Commissioning the Best
COMMISSIONING THE BEST
If you have Bible, and I hope you do, let me invite you to open with me to Matthew 15. A people enthralled with the glory of God will be compelled to spread the gospel of God to the ends of the earth. Blank checks…in our lives…and in the church. However You want to use us, God. Whatever You want to do in us, God. You lead…and we follow…no strings attached. We want to make disciples and multiply churches among all nations. The purpose of our Christianity is not to sit back and coast this thing out in a comfortable church with programs and events that cater to us. No.
The purpose of our Christianity…the purpose of our faith…the reason why we exist…is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ where we live and to the ends of the earth…and that mission involves all of us, every member of this church, on the front lines making disciples and multiplying churches. Which means we’re willing to send our best out. We are not afraid to send brothers and sisters in small groups to Seattle and Kansas City and New York and North Africa and Central Asia and East Asia and East Lake and today…Southside/Homewood. We’re not afraid to send out brothers and sisters whom we love…and we will miss. We’ve only got a little time here. So God, give us grace to move out of a paradigm where the goal is to get as many people as possible into one building where we can have the best programs to revolve around us. God, give us to grace to move to a paradigm where the goal is truly to send as many people as possible out of this building to spread this gospel to people who need it in our city and to the ends of the earth.
These are the things that we talk about all the time…and today we have the opportunity to put into practice. Today we send out some of our best…Paul and Barnabas and a host of other brothers and sisters…people whose absence will be felt. Today we send out more people than at any other time in my time as pastor here.
Let me remind you the story…about a year ago, when we were walking through the Word, in the book of Acts, a couple of small groups that meet in the Homewood, Southside area of Birmingham, approached me, saying, “Pastor, we’re leading people to Christ, doing ministry among those who don’t know Christ in our neighborhood, and it is a challenge for us to involve those people who live in our neighborhood in sharing life with a church seems that distant from them down 280.”
And they asked me, “As we’re making disciples in Homewood/Southside, would it ever be possible for us to gather together as a church there with people who are coming to Christ?” I smiled, and said, “Let’s get together and talk about this.” So we did, and I invited Bart to meet with us…knowing that in his role overseeing church planters, the Lord had put it in his heart to plant a church…so together we began praying about the possibility of these small groups beginning to gather together for worship, and the possibility of Bart shepherding them.
Bart and these small groups began meeting together, and have now been meeting together consistently for months, and they are officially ready to covenant together as a church in that part of Birmingham. As a church – not a campus, not pipe-David-in-on-DVD location, but as a body of Christ, gathering together in their community to glorify God by making disciples of all nations from that community. So what I want to do is to invite Bart to share with you an overview what’s happened to lead to this point, and to share with you some of what will happen from this point…and at the same time, simply to encourage us as we prepare to send him/them out. You’ll see a list of names of people who are committed to going…these are all the members of The Church at Brook Hills who are going. There are others who are regular attenders here who will be going. And there are others who are still praying about going…today, the Lord might tell you to go. So Bart…tell us about Christ Fellowship Church…
Pastor Bart Box: Thank you, David. We are indeed transitioning from a core group of believers which has met for about seven to eight months in the Homewood-Southside area to a church. And we’ll begin regular meetings on Easter Sunday and so we’ll be meeting at 10:30 every Sunday, Lord willing, from there on. And it’s been really encouraging, even this week, as I was preparing to share this morning…just looking back over the ways or the things that God has done in bringing this to pass. I think about all the people and all the gifts that He’s assembled in this body.
First Corinthians 12:7 says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” And it’s a passage where Paul is talking about God sovereignly and wisely, by His Spirit, arranging the gifts in the body for the edification of the body. And to see Him do that has just been overwhelming—to see various people with various giftings that the Lord has brought along at various stages, exactly when that was needed and I’m confident that He will continue to do that in the days ahead.
