This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Sermon prepared by Rev. Ken Gehrels, Nepean, Ont.
You know, I’m really not quite sure what to do. On the one hand I know that the Lord calls for the proclaiming of His Word, and for that to be done with boldness. But there are occasions where the one who speaks may really hesitate, because of what it says.
Like today’s reading. I’m not too sure what you’ll do with it. As you’ll see, it’s one of the most uncomfortable of all Bible passages for today’s society. Our scripture message will rub raw against every contemporary nerve bundle in our bodies.
So remember — I’m just the messenger. Don’t shoot!
I want to come back in a moment to explain why I believe this to be such a challenging passage for contemporary society. But consider, first, the situation of John the Baptist. He’d had a season of bold preaching, where people responded in droves. They repented of sinful lifestyles and dedicated themselves to a new purity and boldness in serving the Lord. Things reached a high point when John was able to announce the entrance of Jesus — the Messiah that all Jews had been expecting for centuries. Jesus, said John, was the Anointed Servant of the Lord who would right wrongs, set captives free, remove fear and despair, and bring new glory to God’s people.
Things are very different now.
Jesus had gone on a preaching mission. John had been arrested for calling the King on his immoral behavior. Laying in a dark, damp cell in a desert fortresses, John only heard snippets of Jesus’ work.
And he waited. Waited. Waited.
The weeks went by and Herod was still on the throne. Self-serving Pharisees still ran the religious scene with a very short leash. Hated Roman soldiers still oppressed the people everywhere. And doubt grows in John’s heart.
Yes — doubt.
Even in the heart of this most courageous prophet, one praised by Jesus as being a solid and forceful man who had advanced the Kingdom of God, a seed of doubt was sown, and began to germinate.
John cared. He cared and fervently hoped that Jesus would be the Saviour.
But now, with the deck stacked against him, he wasn’t so sure anymore. Which is why he reached out, seeking a lifeline for his faith, which Jesus gives, freely and immediately. Without any condemning words — you notice that, right? Jesus turns to those who overheard the conversation between him and John’s messengers and gives high praise to John.
John was in a season of spiritual wrestling — and Jesus was there for him.
The season of wrestling — some of you know it, don’t you?
The times you wonder if it is indeed true that God sees you or cares.
The times you wonder whether Jesus really forgives you.
The times you pray and wonder if they rose past the ceiling.
The times you question if God exists, at all.
If you’re struggling, don’t give up.
If doubt has a headlock on you, don’t despair!
For, as with John, so it will be with you.
Jesus has all the time in the world for people who are seeking, searching, wondering, not sure but looking, uncertain and asking.
I know that sometimes when you come into a church, everything looks really good. The musicians play up a storm. People singing from their hearts. Families sitting together. Smiles. Handshakes and prayers. It all looks good. Except on the inside — you’re just not so sure. You wish you could be, but you’re not. Doubt keeps knocking on the door. Spiritual discouragement seems like a grey February cloud that doesn’t blow away. Faith feels like a dim light with a battery that’s almost empty.
If that’s you, then let me say just this — Jesus has got all the time in the world for you. It’s for people like you that the prophet Isaiah wrote these words about Jesus: "A bruised reed He will not break. And a smoldering wick He will not snuff out." (Is. 42.3)
For those who struggle — there’s all kinds of time and divine patience.
Ah, there’s always a "but" somewhere, isn’t there?
Notice how Jesus changes gears in verse 16. He’s taken the time to send a message of encouragement back to doubting John. And He has sung the praises of John. But then Christ slams things into overdrive.
Instead of gentle words, He pours out a torrent of condemning words. Instead of hope, He issues a statement of judgment and doom.
He pictures people as a group of fickle children who didn’t want to play the happy games with the flute, and didn’t want to play the solemn games, either. Jesus slams those who in one moment stood with arms crossed critiquing John’s austere methods of bringing the message of God, and in the next breathe wagged a finger against Jesus’ easy-going, free-spirited party approach to life and ministry. Nothing was good enough for them.
For such people Jesus isn’t prepared to waste even a second.
Those who watch His miracles with indifference,
who hear the words He speaks, and file them for "future consideration."
who shrug their shoulders and say, "Sure..... whatever."
easy going, middle of the road, take it or leave it kind of people —
words of Holy denouncing are aimed straight at their heart.
Matthew 11 records prophetic warnings against spiritual indifference.
It is a broadside against complacency and half-hearted spiritual attitudes.
And that’s what I was referring to earlier when I said that this has to be one of the most difficult passages for contemporary society anywhere in the Bible. Wouldn’t you agree that there isn’t much today which rattles people’s chains. We’ve become jaded to just about any stimulus. "Ah...... whatever" could quite easily be our community’s motto.
Except, maybe, for concerns about our favorite sports team. Hard to get folks too terribly worked-up about much of anything.
And that sort of middle-of-the-road, second gear momentum carries over into the faith scene far too easily and quietly. It’s an attitude that seeps like toxic waste into the hearts of millions of people, leaving them satisfied with running on low spiritual octane and no desire to fill up on super.
An African missionary came to do mission work in a city in our nation some time ago. He shared with a local pastor how he found that city to be spiritually difficult to work in. Hard because the people sit back very complacently.
Not too ready to get off the fence. Not too interested in deep spiritual commitment.
Phrase often heard is — "Let’s not get too worked-up about this. Okay?"
Is it any different here?
Often in church circles people are willing to express concern for areas of the globe that have never heard the gospel. What will happen to them on the day of final judgment, they wonder.
