How Do We Respond to Jesus? - Matthew 13:53-14:12 (Sermon)
I have a question: “What difference does Jesus make?” He saves us from our sins, but what change does he make in our lives? Does that sound bad? Let me rephrase that. “How does being a Christian impact us during the week? Sometimes, it seems like my life is like everyone else’s. Other times, my faith, the world, and flesh seem in hot contention. How about you? How should Jesus impact our lives?
In our passage today, we encounter two different perspectives. Both fall short of the transformative reality of who Jesus is and what following means.
One group saw Jesus as a regular guy. They noted he was the son of a carpenter, Mary, and a brother. They didn’t see him as anything special. He was more of a bother.
The second perspective acknowledged that he was special. He was a teacher and miracle worker, but the point of view fell short of following him.
Do you think those perspectives still exist? I think so. Some of you may have them. However, most of you don’t. At the same time, if we are not careful, we can fall prey to living as if Jesus were just a man or something more but less than who he is. What difference does he make in our day to day living? Let’s go to the text to find some answers. I am going to have T. read for us. Would you please stand with me in recognition of God’s Word?
And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. (Matthew 13:53–14:12, ESV)
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of our hearts be pleasing to you, our Rock and Redeemer. In Jesus’s name, we pray, amen. You may be seated.
If you were here last week, you will recall that we are working through the book of Matthew. Jesus just finished eight parables about the kingdom of heaven. The parables were little fables telling simple points. Jesus was teaching in clear, memorable, and thought-provoking ways. He taught from mountain tops, fishing boats, houses, and in our passage a synagogue. Not only that, he had worked wonders like the prophets of old, healing the sick, calming the storms, casting out demons, and raising the dead. But not here in his hometown, for a reason we will soon discuss. He was categorically unlike any other before or since. His fame had spread like a Californian wildfire.
How does our text break down? There are two parts, with two prophets. In our pastors meeting this week, Jeff noted that. And we see two perspectives in these sections.
In the first part, chapter 13, verses 53 through 58, the people view Jesus as an offensive man.
In the second part, chapter 14, verses 1 through 12, Herod viewed Jesus as a mighty interesting man but not enough to alter the direction of his life.
What was Matthew, the author, doing in including these two stories in his biography of Jesus?
They contain chronological history.
Neither depicts a people wanting to follow him into his kingdom.
Both groups of people remind us of the first parable of the sower and seed, where the seed doesn’t land in good soil. And they contrast the parables of people selling everything they have for the greater treasure. These people neglect the value of Jesus before them.
Matthew wants his readers to evaluate how they respond to Jesus. We don’t want to be like Nazareth or Heord.
Let’s evaluate how we respond to Jesus
Jump to Matthew chapter 13 verse 53.
And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Matthew 13:53–13:56, ESV)
If you have been following the story, do these verses remind you of another? Let me clue you in. Go back to chapter 12. Does that help? Look at verse 46 of chapter 12.
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46–50, ESV)
We can forget that Jesus was part of a family; although we remember his parents, he had brothers and sisters too. In chapter 13, the townsfolk reference them to reduce Jesus to another citizen of Nazareth. He was a sibling. Some likely remembered him as a kid, recalling him playing and working like everyone else. He ate and wore clothes like everyone else. He blended into the crowd. His first miracle didn’t happen until he was thirty. Those in Nazareth thought they knew him, but didn’t. They thought they had him pegged. But he was more than meets the eye.
Jesus taught there. How did they react? They were astonished. That sounds good. What were they astonished by?
It could have been because he hadn’t taught this way before.
It could have been because they wouldn’t expect an uneducated carpenter to be as eloquent as he was.
It could have been like in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus, where Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, but I say to you” repeatedly.
It could have been that he predicted the future like the prophets of old.
Jesus was an expert. He had the truth. He had answers. And he wanted people to hear him, listen to him, and obey him. That being the case, what was their next reaction to him?
Keep reading. Verse 57.
“And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household’” (Matthew 13:57, ESV).
That is double negative. Jesus didn’t have honor in his hometown or household. His people were upset. Why? Why was that?
Did he call them out like he did to the Pharisees and the religious leaders? Did he say they were a brood of vipers or hypocrites?
Did he confront their sin, like John the Baptist?
Were they jealous of his reputation?
Were they upset at his theology?
We know they were offended.
