Final Words from a Friend 2: St. Peter

Last time we spoke of the final words from St. Paul to Timothy, his beloved son in the faith. Today we will speak of Peter’s final words. Instead of addressing them to one beloved convert who would follow in his footsteps as a pastor, Peter, assigned by Jesus to lead the flock, addressed them to the entire church.
These are among Peter’s last words. As you turn to 2 Peter, think about Peter. Like Paul, he’s in Rome, under arrest, and about to be executed. Like Paul, he knows this. Now, unlike Paul, who went willingly to his arrest and then execution, Peter went about things a different way before writing this letter. There is a very old legend about Peter before his arrest and execution. Peter had been preaching in Rome for some time and the authorities now had wind of him. Hearing from a fellow Christian that they were looking for him, Peter agreed to run. He was against it at first, but the entire congregation insisted he flee from Rome. On the road away from Rome, Peter has a vision of Jesus, carrying his cross. Peter asks, “Domine, quo vadis?” That is, “Where are you going, Lord?”
Jesus replies, “To Rome, to be crucified again.”
Simultaneously chastened and encouraged, Peter says, “Lord, I will return and follow you.” And with those words said, the vision of Jesus ascended to Heaven, and Peter understood that Christ had just told him his time was coming to an end and how he would die. Renewed in his faith, Peter returns to Rome with joy, counting it gain that Christ saw him worthy of suffering. There, prepared for his death, he wrote Second Peter before being crucified upside down. Continue reading

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Final Words From a Friend: Paul

When a famous or beloved person dies, everyone hangs on their last words. Those words show the accumulated wisdom of a person, the last lesson they want to pass on. The words may be few or as many as can be relayed. When we hear those final words, we listen and apply them because we will never have another chance to learn from our friend.

I recall a funeral where the pastor stood up and said, “I was present at the hospital when our beloved elder died. As he lay on the hospital bed, gasping for his last breath, he handed me this note, and I want to read it to you.” His face turned to ashes as he read, “’Reverend, get off my oxygen hose!’”

Today, we’ll be reading some of St. Paul’s last words. As you turn to 2 Timothy 2, think about the situation Paul is in. He’s in Rome, under arrest. His ministry is coming to a close and he knows it. Those who ministered with him are either off on their own missions, have left the faith for love of the world, or, in the case of Luke, are present with Paul. Only Luke remained with him in these final days. In these circumstances, Paul writes to his son in the faith, Timothy, who is ministering in Ephesus. The entire book is extremely profitable to us. I had great difficulty choosing which portion to read.

2 Timothy 2:1-19 ¶ You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 3 Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. 5 Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. 6 The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. 7 Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. 8 ¶ Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, 9 for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. 10 For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. 11 It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12 If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; 13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. 14 ¶ Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.”

When Timothy received this letter, he knew that Paul was in prison. Paul was allowed only a few visitors and knew he was going to die. I imagine that Timothy read and reread this letter, pouring over it to glean every last word of wisdom from his mentor.

Point 1: We must Persevere (vv. 1-7)

1 You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 3 Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. 5 Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. 6 The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. 7 Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
Paul speaks of three things in this passage: be strong in grace, keep teaching so others may teach, and persevere in the faith.

How can we be strong in grace is a question we might ask. Grace is given to us from Christ. We cannot make it more or less. Being strong in grace means living in the faith you have, trusting God at all times for his mercy. Our strength is not enough to carry us through.

We want it to be. Our pride makes us want to say, “I did this!” and so we try things that are beyond us. However, even Paul reminds us that the things he wants to do, he does not, and the things he does not want to do, he does. The Devil will keep sending us greater and greater trials to take us down. Strong in grace means strong in Christ’s grace, knowing the strength He has given us and made available to us.

Timothy was also charged with making disciples. He was to pass on the faith to others. It isn’t enough that you know you are saved. Part of salvation is recognizing the fallen state of mankind, yourself especially. Being saved, you want to pull others from the fire. Today, we have been conditioned to concentrate so much on the love of Christ that we no longer point out to others his great justice. If there is no Hell, why is God merciful? James tells us that some will save by showing others mercy and others will save by instilling the fear of God in people, pulling them from the flames. Timothy knew his teaching was bearing fruit when his students began teaching.

The third thing here is persevere. We must press on through life to get to the goal. It is not a promise that those who convert to Christianity will make it to the end. Look at the passage just before this chapter. Paul tells of people who ministered with him but have left the faith.

