Sermon Title: Blessing or Bait
Sermon Text: Matthew 11:1-19
The Good News: When we refuse to take the Bait we Shall receive the Blessing of Jesus
Matthew 11:1-19 New International Version (NIV)
Jesus and John the Baptist
11 After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.[a]
2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[b] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’[c]
11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence,[d] and violent people have been raiding it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 Whoever has ears, let them hear.
16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
17 “‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”
BLESSING OR BAIT
Sometimes children can be hard to please. And as Kelly Wallace reports for her CNN article, “ Why trying to make our kids happy can backfire,” sometimes parents can go a little too far in their attempts to give their children the childhood they dream their children should have. Mrs. Wallace confesses that she is not an objective reporter in this case for once she interviewed princesses, real life princesses, for her four year old daughter’s birthday party.
Wallace reports the lengths some other well known parents have went through to please their children. To quote the article, “Children’s television host Miss Lori shared how she once engaged in a “desperate two-state” search to find Buzz Lightyear pajamas when her then-toddler son refused to take off the one and only pair she could find that fit him.
Janis Brett Elspas, a mom of four (including triplets) and founder of Mommy Blog Expert, remembers how when she and her husband forgot to play Tooth Fairy, they typed up email apologies and put them under their kids’ pillows along with double the amount of money they normally received.
Beth Engelman, co-founder of Mommy on a Shoestring, said her son Jackson started to “collect” safety cards from airplanes every time they flew. When her sister-in-law’s parents went to China, her sister-in-law asked her mother to bring back a safety card from China Airlines. She did, despite her husband’s protest that it was illegal to remove them.”
Wallace goes on to share some thoughts on parenting and happiness in this day and age. “In the U.S., we tend to confuse or conflate happiness with gratification and pleasure; usually, that’s what we’re talking about. And those things are pleasant, but they aren’t important in terms of our growth or even our satisfaction with life, even how much we like our lives,” said sociologist Christine Carter, author of “Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents.”
The question parents need to ask themselves, Carter said, is, “Do we do things to make our children happy because they are happy when we provide them with an iPad to play with or an ice cream cone? Or do we teach them the skills that they need to lead happy, meaningful, fulfilling lives?”
“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” But wisdom is proved right by her actions.”
We laugh at stories of children who are hard to please because many of have been in similar situations. Those stories strike as true and humorous when we look back upon them because we have hope that these are temporary fixations and one day our children will mature and grow out of such things. But Jesus shows us today that we can look mature on the outside but be immature on the inside. He shows us the truth of his generation and perhaps the truth of every generation that there are some people that can’t be pleased no matter what you do. People criticized John for being to strict and ascetic in his religious practice. He was more of what we would call a hell fire and brimstone focused on discipline as a way to salvation. Jesus came and did the exact opposite. He threw parties. He ate and drank with those of ill repute. While John wanted to bring an ax to the trees that were not bearing fruit, Jesus sought to heal broken people so they could live life more abundantly. And yet the same group that criticized John the Baptist found something to criticized about Jesus’ approach. And to be honest all of us fall into that group of people who are offended, as those who can’t be pleased, we just are offended and not satisfied over different things. But for all of us who struggle with the expectations of others and with our own unrealistic expectations Jesus has good news.
The Good News: When we refuse to take the bait the blessings of Jesus will advance in this world.
- What is the blessings that Jesus offers?
- What is the bait that keeps us from Jesus’ blessing?
- How do we avoid taking the bait?
First, what are the blessings that Jesus offers? The teaching that Jesus gives in chapter 11 was precipitated when John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus an important question. Apparently things hadn’t gone as well for John as he expected. He expected when he began his ministry of baptism and repentance that his message would be readily accepted. But when John called out King Herod for marrying his brother’s wife, which John considered to be against Jewish law, King Herod threw John into prison. Apparently this was not part of John’s plan. So John began to wonder if Jesus, the one he said he was preparing the way for, was actually the messiah. Because if Jesus were the messiah why would he allow John to languish in prison. So John sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him, “ Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else.” This was a far cry from John’s declaration that he was unworthy to untie Jesus’ sandals. But locked in prison John quickly forgot all the good Jesus was doing. So Jesus reminded his cousin about the essence of his ministry. Jesus said, “ Go back and report to John what you have hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”
What Jesus is talking about is peace. Peace in mind, body, and spirit. He came to bring a peace where people didn’t have to worry where their next meal would come from. A peace free of pain in our bodies that allow us to interact with this world. A peace that removes the social barriers that keep us isolated and alone. Jesus, or Yeshua, as His Hebrew name is pronounced means Yahweh saves. And in the mind of the Jewish people salvation is about more than just saving our souls. It is about a holistic peace. What the Hebrew people would call Shalom.
Susan Perlman, on the website, Jews for Jesus, describes how the Hebrew concept of Shalom differs from the world’s conception of peace. To quote Perlman, “Peace! Peace! Peace! Everybody’s for it. Nobody is against it. But what is that very elusive quality we call peace? For it means different things to different people.
Peace is what those who follow Eastern religions say comes only through the obliteration of the individual personality; becoming a part of the universe with no awareness of self. But they really mean serenity.
