11-25-18 Keep the Faith; Ignore the Critics Matthew 9:27-34
Input sound file: Audio 11 25 2018.mp3
we have been talking about the need for prayer. About the need to pray for our neighbors. We’ve been talking about the faith that leads to prayers being answered. And if you will, this is the secret ingredient or to be a little more scientific you could say the active ingredient. A medicine like Aspirin, there’s only a tiny, little part of that pill that is the chemical that is active, that changes your health and your life. The rest of its just filler. And we have a tendency as human beings to focus on the filler and to miss what really makes a difference. The active ingredient is what makes a difference.
A couple weeks ago we were talking about how a woman decided that if she just simply pulled on Jesus’s hem, she would be healed. I told you that was about like believing that pulling on my tie would cause a miracle. Not much more stupid than that. But guess what? Her prayer was answered. Jesus said to her literally, “Take heart daughter. Your faith has made you well.” And we have not paid attention to that phrase. We’ve wanted to say, “Your faith and this and that and this and that and this and that.” But Jesus said, “It’s your faith that made the difference.”
In the scripture we’re looking at today Jesus says to two blind men, “According to your faith, be it done to you.” And bang, the miracle happened. When Jesus says it’s faith, I think we ought to accept what Jesus says. We’ve talked a lot, so I don’t want to go on and on, but I want to remind you of the scientific thing that we call the placebo effect. The fact that if you have faith that Aspirin will cure something, it greatly strengthens the power of any medicine. Not only that, if you love your doctor and you have faith in your doctor, and your doctor says, “Aspirin will help you.” It greatly increases the power of the medicine. Psychiatrist David Burns, who was a specialist in depression, says that the most powerful anti-depressant is simply to hope. And the Bible says that “faith and hope and love abide.”
Jesus said our faith makes a difference and because of that we need to take good care of our faith. Now our faith relies– it rests –on our perspective. You can use the word “worldview” if you would like. You can use the word “the principles I live my life by” if you like– my own personal philosophy. But how you perceive the world around you greatly demonstrates your faith. And your perspective– how you see the world around you –needs to rest on a foundation that is made out of truth. You’ve seen this little picture here. Friends, I want to tell you, it’s not true that those are little black kittens with white stripes. And no amount of prayer is going to make them into little black kittens with white stripes because it is true that they are something else. But God is at work in our world. But God is not the only force that is at work in our world. Human sin is at work. Human frailty is at work. Human emotions get out of control. And there are those who believe in evil powers. Perhaps they are also at work in our world but think for a moment about how they work. They often achieve their goal by undermining your faith. And the way they undermine your faith is to attack your perspective about what you believe to be true.
Sometimes the form the attack takes is to convince you that those are not little baby skunks, but they’re something wonderful that you should pet and play with. It’s not true. Sometimes evil forces attack what you believe to be true and cause you to doubt when you know in your heart you’re right. The attack often comes upon our perspective, so we need to make sure that our perspective– what we believe, what we hope, the faith that we have –rests on what is true. And here is what is true if I were to suggest to you. The truth is that God is working in our lives and in the lives of everyone in that house. And we can call upon God to help us.
Matthew 9:27 “And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him crying aloud, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David’.” And when he entered the house– his destination –the blind men came to him– and would you please read this along with me to let it sink in. Please read it with me. “Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe I am able to do this?’ and they said to him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ Then he touched their eyes saying, ‘According to your faith be it done to you.'” What they believed, what they hoped, and the love that they had for Jesus gave great power to their faith. It is the source of power when we pray. And look what happens? “And their eyes were opened.” Their prayers were answered. But they had faith in what they had hoped for, what they believed that a loving God could do came true.
And Jesus sternly charged them, “See that no one knows it.” Now that’s a mystery. We’ll take a minute to explain it today. Jesus didn’t want them telling everybody what happened. There’s a principle in writing that goes like this, don’t tell, show. The men– verse 31 –“They went away and spread his faith throughout all that district.” They told everyone. They added fuel to the fire that was attempting to make Jesus a celebrity, some person that everyone was talking about. They created what nowadays they call buzz. Public relations. Everyone’s talking about what Jesus did. Marketing. Friends, Jesus is isn’t interested in marketing. Jesus is not even interested in being famous. Although this kind of talk, however, can increase people’s faith. Verse 32, as they were going away, behold, the dumb, demoniac, someone who was mute and unable to speak was brought to him. Verse 33, and when the demon had been cast out, the dumb man spoke and the crowds marveled saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel” and they kept talking and they kept talking. And Jesus became more and more visible in the minds of people who had never met him.
