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Willingham 26-1-14

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 Matthew 4:12-23 & 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

To be given two boxes of mixed luxury chocolates is a real joy mixed with a terrible dilemma – which to choose first or keep to the last. Well it is a bit like those two bible passages we heard this morning – please turn to them (always helpful, as it prevents me making mistakes). They may not at first appear very special but the one from Matthew charts the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. While that from Paul’s first letter to the young little church at Corinth gives an insight into the life of that new fellowship. I want to pick out 3 gems this morning.

The cousin of Jesus, John the Baptist, had been swiftly removed from area by King Herod for justly criticising the way he organised getting a new wife – the President of France is just an amateur compared to Herod.  So Jesus moved north to the Lake of Galilee as here Herod had no power, therefore he would be free from arrest no matter what he said. In quite a down beat way Matthew puts it this way: ‘Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent for God’s kingdom is near”. May not sound much but he tucks in a lot. Take ‘preach’ for example. This is what I am doing now and Linda does, but there is meaning here that we, and anyone who talk about God, ought to take very seriously. Sadly the word now = boredom, something we suffer on coming to church. We like to hymns and the other people, but oh the sermon! Then, the word = a messenger who came direct from the king/emperor. This tells us certain things about what Jesus says, and should be the mark of all preaching. First the one is that there is a note of certainty – the herald did not come with a list of ‘maybes’ or ‘probablys’, it was a definite and indisputable message. Secondly the herald came with authority – he was literally ‘the king speaking to his people’. Also the herald did not come with his own personal opinions or ideas. He could not say, ‘Now about this point, I feel that the king just does not understand what people are like. So I think this way is better!’ His responsibility was simply to say what he had been given, and his authority came from the one who commissioned him to go and speak. This is how Jesus approached his task and this is how he saw himself. So it was the thoughts and word of God that Jesus talked about. What was the first thing Jesus said? ‘Nice day today; hope you are all well; my, those Lib Dems have got themselves in a right mess; now my ideas are these’? No, he gave them one command, ‘Repent’. Now that is a great sounding religious word, but can anyone tell me what they think it means. There is a small reward for any attempt!

‘Repent’ is one of those words that we think we know as we have heard it so many times, so we feel comfortable with until asked by someone what it actually means! Well it is a 1st century military word – one used on a drill square: ‘about turn.’ You march in one direction and then on the word of command turn completely around and march in the opposite one. But there is a little more to it than that. It is a response to what Jesus says and that it is a moral one. Let me briefly explain – We usually consider that we are just a little way of course and that Jesus encourages us to come just a little bit closer.  Rather what Jesus means is that our life, no matter how good we are, is totally unsuitable for heaven, so a total change is needed. So from the start Jesus’ attitude is that everyone needs to radically change – it is not optional, for only after this will forgiveness come and the past is totally wiped out. Such an honest estimation of our self is rather uncomfortable, but until this happens we never see the need. This gives a bit more depth of meaning to Jesus saying ‘You must be born again’. Why the necessity of a total new life style, a totally new beginning? ‘Well’, says Jesus, ‘God’s kingdom is near, so if you want a part in it this is the first step.’ God wants to re-establish our broken relationship with Him: Just like we can want to re-establish a broken relationship with a much loved family member. If the word ‘salvation’ is rather confusing, it can help to think of it in this way. Actually that is another term frequently used in a sermon that we think we know its meaning, but when pushed can find it hard to explain clearly. Once a family member Jesus re-orientates our whole life, in that he takes away the nasty bits – sometimes slowly and sometimes fast, and then uses our gifts and talent differently. It is amazing how often new Christians have commented that others have asked, ‘what has made you so different recently’, – well it is simply Jesus at work. Salvation is essentially the re-established that broken relationship with God. At times people will challenge us about miracles; well a changed person is a real one.

The next thing Jesus does according to St. Matthew is some basic recruiting. He finds Peter and Andrew fishing just off shore. ‘Hi, come and follow me and I will use your talents in another way’. And they did without any argument. Just down the shore he finds two other brothers – James and John, also fishermen. They too left their well-paid job and family on the spot and followed Jesus. According to St. John in his gospel Jesus had already some months previously talked to those 4 men, but they left uncommitted as they were being taught by John the Baptist. But now he was in prison Jesus challenges them. We can often discover things about Jesus from others, but need a direct challenge to follow Him. What is an encouragement to me is that often what we may say to others about Jesus looks as if it falls on deaf ears, the Lord will take it up later on and use it. Everything we do for our Lord, whether publically or in private takes on the kingdom’s imperishable character. So every hesitant word of witness; every time we say ‘no’ to temptation; every gesture of concern; every struggle in obedience; every faint prayer; in fact everything that has its origin in our relationship with Jesus will be honoured and praised at His coming. Nothing is ever lost or ignored by Him.

Now that passage from Paul’s first letter to the little fledgling church at Corinth in Greece. We might be puzzled just how a passage from an old letter addressed to an ancient church can in anyway help us. It seems that there was a very successful business woman in the congregation, Cloe, whose travelling reps happened to meet Paul and gave him an earful of what was going on in the church. It appears that they had formed themselves into in-groups and each claiming they were right. Whenever this happens the local church suffers. Corinth was a place where east and west met and mixed. It was a place famed for its trade, wealth and immorality, but here Jesus planted a church and it grew. To me it shows that the Lord can work in any society no matter how racially or religiously mixed. I am convinced that whenever a work for God begins, the devil is keen to destroy it. Many of the Christians then came from the numerous slaves in every society; they were literally ‘nobody’. Yet the Christian fellowship they were accepted like anyone else – as equal before Jesus. Like us here.  But this little young church had formed groups who no doubt thought that their ideas were better than the others.  Yet no one wants to join a fighting, disputing, quarrelling society that claims to be bringers of peace and harmony but in reality will not talk to others or treat them kindly. Anyway the Lord will not bless a church showing opposite to what it should be. Of course this does not happen today, or does it! Sadly our church fellowships are often riven with pointless disputes, so the fellowship is fractured. Perhaps recently you have fracture a limb, and one thing you cannot do is to function as you ought to. No wonder the church is not growing when we are so keen to disagree and argue over really small points. After 50 years in the ministry I can easily draw up a list of subjects people will argue over. I dare not share it, for if it touches you I will be accused of taking sides. St. Paul got hot under the collar for this destroys the very idea of a warm, welcoming fellowship of people full of faults yet being changed by the Lord.

Just very briefly I want to go back to those men Jesus chose to follow him. As you know there were 12 close ones. We can easily skip that list, but there is something there that has a real bearing on all of this. In the list St. Luke gives us we find two men who then ought not to have been there: First is Matthew, and the second is Simon who was called the Zealot (Luke 6:15). If those two had met outside the group Jesus had gathered, Simon would have killed Matthew as the Zealots regarded all like Matthew as a traitor and deserved to be killed. Jesus called those men to follow him. They were far from perfect, and they fought and argued and wanted the best places for themselves. Eventually one thing united them. That was the miracle of the presence of Jesus and they were willing to listen and absorb. Actually some did join Jesus’ company as  they saw him as a rising star with great prospect for the future. They lasted a while until what he said and demanded as his standards were too much for life style to accept. The same still happens today.

 The Saviour is willing to take us as we are, but is not content to leave us like that as He is working to make us as He is. We ought to thank God for this. Now what about your quarrels, disputes, and those annoyances that seem to get under your skin so easily? Share them with Jesus and let Him deal with it and you will be surprised how they will just drift into insignificance. You will be blessed and so will the church.

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