But also to see the way that God has provided. I think about the provision in terms of encouragement from this body, from resources, space to meet… I got the question regularly at the beginning, “Where you guys going to meet, particularly when you get going?” And I would typically give the most spiritual answer that I could think of and that was, “The Lord will provide.” And not quite sure that He would in my heart. But the Scriptures tell us that if we are faithless He will remain faithful. And it was two months into the process that one of the brothers in the core team said, “Hey, I’m buying a new place, kind of expanding my business”—in terms of a new gym. And he said, “I’d love to think about maybe the church meeting in there.” I went and checked it out and he not only said we could meet here but how can we arrange things that not only could it be a place of business but also could be a place of worship? And so involved me in the process of thinking through how to redesign that building and so forth. It’s just been encouraging to see the Lord provide and supply all of our needs along the way.
David e-mailed me earlier this week as we were kind of preparing for this day and he said at the end of the e-mail, said, “It’s beginning to feel a little bit like Acts 20.” And if you know that passage, it’s where Paul is gathering the Ephesian elders together at Miletus and he’s about to go on his way to Jerusalem; he doesn’t think he will see them again. And he says… Luke tells us at the end that, he says, “And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again…” (Acts 20:37-38).
Now I’m not trying to be overly dramatic—I am just moving across the city. I understand that. And certainly want to spare you the tears and especially the kissing, so praise the Lord for cultural differences, first century to our time. But this has been a really good place for me and for my family and for members of our core team, those that are going with us. It has been…I want you to know, it has been an immense privilege to serve you, to serve here. For someone who loves to preach and to teach the Word, I can’t imagine… I’ve never been around a congregation that is so receptive, so hungry for the Word of God and it has been just an affirming time, encouraging me to go back to the Scriptures even, to see the sufficiency of God's Word in His people and so I praise God for that.
To be sent out from this church is a privilege. I think back to a couple years ago—three years ago almost—David and myself and Jonathan B. were in Cuba, seeing church planting movements going…church planting movement going across that country. And we began to think, “How…what would it look like to plant churches from The Church at Brook Hills and one thing that we continually came back to at least kind of conceptually, is we have to bring church planting kind of from the periphery to the core—to the center of who we are. And I really think that along this journey, I’ve seen how that is taking place, taking root in this congregation. I’ve heard nothing be encouragement, affirming words, “What can we do? How can we pray for you? How can we supply what you need?” It’s just been encouraging to see God’s people so willing, not again to be focused, “What can we get…” but “How can we give…” So I’m thankful for God’s grace in your life in that way.
And last, it’s been an immense privilege for me to labor alongside one of my best friends. Now David’s going to get mad at me for this but it’s my last Sunday, what’s he going to do? But I always tell people that I think that David…and I’ve heard I think a lot of preaching over the years but I think David is one of the best preachers that I’ve ever heard. But he’s a better person. Behind the scenes when few people are watching, David is a man of integrity—by God’s grace, he would tell you this. He’s a man of integrity, a man of kindness, a man of love and a man of sincerity. And I’m thankful…now thankful that the guy across the hall at seminary is now sending me across the city to plant a church. I love you, David.
And I love you, Church at Brook Hills. And I look forward to laboring alongside you in this city for the sake of the gospel, for the glory of Christ. Thank you.
Pastor David Platt: I am so thankful for Bart Box. Now some of you may be wondering…well, if Bart has been the primary pastor overseeing church planting and the Institute for Disciple-Making, does his leaving mean that we’re not going to continue biblical training and church planting like we’ve done? And we are indebted to Bart for the way he has taken this on and gotten biblical training and church planting off the ground at Brook Hills…we came to the point where we said, “We need to plant churches, but we don’t know how…,” and Bart took that mantle and ran with it in such a way that now (and I’ll be sharing more about this in the next month, but now…), in God’s providence, the stage is set for us to be even more intentional about training disciples and planting churches in the days ahead…based on the foundation Bart has laid. But we’ll talk about that more another day. In light of today, what I want to do is to give a charge – a fourfold charge…
To The Church at Brook Hills and Christ Fellowship Church…
Based on the text that we just so happened to be in today, Matthew 15. As I was praying about this day and studying this text, it just fit perfect. These challenges that I want to give to Bart and other potential elders and members of Christ Fellowship Church…as well as to elders and members of The Church at Brook Hills…these challenges just build on each other in a text that, at first glance, seems to have nothing to do with planting a church. But when you look deeper, you realize that the truths contained here have everything to do with planting a church. Now we’ve got some work to do, but we are pretty far removed from this situation here in Matthew 15, and on first reading, we don’t understand exactly what’s going on here.
