“Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46).
Somewhere around the house I have an old book with the wonderful title of “657 of the Best Things Ever Said.” It would not surprise you to know most of them are silly.
As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, doubtless it’s true that the “best things ever said” is also arbitrary.
With one exception.
Literally hundreds of millions of people across this world agree with the judgment of those early Galileans that “No one ever spoke like Jesus.”
Our Lord spoke a solid one thousand mind boggling things never heard before on planet Earth, all of them surprising and wonderful and memorable. And, let’s be honest, many who heard Jesus also found His words provocative, offensive, and even blasphemous.
When Jesus stood to preach, no one was bored.
May I direct your attention to Matthew 11:21-30? These seven words from Him are as amazing as anything He said.
Matthew 11 is pure gold. A mother-lode for sure. This treasure trove deserves far more attention than it has usually received.
Confession: Working on this over the past week, I have repeatedly cried out in my heart, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it” (Psalm 139:6).
True enough. I’m so out of my depth here. When we finish, we will have but touched the hem of His garment, this is so rich.
And yet, let’s give it a try anyway, while admitting that there is far more to any of this than our finite minds can comprehend. If the Lord’s people see through a glass darkly (I Corinthians 13:12), it’s no stretch to say that we write through a glass darkly too. In the words of Paul, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33).
Now, on to Matthew chapter 11, the last third.
One. “It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you” (referring to the hard-hearted citizens of Capernaum, and just before that, the unresponsive population of Chorazin and Bethsaida).” (Matthew 11:21-24)
The Lord’s audience must have been outraged by this. The very idea, that wicked Sodom will fare better at the throne of judgment than they! But, there it is.
Some people are going to have it tougher at judgment than others in the same way that some will receive a greater Heavenly reward than others.
I would never have thought of that. We did not make it up. Jesus said it.
In I Corinthians 3:11-15, Paul spoke of Christians whose works are “wood, hay and stubble,” rather than the more imperishable “gold, silver, and precious stones.” Perhaps they never grew beyond carnality or were caught up in a cult and spread falsehood from door to door. Whatever the reason for their unworthy works, Paul says, “If any man’s work is burned up (in judgment when “it is to be revealed with fire”), he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.” Clearly, there are degrees of reward in Heaven with some people entering glory, as we say, “by the skin of their teeth.”
My understanding of the principle that comes to play here is: what you did with what you had. Those given only slivers of light but who served God well are the champions of faith. Likewise, those who had it all and became hypocrites and deceivers and abusers are destined for the lowest regions of hell. The inimitable Leonard Ravenhill made this point in a book titled “Sodom Had No Bible.”
Heaven’s champions are those who served God consistently while enduring the greatest opposition, while carrying the heaviest burdens, while persevering to the end.
The implications of this are enormous.
Two. “At that time, Jesus answered and said, ‘I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes” (Matthew 11:25).
The intelligentsia in the audience was offended.
I imagine, as the Lord spoke, some people were shaking their heads, refusing to believe Him even before the words left His mouth. Every pastor knows the feeling. You preach your hardest to get across some wonderful insight from scripture and some close-minded hearers reject the teaching without even considering it.
I can imagine some Mensa member wondering why Scripture seems like so much foolishness to him. With his unparalleled intellect, certainly he should be able to figure out God, if such a Being actually exists, and the mysteries of the universe should unfold before his scrutiny. To his everlasting consternation the living God has made them off limits to him and has given them to the children! The very idea.
On numerous occasions, Jesus said, “Except you humble yourself and become as a little child, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (See Matthew 18:16 and Luke 18:16). People unwilling to do this will miss out on the greatest wonders of the universe.
No one will get to heaven by his own efforts. No one will arrive at the gates of glory boasting about having figured out God and circumventing the cross.
In Bethlehem, the entrance to the Church of the Nativity was partially bricked in during the Middle Ages (to keep enemies from riding their camels inside, we’re told) so that one has to bow to enter. That’s a great metaphor for the eternal life.
The implications and applications of the Lord withholding HIs truth from the self-important while freely revealing it to the humble are enormous.
Three. “Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight” (Matthew 11:26).
Why did God set things up so that the Nobel Prize winner has to struggle to get to faith and the childlike walk right in? Jesus gave us the only answer that makes sense.
“He wanted to.”
Not very theological, is it?
Some things God does simply because doing so pleased Him. “It pleased God that through the foolishness of preaching people who believe would be saved” (I Corinthians 1:21). A lot of people would like to change this. They don’t like sermons and have little use for a system that centers around preaching. Tough cookies. (Said with a smile.) We’re not given a choice in this.
