God is the original Innovator and He's asking us to stay open to the new things He has in store for us.
Last week was kind of a start because I talked about moving forward. Some of you recall that. We looked at how God encouraged Joshua in the older Testament to be strong and courageous. We were reminded, as God reminded Joshua, that Moses is dead. We shared about being on the edge of a new year and our need to live with acceptance. That phrase, ‘Moses is dead’ for Joshua was a reminder, not of something that he didn’t understand, but the reminder to him that he needed to accept it and move forward.
There are times when the Lord will call us to accept things. Not because this is what we want, but because it is the way that it is. God wants to teach us how to move forward. In relationship to life, there are things God wants us to move forward with, that He wants us to deal with. That was the focus last week. Preparing us for the idea of leaving what we cannot change behind. The year is done. Now we’re moving into a new year and I want to shift a little bit. This is the way of shifting our sightlines and I want us to focus now more on being open. Last week was a little bit more about acceptance in moving forward. Now I want to talk about being open to the new things and possibilities that God is calling us potentially to change.
The passage we’re going to look at here is Matthew 9. Matthew 9, Verse 9 says, “As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man called Matthew sitting at a tax booth and He said to him, follow me. He rose and he followed him.” Now here we see the call of Matthew who in some ways was the most controversial of all the disciples. At the time of Christ, tax collectors, and Matthew was a tax collector, were also called publicans. Sometimes when you read the gospels you’ll see publicans. That was a tax collector. One of the things about them we know is that they were almost uniformly despised. They were viewed as traitors through their people working on behalf of Rome. They collected taxes and then Rome winked when they extracted a little bit more. Basically, how they viewed it, it was their commission. The system was set up for graft. That is illicit gain.
The system was set up for graft and abuse. They were essentially, we look at Matthew, a tax collector. He was part of a group of people who were essentially viewed as legalized extortioners. Seen as being on par with the worst of sinners, almost viewed like mobsters. They were debarred from the synagogue. They couldn’t worship with the people. They were classed together with thieves and robbers. Matthew, who is also known in the gospels as Levi, was this kind of a man. The idea that Jesus would invite someone like him to leave his past behind and become one of his disciples was considered to be, at minimum, controversial and perhaps for some, even scandalous. Jesus, of course, had told Matthew to leave his old ways behind and ‘follow me.’ Matthew did not, this is interesting, Jesus told him to leave his past behind, but he did not tell him to break with his friends.
In fact, it seems Jesus was willing to push the boundaries of decorum a bit and interact with them in what amounted to a going-away party or celebration. It’s specifically stated that way in Luke 5. However, in Matthew, and something I want to look at a little bit more in-depth next week, there’s a gap between verses nine and ten. The tenth verse jumps into a celebration that Matthew is throwing for his associates and friends. He’s making it known that he’s going to follow Jesus. The entire atmosphere though is fascinating because you have Jesus and His disciples, the Pharisees, the disciples of John, and people who are friends and associates of Matthew, all coming together at once.
Let’s look at verse 10, “As Jesus reclined at the table in the house, behold many tax collectors and sinners,” that would be people who are not thought highly of and viewed as being immoral, “came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.” At a point in the evening, perhaps on their way out, Jesus and His disciples were questioned by the Pharisees as to how they could justify this interaction, sharing a table with such a despicable group of people. It seemed inappropriate for a rabbi, even an unconventional one like Jesus, to do such a thing.
In verse 11, “When the Pharisees saw this, they said to the disciples, they pulled them aside and they said, why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard them, and we can’t tell, did they say that so Jesus could hear it, intentionally? Or was Jesus just perceiving what was being said and jumped into the conversation? When Jesus heard it, he said this, “Those who are well, have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Jesus answered the question posed to his disciples, but in reality, directed to him by stating it is the sick who need care and not the well. I am the great physician. I go where the hurting is. Then He didn’t stop, and one more thing, “Go and learn what it means. I desire mercy and not sacrifice, for I came not to call the righteous, but the sinners.” Now Jesus is quoting from what we call the Old Testament, the book of Hosea. The book of Hosea is fascinating and what he renders is technically Hosea 6:6. He renders it mercy and in some translations it’s rendered, love.