There are some who would say those who leave the faith were never part of it. But I ask if Paul would be likely to make such a mistake? Would he invite to the ministry people who are not Christians? Don’t you think someone who had such an up-close and personal encounter with Christ would know who is and who isn’t?

Beyond Phygelus and Hermogenes, Paul lost others. You can tell when he concludes they have left the faith because he condemns their actions. Those who have gone on in ministry apart from Paul are different. For a time, Luke separated from Paul to minister on his own and another time, he left while Paul was in jail to research the Gospel that bears his name. On the other hand, Demas departed from Paul’s mission because he loved the world. He did not persevere to the end. Unless Demas repented again, he will not be awarded that crown for crossing the finish line.

I am also not including Mark in this. Mark left the ministry for a time because it was hard. It is hard, and Mark jumped in too early. He faltered and tripped, but he did not leave the faith, and he went on a missionary journey with Barnabas a few years after his failure. In fact, at the end of this book, Paul will tell Timothy to bring Mark with him because he is profitable to the ministry.

In Mark’s stumbling, we see another lesson. What the Devil means for evil, God can use for good. When Barnabas wanted to bring Mark the second time, Paul refused. Satan meant for this thorn to destroy the missionary team and keep both of them home. Instead, they shook hands, wished each other well, and went out as two missionary teams! Double the evangelism, double the converts, double the new churches. Mark stumbled, but came back, and Paul recognized that the young man was persevering for the faith.

Just like the warnings here, the book of Hebrews was also written as a warning against people leaving the faith. It isn’t everyone who runs that gets a reward; it is those who finish the race.

For those who teach that the saved will always persevere, I understand where they are coming from. I used to be one. However, the warnings of Scripture are too many to conclude that God is only addressing a hypothetical. I don’t warn people to be careful of things they can’t do even once. Much less do I repeat that warning! Why would God so many times say, ‘be careful to stay in the faith’ unless leaving the faith is a real possibility?

This concept of leaving the faith is called apostasy. That’s a Greek word, that means “falling away.” The Hebrew equivalent is very descriptive. It means “to turn away from repentance.” That’s a scary thought. The prophet Jeremiah has a very descriptive passage giving the Lord’s opinion of those who turn from repentance.

Paul reminds us that when we sign up for Christian service, we have to obey. Lip service isn’t enough. Just like a soldier has to obey his commanders and a runner has to compete according to the rules, we have to live according to Gods’ rules. Imagine a runner who repeatedly cheats, trips the other runners, and takes shortcuts being awarded a prize. That’s exactly what once-saved-always-saved asks us to believe when they say one who is truly saved can live like anything and enter Heaven.

Don’t misunderstand. Neither I nor Paul are saying that works are required for salvation. Like James, we remember that works grow out of salvation. One who is truly saved will show it in their living.

Paul ends this section with a command and a promise. Consider what he has written because the Holy Spirit will bring you understanding.

Point 2: We must Endure (vv. 8-13)

8 ¶ Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, 9 for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. 10 For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. 11 It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12 If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; 13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
Jesus warned us that the world would hate us and come against us. If they killed Him, why wouldn’t they try to kill us. Around the world, everyday, Christians are killed simply for being Christians. Others are jailed.

It is hard to get valid numbers of how many are martyred in a year. However, we can estimate that 2/3 of the Christians alive today live in dangerous situations with fully half of them living and worshiping in countries where it is illegal to be a Christian. It had been the case for as long as there have been Christians. Of the twelve apostles, only one died of old age. The others were executed by the governments where they ministered for their faith.

We use the term martyrs, today, to refer to those who have died for their faith. Another term is used for those who have suffered great hardship and imprisonment without dying, confessor. For the first three centuries, all Christians lived with the threat of execution and persecution. Beginning with Emperor Nero there would be five major rounds of persecution in the next 70 years. Times of persecution would ebb and flow for the next two hundred years, but it was not until Constantine in the early fourth century that Christianity would be named a legal religion in the empire.

Fifty years after Paul wrote this letter, a time of severe persecution began in the region of Bithynia (today’s northern Turkey). The governor, Pliny the Younger, required that Christians curse Christ or die. It is not known how many lapsed in that time, but it is known that some did. At this time, even the most respected men of the church did not escape persecution. Some went into hiding, but if found, they stood firm in their beliefs. I will read the public trial of Cyprian of Carthage which has been preserved entirely.