We self-important earthlings who set ourselves up as Divine Advisors will just have to deal with this. It’s how things are. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).
Psalm 115:3 states it unequivocally: “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”
God has His plans and He knows what they are. I do not. I will trust Him or be forever frustrated.
Four. “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father….” (Matthew 11:27)
Just before delivering the Great Commission commanding disciples to take the gospel to the world and make additional disciples, Jesus announced, “All authority in Heaven and earth has been handed over to me” (Matthew 28:18). He’s in charge.
He has the right to issue commands to God’s people.
How the religious authorities must have become enraged over this! The Lord Jesus is clearly acting in the place of the Almighty. He forgives sin, gives new interpretations of scripture, and points to Himself as the Savior and the coming Judge. He is either a usurper of the first degree or the Son of God in the flesh.
The epistles enlarge on this truth in numerous places. This one is mind-boggling: “(Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. For by Him all things were created…all things have been created by Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together. he is also head of the body, the church, and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything” (Colossians 1:15-18). And this: “For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete; He is the head over all rule and authority” (Colossians 2:9-10).
Jesus is Lord. He’s in charge.
There are no areas of life on earth in which this truth does not pertain. Jesus is Lord of all.
Five. “No one knows the Son except the Father…” (Matthew 11:27)
This one must have drove His hearers up the wall. The nerve of Jesus. Who does He think He is? We know Him. He’s the carpenter of Galilee. (They should wait. It gets worse!)
The full identity of Jesus–His being all God and all man in His earthly body–eludes us. It did then and it does now. And yet, scholars of every generation try to figure Him out.
“Who is this man?” the crowds wondered as they listened to Jesus teach and saw Him work. “Never man spake like this man.”
Jesus Christ was the Son of Joseph, carpenter of Nazareth, and the Son of God. He was Son of Man and Son of David. He was Mary’s Son and Mary’s Lord and Savior.
Good luck trying to figure all that out.
What are the implications of this? They are enormous, far reaching, life changing.
Six. “Nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27).
This may be the most enraging thing the scribes and Pharisees heard from this itinerant rabbi of Galilee. (The word “know” here is epignosko and means “full knowledge,” not just a passing acquaintance.)
What I find delightful and more than a little humorous is the sheer gall of this. Imagine saying, “No one knows God except me and the people I introduce to Him.” And then you turn around and say, “I am very humble.” But that is precisely what Jesus did.
Both realities are there.
What are the implications of Jesus being the only One who knows the Father and thus the sole access to Him? In John 14:6, He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Clearly, if you want to go to God (and thus Heaven), you’d better come to Jesus. He is the door. And that is where the self-important know-it-alls stumble, at the idea of Jesus being all of this.
He is indeed. Jesus is Lord. It’s all about Jesus. Take Him out of your religious faith and you end up with a bunch of pretty nonsense. The Apostle John said, “The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:17 and 18).
Seven. “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my load is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Come to Me. I will give you rest. Learn from Me. My yoke. My burden.
It’s all about Jesus. Do not miss this.
We must not divorce this wonderful invitation from all that went before. Only after realizing that all authority in Heaven and earth is in the hands of Jesus, and that He alone knows the Heavenly Father and is the sole access to God, only then do we see the significance of “Come unto me.”
It was not a foregone conclusion that the Savior, the Lord Christ, once on Earth and doing His thing would be available, approachable, and kind. If there is only one God in the universe, nothing says He had to be good. He could have been the worst tyrant imaginable, toying with mankind as playthings, acting like a spoiled brat who delights in torturing his pets. (That, btw, is the precise charge militant atheists hurl toward Him. But it’s just so much foolishness. They read one another and feed off each other’s anger.)
God is love.
Heaven is available. Salvation is free. And we are invited in.
To the leper who, against all regulations, ran to Jesus and fell down before Him, saying, “If you are willing, you can make me clean,” our Lord said, “I am willing.” (Mark 1:41)
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a willing Savior. Rejoice!
The only precondition to knowing Him and receiving Heaven’s blessings is humbling ourselves and becoming as children.
Since we are indeed humble and childlike in the face of all the mysteries of this universe, the puzzle is why this is such an ordeal to many of us.
Publication Date: October 15, 2014.
These days in my retirement ministry, most of the churches where I’m invited to preach have these things in common….
- Almost no man wears a necktie or suit.
- On the platform you find all kinds of musical instruments.