Basically what Jesus says is if you look at the book of Hosea, it’s a fascinating book because the center of that book is that the prophet’s message is essentially about God’s wounded heart. God’s heart is broken. He’s saying my heart is broken because you, as my people, are being unfaithful to me. I went back and looked at the context of the statement Jesus makes because remember he’s answering their accusation. How can you be with these types of people?
It’s one thing to be around them. It was questionable, but to eat with them, what kind of teacher do you have? Why do you do this? Jesus says I do it because I go to where the hurting is. Have you forgotten? Jesus then quotes Hosea. I put in your handout the whole context of that verse, Hosea 6:6. When I read it, I just reconnected with it. Look what it says. It’s right there in the other column. “Oh, Israel and Judah. What should I do with you, asks the Lord?” Look at the poetry, hear the heart of God. “For your love vanishes like the morning mist. It disappears like the dew in the sunlight. I sent my prophets to cut you to pieces, to slaughter you with my words, with judgments as inescapable as light.”
Here is the verse that Jesus is quoting. “I want you to show love.” Again, some versions say mercy, love, and mercy. “I want you to show love and mercy, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want your burnt offerings, but like Adam, you broke my covenant and you betrayed my trust.” That’s a powerful indictment. It’s one of the rare moments where Adam, the first human being, is brought into a conversation in the scripture. It doesn’t happen that often. But you broke my trust as Adam broke it.
I want a relationship with you, not just your religious obligation. Jesus is really pushing. God is using Hosea to make the case that I want you to show love and mercy. Don’t just come and give me your sacrifices, and then not be a loving and merciful person. It’s powerful. I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. Think about what Jesus is saying. He is in this conversation. Jesus says, you teachers need to go back. You need to go back to the scriptures and see if you can discern the heart of God. He wants you to show love and mercy. It’s like Jesus saying this. If you don’t start there, the other things won’t matter. Do you understand me? Be very careful about what you’re judging here.
It says, then a second concern is raised. The first one was, how can he eat with these people? But then a second concern is raised. Look at it, verse 14. “Then the disciples of John came to him saying, why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” The first concern had to do with why is Jesus engaging with these types of people and eating with them. Why does He do this? He’s a Holy man. He doesn’t engage these types of people. The second thing comes is we’ve noticed you are really kind of free in the way in which you’re engaging in things. Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not? In Luke’s account, it’s implied that the question is asked jointly by the Pharisees and John’s disciples who, remember, were more austere and restrained.
Basically they’re saying, why aren’t your followers more rigorous in the application of their religious beliefs? Why are they so cavalier? Why don’t they fast? We know they did fast actually. Jesus talked about prayer, fasting, and the dislodging of spirits. What’s more, they participated in the religious life of their people. They participated in communal fast under God. It was clearly not a point of emphasis with Jesus. I want to put the passage into context. The lightness, this easy yoke of Jesus, this kind of joyful engaging way, yet He was still retaining His holiness, His rightness of being. At the same time, not afraid to engage in the easiness in which He followed His father and taught His disciples. It was very difficult for a certain group of people because they had equated denial with devotion.
Denial for them was devotion. Jesus would not suggest that there was not a time for denial. He also wanted to be very clear that whenever He was present, it was at the end of the day and a time of joy. Jesus follows that up by saying this to them. Look at verse 15, it says, “Jesus said to them, can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them.” That’s a reference to the cross. You see it. That’s the cross right there. If you look close, you can see the cross in that phrase. “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away and then they will fast. But I am present.”