Galerius Maximus:”Are you Thascius Cyprianus?” Cyprian: “I am.” Galerius: “The most sacred Emperors have commanded you to conform to the Roman rites.” Cyprian: “I refuse.” Galerius: “Take heed for yourself.” Cyprian: “Do as you are bid; in so clear a case I may not take heed.” Galerius, after briefly conferring with his judicial council, with much reluctance pronounced the following sentence: “You have long lived an irreligious life, and have drawn together a number of men bound by an unlawful association, and professed yourself an open enemy to the gods and the religion of Rome; and the pious, most sacred and august Emperors … have endeavoured in vain to bring you back to conformity with their religious observances; – whereas therefore you have been apprehended as principal and ringleader in these infamous crimes, you shall be made an example to those whom you have wickedly associated with you; the authority of law shall be ratified in your blood.” He then read the sentence of the court from a written tablet: “It is the sentence of this court that Thascius Cyprianus be executed with the sword.” Cyprian: “Thanks be to God.”

To us, the most surprising charge is that early Christians were labeled irreligious and atheists in their trials. This is because they refused to worship any God save the Lord and refused to make even a pinch of sacrifice to the emperor. The Christians who died for their faith clung fast to these verses we just read:

It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12 If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; 13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.

We can turn our backs on Him, but He will never turn His back on us. Because of the final line, it was allowed that those who faltered in a time of trial could return to the church after a time of penance and repentance. These are questions that the early church faced that we do not. For us, persecution might be bullied at school or denial of a promotion at work. Our culture is getting to the point where Christians will be persecuted more openly. Though in good news, the 10 Circuit Court has ruled that a Minnesota law requiring Christian videographers to video same-sex weddings is unconstitutional.

When Paul wrote this letter, he had already been under intense persecution and knew he was about to be executed for his beliefs. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 he describes the times he has been persecuted for his faith: whipped, beaten with rods, stones, shipwrecked, in prison, cold, hungry, thirsty, barely escaping with his life. He wrote what he knew.

One may be unfaithful without fully leaving Christ. To our dismay, sinning doesn’t stop at the altar. Because of that fact, we will at times wonder if we have been unfaithful enough to abandon Christ. This feeling is a gift of God! Listen to me, here.

When we are first converted, we have felt the need for repentance, and we repent of those actions and attitudes we recognize as sinful. As we grow in Christ, He reveals more things in our life that need to be rooted out. In those times, we will actually feel like we have regressed in the faith because of these things we now recognize.

But God is faithful! He has shown you where you have failed and, by His promise, He will bring you up from it.

Point 3: We must be Diligent against False Teachers (vv. 14-19)

14 ¶ Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.

Paul comes to the finals section of our sermon today, reminding Timothy to not argue about empty chatter because that just leads people astray. He does not want Timothy to gossip and waste time talking about things of the world. Instead, Timothy is to study the Word of God and be ready at all times to preach and teach. If Timothy continues in his walk, he will show himself a workman, approved and unashamed. The only way this can happen is to study what God has revealed.

While Paul warns against empty chatter and vain words, he does say that some things are worth arguing about. The Christian must live a godly life and all conversation must be godly. He warns that heresy can spread like gangrene and must be dealt with.
One man I’ve met believes in just letting heresy grow and letting God sort it out. Even when the heresy is a matter of salvation in which those who believe wrongly can spend an eternity in Hell. I say no. God says beliefs matter. Those who lead astray others are to be removed from fellowship. Paul’s example here is two men, former Christians, who taught that the resurrection had already taken place. Hymenaeus had been handed over to Satan because he insisted on leading people astray.

False teachers will never go away. Sometimes the preacher of the truth must confront them. There is an old saying, “A lie can run around the world while the truth is still getting its boots on.” False teachers will lie by diluting the truth, distorting it, or simply saying God’s Word no longer applies. Each of these lies must be corrected with the truth. God’s Word is never shaken and will never die.

Conclusion

What final words have you ever been the recipient of? They may have been from a spouse or relative. The words of Paul to Timothy and then to Titus are full of wisdom and meaning. In a situation like that, you don’t waste words. Every single one of them is an opportunity to make a difference. It isn’t just because you know they are your last words, but the listener knows it also and will pay attention.

