Below is the prepared text for this morning’s message at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York — although I’ll note that I expanded on some of it while preaching and I stressed how Matthew was a tax collector rather than emphasizing Matthew associating with the other tax collectors and sinners mentioned.
Those commenting on youth and religion surveys have observed that many young people today look at church as a good thing like eating vegetables. So most youth and young adults think that going to church is a good thing but do not think that it is really all that necessary. Church has also been described as another extracurricular activity like sports. So if you go to church that is a good thing because you will be a more well-rounded person but again it is not always necessary. If parents think attending church is good like taking vitamins, then they might go to church on a fairly regular basis unless they have something else to do. But teens and young adults who have the same view often skip the veggies and church. No doubt this is directly related to the way the same studies show that young people believe that God is only needed when we have a problem that needs fixing – otherwise, He does not need to be involved in the day to day details of our lives. If your faith in God does not matter when all is well, then you would only see a need to go to church when you are in crisis. And since things usually are going fairly well for young people, faith in God is not very important to those who have these beliefs about God and church. Too often we are just not convinced that we need God all of the time. However, God’s word encourages us to remember Him when things are going well and it reminds us that we are not really well without Jesus. Here then these familiar words of Scripture:
- A faith that matters when everything is well is a faith that knows you are not well apart from Jesus.
- Because Pharisees cannot see they are sick, they do not believe they need Jesus. Should they be convinced that they have cancer or leprosy, then they might go to Jesus to be healed. But like many people today they thought they were good people and good people go to heaven. They could not see that the cancer of sin was ravaging every part of their being and that they were unclean before a holy God. Yet if they knew they were sick and unclean then they would run to Jesus. Then there are the Christian Pharisees who have run to Jesus for salvation from sin once but then since that problem is solved their faith makes little difference in their lives. If God exists primarily to help us solve problems, then faith in God becomes important when the doctor gives you a bad diagnosis or when you lose your job or when others are making your life difficult or even when you first realize you are a sinner. Yet if God exists primarily to help us solve problems, then when everything seems well at best you will have little faith. And to the extent you are convinced you are a good person, the less faith you will have when all seems well because the good person doesn’t really need Jesus. (But Matthew had no illusions that he was a good person.)
- While most people at the time would want to associates themselves with the Pharisees, Matthew associates himself with the tax collectors and sinners called by Jesus. Matthew knew that he was a great sinner. Tax collectors not only served the hated Roman government, but they cheated the people through excessive tax rates or exaggerating the value of the items they taxed. And then one day Jesus called Matthew, “Follow me,” and Matthew rose and followed Him. Jesus not only healed Matthew in that moment but Matthew’s faith mattered when he was well because he left that evil work and began following Jesus and shared his faith story with other tax collectors and sinners. Apart from following Jesus, Matthew knew he was a sick sinner. He knew that He needed the Great Physician in order to be well. Jesus says, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” There are none who are righteous, except Jesus. Matthew knew he was not righteous, but He had the righteousness of Jesus Christ by faith. Even should Matthew never seem to have a major problem in the future, Matthew knew he always needed Jesus. Thus a faith that matters when all is well is a faith that clings to Jesus for His righteousness since we have none of ourselves. (So what does this look like?)
- A faith that matters when all is well then is a faith that makes a difference in the details of life.
- To put Deuteronomy 6:7 into a modern context, it is a faith you talk about when you sit in your house, when you are driving your kids to and from practice or a game, when you put them in bed at night, and when you first wake up in the morning. If you only speak of God and your faith in Him when things aren’t going well, then there is a much greater chance they will agree with their peers who think of God as being like a high school guidance counselor or a cosmic lifeguard rather than deeply knowing the God of the Scriptures. The studies show that when young people abandon the Christian faith it is because it did not mean much to them in the first place. But if the word of God is relevant to them in the details of their lives then He may mean everything to them. We show its relevance by helping them to see their heart’s motivations, goals and desires and point them to Jesus. We train their heart’s priorities by making our faith the topic of conversation that puts the game or the recital into context rather than the things of faith, including church attendance, being just another extracurricular activity. This will help our children to avoid putting their faith into a lock box all week where it doesn’t matter to the rest of daily life. And there is no reason grandparents can’t do this with their grandchildren or those who don’t have children can’t do this with their friends or like Matthew did with his former coworkers. A faith that matters when all is well is one that is talked about when all is well and throughout the day.
A deep faith in Jesus will be on our lips because Jesus is in our hearts enabling us to love God with all of our heart. When our faith matters in the details of our lives all day long as we confess sins to one another and encourage one another to turn to Jesus, then we will not mistake being a Christian with belonging to a social club. Instead, following Jesus will be a way of life for we know following Christ is all or nothing. As Deuteronomy 6:5 says, “You shall love YHWH your God with all your heart, soul, and might.” The Lord brought Israel out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and brought them into the Promised Land giving them great and good cities they didn’t build, houses full of good things they didn’t fill, cisterns for water they didn’t dig, vineyards and olive trees they didn’t plant, and they ate their fill and many forgot God. Those blessings pail in comparison to the way we will be blessed in the new heavens and earth. So take care when all is well before you even get to the Promised Land that you do not forget the Lord, who has saved you from slavery to sin and saved you from death, the Lord who has made you well through faith in Him.