So hang with me…and I promise you it will be worth it.
Let’s start by reading the first section, Matthew 15:1-9.
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15:1-9 ESV)
To The Church at Brook Hills and to Christ Fellowship Church, challenge number one…
Exalt the authority of God’s Word.
The Pharisees and scribes are now teaming up on Jesus…a group of them comes north, likely an official contingency sent from Jerusalem, to find out what Jesus was teaching and how they could stop him. They ask him, “Why do your disciples break the traditions of the elders and now wash their hands when they eat?” Now we’ve got to understand that this is not a hygiene issue. This is not me saying to my kids, “Go wash your hands before you eat.” This is a ritual cleansing issue established by tradition. You see…the tradition of the elders goes all the way back to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, when the Book of the Law was rediscovered, and scribes began to study it, and teachers began to explore all the ways that the Law should be applied in people’s lives. So what happened is you began to have the Law of God on one hand, and then the teaching of the elders, that would say, “Here’s how you must apply the Law in your lives.” And that teaching, mainly oral, was passed down from generation to generation.
By A.D. 200, these traditions were compiled in a book called the Mishnah. And we’ve talked about this before…all kinds of rules and regulations had been added to the Law by these scribes and Pharisees, and before long, their traditions began to trump the Law itself. The traditions that they taught were seen as just as authoritative as the Law God had given. It was worse to disobey the teaching of the elders than it was to disobey the commands of the Law. Now part of that tradition dealt with ceremonially washing your hands a certain way before a meal. This was not in God’s Word, but it was in their traditions. So when they ask this question, Jesus responds by asking them a question, as if to say, “You should talk! Why do you break the commandments of God for the sake of your tradition?”
And then He gives an example of how God’s Word commands children to honor their father and mother, but they had come up with a tradition to keep children from providing for their parents. If their parents needing something, and a child didn’t want to give it, the child could simply say, “Sorry…that is dedicated to the Lord.”
And he or she wouldn’t have to give it to them. You got things that would really help your parents out, but you really like those things…just dedicate them to the Lord (whatever that meant), and you don’t have to honor your father and mother. And this was just one example of how the tradition of the elders had come to trump the Word of God. And so I remind The Church at Brook Hills and say to Christ Fellowship Church as you go out today…always exalt one authority…the authority of God’s Word.
Minimize the thoughts of man.
Minimize the thoughts of man. Minimize the teachings of man. I have no authority to shepherd this church based upon my own teaching or my own thoughts. Man’s thoughts, man’s teachings…which are rampant across the church today…They promote self-centeredness. They did here…providing an out for children who didn’t want to obey the command of God. When God’s Word says to do something that is not easy, you don’t look for a way out…that is self-centered. When God’s Word says to do something that is not easy, you say, “I submit,” and you obey…that’s God-centered. The thoughts of man promote self-centeredness,…They fuel self-righteousness.
Following the thoughts of man does not necessitate trust in God. The thoughts of man, the teachings that you come up with, will lead to a prideful self-righteousness that has no need of God. You stand on your soapboxes instead of God’s Word, you become self-righteous, and in the end, your thoughts, your teachings serve self interest. They serve self-interest. Think about how what Jesus is saying here was in so many ways undercutting the part that the Pharisees and scribes played in Jewish religion. If the Word of God was supreme, not the teaching of the elders, then these guys were out of a job. Their thoughts fueled their interests. I know that this text and this truth seems distant from us…but this is a truth that is drastically affecting the church around us. I put some Examples… Here in your notes of ways this plays out today…and I’m going to go quickly through them…I’m hesitant to do that because there’s so much that could be explained here…but I just want to put you on your guard – Christ Fellowship Church and Church at Brook Hills. Watch out for…Cultic teachers. Cults like Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons or others…I know this is a question in the current presidential campaign with Mitt Romney, a Mormon, as a candidate. Hear me…my aim is not to convince anyone who to vote for and why to vote for them…I just want to point out what I hope you already know…but what is questioned all over the media today …Mormonism is most definitely a cult. It is not biblical Christianity. In addition to the Bible, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (or the Mormon church) three other books of teachings as authoritative alongside the Bible: The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price.