Paul’s final letter to Timothy teaches us that we are to persevere, endure, and be diligent. These are not three easy tasks. In fact, they will require your whole life. It required His life to make it possible for you. When trials come, you must persevere. When temptation comes, you must endure. When false teachers come, we must be diligent in our struggles against them.

These three actions will be needed in every Christian life. Paul’s final words would not be fluff or applicable only to a few. As inspired by God, he would write words that mean the most to both Timothy then and to all believers afterwards.

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Matthew and the Cost of Discipleship

Sermon Introduction

In Christian history, many believers have given their lives to follow Jesus. The first to be martyred was James in Acts. Shortly after, Stephen was killed for his faith. Persecution has been a mark of the church ever since. Amazing, isn’t it. That the religion most persecuted in history is the same one that has repeatedly pushed living in peace with one another. It’s almost as if there’s a spiritual force fighting against it.

In the 20th century, it is estimated 26 million Christians were killed for their beliefs. From AD 33 to 1900, 14 million Christians died for their faith. That is 65% of all martyrs happened in the prior century.

This is part of the cost Jesus spoke of in His parable in Luke 14:28, “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?”

At war with Jesus’ statement is the air of easy grace that pervades modern culture. Similar to the Prosperity Gospel, it says that God makes it easy for those who believe in him. I ask instead, what makes us better as people and Christians that we think God intends such ease when so many of our brothers and sisters have died for their faith?

A Lutheran pastor in Germany in the 1930s saw this same “easy grace” in his own nation. Disturbed by this lax Christianity, pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote The Cost of Discipleship, where he lays out what it costs to follow Christ. It is an eyeopening book for those used to easy grace.

Bonhoeffer has been criticized because while he demolishes easy grace, the book is commonly misunderstood to set discipleship as something only a few can attain. It reads almost as a mystical gift, granted only to those God so chooses.

However, whatever his mistake may have been, we must remember that the cost of non-discipleship is far greater. That was the problem Bonhoeffer worked against. He saw in his churches how many Christians just attended. They did not allow the Spirit to change their lives. The country was nominally Christian, so they went with the flow.

That country was Germany, just prior to World War II. Because of their lax lives in Christ, most Germans did not stand against Hitler until it was too late. Bonhoeffer was arrested and eventually killed by the Nazis because he had joined a rebel cell and plotted to assassinate Hitler.

Scripture Introduction

As you count the cost of your own life in Christ, turn to Matthew 9:9-13 and imagine yourself as Matthew. He was a tax collector, hated by his own people because he collaborated with the Romans. Tax collectors were not paid a wage or salary from the government. They were expected to keep a commission of the taxes. The tax collector would be told by his superiors that he needed to farm $6,000 from the city this month. Of that, he would turn over $5,500 to his manager and keep the rest as his payment.

However, all of them charged people more than what they owed and kept a bigger portion than the government said they should. The authorities looked the other way as long as the tax collectors sent in the requested amount.

Matthew 9:9-13 ¶ As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. 10¶ Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 “But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Today, we will talk about Matthew the man, the disciple, and the apostle.

Matthew the Man

He is fully known as Matthew Levi, son of Alpheus. Matthew didn’t know that day how following Jesus would cost his life. He knew when he got up from the tax collector’s table that his job was gone. While the others could go back to their jobs should this rabbi fail, Matthew could not. Matthew was one of those who if a detective would say, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

As a tax collector, he was highly educated in math and writing. He would have been literate in Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew to work in Judea and Galille.

Of the Twelve, Matthew was undoubtedly the wealthiest. He had just gotten most of it through dishonest means. I imagine that Matthew and Zacheus had some conversations about how Jesus had saved them. They probably knew one another in their work. At the very least, they knew of each other.

As I said before, tax collectors were despised in most of the Empire. Some things never change. There’s even an old Irish tale where the Devil himself considers tax collectors to be scum of the earth. The Jews saw tax collectors as traitors. Since he worked in Galilee, we can conclude that Matthew worked for Herod Antipas, who paid tribute to Rome. Rome didn’t ship in imperial citizens to do the nasty work. They hired locals. We’ll never know what drove Matthew to collaborate with the invaders. Was he already a dishonest man? Was he merely desperate for a job? The Bible doesn’t say, and nothing of his life prior to his calling is mentioned.

What little we know, we glean from clues in the Bible. Matthew lived in Capernaum, the same city that Jesus called home. Capernaum was formerly the home of the prophet Nahum, centuries before. It was once called Elkosh, but after Nahum’s ministry, it was renamed Capernaum, “city of Nahum.”