And you know what happens when that happens? You know what happens when you draw attention to yourself? Criticism happens. Verse 34, this is the first place we hear this. And the Pharisee said “He cast out demons by the price of demons. His power over demons comes because he is a servant of the king of the demons, of Satan, of the great devil. That’s where he gets his power. That’s the kind of power that sets you free. That’s the kind of power that heals the blind.” First of all, friends, evil powers don’t set people free. They don’t heal the blind. They harm people. Nonetheless, because they started saying this, people began to believe it.
Now, if you fast forward to Matthew Chapter 12, this comes up again face to face with Jesus. They accused him of this. And he warns them. He says there’s only one sin that cannot be forgiven. And that is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Now, one of the characteristics of mental illness is that people feel that accidentally in their sleep unaware that they committed the unforgivable sin. Friends, I don’t think you can do that. Because the unforgivable sin, if we read this in context, is you see God doing wonderful things and you say, “That’s the devil.” And there’s a hidden agenda. The reason you say that is you want to destroy their faith. The Holy Spirit’s been working on them to believe that God could help. But when someone blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, they try to destroy that person’s faith. They try to destroy that person’s hope. They try to destroy the relationship of love with that person with their criticism. I don’t think you can do that by accident.
I will tell you, however, some of you have noticed that I’m kind of an analytical person. 10 years ago, 20 years ago, I was ready to tell you what was wrong with what any person said. I was able to tell you big famous pastors, big successful churches, I was able to point out every single thing that was wrong about what they were doing. And it came to me that that was probably not very smart. Because if God was working through people, I ought not to be undermining what God was doing. And that’s all of a sudden when I began to be someone who said, “Well, maybe there’s some good in that.” And I stopped to the best that I could. The wholesale criticism, that now, when I hear people talk about it, greatly offends me. There is an epidemic in our culture of this. When it’s not about God but it’s about politics or ethics, now we call it fake news. You see, there’s this– and I’m not pointing to this side or this side for a reason, folks. Just in general. Over here at this extreme, there’s a bunch of people who hate everybody who’s not like them and they’re putting all kinds of things out there on the Internet, attacking everyone, and saying, “That isn’t true.” And then over here, there’s a bunch of people that don’t like anyone who’s not like them but they essentially don’t like those people and so they attack them back. Guess what. They’re both working for the devil because they’re stirring the pot and making everyone lose their hope. They’re making everyone lose their temper. They’re making everyone feel hopeless and helpless. They’re taking the road out from under cars that are coming around the curve. Friends, we don’t wanna go there. Now we live in a free country. Somebody has this opinion. Somebody has that opinion. They have a right to share and I wouldn’t wanna take that away from them, but let’s not go there because Jesus said, if you go down that road of criticizing everyone, you could get close to being what the Pharisees were doing when Jesus said they were committing a sin that God could not forgive. But here’s the thing to understand, that in its lighter, milder stages, it’s just simply this. You and I should not be destroying somebody’s faith. You and I should not be talking to someone who’s in trouble and telling them there’s no hope. You and I should support them in their hope and faith but even when all the rest of the world feels that it’s hopeless. They know that you are standing with them, even if what they hope and wish and pray for doesn’t come true. Consequently, I am always hoping and praying for a miracle because I think to be like them is to be like Jesus and to be like Jesus’s earlier followers. I do not wanna be someone who gives anyone the idea that God is helpless or that life is hopeless because God can and does answer our prayers. But friends, this is at the heart of criticism. And I’ll be honest with you. Any genuine work of God will be followed by criticism. You know why? Because the enemy doesn’t want God to win. And the tool that the enemy uses is criticism to erode people’s faith it caused people to not believe. The enemy wants to pour gasoline on their fears, and starve them wherever they hope. And Jesus I think knew this was going to happen. The more people were talking about the miracles, the miracles, not seeing them, just gossiping about them, the more criticism would happen. Jesus said in Matthew 13, “The Kingdom of Heaven, God taking charge. The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour until it all was leaven.” I don’t know if any of you bake bread for your Thanksgiving, you make your own rolls. You put the leaven in there, and it needs time to work, but if you give it time, and you leave it alone, it’s unstoppable.
