked both questions, no doubt. People knew Joseph had been a carpenter. Jesus must have been one, too. Probably not that they think being a carpenter, it’s not, “A carpenter, oh, He needs to be a, you know, a professional person.” No, a carpenter was a perfectly fine vocation for one to have. It’s not the shock at being a carpenter per se, it’s that He’s ordinary. We, we’ve all met carpenters. We, we knew His dad.
Now it’s interesting, Joseph is not mentioned by name. Perhaps he’s out of the picture, may have passed away already, but He’s known as the carpenter’s son. The Jews respected hard work and a carpenter was a valuable person in the community. He would have worked with wood and stone. It was an honorable living. Good, sort of handyman, but not the Messiah.
And then they make reference to the rest, to Mary and to His brothers and to His sisters. They know His family.
The first church I served was in Orange City, Iowa, up in the Dutch buckle of the Bible belt in northwest Iowa. Five thousand people in the town. Quite a bit more cosmopolitan than a lot of small towns in Iowa might be. There is a significant hospital there and there was a Christian college there, but it’s five thousand people. Nazareth is only five hundred. I had never been, I didn’t grow up, I grew up in the suburbs, I’d never lived in a small town like this, that really was about two miles by two miles square and you know, just one of the most dangerous things was driving through town and all of the unmarked intersections where there’s no stop sign, no yield, you just go and you just risk it. There was about three lights in town.
And it’s true, with five thousand people, you knew something about almost everybody. And in fact it wasn’t a great help to us, because we were new there, and we’d ask for, you know, where does so-and-so live, people would give directions based on who used to live in a house. Well, that used to be the Hoeksema’s place, you remember that? No, I wasn’t, I just got here. How do I know where people used to live?
And it’s true, the smaller the town is, the more the news is local. It wasn’t that they didn’t care about national politics or sports, but it was a much bigger deal what happened with the high school football team. It was a much bigger deal what was happening with a local business more than the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post. And for better or worse, people knew who you were and they knew who your daddy was.
So this is not far-fetched when He comes back to Nazareth. “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not this the son of Mary?” They refer to Jesus as the son of Mary, which is unusual because sons were knows as sons of the their father, not of their mother. This could mean people in town suspected Joseph wasn’t the real father, or maybe he had died and had been forgotten, or maybe simply Mary was better known. In any event, it probably wasn’t a compliment. Who is this handyman, momma’s boy?
And He’s got brothers and sisters. James, who was later known as James the Just, the leader at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, a martyr for the faith in 62 A.D., a writer of the Book of James, that’s Jesus’ brother. Obviously not His full brother.
Then there’s Joseph, which is an indicator that these were Jesus’ real brothers and sisters. Mary and Joseph had more children. Of course, Jesus was born of Mary in a miraculous way.
And after Joseph comes Simon. We don’t know anything about him except his name.
And then there’s Judas. This is the writer of the New Testament book Jude. Well, why doesn’t it say Judas? Because after Judas Iscariot, nobody wants to go by Judas. I’m not trying to make light of it. I’ve never met a little Adolf. Some names are just gone. Ahab, Jezebel, never baptized those names. So people didn’t… Judas was a very common name, but after that you go by Jude.
Jesus was the oldest of five brothers, and He had a least two sisters, because they’re mentioned in the plural, who are unnamed here, perhaps because they were married off to another family.
So even though some of His siblings will become known leaders in the Church, at this point they’re nothing. More than that, they’re unbelieving nothings. John 7:5 says “for not even his brothers believed in Him.” So just, you take some measure of comfort, children, when you have a brother or a sister who doesn’t treat you well. They didn’t even believe in Jesus and He did miracles.
No, His own family said, “ooh, I don’t think so.” His hometown, the people in Nazareth simply could not accept that this man who grew up among them, pounded nails for them, laid stones among them, ate meals with them, attended synagogue with them, looked just like them, sounded just like them, had a name just like them, that He somehow could be anything more than them. They were too familiar with Jesus to be impressed with him. It’s only Mary’s son, only a carpenter, only the boy we grew up with.
Jesus mentions this saying, a familiar saying in the ancient world: A prophet is not without honor except in his home town.
Nazareth had had just enough of Jesus to be inoculated against really worshiping him.
