Sun. a.m. AGCC 1/2/2000
TEXT: Matt. 8:1-4
INTRO: We run into a lot of different kind of people in our life's travels. In a country like ours where there is such diversity there will be those who we can rejoice over and others that we would rather ignore or have banished.
Who did God come for? We like to believe that God came for all the good people, this makes sense to us. Yet, Jesus demonstrated time and time again that He came not for those who are well, but for those who were sick, physically and spiritually! Christ's example is a great challenge to us as Christians if we examine the kinds of people He ministered to. Why? Because it will call us to reach out too, to those who make us uncomfortable, to those we would rather not have to deal with, to those we would dismiss as ever deserving God's love and favor. How easily we forget the kind of love it took God to accept us!
Ironically, it was often the most abused, the most outcast, the most rejected by society that found the love of Christ so rich and full. It was often the self satisfied, the cream of the crop that mocked Christ and His ministry. Some of the sweetest and best of spiritual things comes from the greatest pains and tragedies of life when Christ is in the picture!
ILLUS:When Handel wrote the "Hallelujah Chorus," his health and his fortunes had reached the lowest possible ebb. His right side had become paralyzed, and all his money was gone. He was heavily in debt and threatened with imprisonment. He was tempted to give up the fight. The odds seemed entirely too great. And it was then he composed his greatest work--Messiah. Could we not say of Handel that the Spirit entered into him and set him upon his feet?-- Peter Marshall, Sr., "Who Can Take It?," Preaching Today, Tape No. 131.
God's ears are open to the afflicted, the outcasts, the humble .. it is the proud heart that cannot find God or His graces.
PROP. SENT: The Bible teaches us that God looks on the heart and not the external appearances, and that there is no one excluded who would come to Him in humble need and faith.
I. GREAT LOSSES 8:1-2
A. Finding God 8:1
1. Jesus had finished doing preaching and ministry to the crowds, which now followed Him as He continued on His journey.
a. The crowds were everywhere.
b. It was easy to be lost in the crowd, and must have felt somewhat impersonal to some degree considering the size of the crowd.
2. If someone had hoped to get Jesus' attention as an individual they would have had a difficult time in the press of the large number of people.
a. So often when we think of God we feel lost in the crowd of humanity too!
b. It makes one wonder how God can take notice of us when we are simply one in over 6,000,000,000 people!
3. Many times in larger Churches people feel their relationship to God is nothing more than an institutional reality, that God seems so far away or impersonal.
4. It is possible however in the large crowds to have a personal relationship with God!
ILLUS:On a balmy October afternoon in 1982, Badger Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin, was packed. More than 60,000 die-hard University of Wisconsin supporters were watching their football team take on the Michigan State Spartans. It soon became obvious that MSU had the better team.
What seemed odd, however, as the score became more lopsided, were the bursts of applause and shouts of joy from the Wisconsin fans. How could they cheer when their team was losing? It turns out that seventy miles away the Milwaukee Brewers were beating the St. Louis Cardinals in game three of the 1982 World Series.
Many of the fans in the stands were listening to portable radios--and responding to something other than their immediate circumstances. Paul encourages us to fix our eyes not on what is seen but what is unseen (2 Cor. 4:18). When we do, we can rejoice even in hardships because we see Christ's larger victory. -- Greg Asimakoupoulos, Naperville, Illinois. Leadership, Vol. 15, no. 4.
5. The world doesn't always understand Christians, they see us in the sea of humanity and though the human family seems to be losing ground they see us rejoicing … because we have our hearts and souls tuned into a different frequency … it is tuned to God's heart and purposes.
6. What does it take to get God's attention, how does one find God in such a huge sea of humanity?
B. Faith In God 8:2
1. A leper found it more difficult than most to get close to Jesus!
a. They were the outcasts of Jesus' day!
b. They were held in great fear, they had a disease that could not be cured, was communicable, and was considered by some religious people as the proper sentence for what was assumed to be hidden sins in people's lives.
c. Lepers could not interact with the rest of society, they were physically removed, all rights stripped from them, they even had to cry out loud "UNCLEAN" if any normal person approached them or they could be stoned or killed.
d. They were never allowed to touch other people, or be touched by "clean" people.
e. It was a horrible lonely way to live, and an even worse way to die!
2. One leper however wanted desperately to get Jesus' attention, his only hope was God, there was no hope by man's abilities.
a. In the heart of this sick man there was faith in Christ!
b. How ironic that the well to do Pharisees could only sneer at Christ and this very sick rejected man could find such hope in Christ!
3. Those who were humbled by their suffering and pain did not find it hard to come to Christ, He offered them hope, acceptance, love, peace, real joy even in the midst of their pain and suffering.
a. No wonder Jesus said it was difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!
b. So often it is the weak and broken that find Christ long before the strong and self satisfied.
ILLUS: While on a short-term missions trip, Pastor Jack Hinton was leading worship at a leper colony on the island of Tobago. A woman who had been facing away from the pulpit turned around. "It was the most hideous face I had ever seen," Hinton said. "The woman's nose and ears were entirely gone. She lifted a fingerless hand in the air and asked, 'Can we sing Count Your Many Blessings?' " Overcome with emotion, Hinton left the service. He was followed by a team member who said, "I guess you'll never be able to sing that song again." "Yes I will," he replied, "but I'll never sing it the same way." --- The Pastor's Update (5/96). Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.