- Huge screens are mounted on the front walls, where the words of songs and scripture are projected.
- Many people in the congregation read Scripture from their phones.
- Worship leaders are often wearing jeans and sneakers.
- In the announcements, you hear of mission trips to foreign countries, regardless of the size of the church.
- Fewer and fewer hymns are being sung, and when the old ones are brought out, they’re given new treatments. Mostly, though, what’s being sung in worship was written in the past 10 or 12 years.
- Churches announce on their outside signs “blended” services, “contemporary” services, and/or “traditional” services.
The times, they are a-changing, friend. (And they are not through changing either. So you youngsters should not get too attached to the present innovations.)
If you cannot adapt, you may find yourself living in the 1950s.
The other weekend I worshiped with an interesting church in Jacksonville, Florida. I have not known that church previously, but had learned a little of their story before arriving.
As the neighborhood changed around them, most of their members had moved away. Since the church failed to make the necessary adjustments to reach new residents of their community, it was slowly dying. So, not long ago, the remaining membership–mostly senior adults–asked a larger (and healthy, thriving) church in the area to take them over. They would be willing to make whatever changes were necessary to turn this around.
That takes great courage, let me say.
Most “older” churches cannot do this. The members are so wed to the ways of yesterday and the methods of the past that they prefer to let the church die rather than change.
Six months after they called a young pastor from New Orleans to shepherd this transitioning congregation, I showed up for three days of ministry. As always, before and after preaching, I sat at a table drawing people. I was pleasantly surprised by the large number of children and teens and young families throughout the buildings. Already, the church is flourishing.
The longtime members of that little church are having to get used to a lot of change. The pastor does not wear a suit or tie or even a sport coat. Music is provided by a group composed of piano, several guitars, and a drum set. Four or five young adults were the praise ensemble.
It was a blessed service. The singing was great, the people were happy and friendly, and the fellowship was sweet. They’re getting this right.
Being with such a happy group of God’s people was such a joy.
What would happen, I wondered, if a member who moved back to town after a year’s absence walked into the service? A large screen flashes the words to hymns and choruses. The platform is covered by musical instruments, and an air of informality pervades.
Whoever heard of a church changing? (Smiley-face here)
Churches are always changing. Only the dead ones don’t.
May I repeat that? Churches are always changing–if they are alive. I guarantee you that Saddleback Church (Rick Warren) in Orange County is always tweaking what they do. As does North Point (Andy Stanley) in Alpharetta, and Celebration Church (Dennis Watson) in Metairie.
But we see this same scenario playing out again and again.
You’ve belonged to that church for many years. You were attracted to it because of location and ministry, because you liked the pastor and the people were friendly. You have served the Lord there in numerous capacities and your children grew up there. You have a history with that church. And now….
Now, it’s not the same church.
There’s a new pastor and new leadership. They are attracting a different group of people from the lovely group that drew you in. You feel less and less a part of things. You’re not at home with many of the innovations they’re doing now.
What should you do?
1) Recognize that churches are always in a state of change if they are alive.
Every time someone joins your church or leaves it, the church changes. Every time a member begins to get serious about reading the Word or witnessing or tithing or ministering, or when they backslide, the church changes. It is never static, never a frozen entity.
2) You yourself are growing and changing if you are alive and obedient. I grew up on a certain kind of church music, then grew past that. Later, my tastes changed and to no one’s surprise, have changed again.
3) Your needs and requirements change. My tastes change. It’s called “life.” After radiation treatment of the head and neck a full decade ago, many things no longer have a taste at all, while others are as wonderful as ever. I can handle spicy food better than before since I have fewer functioning taste buds. Life is like that.
4) Perhaps you are dragging your feet and resisting something new the Holy Spirit is trying to do in your life.
You are if you insist that the Lord do something again in the same way He did it before. You are dragging your feet and resisting Him if you reject the new things He sends because they are outside your comfort zone. Do you suppose Jonah felt comfortable going to Nineveh? Don’t you know it was way, way outside his comfort zone?
5) Perhaps the Lord has something new for you in the community and you should be in another church. This may be His way of cutting you loose from those ties that have bound you so you can move forward.
6) Are you open to new things? New ways? If you are not, you’re going to have trouble with the Lord Jesus.
“Behold,” the Lord said, “I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). He wasn’t just talking about Heaven, friend.
He’s making me ever-new right now. Yep, I said that. Psalm 92:12-15 promises that. “The righteous will flourish…. They will still bear fruit in old age. They will be full of sap and very green….”
