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Matthew 12

March 20th, 2011 by Vic

March 20, 2011

Matthew 12

“The Empty Life”

I read a story about a church in Pennsylvania that was located next door to a bar.  In spite of all its efforts to close down the bar, the church failed to get any action from authorities.  One Sunday morning the pastor prayed openly that the bar would burn down.  The next night it burned to the ground.

The bar owner sued the congregation and pastor.  When the case was brought before the court, the pastor and members of his official board admitted on the witness stand that the pastor had prayed such a prayer, but they all agreed that they never dreamed anything would come of it.  The owner of the bar and several of his customers testified that they were convinced that the loss was a direct result of the prayers of the pastor.

The judge was forced to dismiss the case but he could not help making a comment.  “In all my years on the bench this is the first instance I have ever known where a pastor and his faithful church members testified under oath that they did not believe in the power of prayer, while a bar owner and his customers testified under oath that they did.”  We see that discrepancy in today’s chapter.

In the chapter open hostility against Jesus increases.  When things do not turn out the way you expected, how did you feel?  How did you react?  Were you grouchy?  They had prayed for the coming reign of God’s Messiah.  He came but they did not like what God sent.  There are 8 sermons here:  the grain fields, a shriveled hand, a working retreat, faulty logic, unforgivable sin, idle words, sign of Jonah, and the empty house.

Jesus knew their hearts.  He could have punished them, but He spoke with love.  He could have called down fire from heaven.  He could have brought a plague.  He could have used an earthquake.  He saw beneath their robes of dignity and power to the empty and needy person inside.  With compassion He saw the danger of emptiness in their lives.

  • 12:1-8  The grain fields

The critical spirit of the Pharisees reveals an empty heart.  Technically the disciples were harvesting.  There was a technical violation of the law.  Jesus defends His disciples.  He reminds the Pharisees of David.  David lied and ate what only the priests were to eat.  The Scriptures did not condemn David for breaking a direct commandment of God.  The letter of the law was surpassed by human need.

Jesus reminds the Pharisees that the temple priests are violating the same commandment every Sabbath by preparing the sacrifices and conducting the worship service.  Jesus did not say the disciples did not sin, but He pointed out that there is a higher Law.  He says someone greater than the temple has come.  Just as mercy is greater than sacrifice, human need is greater than the law.  Jesus is greater than the temple and the Sabbath.  The rituals, rest and rejoicing symbolized by the Sabbath find fulfillment in the kingdom brought by Jesus.

Religious doctrines and codes of conduct often fight the purposes of God.  Jesus never conducted a church worship service.  He walked among men with compassion and addressed their need.  The letter of the law often ignores human need and compassion.  The Spirit of the Law doesn’t ignore human need.

The phrase “son of man” is often a title for the Messiah.  Sometimes it is a way of just saying a man.  Often it has both meanings.  So here it also means Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath and “man is not the slave of the Sabbath.”  The needs of man may be a higher law.

  • 12:9-14  A shriveled hand

This man did not ask to be healed.  He was being used.  Pharisees were not concerned about the man.  One tradition says he was a stone mason.  He was put there to trap Jesus.  The Pharisees were more interested in identifying Jesus as a lawbreaker than helping this man.  Jesus intentionally went into “their” synagogue.  This may have been the one that the proper Pharisees attended.

It was illegal to provide medical help on the Sabbath unless it was a life or death situation.  The sick could wait until tomorrow.  But an animal that fell in the well did not have to wait until tomorrow.

The Pharisees ask (10), “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”  Jesus asks (12), “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath?”  Both the sheep and this man could wait to be helped tomorrow.  But if kindness can legally be shown to a sheep on the Sabbath, how much more should it be shown to a human being.  Is the Sabbath a day to do good or to do evil?  Does your law tell you to treat animals better than humans?

  • 12:15-21  A working retreat

Matthew summarizes Jesus’ ministry and reminds us that He is fulfilling the servant prophecy in Isaiah.  Matthew says Jesus was powerful in word and deed, but has come as a servant, not a judge.  He is our advocate, not our accuser.  He does not quarrel with the Pharisees.  He does not come to overwhelm and crush.  He did not step on the weak and wounded.  He did not come for a throne, but a cross.  He did not seek power, popularity, or political influence.