Joseph Smith declared The Book of Mormon "the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book. ”The Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of modern revelations. And The Pearl of Great Price “clarifies doctrines and teachings that were lost from the Bible and gives added information concerning the creation of the earth.” Not true. They are the thoughts of man…and from these extra-biblical works, Mormons embrace all kinds of errant doctrines…concerning Jesus and salvation and a host of other things. So this is not me making comment on Mitt Romney’s candidacy for the President of the United States…this is me making clear to you that Mormonism is a cult built on the thoughts of man that distorts the Word of God. And there’s all kinds of other examples of cults in the world built on the thoughts of man that claim to fall under the banner of Christianity…Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, International Churches of Christ, Scientologists, Unitarian Universalists, and so on and so on. So you’ve got cultic teachers and then catholic teaching.
Now I want to be really careful here…just want to stick with the facts. My goal is not to denigrate Catholicism…but I do want to point out that the Catholic church acknowledges three sources of authority. One is the Bible, and they include apocryphal books in that. Second source of authority is tradition, which has been preserved in the church over the last couple of thousand years. And then the third source of authority is the Magisterium, or the teaching ministry of the church. Bishops, in communion with the pope, interpret the Bible and tradition. And all three of these teachings are equally authoritative. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says they “are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others.” It’s the same thing that we’re seeing here in Matthew 15…the authority of man’s thoughts trumping the authority of God’s truth. But hear this…this is not just outside us…in cults or Catholicism…this is a temptation to all of us…in…Cultural traditions.
We do things as Christians in the twenty-first century that are nowhere prescribed in the Bible…yet we think that they are because they are the tradition that’s been passed down to us. It’s what we know…and it’s why we have to constantly look at the authority of God’s Word and ask God to reveal our blind spots…areas where we have put our thoughts and our preferences and our traditions above His Word. And along with that…Contemporary trends. That develop around us…this is the new way to do church…this is the new teaching to trumpet. Amid the conferences and books and teachings that are spread all across contemporary Christianity, much of it virtually ignores what the Word of God really says. Now I want to be careful here…because not all traditions are bad. Some traditions are good…and some trends are good…but only if those traditions or trends prop up the authority of God’s Word…point us to the authority of God’s Word. Take…church membership class, for example…you look in Scripture, you don’t see 4-week IMPACT classes in the New Testament…so why do we do them? Because of what we do see in the New Testamnet. Because we do see that it’s important for every single Christian to be associated, under the authority of, a local church. And we do see that it’s important to know if people are Christians before they join a church.
And it’s important for us to realize the covenant/commitment that’s involved when we join together as a church…to love one another, to care for one another, to serve one another, and to lock arms with one another in the mission of God through the local church. So that’s why we do IMPACT…I hope, I pray, in a way that prompts us, points to the authority of God’s Word. And if it any point it doesn’t, then we get rid of it…we don’t hold on to it…we hold on to the authority of God’s Word. So, in light of that, this is the charge…Minimize the thoughts of man, Christ Fellowship Church, and…magnify the truth of God.
Magnify the truth of God.
Let the Word consume your teaching and preaching. Always. If Bart stops preaching the Word, stop following him as an elder/pastor. I trust, by God’s grace, that he will, but make sure that all your elders and pastors lead with teaching and preaching that is faithful to God’s Word. And…Let the Word drive your decisions and practices. Some of my favorite moments as a pastor are when the pastors/elders and I are in a room with the Word before us, praying and seeking the Lord about a certain issue…to see the way the Word comes alive…indeed, Christ does lead His church through His Word. So let it drive every decision you make and every thing you do. Exalt the authority of God’s Word…We’ve got to move on! Second charge…promote authenticity in God’s worship.
Promote authenticity in God’s worship.