If we are really willing to take Jesus at His word, to be serious about what He says, then it’s time that conversation changes. It’s time we start getting really concerned about communities that have a church on every corner — the ones that have heard the gospel. Communities that hear the gospel with feet up on the coffee table, bag of chips and remote in hand. Our community?
Because if there is anything that stirs divine impatience, it is spiritual indifference among those who hear the gospel.
Indifference — hear me — something very different from doubt.
Doubt is that state of not being sure, of looking for answers, struggling to find a way out, of striving and searching. Indifference shrugs the shoulders and says, "Ah..... it can wait. Doesn’t really matter anyway."
Indifference is the attitude of the clock puncher or office fossil with 5 years left till retirement who’s just putting in time. Honestly, tell me: Do you want to work with a colleague like that?
Indifference is the teacher who uses the same class notes year after year, repeating the same projects, and never exploring new material. Do you want to be in her class?
Indifference is the spouse who never buys flowers or other tokens of affections, who couldn’t be bothered saying, "I love you"...... "Whadya’ want? I said it when we got married and until you hear different that holds." Do you want to be in that kind of relationship?
Compare that to passion —
The passion of an employee who loves her work and gives her innovative best.
The passion of a teacher who reaps joy from seeing students learn and grow.
The passion of a lover who gives his all to his soul mate.
The passion of a sports fan who gets in the face of a heckler from the opposing team.
Spiritual passion —
You can see it in the desire of a believer who eagerly desires to learn more about the Word of God. Christian Education never ends.
You see it in the heart of the one who talks about and longs for the return of Jesus Christ.
You see it in the person who longs to come to worship and spend intimate time with her Lord, to sing and pray and meditate in His presence.
You see it in the person who rejoices when a sinner is snatched from the jaws of hell and converted onto the road to eternal life.
That’s spiritual passion. It’s not necessarily noisy, or filled with hype, or gregarious in its expression. It may look very different in different types of people. But you know it when you encounter it.
Compare that to spiritual indifference —
You see it in one for whom coming to the Holy Table of the Lord really doesn’t matter.
You experience it in the presence of one for whom there is no concern over the conversion of sinners.... even their own friends or relatives.
You see it in the ones for whom worship is best when it’s impersonal, quick and not too intense.Talking about Jesus just can’t get them excited.
Want a barometer of spiritual passion or indifference?
When you fill out your tax return check your line on charitable giving — Does it tell you something? Take a few moments and do a time audit — what gets most of your attention? Before talking about not bothering to take part in education for your soul — whatever shape that education takes — or you don’t need so much worship, just ask: How much is expressly devoted to Jesus each week? When you have to make an important moral decision, where do you turn?
Most of all — when you’re alone, what goes on in the spiritual recesses of your being? Like in marriage, passion often shows itself best behind closed doors.
My friends, we are in the season of Lent. Lent is the time that the Church traditionally devotes to spiritual self-examination, sacrifice and re-commitment. It is a serious time that will peak on Good Friday when in a somber service we will commemorate the greatest Passion of all —
The passionate love that God had for this world — so deep that He sent His one and only Son to die on a cross, so that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.
Jesus Christ is not indifferent to you and me. His love for us is fiery, jealous and hugely passionate. Here’s one time where that now thankfully worn-out word fits — extreme.
There’s no love like it.
In His holy passion Jesus desires believers with a holy burning passion for Him — one that never stops and says, "Whoa, that’s enough. Don’t want to get carried away here, you know."
His holy passion has lots of room for doubters.
He can even tolerate those of unbelief.
Better that than lukewarm assent to faith.
Like tea — it tastes great hot, and is refreshing ice cold.
But lukewarm it’s awful stuff.
After Jesus returned to heaven He gave a vision to the apostle John. In that vision He dictated a letter to a particular church. It is a letter that Christians today do well to take note of. I’m going to close by reading it. Let’s listen — carefully — and take a long hard look inside as we do.
This morning, Christ has the last word:
God’s Yes, the Faithful and Accurate witness, the First of God’s creation, says: I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot — far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’ oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.....
The people I love, I call to account — prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God!
Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you. Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honour at the side of my Father. That’s my gift to the conquerors!
Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the words of the Spirit blowing through the churches."
(Rev 3.14-22 The Message)
Proposed Order of Service
Entering God’s Holy Presence
Bible Reading: Psalm 118:19-24
Hymn #146:1, 2, 4, "Praise The Lord! Sing Hallelujah"
Opening Prayer (spoken or silent), concluded with
Hymn:#629, "Worthy Is Christ"
Praising God Together
Hymn: #466:1, 2, 4, "Sing Praise To The Lord"
Hymn: #483:1, 3, 4, "How Great Thou Art"
Hymn: #232, "You Are Worthy"
Our Communal Confession of Faith – The Apostles’ Creed
God Speaks to Us
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture Reading: Matthew 11:1-24
Sermon: "No Room for Indifference"
Responding With Thanksgiving and Hope
Hymn: "Nearer, Still Nearer" (Words and tune can be found in blue Psalter Hymnal #454)
Prayer of Dedication and Intercession
Responsive Reading: (Contemporary Testimony, Par. 57, 58)
Leader: We long for that day when Jesus will return as triumphant king,when the dead will be raised and all people will stand before His judgment.We face that day without fear, for the Judge is our Saviour.
People: For then we will see the Lord face to face. He will heal our hurts, end our wars, and make the crooked straight. Then we will join in the new song to the Lamb without blemish who made us a kingdom and priests. God will be all in all, righteousness and peace will flourish, everything will be made new, and every eye will see at last that our world belongs to God! Hallelujah! Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly!
Hymn: #630, "Now Blessed Be The Lord Our God"
Prayer for God’s Parting Blessing