Hope you had a good Thanksgiving. I heard that the dorms provided turkeys for dinner on Thanksgiving. And they were cooked by some of you here. I am not sure how those turkeys turned out. I trust they were good. If you are not an experienced turkey chef, you have no appreciation for how difficult it is to make a good turkey. I don’t want to brag, well, okay, I’ll brag just a little bit – turkey at my house was quite good. It wasn’t my best, but for the amount of time I put into it, it turned out pretty well.
It’s hard to gauge how others like your turkey. The turkey might be as dry as turkey jerky, but some people will say, oh, the turkey is so good, the best I ever had and they might say this but we all know they are just being polite. How do you know that they are being polite? Easy. When you ask them, do you want seconds, they say, no, thank you, I’m stuffed. Then you know, something is wrong. Who doesn’t get seconds for a Thanksgiving meal?
A bunch of grad guys were over and Daniel Hsu, the lone undergrad, who must have opted out of the dorm meal and come over because he heard about my reputation as a turkey chef. And guys generally are not that expressive so I couldn’t tell at first if the turkey was a hit, but when I saw Daniel and Dongyoon and Andre and others coming up for seconds and thirds, I knew, the turkey was good. Actions speak louder than words.
Okay, enough bragging. Christians shouldn’t brag. Pastors esp. shouldn’t brag behind the pulpit. Father, forgive me for I don’t know what I am saying.
Okay, please turn with me to Matt 12:43-45. We’re resuming our study of Matthew. Read text.
Holidays are a time of celebration and gathering with loved ones and eating good food and taking a break from the normal routine of problem sets and deadlines at work. But oddly, many are depressed during the holidays. I don’t know if it’s the trytophan in the turkey, or the fact that the holidays are a time when we are suffering from food coma and to make matters worse, we only burn a few calories per hour because we often are sitting around with family and we don’t move except to get another slice of pumpkin pie, I don’t know what it was, it was probably a combination of all of the above but I was extremely sleepy all week. And you know when it’s chilly in the morning and it’s nice and toasty in your bed, you just don’t want to get up. And as you are lying there half awake, you get to think about your life.
Most of the year, we’re all too busy to think, but holidays afford us an opportunity to reflect back and take stock over our lives. Normally, we are rushing from one thing to the next and holidays give us some pause so that you can stop and ask ourselves, why am I so busy? What have I done this past year? Or even deeper questions, what am I doing with my life?
Parents give you answers to life’s questions from a young age. Why should I study in elementary school? Answer? So that you can learn good study habits and prepare for junior high school. But if you mess up, no big deal. You still have junior high. Why should I study in junior high? To learn good study habits so that you can prepare yourself for high school? Why should I study in high school? The stakes are higher. You have to enroll in honor classes and boost your GPA and participate in extracurriculars, all in preparation for your college admissions. Suppose you do well. You get into the college of your choice. Then, what? Well, you got to do well. Why? To get into grad school. Then, what? You have to get a job that you didn’t know you wanted. Then, what? You got to get promoted? What if you are not happy? Maybe it’s because you are not married. What if you are married and you are still unhappy? Maybe you are in the wrong career so you switch jobs because you can’t switch spouses. Then, what? You got to save up money to buy a house? Then, what? You got to work hard so that you can enjoy 2 weeks of vacation a year, but after the trip, you end up being more tired than when you left. Then, what? I don’t know. Veg in front of the TV to distract yourself. There’s no end.
Life is an endless preparation for the next thing, the next test, the next school, the next job, the next promotion, the next, the next, the next. And holidays, when you are sitting around stuffing your face and you are sleeping in because of the tryptophan, you get a moment, a brief moment, to ask, what’s it all for, where is all this work leading to?
If you haven’t asked yourself this question because you’ve been too busy, between now and the end of this year, I invite you to ask yourself, what am I working so hard for? For what end? To be famous? To be rich? To be respected? What’s your ultimate end?
For Christians, what’s the ultimate end? Why do we come to church? Why do we pray? Why do we read the Bible? Why do we attend bible studies? Why do we give money to the poor? Why do we reach out to others? What’s the goal?
Please turn with me to John 5:39-44.
39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. 41 “I do not accept praise from men, 42 but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?
This passage gives us 2 approaches to Christian life. They look very similar on the surface. But their outcomes couldn’t be more different. One approach leads to being more and more religious and it seeks the praise of man and the outcome is eternal separation from God. The other approach leads to drawing near to Christ and becoming more Christ-like and it seeks the praise of God and the outcome is eternal salvation.
This is important. Knowing which line you are in and getting in the right line will make an eternal difference. One approach of religion leads to spiritual death. And the other approach of following Christ and relating with Christ and knowing Him leads to life with God forever.
The example given in John 5 is Scripture. Studying Scripture. Who would argue that studying Scripture is a good thing? I want to know Scripture better. And you want to know Scripture better, too, or you wouldn’t be here. The mistake made by the Pharisees, whom Jesus is addressing, is the same mistake that many of us make. We think knowing Scripture itself is the goal. And because we know Scripture, because we believe in most of what it says, we think, therefore, automatically we must have eternal life.
But Jesus clarifies. Scripture, as is many other things in life, is merely a tool. Scripture is a signpost. What does a signpost do? It points to something. Like an arrow pointing to LA – 159 miles. The sign is not equivalent to LA. It points to something greater, the city of LA, which is 159 miles away. Likewise, Scripture points to something greater. It points to Jesus. Scripture is not the end. It is a tool that points to Christ.
How can we determine which line we’re in, which path we’re on, whether we are merely being religious vs. genuinely relating with Christ? That’s the first question I want to tackle today. And if you are on the wrong path of religion, how do you get on the right path of knowing Christ? That’s the second question I want to answer.
We’ll start with question #1–how can we determine which path we are on? Are you and I on a path of religion or we on the path to know Christ? This is the whole point of the gospel of Matthew. Matthew is writing to tell his fellow countrymen, the Jewish nation, who as a group was highly religious, that the Scripture that they are studying and memorizing and that they’ve been learning since they were kids is a pointer to Jesus Christ. In this chapter alone, look at how many times Matthew records conversations between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders. At least, 3 separate critiques of Jesus are leveled by the Pharisees and Jesus makes a rebuttal to each the criticisms.
If you are aware of the author’s intention in writing this gospel–to convince the Jewish nation that Jesus is the Messiah that they’ve been waiting for–the rest of the verses in this chapter fall into place. Without the correct framework, these verses don’t make sense. Everything else is evidence to build an argument for this main thesis of Jesus as the promised Messiah.
It’s important to study the Bible in its context. If Jesus were alive today and he was preaching to the elites living in Beverly Hills, his examples and his emphases would look very different than if he were trying to reach the poor living in the shantytowns of Mexico. To one group, he would be talking about the fleeting nature of our houses and iPads and our riches. To the other, he would be talking about suffering and our hope in heaven.
To a Jewish person steeped in religious tradition and who was educated in the best Rabbinic schools of his day, Jesus is trying to show repeatedly the emptiness of religion.
Jesus shows the Pharisees, and by implication all of us, what following an empty religion looks like.