We’ll go quickly here. In verses 8 and 9, Jesus quotes from Isaiah, when Isaiah the prophet called out the people of God for worshiping God in vain…for worshiping God with hearts that were far from God. And part of this was fueled by teaching the commandments of men. Oh, see how these charges build on each other… As long as the thoughts of man are central in the church, the worship of man will be central in the church. As long as the truth of God is central in the church, the worship of God will be central in the church. A Word-saturated church leads to God-glorifying worship. And this is where Jesus confronts these religious teachers and reminds them…worship is more than physical action.
Worship is more than physical action.
These teachers were honoring God with their lips. Oh, don’t forget…you can sing and you can stand and you can preach and you can pray and you can take the Lord’s Supper and you can do all kinds of things in worship, yet your heart be far from God. Guard yourselves against this, Christ Fellowship Church…and Church at Brook Hills…guard yourself against worship that is overly…Concerned with form. What we do. Such supposed worship bypasses the heart. More important than what we do is who we are. Worship is more than physical action…worship is about spiritual affection.
Worship is all about spiritual affection.
It’s about our hearts lifted high to God. In a very real sense (not in an exaggerated sense, but in a real sense), it’s about emotion and affection for God. Whether it’s brokenness and contrition over sin, grief over our circumstances, fear and awe before His greatness, gratitude for His grace, hope in His promises, celebration of His salvation…this is worship.“This is the one I esteem,” God later said in Isaiah, “the one who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” Affection…
Compelled by faith. Quickened by faith. J.C. Ryle said, “Let it be a settled resolution with us that in all our religion the state of our hearts shall be the main thing. Let it not content us to go to church and observe the forms of religion. Let us look far deeper than this and desire to have a heart right in the sight of the Lord.” Don’t get in the motions, Christ Fellowship Church and Church at Brook Hills…guard against the motions… Promote authenticity/affection in God’s worship. Third charge…Cultivate hearts of holiness
Cultivate hearts of holiness.
So now Jesus begins to speak to the crowds around him starting in verse 10…
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”(Matthew 15:10-12 ESV)
I love that! Jesus, are you aware that you have offended the Pharisees? No, I thought they’d love me for that! Of course Jesus was aware he had offended them!
But this helps you see how what Jesus is saying…don’t miss this because we’re going to come back to it in a minute…is in large part to teach the disciples. These guys were stunned by what Jesus is saying…he was throwing down the gauntlet with men that these disciples revered and thought were right. Jesus is totally transforming their thinking. He continues in verse 13…
He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15:13-20 ESV)
Oh, there’s so much here…let me try to simplify it…one primary truth
That Jesus is communicating. Jesus is saying that…Our greatest need is not cleaner hands. What goes into a body comes out of a body, plain and simple…it’s expelled…kind of graphic, but we know it’s true. These Pharisees and scribes were so focused on the externals that they had completely bypassed the internal. And Jesus says, “Our greatest need is not cleaner hands…”Our greatest need is changed hearts.
And Jesus talks about how speech…what comes out of the mouth, not what goes in…defiles a person, because it proceeds from the heart. And then in verse 19, He lists all kinds of sin, and His point is: all sin proceeds from the heart. Murder is a heart issue before it is a hand issue. Adultery is a heart issue. Sexual immorality is a heart issue. Stealing, lying, slandering…these are all issues of the heart. And man’s greatest need is not to try to clean his hands, not try to fix his life, not to try to get things right on the outside…man’s greatest need is a changed heart on the inside.
Holiness begins in the heart. And only Jesus can produce this kind of change. He alone is able to forgive all of our sin.
Jesus forgives us of all our sin. Ezekiel 36 – I will give you a new heart that is cleansed of sin. And Jesus alone is able t fill us with His Holy Spirit. Jesus fills us with His Holy Spirit. I will put a new spirit in you…I will put My Spirit in you. So Christ Fellowship Church and Church at Brook Hills, do not be casual with holiness in the church. Do not be casual with holiness in the world. Come out and be separate. Pursue purity. Be holy, as God is holy. Cultivate holiness…how? By cultivating your hearts. Again, J.C. Ryle:
“What is the first thing we need in order to be Christians? A new heart.—What is the sacrifice God asks us to bring to him? A broken and a contrite heart.—What is the true circumcision? The circumcision of the heart.—What is genuine obedience? To obey from the heart.—What is saving faith? To believe with the heart.—Where ought Christ to dwell? To dwell in our hearts by faith.”