If any of you have ever had to go in for a series of those allergy shots, which I did years ago, and they, they give you, you know the first time, you know, you got a spot that itches and they’re trying to give you a little bit of what you’re allergic to and you build up some immunity to it, so your body doesn’t respond the same way to the those allergens.
Well, they had had just a little bit of the Jesus allergy. But they had been so familiar with Him, they had built up over time, they had lived with Him, been around Him, they weren’t going to sneeze at Him anymore.
This is what happens, brothers and sisters, with many people in the Christian faith. They get just enough of the real thing that they become immune to it. They get familiar with Jesus but they never really have Jesus, they never really surrender to Jesus. Their familiarity with Jesus prevents them from ever receiving, ever contracting the full-on disease.
Parents, like me, we have to be so careful in this regard. There’s administrators, staff, faculty, from Covenant Day School, our church’s school, here. Listen, we have to be so prayerful as a school. There is almost nothing worse for our children than a perfunctory religious obedience. After, you know, perhaps teaching them everything that is false, the next most dangerous thing you can do is teach them what is true and don’t really care to live it out. Or show yourself to be a hypocrite. Or give them just the idea that Jesus is something they just check off at some corner of their life.
We must beware the appearance of godliness without the power.
Parents, teachers, we have to avoid at all costs that hypocrisy that instructs children in a faith that we barely follow. You want your children to walk away from the faith? Teach them a faith that you don’t really believe in. That you don’t really live out.
If all we’re giving them is an exposure to Christ without modeling a passionate devotion to Christ, we are likely to inoculate them against the real Christ. Familiarity without an earnest faith is deadly.
Of course, I must hasten to add that children can walk away for all sorts of reasons, and not to put the blame on parents. After all, Jesus hadn’t done anything wrong and His own family didn’t believe in Him.
But the warning is still real. Some of us are so familiar with Jesus that we’re no longer impressed by Him, and that is a scary place, and there are many in this country, perhaps with us this morning, watching online, who confess faith in Christ, you come to church once in a while, but let’s be honest, there is nothing going on in your life spiritually. You have no beef with Jesus, not that you think, but you have no passion for Jesus, either. It is entirely possible to be like the people of Nazareth. You appreciate the show… Who doesn’t like miracles? You recognize some special things. He was obviously a gifted man. And if He can help solve problems for you, great.
But, but you’re not going to lay down everything to follow Jesus. You’re not amazed at the cross. There’s no exclamation point when you talk about Jesus. What makes you more upset, when church was canceled or when football gets canceled? And my fear, which I hope will prove wrong, is that when coronavirus shut down the church for a time and people realized, oh, boy, do we really miss this and we are eager to come back, and you all are the ones eager to come back, that there would be, however, a whole group of people, perhaps in this church, in churches around the country, say you know what? I’m not sure I did miss is that much. Oh, I still like Jesus, I still want to be a Christian, I kind of like the live stream. I can catch it here and there. Don’t want to interrupt what I’m doing with my weekends. But if I can watch once or twice, maybe while I’m doing other things, kind of kill two birds with one stone, it’s nice.
The temptation is real. For many of us, Jesus is a once in a while habit. That’s not New Testament faith. Not the faith that counts everything loss for the sake of knowing Christ. Not the faith that Jesus talked about in these parables. Go sell everything you have to buy the field that has the pearl. Not the kind of faith that clings to Christ as our only hope in life and in death. Not the kind of faith in the demoniac who begged Jesus’ disciples, can I please go and tell everyone what Jesus has done for me?
Have you ever seen those videos online, I’m sure you could go Google it and find it, but when a Bible translation is completed in a new language and the tribe or the town or the village comes together and there is such celebration, triumph, amazing, we have the Word of God completed in our language, and people are celebrating like it’s Christmas, Fourth of July, anniversary, what better reason to celebrate?
And I think how many of us have dozens of Bibles which never get opened.
Are we so familiar with Jesus that we’ve lost sight of who He really is?
It is such a great privilege, young people, to grow up in a Christian family, I consider it one of the greatest privileges of my life to grow up in a Christian home, to grow up in the church. The danger is that you become so familiar with it, you become unimpressed by it.