4. Note the statement of faith by this leper "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."
a. There is no demand in his voice, not presumption in his petition, only the steadfast acknowledgement that Jesus was God's Messiah.
b. There is also no doubt the hope that perhaps Jesus will touch him and restore him again.
c. His only hope was God!
5. Jesus could not ignore a single human with faith even in the midst of a huge crowd of people!
a. One cry of faith will be noticed by God even when all the other voices are screaming for their own way!
b. God is a very discriminating God, he is almost always deaf to a sinful proud heart but can hear the whisper of a sinner who cries to him in faith!
6. This leper will get far more than he could hope for … all because he comes in faith!
II. GOD'S LOVE 8:3-4
A. Favored By God 8:3
1. While this leper may have hoped for Jesus' attention, he never expected Jesus to actually touch him!
a. No "good Jew" would ever touch a leper, even if they were moved by some compassion to give them alms to ease their suffering, they still would never physically touch them!
b. Jesus however breaks the code of the law to show the heart of compassion in God!
c. Before Jesus heals him, before Jesus forgives him, Jesus touches him!
d. Sometimes we have to touch a life BEFORE healing comes.
2. Christ is not ashamed to make contact with the worst of sinners.
a. There is no one God will ignore that come to Him in faith.
b. There is no one so disgusting that God would reject.
c. There is a God in heaven that wants more than our soul, He wants to touch our lives too!
3. While the rest of society had their rules to keep at arms length these sick and dying people Jesus is not ashamed nor bound by laws except the language of love.
a. This man may have gone years with no one touching him except other lepers.
b. The fact that he had to yell out loud if anyone even came near him "UNCLEAN" made this touch by Jesus an amazing thing.
4. Christ is moved by this man's acknowledgement of faith in Him, and the man's humble way of asking for help.
a. Jesus did not see the crowds, He saw a heart of faith in an individual!
b. Christ will still see this today, how about you?
5. Though repeatedly rejected by others, this man found Christ's acceptance!
ILLUS: Acclaimed novelist James Lee Burke discovered first-hand the validating sweet fragrance of perseverance. In the mid-'70s the creator of the Dave Robicheaux detective series wrote a book he called The Lost Get-Back Boogie. To his dismay his novel was rejected 111 times by New York publishers alone. (It is still considered the most thoroughly rejected manuscript in American publishing history). But Burke didn't give up and eventually one reluctant publishing house decided to take a chance on his story. In 1985 James Lee Burke was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for The Lost Get-Back Boogie. Imagine the reaction of those scores of editors that originally said the manuscript was unfit. Another celebrated writer also knew the benefits that come when we choose not to give up or give in. St. Paul wrote "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9) -- Greg Asimakoupoulos. From the files of Leadership.
a. Too often we give up, just because others have rejected us does not mean God will too!
b. God looks for something in us that the world doesn't see, our faith in Him!
c. Though this leper was feared by man, he was favored by God!
6. Jesus is quite willing to meet this man's need, and reward his faith.
a. Christ is more willing to minister to others that we would like to think!
b. Those whom we may think are not deserving may find God's blessings if they come in humble faith believing.
7. Christ pronounces the leper "CLEAN" - what a contrast to what this man had to always proclaim in the presence of others, he had to shout "UNCLEAN" but now the son of God has pronounced him "CLEAN"!
a. The man is healed immediately.
b. Christ's pronouncement of "BE CLEAN" may have included spiritual as well as physical, God is moved by faith!
c. So often when Jesus healed He also forgave their sins … an even greater healing!
B. Faith's Gift 8:4
1. Jesus understood that this man needed acceptance by society too, and so He sends him to the priests for an examination.
a. God is not afraid of doctor's exams when He heals!
b. Jesus honored the law in doing this, and also made a way for this man to be accepted by society again.
c. The priests were the doctors when it came to leprosy, their confirmation of this man's total healing would be his ticket back into society, back into the worshipping community, back into his family's life again.
2. Not only does this man find the greatest reward for his faith, but others will be given a testimony of God's power as well!
a. While Jesus tells the man not to broadcast the healing all over the place, He does want the priests to receive a witness of God's power!
b. These priests could do so much good if they too had faith.
c. No doubt Jesus didn't want the man telling the entire crowd so that the crowds didn't just come to Him for physical needs alone.
3. The man's suffering proved to be a great gift in the end, for it led him to Christ!
ILLUS: Faith on a full stomach may be simply contentment--but if you have it when you're hungry, it's genuine. -- Frank A. Clark, Christian Reader, Vol. 35, no. 2.
4. Faith's gift was not just physical healing, this man was restored to God, to his family, to his society, to himself!
a. When others saw a hopeless case, God saw possibilities!
b. What about us? Who have you dismissed as hopeless?
c. Are we too good to reach out a hand to touch those who are trying to find God?
5. The good news is that Christ died for all, that we only come in faith … and even if we are only a small voice in the crowd, if it is a voice with faith in it God will hear and answer!
CONCLUSION: Have you ever felt like you are lost in the crowd of humanity, that God surely can't notice you out of the 6 billion plus people on this planet? Does God really hear us, does He really notice us and our needs? The answer is a resounding "YES!" God always notices faith. Even in a large crowd Jesus noticed a single person's faith, and He was happy to respond to the person. Has God noticed you?