By the way, when Jesus rose again, He was present with us in a different way. Which means the Christian life, the way of Jesus, is a happy way. At least, I need to say, it’s characterized by hope, joy, and love at its core. Not cheap. He goes on to say this, and this is where I want to settle in the minutes that we have. Then Jesus says, I want to tell you something else. He gives them what we would call a mini parable. Jesus says, no one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment because the patch tears away from the garment. Then what happens is a tear is made worse. The past pulls away when it shrinks and tears; the old garment makes it even worse.
The hole that was patched once that patch shrinks, pulls that old garment and creates an even bigger hole. How can we say this? The old garment is not well suited for the new patch. He’s basically saying, my ways won’t work with the past ways of John and Jerusalem. It’s a different way. It’s a new patch. I’m doing a new thing. Let me put it to you this way. Jesus is using language they would have recognized, things that were every day a part of their lives. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. New wine is put into fresh wineskins and then both are preserved. In Jesus’s day, the wineskin was usually the skin of a goat, coated in pitch.
The new juice was poured into the neck and it was sealed and allowed to ferment. As it fermented, that new wine, that juice, would expand as it turned. If the wine skin was new, it would stretch to accommodate that expanding liquid. If the wine skin was old, when the new wine was poured in, when it started to ferment, it was likely to burst and explode because it was already stretched to capacity. Often dry, cracked, and less flexible. So what was the primary point of Jesus’ mini parable? That God was doing a new thing in their midst, and if they were going to receive it, they were going to have to be open to change. The Pharisees and disciples of John were getting hung up on the legalistic details. Jesus said it’s not going to fit.
It’s not going to work. No matter how hard you try, this new patch will not work on the old garment. The new one cannot be contained in your old wineskins. It can’t do it. To contain the new thing God is doing is going to require a new wineskin. Now let’s take this and flip it into our lives and this new year. One of the things, and for those of us who are going for our notes now and starting to just process through things, I’m going to put some things up. One of the things we need to be aware of is this. God is the God of new things. He is the original innovator. He is the original innovator. He is our creator who gave us the capacity to create. He gave us the capacity to adapt and innovate. That’s why human beings tick the way we do. We have the DNA of God in us. We reflect our creator, which is why we love to create. We reflect our creator, which is why we love. He’s the one who places in our hearts to aspire, to dream, to yearn for more. Where does that come from? He’s the one who created us with, what the scripture calls, eternity in our heart. It’s in there.
I long for more. I long to know why. I long to live. The new year also reminds us of our passing years. Each year a gift, we mark it, but God put eternity in our hearts. I want to say this at the beginning of the year for all of us. The way of Jesus was never intended to be stale or boring or joyless. But bursting with new life and adventure, a never ending story of learning and becoming the real self in the making as God sees us. My words, Jesus said, they are spirit and they are life. Through the pain and through the years, through the joy and through this sorrow, life today, and more tomorrow. I’ll say that one more time. Through the pain and through the years, through the joy and through the sorrow, life today and more tomorrow. That’s our way. That’s the way of following Christ.
Let’s stay open to fresh revelation and new beginnings. This year seek to be a highly adaptive person, a highly adaptive follower of the Lord. Followers of the Lord are highly adaptive people. Sometimes we have to shake things up a bit, hit the refresh button, because it’s all clogged up. We have to power down and power back on. Something got stuck in there We have to clear it out, start a reset, redo, and reawaken. Sometimes that’s the way it is with us too. When I say highly adaptive people, I guess what I’m saying is that things don’t always go exactly how we want them to go. As I was praying about this service, I thought, maybe for some of us, this year did not start the way we wanted it to. That’s the truth.
We are highly adaptive people in Christ. The joy of the Lord is my strength. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say rejoice. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. Let our requests be made known unto God. The peace of God that passes understanding will keep our heart and our minds in Christ Jesus. This is the truth of the Lord. We decide these things. The two messages connect. The end of the year and the beginning of the year. I cannot change what was. Moses is dead, but I can be a part of something new that God wants to do. Some things I will work to change. We’re going to talk about this in the coming minutes here. I’ve got some things to say still. We’ll work to change them. But some things we will need to adapt around and God will help us.