When I went to seminary up at Gordon-Conwell in Boston, and had a Christian education class.. So Gordon-Conwell is sort of Reformed but there’s a lot of not Reformed people and there certainly weren’t people, many people, with my background who grew up in a Dutch Reformed church with those creeds and Catechisms, so in our Christian education class we had to read through and study the Heidelberg Catechism. Now sadly, where I grew up, many people that I knew in many of those churches in Grand Rapids, had the privilege of knowing the Catechism since they were born. I had to memorize lots of questions and answers from the Catechism. It was the basis for our Sunday School material. And you get so many people, [yawn sound] our only comfort in life and in death, been there, done that, do I have to hear about this again?
And here I was in this class with people who had never been introduced to it because they came from different Christian traditions and person after person said, “Where has this been my whole life? I am using this. I’m, I’m going to base my whole Sunday School curriculum on this.” Um, and it could have been the Westminster Confession or Catechism.
The point is sometimes you’re so surrounded by it, you don’t see the privileges you have.
Parents, don’t you know this with your kids? Think about it. You can have a pool in your backyard, a basketball hoop, you can have grass and woods to play in and Legos and toys and remote control cars and bikes and board games and card games and crayons and Play-Doh and puzzles and books and a go-kart and a trampoline and still the kids will say, “There’s nothing to do. Can I just get on my iPad?” They’ve lost sight of everything they have. The embarrassment of riches.
How much more with the embarrassment of riches that we have in a place like Christ Covenant, in a place like Charlotte, North Carolina. Speaking the English language with all of the resources, with all of the opportunities.
The townspeople in Nazareth didn’t just ignore Jesus, they took offense at Jesus. The Greek word is “skandalizo.” They were scandalized by Him. They were jealous, they were upset, they didn’t want one of their local boys pretending to be the Messiah. How embarrassing. What an ego trip. What a nut job. Doesn’t He know His place? Doesn’t He know where He’s from?
The unbelief in Nazareth was so strong, Jesus refused to do mighty works there, you read verse 58. Because of their unbelief.
It’s not that faith was the supernatural fuel that needed to fill up Jesus’ Messiah tank in order to do miracles and when they didn’t have faith, He sort of depleted it, it was unbelief was kryptonite to Him. No, it means “I’m not here to put on a show. I’m not here to come in and just make you and your life feel better. I am here to call you to faith and repentance and to believe in Me.” That’s why He did not do many mighty works there. The miracles were there to point to His intrinsic worth and His identity.
And so He could not do many miracles there and still be true to His mission. He would be leading people astray if He just came and just met their felt needs. If He just came and did what they wanted Him to do.
It was out of love. No, no, no, not here, I’m not going to, you know, be Gandalf the Grey coming with all my fireworks to the shire. You just want a show. I’m not here to put on a show. I’m here to call you to faith.
He was not interested in being a traveling healer. He wasn’t trying to be a freak show or the eighth wonder of the ancient world. Yes, He healed diseases, He cast out demons, and many of those people probably didn’t go on to believe Him. He loved people, He had compassion on them regardless of their faith, but His aim was not to meet their felt needs. He was not trying to put on a show for an unbelieving people. The miracles and the healings were meant to be in the context of His announcement of the kingdom and His call for faith and repentance. And so if you’re not interested in that, then I’m not here to put on a show.
They were scandalized. Too familiar with Him to see who He really was.
G. K. Chesterton’s book, The Everlasting Man, opens with one of the great first sentences I’ve ever come across: “There are two ways of getting home, and one of them is stay there.” There are two ways of getting home, and one of them is to stay there.
Are you willing to stay there? In the faith that you have been taught since you were very young?
Chesterton goes on and he describes the situation which many of us have seen all too well of those who are familiar with Christianity, can’t quite leave the orbit of Christianity, and yet they’re perpetually in a conflict with Christianity. He says they cannot get out of the penumbra of Christian controversy, they cannot be Christians and they cannot leave off being anti-Christians. Their whole atmosphere is the atmosphere of a reaction, sulk, perversity, petty criticism. They will live in the shadow of the faith and have lost the light of the faith. Now the best relation to our spiritual home is to be near enough to love it, but the next best is to be far enough way not to hate it. It is the contention of these pages that while the best judge of Christianity is a Christian, the next best judge would be something more like a Confucian. The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgments. The ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with the sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.