So what does Jesus want? A blind man doesn’t need to tell every stranger on the way home that Jesus has healed him. When he gets home to his own neighborhood, guess what? All of his neighbors will realize that the man who was blind can now see. Once you get home, your neighborhood, to the people who really know you, the very fact that you exist is proof that God answers prayer. You have power when God has answered your prayers, in your neighborhood, because people there know you. That’s why I think Jesus gave us this command, that we are to love our neighbors ourselves, and that means that we have to get out of our houses, we have to get out of the house of God, and we need to walk around and notice our neighbor, and pray for our neighbor, and notice what God is doing, because then we’ll be able to sooner or later say, “Wasn’t it wonderful that God answered our prayers?” Because out there in your neighborhood, you’re like leaven. You’re unstoppable. But it’s all sort of hidden, and works underneath, in people’s hearts.
And so, as I said last week, I would like to ask you to intentionally pay attention to your families during this holiday season. You may be part of a perfect family, and no-one in your family needs any prayers. I need to tell you, if you believe that that’s true, it’s probably you that needs prayers [laughter]. Because somebody in your family needs your prayers. They need you to pray that prayer, “Help.” In the same way, someone in your family’s been blessed by God. That lets you pray that prayer, “Thanks.” And I know that God is working in your family. If you pay attention, you will see what God is doing and you will go, “Wow.” But don’t just share those prayers with your family. Share them where you have your interests and hobbies, the people you have fun with. Take those prayers with you to work, because in the same way, there’s people where you work or where you volunteer, they’re having a bad day. They need you to say, “Help and when God answers prayer and you say thanks, it strengthens the faith of everyone who hears your prayers. And even though I suggest that we get out of our own homes, be aware that people who live around here, your literal neighbors– if we pray for them, we will see miracles happen. Notice your neighbor and pray, especially during this holiday season. Well, here’s the truth. This is a saying from Mother Theresa. I’d like to ask you to read the red words. This is something that Mother Theresa said. People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
And if you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish and ulterior motives.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends, cause a lot of [inaudible], and you will gain some genuine enemies.
If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere [inaudible].
What you spend years building up, others could destroy overnight.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy [anyway?]. The good you do today will often be forgot. Do good anyway. Give the best you have and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway. And the final analysis– it is truly between you and God. It was never between you and them. To my knowledge, this is the very best way for us to answer any criticism that comes up. And I guarantee you that if God is working through you, you will draw criticism and even sabotage. But if you keep the faith, if you take care of the faith perspective– here’s the way Henry Ford put it, slightly changed. When you believe that God can or you believe that God can’t, [inaudible] you are right. So I would encourage you to believe that God can and believe that the words you hear in church are true. And believe that the words of scripture that you read in your prayer chair, that they are true, and that the hope in your heart that is expressed as a prayer to bless your neighbor, to bless your family, to bless yourself, to bless your church, is a prayer that God can and will answer. In other words, I want to encourage you to be pushy. There’s a little acronym, looks great on a t-shirt, PUSH, which stands for pray until something happens. Let’s check back in January. Everyone knows that the next six weeks or so through the holidays are the most stressful weeks of the year. The most challenging weeks or the year. They should be the happiest weeks or the year, but friends, there’s just a whole lot of drama and chaos that seems to go along with them. Let’s practice this for those six weeks. Let’s pray until something happens and people around us in our neighborhoods see that God is good. Let’s pray for ourselves. Let’s pray for our neighbors. Lord Jesus, you gave us the command that to love you with all our hearts, soul, mind, and strength, and the minute you have our attention, you said that you wanted us to love our neighbors. You said that you wanted a balance between loving our self and loving our neighbors. And Lord, I think for us to be able to love our neighbor, you have to help us not to be distracted by the pitfall, by what’s under the tree, by our crazy excitement about shopping and getting something that’s $5 off, and every other bit of craziness that’s [inaudible] that the holidays are [inaudible]. These times have [inaudible] that kind of crazy [inaudible]. Help us not to be too distracted by the holiday, but instead, to be able to notice our neighbor so that we can see you loving our neighbor through answered prayers. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen. Friends, it’s hard to
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This post is based on the sermon “___” from the sermon series “___”
*date*, at Kinmundy United Methodist Church.
Slides and audio for this message can be downloaded from http://www.disciplewalk.com/K_Sermons_June_2018.html
All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.