So, what do you do when your church changes? Grow with it.
I’ve been thinking about cartoonists, abortion, and theological liberals lately.
My friend Annie was sitting in a doctor’s office the other day when a young woman came in to ask about an appointment. She wanted an abortion, she said, because she had plans for Labor Day weekend and wanted to get this done.
After a quick conversation with the receptionist, she left. Annie sat there in shock and then the tears began to flow.
Annie and her husband Mike are in line to adopt a baby due to be born in a month or two. To say they are excited and prayerful does not begin to describe them. Seeing the callousness with which that young woman wanted to be rid of her baby because “I have plans for the weekend” left Annie broken-hearted.
At this point, some in our audience will quit reading. They already “know” where it’s going and know they do not wish to go there.
That’s why there is little authentic conversation about abortions today.
And, may I say, I understand that.
Personally, I happen to be closed-minded on this subject. As far as I’m concerned, this is one of those issues in life with only one side: protect the lives of everyone, mother and child.
Theological liberals refuse to consider that the fetus inside the woman may actually be a human being and that to abruptly and intentionally end its life may be the most brutal act of which we are capable. If it does not meet the standards for homicide, it surely does for manslaughter.
Those who are hardened on the subject turn a deaf ear to such and mark the speaker (moi!) down as a right-wing nut or ignoramus who refuses to come into the 21st century.
Recently, I’ve been reading another book by a well-known cartoonist. As something of a cartoonist myself, and a lifelong admirer of the men and women who do this stuff well, I love learning how they do what they do and hearing their stories.
“In Your Face: A cartoonist at work” is Doug Marlette’s 1991 memoir and how-I-do-it. This prize-winning cartoonist had his life tragically cut short in an automobile accident some 10 years ago and we are much the poorer because of it.
Marlette began doing editorial cartoons for the Charlotte Observer at the age of 22. Later, he moved to the Atlanta Constitution-Journal and from there to Newsday. Much of this time he was also turning out a daily syndicated comic strip. “Kudzu” chronicled life in the small town of “Bypass, N.C.,” and gave the world a preacher with the wonderful name of “Will B. Dunn.”
Over the years, I have heard people identify Doug Marlette as a Christian. That always gave me a little pleasure since so few believers seem to work in his field.
When an irate phone caller accused everyone at his newspaper of being “a bunch of Jews,” Marlette countered, “Actually I was raised Southern Baptist.” In the book, he gives no testimony of faith or mention of church affiliation. The Will B. Dunn strips certainly showed a familiarity with Scripture and with the foibles of the church crowd. That strip adorned the bulletin boards of many a church and the office door of a lot of seminary professors I know. (When he died, his funeral service was held in a United Methodist Church in North Carolina.)
By these signs, I conclude that Marlette was a confessed Christian. Whether he was a practicing one I have no idea. (I’m bending over backward to make no judgment one way or the other.)
If he was a Christian, I think he would have been quick to identify himself as a liberal. The indications are all there.
My observation about theological liberals in any profession is that they champion themselves as the defenders of the weak and oppressed (a position dear to the heart of our Lord) while “taking on” the establishment, whether political or religious or cultural. Most cartoonists proudly admit this to be their approach, and I find that admirable.
The single case where liberals can be depended on to abandon the weakest and littlest has to do with abortion.
Liberals seem to be uniformly pro-abortion.
Not that they would call it that.
Liberals in political and religious life speak of protecting “a woman’s reproductive rights” and “her right to choose,” euphemisms which camouflage the stark reality: Abortion terminates the life of a human being.
The theological liberal never quite seems to know whether abortion ends the life of a human or (ahem) a potential human. To quote one of their champions, that is “above (their) pay grade.”
I find it incredulous that a thinking adult would say, “I don’t know whether this is a human being or not, but I’m in favor of killing it.”
Their single concern, they keep insisting, is with the poor woman (she’s always poor and oppressed in their scenarios) who is being denied basic human rights by large cigar-chomping bullies who are almost always men, Southern, Christian, fat, calloused and powerful. (Let me interject to say I get this. Editorial cartoonists make no bones about the fact that they oversimplify. The drawing on the editorial page cannot get into subtleties and all the complicating factors. However, it’s so easy to misrepresent and slander in one’s attempt to simplify.)
On page 6, barely into his narrative, Marlette introduces us to “Mrs. Mackey, the abortion lady.” She loves to call his desk at the newspaper office early in the morning.