Being a tax collector, this was Matthew’s assigned district. I imagine that he had heard Jesus preaching on the street before this day. Matthew hung on the fringes of the crowd as Jesus spoke of redemption and repentance. How many times did those sweet words prick his heart? How many times did he almost walk to Jesus and say, “cleanse me, rabbi”? Did Jesus ever make eye contact with him while preaching and give Matthew that look that said, “Come here”? I imagine that He did because Matthew follows when called that fateful day.

Yet something always brought him back to that table. Maybe it was the money. Maybe he couldn’t forgive himself so couldn’t imagine a rabbi praying for him. Matthew know exactly how much people hated him. He could see it in their face when they paid their taxes. The snarl, the curl of the lip, the disrespectful way they slammed the money onto the table. All of that said, “I hate you, traitor.” Because collaborators were worse than invaders. They had sold out to the invaders to steal from their own people.

Matthew was a man who knew how much he needed to be saved. The others, like those fisherman, hadn’t lived a life of being hated by their own countrymen. Matthew knew the need for redemption on a much more personal level than they. Every night he had to sleep, knowing how he had betrayed his people. Never say to yourself, it’s just a job, it doesn’t matter what I do, it’s who I am that matters. As Matthew knew, what you do defines who you are. He was a traitor because he had acted as a traitor. Everyday at his table, he robbed his own people and gave most of the money to the invaders.

Matthew was a man who had to stand alone when he went to the Temple in Jerusalem. No one would stand near him. He was shunned. It was a tax collector like Matthew who Jesus told about in the story, the man who cried out in the Temple, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

This man, Matthew, changed the day that Jesus called him away from the table.

Matthew the Disciple

Matthew doesn’t say much about his life after he becomes a disciple, either. His focus is on Jesus. Our focal character is often seen with Thomas the Doubter in the Gospels. When Matthew, Mark, and Luke lists the Apostles, they place Matthew and Thomas together. Peter and Andrew stand together in the lists because they are brothers. James and John are the same way. We have no indication that Matthew and Thomas are related, but the Bible gives another clue as to why they stand together in the lists.

Others in the list are put together who have something in common. Notice that Judas Iscariot is next to Simon the Zealot. Both their nicknames, Iscariot and Zealot, tell us about their personalities and priorities. Zealots were members of the rebel underground, plotting to throw off Roman oppression and restore Judea as an independent kingdom. I’m sure he didn’t think much of a collaborator being invited into the group! The Iscariot, or Ish Sicaroth which means man of the short dagger, were also members of this underground but more highly trained, respected, and feared. The zealot and the dagger man shared a link in their devotion to country. Likewise, we can conclude that Matthew and Thomas share something.

We all know about Thomas’ most famous moment—his doubting. What we often forget is how Thomas was the only one of the Twelve who understood the prophecies of the Messiah’s death! Only Thomas comprehended how the Son of David would die.

When the others told Thomas how Jesus had returned from the dead, Thomas expressed doubt and said he would not believe without seeing Jesus and the scars. Thomas was a man who appreciated facts.

Similarly, Matthew was a man who appreciated figures. He kept records for his work. He knew the approximate wealth of everyone in his district. When we read the Gospel of Matthew, this trait of tracking things comes into focus. Matthew is extremely detailed in his gospel. Mark writes in a very hurried fashion to benefit his Roman audience. Luke is detailed, telling of how Jesus spent time with the outcasts and traces Jesus all the way back to Adam as the Messiah for the whole world. Matthew writes in a Jewish style, heavy on details, linking back to the Scriptures, drawing forth lessons and teachings from prophecies that the others don’t.

Matthew uses Hebrew idioms that the others don’t. For example, Matthew is the only Gospel writer to use “Kingdom of Heaven.” When Mark and Luke record the same saying of Jesus, they say “Kingdom of God.” Why? Because Matthew was writing to the Hebrews and used Hebrew styles.

One can easily imagine Matthew keeping records of Jesus’ teachings and sermons. Matthew records 23 parables, more than either Mark or John and only 5 behind Luke. He alone tells us how Joseph considered putting Mary away and how God gave Joseph visions.

Matthew gives a detailed genealogy of Jesus, but he puts within it little markers of Jewish style. He breaks it up into three sections of 14 names each. From Abraham, named as the first Hebrew, to David is fourteen generations. From David to the captivity, 14. From the captivity to Jesus, another 14. Why 14? He skips a couple of names when we compare this list to others in Scripture, so the number 14 is chosen for a specific reason.