He will help us do it. Here are a couple of more things. God wants us to stay open to his movements. To be open to the new wine and the new wineskins. The Pharisees and John’s disciples were locked up a bit. They were missing God’s heart for people. What was God’s ultimate innovation? Because they missed that one, too. God’s ultimate innovation was his only son. They were missing things. Jesus said, you’re not seeing it. You’re not seeing it. You’re missing the marvelous thing that God is doing in your midst. I remembered a verse, a passage, I had someone share it this morning with me. They didn’t even know it was going to be in the message. This is from Isaiah 43.
“Remember not the former things.” There it is again. Moses is dead. “Nor consider the things of old. Behold I am doing a new thing. Now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness. I will bring rivers into the desert.” That needs to be added on the very bottom of that as well. Rivers in the desert, but away in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. How good is that? That was a specific word for Israel not to get caught up in their past. Again, stagnation is a real issue. When Jesus came onto the scene, God was doing a new thing. That’s what Jesus was saying. “Do you not perceive it? Do you not perceive it?”
Another thing, God wants us to push forward, and again, I don’t know which one of these is going to most connect with you. You decide. You hear the Lord, but I appeal to you in the name of Jesus to look at your life and think good thoughts, deep thoughts, real thoughts, and engage in the word. God wants us to push forward unafraid of new things. Some of us are too afraid by change and we find it intimidating. Others of us, we change too much. We are always changing. Do you understand? There’s a time to change and there’s a time to hold. Some of us are prone to getting stuck and we don’t like change at all. God’s saying, be not afraid. Be strong, be courageous. Don’t be afraid of new things. New things are what I do. Others of us? We’re changing all the time. We have a hard time staying with things. We become reckless. We’re here, now I’m over there. I’m over here, there.
Organizationally, personally, and relationally, that can happen to us. Where do we play out here? Are we a person? Again, I think about these three things, organizationally, relationally, and spiritually. How do we tend to do things? Do we tend to be open to new things? Is that a weakness for us? Do we have a hard time with that, or is our weakness that we have a hard time staying with something? We’re great at starting something but hard at sustaining it. We lose our interest. We can’t stick it out. Thank God, Jesus finished. “I have accomplished the work that you sent me for as he set his face towards Jerusalem.” On the cross, “It is finished.”
Some things need to be finished. Jesus clearly saw a need for shifting paradigms though, for flexibility, adaptability. I talked about the value of openness and change. Again, not in a reckless or thoughtless way. Some things Jesus would never change. Matthew, for example, would be asked to adapt to the way of Christ and not vice versa. He was going to have to leave, it’s true, not his friends, but some of his past ways had to get left behind. He was going to move forward with a new thing Jesus wanted him to do. Here’s the thing. God wants to do new things in and through us. In and through us. This to me speaks of new things He wants to work at two levels. One, He wants to work things this year. Who knows? This is another great question to probe. Is the priority of this year supposed to be inside?
Character development, alignment, acquisition of understanding, and the ability to apply it. The Bible calls that wisdom. Is this a year of gaining understanding of His words? Let that linger a bit, that statement up there? Is it a time for interior work in the weeks to come? We might talk about interior things. Or is it a year that God is saying, I want you to push out? I have things I want to do through you. I have things I want to do through you at work. Or I have things that I want to do through you in terms of serving. I don’t know the answer to it. I don’t know where the accent’s supposed to go. These are things for us to explore, to pray together, to talk together, to think, to walk, to talk, to think, to listen to our lives, through the lens of what the Lord is saying.