Mrs. Mackey has been writing and calling me steadily ever since I drew an anti-death penalty cartoon years ago. She sends me literature and leaflets to persuade me to do pro-life cartoons.
He describes her approach.
She begins in a soft whispery voice that is meant to ooze Christian charity and patience but is actually pushy, insistent, and much like a fork on a blackboard. I have become Mrs. Mackey’s personal responsibility. Her mission, for which she will no doubt reap rewards in paradise, is to convert the wayward cartoonist or at least force him to use one of her cartoon ideas.
Catch the condescension that compliments Mrs. Mackey while dismissing her as a nut. We imagine readers elbowing one another, laughing at the naiveté of this simple-minded woman who is heaven-bent on saving the lives of the unborn. How foolish of her to think that by persistence she can convince a sophisticated, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist to do anything.
Mrs. Mackey was well-known around that newspaper office. When a secretary rings Marlette to say he has a caller, she says, “No, it’s not Mrs. Mackey.”
On page 19, the dreaded anti-abortionist shows up again, this time with an idea for a drawing.
The phone rings again. “New York Newsday,” I answer. “You’ve got a pile of dead unborn babies on the left and on the right a pile of dead bodies. Over the babies it says New York City, 1990. Over the bodies it reads Auschwitz, 1939. The caption says ‘Progress?’ with a question mark.”
“Not bad, Mrs. Mackey. I’ve never seen this whimsical side of you before.”
“Do you like my idea?”
When Marlette hedges, Mrs. Mackey is ready.
“Do you know how many unborn babies died in New York City last year?”
“Goodbye, Mrs. Mackey.”
The one abortion cartoon Marlette runs in the book was inspired by a Supreme Court decision making “abortions tougher for the poor.” He says, “I began thinking of limos, yachts, country clubs, furs, jewelry–which reminded me of the phrase ‘If you have to ask how much, you can’t afford one!’ I drew a Supreme Court justice at the door of an abortion clinic greeting a poor pregnant woman with that line.”
The cartoon is supposedly championing the poor. But what about the defenseless baby in the mother’s womb? Too bad; he will have to fend for himself. No one but right-wing nuts speak out for that guy.
By the way, what did the Supreme Court do to hurt these poor women? It ruled the federal government was not required to fund their abortions.
Such is the reasoning of the theological liberal, whether a politician, professor, preacher, or cartoonist.
Do not look for to any liberal for consistency, but only for the accepted viewpoint of his group to be spouted. He is catering to his audience, preaching to his choir.
Do not look for a well-reasoned presentation. Do not wait for him to give an explanation and defend the charges against his position.
He will not attempt it because there is no defense.
Some issues have only one side and this is one of them.
I am quick to admit that “preaching to one’s choir” is a favorite pastime for all of us. Go to any preaching conference if you want to see how it’s done. Conservatives preach to conservatives (do liberals have preaching conferences? None that I’m aware of.) Everyone leaves feeling as though they have done something important. Liberals go to NOW conventions and preach to the choir, as do conservative politicians at Tea Party meetings.
At this point, someone will accuse me of slamming Cartoonist Marlette when he is no longer around to defend himself, of speaking ill of the dead. I am not slamming him nor speaking ill of him. I’m telling what he wrote, repeating what he said, reporting what he drew. Our Lord said, “By your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).
Mr. Marlette scoffed that Mrs. Mackey would no doubt be rewarded in “paradise” for championing the unborn.
Along about now, I expect he knows the truth of that.
There are no words to say how much I admire this woman.
Think about it….
In Isaiah’s day, the Lord God pleaded with His wayward people, “Come now and let us reason together….” (Isaiah 1:18).
That’s my great hope, that people would think about this, even if they are unwilling to discuss it. We wish the young woman whom Annie saw in the doctor’s office last week would give thought to what she is planning. We wish those who parrot the party line about “reproductive rights” and the “right to choose” would just think about this and come to their senses.
When Becky and Matt were waiting for their adoptive baby to be born, Becky’s mother told me what was going on so I could join them in prayer. The birth mother was having health issues and there were other factors.
That child is now almost nine months old and as healthy and sweet as any infant ever. The family lives several states away and the only way I see her is by photos posted on Facebook. Having prayed for them through those scary and difficult days, I feel almost like the child’s uncle. When Becky posts updates telling how the child called her “Mama” for the first time or was christened in church, my heart swells and I send up a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord.
Mrs. Mackey will indeed be getting her reward in paradise. As will many others I could name.
Let us bless the all the children, in particular the least among these.