May that describe some of you? Perhaps unbeknownst even to your parents, that describes some of you. Moving away from the light of faith and living just in the shadow of faith. Moving from this sort of ill-educated Christianity into an ill-tempered agnosticism.
Some of us are too familiar with Jesus to be impressed with Him. Like some of you, I have been around Jesus my whole life. I count it as one of the greatest privileges in my life. And of course, that’s what I want to give to my kids. I, I’m not, you know, telling my kids, okay, later I want you to go and drink a lot and do drugs and have sex because you need a good testimony, then come back to Jesus. Of course not. I want them to say I never knew a day when I didn’t know Jesus. He’s been growing in my estimation and has become more and more precious to me.
And yet we all need to be honest. Especially those of us who have been around Jesus a long time. There are few things more dangerous than being bored with Jesus.
Listen, I give you permission to be bored with sermons once in a while. That happens. You can even be bored with a Christian book or a Bible study or you may find your quiet times uninspiring, but be very careful when Jesus has become dull and ordinary to you. Some of us have been around Him for so long that we no longer are amazed.
Metaphorically speaking, Charlotte is probably one of Jesus’ hometowns. This is a place with a lot of Christian history, a lot of Presbyterian history. It’s a place, even today, much different you would tell me than a generation ago, but still a lot of churches, a lot of Christian influence, a lot of people very familiar with Jesus. Is He still precious to you?
There is a great danger, especially with each subsequent generation, that Jesus becomes a box to check. Christianity becomes the tribe that we belong to. The first generation wins the Gospel, the second generation assumes the Gospel, the third generation loses the Gospel.
I remember when I was in college, in Michigan, and I was leading a mission trip out to Colorado. We were going to work with some inner city rescue missions, and so driving a big, I was driving a big 15-passenger van, let alone did I know that eventually that would become my family vehicle. It seemed like a very big car at the time. Driving this 15-passenger van from Holland, Michigan out to Colorado. We were going up to Denver but we stopped first in Colorado Springs, mostly Midwestern kids, many of whom had never been out to see the Rocky Mountains. And I remember hearing the chatter from behind me. If you drive into Colorado Springs, and especially with the Springs, it’s just, Pike’s Peak, it just pops up from the plains and there it is at the far side of the city and the front range leading into the Rockies. It’s majestic. I remember hearing students say, “I want to live here” or “They probably never grow tired of this, I would look at this every single day. This would be amazing. Can you imagine driving around this city every day and looking at the mountain peaks?”
I’ve spent a lot of time in Colorado Springs, Trisha has family there and we’ve spent months at a time there before, and it is pretty and it is beautiful. And you know what? It becomes just more background scenery. I mean, all of these people in our college trip were coming from Holland, Michigan. If you’ve never been there, there’s a big lake there. If you haven’t been to the Great Lakes, they kind of look like oceans, except there’s no sharks.
They had seen beauty. You’ve seen beauty. And after a while it does, it becomes ordinary. Oh, there’s a 14,000 foot mountain peak in my backyard. I didn’t notice. Oh, there’s the Blue Ridge Parkway. Oh, there’s the Atlantic Ocean. Or just the beauty that’s around us in this city. Yeah, after a while what struck you first as I will never forget this and I would think about this every day becomes oh, just part of your life. Background scenery.
Some of you are amazed by sports. You are wrapped up in politics or movies or nature or literature or art or technology. That’s good. When’s the last time you’ve been amazed by Jesus?
Brothers and sisters, may it not be so with us that familiarity leads to our unbelief.
Let’s pray. Our heavenly Father, we come to You now confessing, I confess, we confess, that we often have been bored with Jesus. We often have been so familiar that He has ceased to amaze us and we confess that fault is entirely ours. It is nothing to do with the Lord Jesus. So we pray that You would give us eyes to see what we once beheld, give us hearts to feel what we once felt, we pray that You would guard especially the young people, especially those with the privilege of growing up in a Christian home, going to a Christian school, having Christian parents, that they would not take offense at Jesus. Lord, hear us as we come before You and silently confess our sin and our unbelief.