Jesus healed the people brought to Him.  He saw people through eyes of compassion.

  • 12:22-29  Faulty logic

To heal a man born blind and mute confirms that Jesus is the Messiah.  Who else could do what He does?  This man was cursed from birth and also possessed by evil spirits.  The Jews had apparently failed to exorcize the demons.  This was an impossible case.  They would use it to discredit Jesus.

Josephus tells us that Solomon left the Jews some instructions on how to exorcize demons.  There were different incantations for different symptoms.  One was to put a ring on a special red root and insert it up the nose of the one possessed.  After the proper sayings the ring was pulled out and the demon came with it.  The demon was commanded not to come back and as a sign to those watching he was to tip over the bowl of water.

Jesus healed the man without any magic words or stage props.  He simply healed the man so he could see and speak.  The crowd was acutely astonished.  The religious leaders were dumbfounded and respond with faulty logic.  Bad attitudes distort logical thinking.  Evil thoughts, bitterness, inferiority, emotional scars distort your thinking.  The Word of God has power to heal.

If this miracle was not done by satan, then One greater than satan is here.  Jesus said (28) it was by the Spirit of God that He did miracles.

  • 12:30-32  The unforgivable sin

There is no neutral ground.  To give satan the credit for miracles done by the Holy Spirit is an unpardonable sin.  Unbelievers’ rejection of Jesus as Lord is forgivable, but when believers call good evil and evil good there can be no forgiveness.  The Pharisees were confronted with the power of God and they called it the power of Beelzebul.  If you don’t know the difference between good and evil how can you be convicted of your sin?

  • 12:33-38  Idle words

Your words indicate the nature of your heart.  In 7:16 it was your deeds that indicated the nature of your heart.  Your words and deeds proclaim the heart condition.  Jesus’ words and deeds revealed His authority.

We are responsible for every word we speak.  Sometimes a careless or insignificant word indicates your heart better than the words you think about.  We used to call it a Freudian slip.  We are continually revealing what we are by what we say.

Even after all the miracles that Jesus was doing, Jewish leaders still wanted another sign.  They wanted Jesus to cast out demons like He was supposed to do.  They wanted to see God in the abnormal.  They wanted the bowl of water tipped over.  But Jesus never did miracles like a magic show.  Miracles were an outflow of his love and compassion for the person.  Another miracle would not convince them.  He had raised people from the dead.  They had plenty of evidence.  To ask for more signs indicated a choice not to believe in Jesus and His manifold grace.

  • 12:39-42  The sign of Jonah

No sign would be given except the sign of Jonah.  Jonah performed no miracles.  To the people of Nineveh, Jonah himself was God’s sign, and Jonah’s words were God’s message.  Jesus was not going to give a special performance just for the Pharisees.  But there would be a sign for all to see.

Jesus never performed miracles to create a demonstration or compelling proof of His power.  No sign would be adequate to convince unreceptive hearts.

Jesus is saying, “I am God’s sign.  You claim to be religious and don’t see.  The Ninevites were wicked and they recognized God’s words when Jonah spoke.  I am God’s message and you don’t hear.”  In chapter 11 Jesus claimed to be greater than John the Baptist.  In 12:6 He claimed to be greater than the temple.  Now he claims to be greater than the prophet Jonah.  Either He is what He claims to be or He’s a liar.  In verse 24 they had called Him a liar, but He refuted that with their logic.  Satan is the ruler of liars.  If Jesus was a liar, why would He be destroying the works of Satan?

Jesus’ answer required a decision.

Solomon performed no miracles, but world rulers came to listen to His wisdom.  Even non-religious people recognized that his wisdom had come from God.  Jesus is saying, “In me there has come to you a greater wisdom than Solomon ever had and you can’t hear.”  They were blind to Jesus’ lifestyle and deaf to His words.  They had eyes to see but were blinded by jealousy.  They had ears to hear, but were deafened by a false world view.  The common people recognized Jesus.  The demons knew who he was.  The Jewish leaders chose not to believe.  They had eyes and ears, but they were not obeying the truth they knew.

What Jesus lived and what He said were the same thing.  He consistently practiced what he preached.  His life was God’s sign.  His words were God’s words.