Everything revolves around the heart.
And this is key as we are a part of starting a church in Birmingham, where there are a lot of other churches – let me remind us….What the world doesn’t need is the spread of superficial religion. Southside of Birmingham doesn’t need more people monotonously carrying out religious rules and regulations under the banner of Christianity. Guard against this…Jesus tells his disciples to guard against teaching that promotes that. He tells his disciples that the Pharisees and scribes were…
False teachers destined for [God’s] judgment. They are not planted by my Father, he says in verse 13.The implication is they are planted by the evil one. And they will be rooted up in due time. False teachers are destined for God’s judgment, and they are…
False teachers are dangerous to others.They are the blind leading the blind…both teachers and followers walking into a pit. As we have to do, and continually have to do, at Brook Hills, you will have to do at Christ Fellowship Church: guard against false teachings. Don’t think that you are immune to the attacks of the evil one…particularly his attacks through wolves in sheep’s clothing. Be on your guard.
What the world doesn’t need is the spread of superficial religion. What the world does need is the spread of supernatural regeneration. God, help us never to be satisfied with superficial holiness. God, show the effects, in these two churches, of changed hearts that produce holy lives. Last challenge from the last part of the chapter…
Nurture passion for the nations.
This is an interesting story. Follow along with me in Matthew 15:21-28.
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28 ESV)
Now there’s a lot that we could talk about here, and a lot that’s confusing about this story…Jesus seemingly ignoring a woman…seemingly indifferent to her…and does He really call her a dog? But two things I want to point out that will help us understand what is happening here in the last half of Matthew 15. One is geography. Jesus withdrew and went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. This is Jesus leaving Galilee, predominantly Jewish territory, and going into Tyre and Sidon, predominantly Gentile territory. This is the only time in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus journeys into Gentile lands. A place where the first person that comes up to Him is a Canaanite, ancient enemies of the people of Israel. Which leads us to the second thing I want to point out. In order to understand what is going on in this story, we have to see it playing out from the perspective of the disciples. Here they are…their world has just been rocked by Jesus throwing the gauntlet down with the leaders of the Jewish people….completely turning upside down their thinking about what makes you clean. And now He takes them into Gentile territory, a place filled with unclean people. That’s the way Jews perceived Gentiles…they were unclean. Canaanite woman…unclean…send her away, they say. But this whole story, and the story that comes after this, is intended to be a reflection of the reality that, yes, Jesus had come to save the people of God, the Jewish people, from their sin. But his plan involved much more than just them. His salvation would spread far beyond just them.
And this idea would have been shocking to twelve Jewish disciples. So you see in Jesus’ words and demeanor a reflection of the way these Jewish disciples would have perceived Gentiles. They are not the priority; Israel is! They don’t have a right to children’s bread; they’re dogs…that’s what the Jewish people called the Gentile people. But Jesus is showing them something incredibly important here. He’s showing the disciples in Gentile territory that the harvest is ripe.
The harvest field is ripe.
Clearly, in Jesus’ reaction to this woman, he is not ultimately ignoring her or ultimately sending her away. He refuses to do that when the disciples plead for him to. Instead, He is using this as a teaching opportunity for them. He is showing them the persistence of this woman’s faith…this Canaanite woman’s faith…she comes up to him and says, “O Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me.” She’s a Gentile, and even she realizes that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah! “It’s not right to take that which belongs to Jews and give it to Gentiles,” He says, and she responds, “Yes, but even Gentiles can get the crumbs…something here.” “O woman, great is your faith!” This is one of only two people praised for their faith by Jesus in the book of Matthew, and the other one is the Gentile centurion in Matthew 8. Jesus is showing them that the harvest field among the nations is ripe…they are ready to worship the King who has come…and He’s showing them that…
The divine plan is global.
Yes, He has come to save God’s people, Israel, from her sins, but so much more than that. He has come to save all nations. This has been the plan from the beginning…God blessing His people for the sake of His praise among all the peoples of the world…even the Canaanites who are you enemies. Jesus came to save them, too. This is huge. So Jesus continues His journey in Gentile territory, and listen to what happens in Matthew 15:29-31.
Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. (Matthew 15:29-31 ESV)
Did you hear that? He healed their sick, and they glorified the God of Israel. These are Gentiles that Jesus is healing. The disciples are watching, and here in Gentile territory, Jesus is doing the same things they’ve seen Him do in Jewish territory. Jesus is teaching them to spend themselves for the glory of God’s name. This is the charge, Christ Fellowship Church, Church at Brook Hills…spend yourselves for the glory of God’s name.
Spend yourselves for the glory of God’s name.
Work and preach and serve among the nations so that the nations give glory to your God. Nurture passion for the nations…spend yourselves for the glory of God’s name among the nations…don’t forget that there are nations, peoples who have never heard His gospel and are not giving Him glory. Don’t plant a church in Homewood/Southside just for the sake of Homewood/Southside. Plant a church in Homewood/Southside for the sake of God’s praise among all the peoples of the world. Go to the nations. Give to the nations. Send people to the nations. Make disciples and multiply churches among the nations. Don’t let church planting stop with you; let church planting start with you. Nurture a DNA into the very fabric of the church that says, “Everything we do at Christ Fellowship Church, we do ultimately for the sake of God’s glory in all nations.” We want the peoples to praise our God. Don’t get consumed with more stuff for yourselves and more programs for yourselves and more things for yourselves…don’t buy into the lie that the world looks like Homewood/Southside…go with Jesus into the nations, and spend yourselves there for the glory of God’s name. Spend yourselves for the glory of God’s name, and give your lives to the accomplishment of God’s mission.
Give your lives to the accomplishment of God’s mission.
Oh, there’s so much here…last part…let’s read starting in verse 32…
Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.(Matthew 15:32-39 ESV)
Haven’t we seen this before? Yes, but that’s the point. Now there are some small differences. The number of people, the amount of food, and other miscellaneous details. You’ll notice in this story that it’s not the disciples who say, “These people are hungry.” It’s Jesus that we see first concerned about their hunger.
You can almost picture the disciples asking, “Would Jesus perform the same miracle among a Gentile crowd that He performed among the Jewish people?” Feeding these thousands? After all, it’s unclean to eat with Gentiles. Oh, this is huge! Remember Acts 10, which comes after this, when Peter receives a vision from the Lord on his rooftop, and the Lord says, “Don’t call unclean what I make clean.” And the reference is to Gentiles…and his prejudice against them…that was keeping him from taking the gospel to them. And the Lord said, “Go to Cornelius’s house, the Gentile centurion, and eat with him, for I have welcomed him into my kingdom.
Certainly on that day, Peter remembered this day. When Jesus made clear that He came to serve, satisfy, and save people from all the nations. And remember…remember!...part of the point of the feeding of the 5,000 in Matthew 14 was to depict Jesus as the messianic host…we talked about this last week…feeding the 5,000 was a foretaste of the day when all of God’s people will gather around Christ for a banquet in the Kingdom to come. And that is why Jesus did the same thing here in Gentile territory in Matthew 15…because the banquet in the Kingdom to come, when people gather around Jesus the Messiah to feast with Him forever and ever…that banquet is not just for Jews…that banquet is for Gentiles, too…it’s for the nations. And one day, brothers and sisters, all peoples will represented around the table feasting together with Christ forever and ever. So work, Christ Fellowship Church, for that day. Work, Church at Brook Hills, for that day. Together, let’s give our lives to the accomplishment of God’s mission…to seeing disciples made and the church multiplied among every people group on the planet. That’s why we do what we do today.
Today we separate from one another as God’s people for the expansion of the Kingdom. We want the Kingdom of God to spread.And we’re willing to part from one another because we know that there are far more people who need to come to Christ in Birmingham than fit in this building…and we don’t want our kingdom (little “k” kingdom) to expand…we want His Kingdom (big “K” Kingdom) to expand. We’re willing to part with one another for the sake of the Great Commission…we want His kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. So today, we separate from one another as God’s people for the expansion of the Kingdom, and we know that…One day soon we’ll join with one another alongside all peoples in celebration of the King. That’s why we do what we do today.