One answer as to why could be located in a parallel account. Luke records a similar event in the same little town, when Jesus was teaching in the same synagogue. The people were astonished and offended that time too. In that account, Jesus read from Isaiah chapter 61. What did he read?
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Isaiah 61:18–61:21, ESV)
He was saying that he
Had the Holy Spirit,
Was anointed like a king or prophet,
Was a spokesperson of God,
Offered freedom for prisoners,
Eyesight to blind,
Release for the oppressed,
And he issued an entire year of God’s blessing.
To the listener in town, Jesus was being audacious. They didn’t believe a word he said.
If we keep reading, we can hear more of his teaching.
He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘ “Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’ ” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:23–4:27, ESV)
This speech infuriated them. We read,
When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. (Luke 4:28–29, ESV)
Can you believe that? They tried killing him. What was so offensive? We must travel back thousands of years and hear this from a Jewish perspective. That might help.
First, Jesus compared their reaction to the foreign widowed woman and Gentile leper.
Second, the marginalized, unclean outsiders were in a better place of blessing than the insiders.
Third, God sent his prophets to the unclean outsiders, not his people. Jesus was saying he was doing the same thing. God was sending him to the outsider, not the insider.
Finally, one scholar noted, “Jesus’ audience is becoming increasingly enraged as they realize that they will receive no special favors from him and that he considers himself above home ties and traditions.” (Walter L. Liefeld, “Luke,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 869.)
It could have been any combination of those reasons that made them mad. But we know they were furious.
Does Jesus offend today? You bet he does. Consider Jesus asking someone to leave what they are doing and make him the most important. Do we treat Jesus that way? Is he the MVP in our lives? Do we value family or ourselves more than him? I can. What about habits and routines? Do we value traditions and rhythms more than Jesus? Can we give up our trinkets, or do they control us more than Jesus? Is there something we cling to that God might release us from? Jesus wants all of us, not part. That was what his disciples were learning and Matthew is highlighting in reverse. His disciples,
Left their fishing nets.
Left their families.
Left their wealth.
And left their predictability, security, and control. They relinquished it to Jesus.
They gave it up for the treasure ahead of them. They gave it up for the blessing, while Nazareth would not.
Chapter 13 ends with Jesus mentioning their unbelief. How does that work? How does offense relate to unbelief? Our hearts go where our thoughts lead. You can trace the line from actions to emotions to ideas and beliefs. When we don’t follow Jesus, our efforts say something about our hearts and minds. I find this at work in me. When I don’t want to do what God wants, say what God wants, or think what God wants, there is a form of unbelief in me. So, I may not be from Nazareth or sitting on Herod’s throne, but I still can read these verses in Matthew and find God adjusting me. I can hear Jesus inviting me to follow him.
How does this work in Monday meetings, Tuesday sports, Thursday lunch, or Friday classes? We can live in a way that treats Jesus like those in Nazareth. We can live like Jesus doesn’t matter and do whatever floats our boat. We can operate by impulse and habit and not consider what Jesus would have us do here. That is a form of unbelief the believer can struggle with, a functional unbelief. I am living like Jesus is not who he was and is.
Let me share how this works for me. Last weekend, we knew this weekend we didn’t have any plans. So, Katie and I started dreaming about day trips. We thought of Chicago or a hike somewhere. We certainly think we could find something fun. Then, our day trip grew into a couple of days. I could take Friday and Saturday. It would be great. What if we went to Niagara Falls? It didn’t look that far on the map. We researched, and I watched some vlogs on YoutTube. We kept it a secret. We bought tickets and made arrangements for Friday night. Then this Thursday came around. We shared with the kids the news. I watched one video of a family going to Canada that their trip got hung up, when they brought mace to the border. They were interviewed and denied entry. I researched what snacks and food you can and cannot bring into the country. I told the gang not to bring such things. We got up early on Friday and left. Three hours. Then we got to the border. After waiting in line, we got to the checkpoint. It turns out we brought some contraband. We declared it, thinking we could just throw it away at the checkpoint. He said, no. We had to pull over and they would search the car. He was nice, but we were not sure how it would turn out. Would we even get to our destination that evening? Some of our plans started to disappear before our eyes. I had to fight my flesh to be angry and anxious. This was a point of trusting in Jesus. I could follow him or get upset. The guards were nice and after what was less than 30 minutes we were back on the road. Then out of Windsor in the country our car broke down. Four kids and a car load of stuff and a paid for itinerary ahead. We limped to the nearest shop, Iron Mikes. He was nice, but would have to get the parts. It might be fixed that day or the next. Again, I had to trust God. I had to give up my agenda. Relax. Jesus was going to win. We may not see the Falls at all. We might be staying in some small town or sleeping in our car and heading home. Iron Mike lent us his brand new truck for lunch. He was taking a lunch break. We went out to Tim Hortons. We got back and waited. I took a nap. Hours had passed. Our spirits were weakening. Some of us thought we might head home. Mike told me the parts were on the way. They fixed the car. We got back on the road. Needless to say, our plans changed. In the midst of the interruptions and disruptions in life, we can find that God is good and Jesus wants us to follow his lead. We can let go of our agenda and follow his with patience and self-control, and kindness.