Now Jesus tells them a parable.  Jesus had been travelling throughout Israel casting out demons, healing and doing good.  He had been cleaning up the house of Israel, but they were not receiving the Gift of God.  Their hearts were still empty.  They were not filling their lives with good.

  • 12:43-45  An empty house

Jesus called them a wicked generation or idolatrous people.  They were worshiping a book and a building but not God.  Maybe they were worshiping their own cleverness.  Jesus compared them to a vacant house waiting for a tenant.

There is a danger of being forgiven of your sins and then not filling your life with God.  Beware of neutrality towards Jesus.

Your life can be like an empty house.  You are waiting for the ideal tenant.  You are waiting for some mystical conditions to be met before you let God in your life.  He stands at the door and knocks, but God has to meet your conditions or your expectations before you will let Him in.

God says if you repent of your sin I will come in and fill you with abundant life.  Just like Jonah, John the Baptist, and Jesus said, you must repent.  God says if you seek me with your whole heart like the Queen sought Solomon, you will find me and I will come into your heart.

And while you wait and debate and try to negotiate with God a group of militants are planning to move into your vacant house.  Now it’s worse than before you hauled off all the junk.  They are bringing all their stuff.  They are tearing up your home.  You can’t get any help to evict them.

Let me note 3 teachings of this parable.  The first point is very clear.

1. Our lives were created to be filled.  We were created to be containers of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the presence of Jesus.

2. Empty lives are vulnerable.  Jesus warns us that evil can overcome us and deceptively fill our lives.

It is more important to know what you are for, than to know what you are against.  To be more against sin and evil than to be for God is exceedingly dangerous.

3. It is possible to overcome evil with good.  The builder/Creator Himself is waiting to enter your heart.  He has power over all the evil in your life.  He can bring order out of your chaos.  It takes 2 steps: Jonah said repent and the Queen of Sheba went to hear Solomon’s wisdom:  repent and seek.

In this parable, Jesus is comparing the Pharisees and this wicked generation to a house.  They were a group of people described as empty, swept, and garnished, but also vulnerable and wide open to receive something worse than they had gotten rid of.

3 characteristics of this house (verse 44).

1. EMPTY (#4980) scholadzonta gives us our word school.  The original idea was that of leisure because going to school or lectures was a leisure time activity for Greeks.  If you are not doing anything you are at leisure, empty, or unoccupied.  You have a vacancy sign on the door of your life.

2. SWEPT (#4563) sesaromenon or sarow means ‘having been cleaned’ with a broom.  The maids have cleaned the floors and made the beds.  Everything is prepared for guests, but it remains idle or unemployed.

3. GARNISHED (#2885) kekosmnmenon means ‘having been furnished’ or decorated.  We get the word cosmetic from this word.  This word is translated ‘adorned’ in Revelation 21:2 when it speaks of a bride getting ready for her husband.  It is translated ‘garnished in Matthew 23:29 when it speaks of the graves of the prophets being painted.  It is translated ‘trimmed’ in Matthew 25:7 when it refers to the preparation of lamps to give light.

Jesus was telling these Pharisees that their lives were well prepared and decorated.  They had great potential for doing good.  The cosmetics were taken care of, but there was no life in the house.

Your life may be very orderly.  You may be very disciplined and well prepared, but if you have not filled your life with the Holy Spirit of Jesus, you are vulnerable and open to a lot of evil.

We seem to be uncomfortable with empty houses, empty shops and empty barns.  We fill the emptiness with something.  What do you fill your life or your house with?  Noise?  kids?  TV?  pets?  music?  things?  prayer?  love?  joy?

If we fill our homes with good, there will be no room for evil.  If we fill our heart with the Holy Spirit, wickedness will find no foothold.

It takes effort on your part.  It does no good to keep telling your kids what they cannot do unless you fill their lives with things they can do.  It does little good to keep drugs and sin out of your home if you neglect to fill it with good.

  • 12:46-50  The family of God

We are born into the family of God by obedience.  Those who follow Jesus’ teachings are part of His family.  That includes women.  While the Jews did not allow women to study the Torah or be involved in the life of the religious community, Jesus drew a much bigger circle.  We become full members of the family of God by following Jesus.  There is not magical ritual.  There are no special initiation rites.  It is simply a choice to believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be and following Him.

The love in our family is sometimes all we have to overcome the evil threatening us.  We can overcome evil with good.

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