Remember, it’s just a way of life. It’s dynamic. It’s not stagnant. I’ll tell you what it also reminds me of. An In and Out burger, just because of in and out, in and out. So every time maybe for the next few times you go to In and Out, what is God trying to work in? What is he trying to work out? Oh, that crazy pastor Terry said in and out, now I can’t ever stop thinking about it when I eat this burger. What is God trying to work on the inside? What is he trying to work out? Where’s the emphasis? A last one. God wants us to implement new practices, a new anointing.
A fresh move usually involves a new container. So new ways of being. It’s not too late to do this. This month is the invitation. It’s not just I missed it, I missed it. Can I miss the beginning of the year? I’m already done? No. You have a whole month to go. This is time to make some good adjustments, new ways of being, new rituals, and new practices. Remember, the old cannot contain the new. We will have to adapt and adjust so that we can hold what the Lord desires of us. So here’s one question. What adjustments are we being led to make as we head into the new year? So that we can contain the blessing he wants to send our way.
Remember, the container matters. I have new things for you, but that old container may not be able to sustain the new thing I want to give you. So what adjustments are we making? I just sat with that. I’ll give you an example, just only for my own self. You know that there’s a practical way to think about this. I said, here’s what it is. I had three emphasis points for myself. This is for me. I’m only using it as an example. I had three things I wanted to do better. In January, that would, I hope, carry me into the year. One, I want to continue to rise up early. If I could tweak it, I would like to rise up earlier. That might be the more accurate way of saying it. Second, I wanted devotions as a priority in my life. I really wanted to recommit myself to certain practices. For me, that also involves reading, reading good things in the midst of a culture that is reading a little bit less because we’re stimulated so much. I wanted to try to slow myself down a bit and read a little bit more. The old adage, the one who reads leads. There was no real difference between a person who knows how to read and doesn’t, and a person who can’t read.
Last, I want to watch my diet. For me, it may involve the physical, but that wasn’t what I was referring to. I’m talking about what I’m allowing into my mind. Again, I’m sharing with you practical workout of the things I said. I say to myself, Lord, I think you want me to be a little more thoughtful about my entertainment choices because I’m part of culture. I’m hanging with Jesus and the disciples, engaging people. I also want to make sure that I’m walking as Jesus did for in Him there was no sin, nor guile, nor pretense, nor hypocrisy. He was real. Now I’m not ever going to be like Him. Perfection. But I am called to follow in His steps and be more whole in an increasingly toxic environment. To seek to model as much as His grace will allow me combined with a devotion model life in Christ.
That means my diet. What is coming in, Jesus said, into my mind, out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. The portals of entry, my ears and my eyes. These are things I need to challenge. The healthier we have as an intake, the likelihood is that there will be a more healthy output. What we put in is what comes out. If I want to see my relationships improve, then what am I putting in and what am I keeping out? If I want to see my character develop, what am I putting in? What am I putting out? If I want to see increasingly my mind filled with His peace, then what am I filling it with? Take some time, the whole month invites us into this. We’re going to sit with it together. Next week we’re going to just celebrate, but we’re going to talk about newness there too.
Lord, I ask that you would be with us here as we finish out. We have shared this word together and I ask that as we have a very quick time, and I am so thankful, Lord. I need to pray for this. I am so thankful for the way so many in this body showed up in their giving and their contributions. Not just in words, but in deeds. I thank you for that, and I bless them all in your name.
I ask Lord, that you would just be with us in this time, as we have our quick time of giving to honor you in our beautiful closing song, this benediction that will just fold in perfectly with these words. As that happens, we’re reflecting on some of the things that you might be prompting us to consider. The last thing I pray to the Lord, is that you would not let us be like the one who sees their face in the mirror, notices what needs to be shifted and changed. But then as soon as we walk away, we forget what it is we were looking at. Give us the gift of remembrance and attentiveness. I ask that blessing, let your joy prevail. In your name, I ask it. Amen. It was great sharing the first Sunday of the year with all of you. Praise the Lord. Amen. Thank you, Lord. Yes it was.