Unlike our system of separate letters and numbers, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin allowed letters to double as numbers. You would either write out the full number in words, or you could use the letters as numbers. Matthew presents Jesus as the ultimate son of Abraham and David. The Hebrew consonants of David, dWd (vowels were unwritten at this time), add up to 14. Daleth is 4, Waw is 6, and the final daleth is another 4. David’s name is 14 and the ultimate son of David will be explained in three groups of 14. If you are curious, Abraham’s name adds up to 123.

It wasn’t enough for Matthew to just follow Jesus that day. He immediately invited others to learn of Jesus as well. Matthew invited the people whom he knew best, fellow tax collectors and sinners. By the word sinner, we can assume prostitutes were on the list. Why would Matthew be friends with prostitutes? Because normal people shunned both of them. The outcasts could only make friends with one another. Once Matthew responded to Jesus, he was able to invite others immediately. Others like him, who knew they were sinners. Who knew the sickness in their soul. Others who hadn’t hardened their hearts to stone just yet.

There is a very interesting statement Jesus makes when the Pharisees confront him about the sinners he has surrounded himself with. He says, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” He isn’t saying that the Pharisees don’t need Him. He is saying that the sick who recognize their sickness will respond to Him as a healer. There is no one who is righteous, but those who think they are righteous will not respond.

Matthew responded, knowing he was not righteous. He became a disciple, and Matthew the disciple was one of the eye witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. As an eyewitness and one of the chosen Twelve, he became an Apostle, chosen to share the redeeming words of Christ with those who needed it the most.

Matthew the Apostle

The Apostles first ministered in Jerusalem, then Judea, Samaria, and finally the uttermost parts of the earth, just as Jesus had told them to. Matthew ministered first to the Jews in Judea, writing the Gospel that bears his name. According to the early bishop Papias, who was taught by one of John’s converts, the Apostle Matthew wrote in Hebrew having collected the sayings of and about Jesus. Origen and Jerome also report that Matthew wrote first in Hebrew. Jerome even said he touched the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew while visiting the library of Caesarea.

Matthew ministered to Jews for about 15 years, then he went forth as a missionary. He established churches to the east in Persia, Syria, and south of the Caspian Sea. We do not know how he died for Christ save that he died for his faith. Some say he was burned, others stoned, and yet others beheaded. What they agree on is that he died a martyr for Christ.

Matthew the Apostle found another place where his life matched the teaching of Christ when he wrote down the parable of the soils. Instead of being rocky soil, which receives the word with joy but withers under hardship and persecution, Matthew was good soil. Good soil that brought forth a return that is still being measured today. Even in the face of persecution and death, Matthew stood firm.

The man who changed the life of Matthew claimed all of his life. Matthew died for the man who died for him. The man who got up from that table in Capernaum had never been the same since. When redemption comes to you, it is an amazing gift. I have seen how Christ changes people.

Jesus said that day Matthew converted that He desired “mercy and not sacrifice.” Matthew wrote instead of how Jesus had been the perfect sacrifice. How His sacrifice allowed God’s mercy to wash over the world. It cost Matthew to preach these things. It is Matthew who records Jesus saying, “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” As Matthew wrote that down in his gospel, I bet he smiled. He gave up profit for his soul.

Matthew lived that question. He could have continued as a tax collector, gaining money every day. Growing in influence and power among the other tax collectors, even up to being Herod Antipas’ head tax collector in the region. But he gave it all up for Jesus. He forfeited the world and gained his soul.

Conclusion

Nothing comes without cost. All of the Twelve gave their lives for Christ except John who died of old age. Burned, hung, speared, stoned, beheaded. Peter and Andrew were crucified as Jesus had been. Mark was drug behind horses until he died. One of our denomination’s superintendents overseas became a Christian because he was fired from his job simply for attending a revival service. If it’s so illegal, it must be worth exploring more, he decided.

What has discipleship cost you? We live in the country with the most religious freedom in history. One does not have to have any religion, or one can practice any of them. However, a day is coming to this world when all Christians will be persecuted. Are you ready to live in that day?

Perhaps a more urgent question is what has non-discipleship cost you? Have the ways in which you haven’t tried to grow for God impacted your walk? In the first Assemblies of God church I attended, eight weeks in a row a message from the Lord was given that the congregation needed to spend more time in their Bibles.