Founder of the Salvation Army, Catherine Booth said,
“The curse, of this age especially, is unbelief, frittering the real meaning of God’s Word away, and making it all figure and fiction.”
Author Jackie Hill Perry wrote,
“Unbelief doesn’t see God as the ultimate good. So it can’t see sin as the ultimate evil. It instead sees sin as a good thing and thus God’s commands as a stumbling block to joy.”
Jesus wants us to find true joy in following him. Apprenticing under Jesus will be the death of our old self, but that is good. Jesus has a new way of living that is far better. Nazareth didn’t know that. They clung to unbelief and missed out on God’s blessing.
Let’s look at chapter 14. This is the second part that shows another bankrupt perspective of Jesus.
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. (Matthew 14:1–12, ESV)
Matthew tells us that Herod thought Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected. That could not be because John and Jesus were contemporaries. Did Herod believe Jesus is who he says he is? No. He rejected Jesus’s beatitude teaching, his teaching about murder, divorce, and love. Instead,
He did whatever he thought was best.
He divorced his wife.
He married his sister-in-law.
And , when John the Baptist criticized him, he had him sent to prison and later beheaded.
Herod was a lover of self. He was the king of his little world. So, what was Matthew doing in including Herod? Well, although Herod put John in prison. He, himself, was in a worse shape. He was enslaved to his lusts and desires. He was bound by fear of what people thought. He was not seeking to please God. Matthew foreshadows Jesus’s resurrection in the middle of the book unbeknownst to Herod. Herod was right in a way. Jesus would rise from the dead. Matthew also illustrates some bad soil. Like those in Nazareth, Herod rejected Jesus. Matthew wants us to evaluate how we respond to Jesus.
How do we respond? We, too, can give Jesus credit but stop short of following him. We can put our pleasure ahead of God’s. We can put our will in the driver’s seat. We can live for other people more than God. We can be shackled by fear. Matthew invites us to throw off these burdens and run with Jesus. Don’t be like the townsfolk or Herod. Where might the Holy Spirit call you to follow Jesus? I have heard this invitation like Jesus is coming over for lunch today. If he came to my house, there are some rooms we wouldn’t want him to see. They are clean and presentable. In the same way, are there places in our lives we don’t want Jesus to see? Jesus can see it all anyway. Why not let him have some control? Why not relax and trust him in life?
Friends, Jesus was more than a man and more than a spiritual guru. He was the Son of Man and Son of God. He came and lived a perfect life, died a sinner’s death, and rose. He is the promised king leading people out of bondage. He can help us in our mess.
Jesus said in Chapter 11 to John the Baptist’s disciples that those not offended by him would be blessed. A positive way to say it is that those who believe in him will be blessed. As we finish this morning, let me lay out some blessings the townspeople and Herod missed.
Through faith, we obtain the forgiveness of sins. That means we no longer have to walk around in guilt and shame anymore.
Through faith, we are free from the slavery of sin. We can follow Jesus. We are not bound by the past or habit.
Through faith, we have a hope of heaven. Jesus conquered death. He sits at the right hand of the Father. He is interceding for us and preparing for us a place with God forever. Once in heaven, there is no sickness, sadness, or sin. It is all gone and only joy and peace remain.
Through faith, we have a Father in heaven. He adopts you and I as sons or daughters forever. We are his, and he is ours by the Holy Spirit.
Through faith, we are not alone. We join together as a family of faith filled with God’s Spirit.