Tuesday, October 13, 2020

How Not to Receive God's Word

"St. John the Baptist preaching before Herod Antipas" by Pieter de Grebber

A week ago, I preached on Matthew 13:53-14:12, which tells of the rejection of Jesus in his hometown of Nazareth and the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod at the request of Herodias. You can listen to the full sermon here. Something I pointed out in this text are the hinderances which led astray the people of Nazareth and Herod and Herodias. May we beware these hinderances so that we might receive the word of God with benefit. 

1. Familiarity. As the saying goes, “familiarly breeds contempt.” The people of Nazareth were familiar with Jesus and his family and this led to their contempt for his messianic claims. Your familiarity with Jesus can lead to apathy if you are not careful. And your familiarity with those who preach Jesus and share his word can also be a hinderance. You know his disciples and his preachers are normal people, flawed, weak, inconsistent at times; who are they to correct you and show you the way to life? 

2. Offense at Jesus. The people of Nazareth took offense at Jesus and his claims. Jesus is a stumbling block for some. He is not the man or message they wanted. Some are offended at his mercy. Some at his judgment. Some at his humble condition. Some at his message (repentance, atonement, grace, self-denial). Blessed are those who are not offended by him (Matt. 11:6). As Calvin said, “We are not liberty to imagine to ourselves a Christ that corresponds to our fancy, but ought simply to embrace him as he is offered by the Father.”

3. Unbelief. Jesus did not do many miracles in Nazareth because of their unbelief. They saw, but did not truly see. You need faith to receive benefit from Jesus. If you think of salvation like water, then faith is like a bottle - without faith you cannot receive salvation. Without faith, all the grace remains out there, of no benefit to you. And Jesus takes away what is not received. He does not "cast pearls before swine" (Matt. 7:6). 

4. Resentment at rebuke. Herod and Herodias grew hostile when they were corrected by John. Do not let your pride and lust get in the way of faith and repentance. Hunger and thirst for righteousness, so much that you are willing to be corrected and to deny your desires. The kingdom of heaven is for the humble. Be willing to listen to reproof. 

5. Pleasures. Herod was ensnared at a birthday feast by a dance. Beware lest pleasures and entertainments leave you unguarded. Always be vigilant against sin, even in your mirth. Beware lest entertainments lead you astray into pride, lust, and folly. Do not be a slave of your passions like Herod, easily manipulated, led from one sin to another. Be discerning with the movies you watch, the songs you listen to, and the events you go to. Entertainments are often good in principle, but can be corrupted by design or by your use of them. 

6. Rash oaths and the praise of man. Herod carried out the execution of John because of the oath he had made and because of the crowds. Oaths cannot make sin a duty. But when an oath requires sin, in that case they are vain oaths (and it is wrong to use oaths in that way) and they serve as a temptation to sin (because of social pressure). So beware of the commitments you make. And beware the love of man’s praise. Do not be driven by the crowd lest they steer you to do evil. 

So be wary of these hinderances and receive the word of God with faith, that you might be fruitful disciples of Christ and heirs of the kingdom. Even though the men of Nazareth and Herod and Herodias fell prey to these hinderances, yet others steered clear of them and received the word. While many in Nazareth rejected Jesus, yet Jesus’ mother and brothers would believe in him and formed part of the early church in Acts 1:14. And while Herod opposed John, yet we find that his steward’s wife Joanna became a disciple and helped support Jesus financially (Luke 8:3) and that Herod’s life-long friend Manaen became either a prophet or teacher in the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1). The word bore fruit, even though it was rejected by some. Praise be to God who opens the eyes of the blind that we might turn and be saved. May we all be good soil for the word of God, turning at its reproofs, trusting its promises and claims, and obeying its commands as disciples of Jesus Christ. 

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