Christians who don’t pay the price of discipleship will pay the price of non-discipleship. It is seen in lax Christian lives. Those who don’t pray don’t grow in Christ. These often think they are stronger Christians than they are. Some may not even be Christians any longer because of choices they have made. Those who don’t grow falter and stumble in their walk. When persecution comes, they die on the vine.

What price do you need to pay, today? Perhaps you need to spend more time in prayer or more time in the Word. Perhaps the cost to you is a monetary cost and you need to give more to missions. Our church supports missionaries who minister in some of the same places that Matthew did. Their lives are sometimes endangered.

What has it cost you to follow Christ? The price of discipleship may be high but the price of nondiscipleship is even higher.

Posted in Christianity, New Testament, sermon, The Last Crusade | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Sabellians in The Midst

The old adage says those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. However, those who do learn from history are drug along while those who did not learn repeat it.

At the beginning of my fellowship’s history, both of these adages were clearly illustrated. Shortly after organizing in Hot Springs, the General Council of the Assemblies of God had to deal with what was termed the “New Issue.” However, it was really a very old issue brought back to life. Those familiar with church history will recognize this denial of the Trinity into one God presenting himself in three aspects or modes as Sabellianism or modal monarchism.

The Assemblies of God had only two officers at first, a General Chairman (later retitled as General Superintendent) and General Secretary. When this issue reared its head, the second man to hold the office of chairman was in place while the secretary elected at the first council was still in office. Indeed, the secretary, J. Roswell Flower, would hold an office at either the national or district level from 1914 until 1959.

Reverend Flower grew up with only a nominal devotion to God. However, at age 19, he fully committed his faith to God at an early, Pentecostal revival. Feeling the call to ministry very quickly thereafter, he began to study the Bible and church history. Six years later, after being a pastor, he was elected the first General Secretary of the Assemblies of God. Flower, a former law student, was instrumental in helping the new fellowship form its first resolution of commitment in April of 1914. Because of the guiding hand of this gently-spirited man, the new organization formed as a “voluntary, cooperative fellowship” instead of a rigid denomination. Soon, Flower’s studies in history would be needed as well.

About seven years prior, a new teaching had begun at a Pentecostal camp meeting in California. This teaching was set to rock the world of the new fellowship. The teaching proclaimed that based on the baptismal formulas seen in Acts and the singular word “name” in the Great Commission, that the Godhead had only one name, that of Jesus. Further, they claimed that the trinity was an aberration, that one God had revealed himself in three modes or ways throughout history.

The heresy spread throughout the young Pentecostal movement. At one point, even several members of the Assemblies of God Executive Presbytery were taken astray.

As the heresy sunk into the movement, Flower attempted to head it off. He edited the magazine Christian Evangel and authored articles showing how the new issue was nothing more than the old heresy of Sabellianism revived and warmed over. Having studied history, he assumed that naming the issue by the heresy and showing how it had been condemned so long before would be enough to end its grip.

Unfortunately, Flower was wrong. Not enough of the pastors, leaders, and laymen in the fellowship were schooled enough in history for his words to turn the tide. He had no choice but to exercise his authority as general secretary to call for a general council. This would be the third general council to meet in two years.

At the first council in 1914, the delegates had resolved to have no statement of faith except one regarding the supremacy of the Bible and its authority. They did so in their desire to not become a hidebound denomination. They assumed that the ministers would continue the agreement they had from their camp meeting days to discuss any new teachings at regional and general councils before preaching them.

To rectify this blunder (for they had adopted the soft resolution on purpose), the elected officers (the general chairman and general secretary) appointed a committee to draft a statement of agreed upon doctrine. The main question would revolve around the Oneness controversy. All the ministers appointed to the committee were trinitarians. Even today, the longest item in the Statement of Fundamental Truths is the Nature of God.

At that third council, the delegates voted against the Sabellian position and for a Statement of Fundamental Truths. 150 ministers left the fellowship over losing the vote.

I cannot help but think that had more of those early ministers known their church history, the Oneness issue would never have arisen. It certainly would not have threatened to split the fellowship. However, since not enough were familiar with the history of heresies, an old issue gained a foothold in the church. Indeed, this teaching, one of the oldest heresies in the history of the church was named the New Issue.

Posted in Assemblies of God, Christian History | Tagged , , | 1 Comment