Peace is what the elderly neighbor wants when the teenager across the street is practicing on his drums. She really wants quiet.
Peace is what the shopkeeper wants when he’s worried about paying his bills. He really means that he’d like his store to be busy and bustling with customers. Peace to him means prosperity.
The patient waiting anxiously in the doctor’s office to be told the results of a battery of lab tests wants peace. He really means good health.
At the most extreme, some, like Hitler, peace results from killing people—at least it means killing to attain their kind of peace.
When we don’t have what we think we should have, we say we need peace!”
Perlman goes on to describe the problems with the world’s view of peace, “Therefore, “peace” is oftentimes defined as the condition of life that should be. But who has the right to determine what should or shouldn’t be? If all of us could get the kind of peace we wanted, it would be an imposed peace. It would be peace at the expense of someone else’s dream of what peace should be. Peace cannot be determined by our own biased viewpoints or selfish needs. Nor can our standard for peace be set by the norms of our turbulent society. So where can we look, if not to ourselves or society? How do we set up criteria for defining “peace”?
Webster’s definitions center around two major themes. One deals with the cessation of hostilities. The other focuses on a freedom from inner turmoil, better known as peace of mind.
We can look at the outworking of these two themes by seeing how two distinct cultures interpreted peace. The word, as commonly used in English, comes from the Latin “pax.” Pax to the Romans meant a cessation of hostilities between the conqueror and the vanquished. This peace was always temporary because it depended on who was in the position of strength.”
Perlman then goes on to describe how the Hebrew idea shalom is a more positive idea than the world’s view of peace. To quote Perlman, “ Rabbi Robert I. Kahn of Houston, Texas, capsulizes the distinctives of “Roman” peace and “Hebrew” shalom:
“One can dictate a peace; shalom is a mutual agreement.
“Peace is a temporary pact; shalom is a permanent agreement.
“One can make a peace treaty; shalom is the condition of peace.
“Peace can be negative, the absence of commotion. Shalom is positive, the presence of serenity.
“Peace can be partial; shalom is whole.
“Peace can be piecemeal; shalom is complete.”
The mystical writings of the Zohar teach that God is peace, His name is peace and all is bound together in peace (Zohar, Lev. 10b). In post-Talmudic Jewish thought, Isaac Arama paraphrased this idea by saying:
“Peace is a positive thing, the essential means by which men of differing temperaments and opinions can work together for the common good. Pearls of individual virtue would be dim in isolation were it not for the string of peace that binds them together and so increases their luster. That is why peace is a name of God for it is He who gives unity to the whole of creation.”
The criteria for shalom, true peace, then, rests with God. This definition of peace must begin with the assumption that there is a Creator and that He has established a standard for us. Hence, there must come an acceptance (at least for the understanding of this article) of the way in which God has chosen to reveal Himself to man – through the Bible.”
First, we see that the blessing Jesus has to offer us isn’t just the salvation of our souls it is shalom, the Kingdom of God, breaking in by force into this world. But there is a problem. We get tripped up, we get offended by what Jesus is doing. This is because we have taken the bait. The bait of the Devil. The bait of Satan. Many Christians wonder what the role of the Evil One is in our lives. Is the Devil’s hand involved in this thing that I don’t like or that thing that I don’t like. How can Christians protect themselves from the influence of the Evil One. I believe Christians can protect themselves from the Devil’s influence by not be offended. For the Lord has shown me in a pretty direct way that offense is a trap of the Devil.
The Lord taught me this lesson in a dream I had at the beginning of this year. At that time I was about to go on a prayer retreat in Black Mountain, North Carolina. The Sunday before I would drive down I was preaching at my last church. After my sermon I realized that I was emotionally exhausted. I simply had been pushing myself too hard. And the night before I headed down to North Carolina for my retreat I had a dream. I have to preface this by saying 99.9% of my dreams are not from the Lord. My two most common dreams are one where I am unprepared for a test I am about to take and another where I am on an invisible flying bicycle where to fly higher I have to peddle harder. So if you ever dreamed about what your pastor is dreaming about today is your lucky Sunday.
But that night I had a dream, that upon reflection, I am pretty certain was from the Lord. In that dream I was walking through this house. I entered this room. In the room was a Devil like character. But it was more like a cartoonish or funny looking Devil. I remember asking this character, “Are you Satan?” And the figure replied to me, “no I am the bait of Satan.” Bait is in something you use to tempt animals into a trap.
I awoke that morning and began my drive from Virginia down to North Carolina. The entire six hour drive down to Black Mountain I thought about that dream. It was such an odd phrase, “the bait of Satan.” I didn’t know what it meant. And it didn’t seem to be something that I would imagine by myself. Then, as I drove down to North Carolina, a thought came to mind. In researching my sermons I often checked out books from the local Christian university library on the subject I was preaching on. Several months before I was preaching on forgiveness and I had checked out a book entitled, “The Bait of Satan,” but I had never read it. I didn’t read it because I had gotten what I needed from the other books for my sermon. I also didn’t read it because I didn’t like the title. I thought it was a stupid and unnecessarily scandalous title. I didn’t read the book because I literally judged a book by its cover. God didn’t explicitly say in the dream, “Hey Pastor Will you should give this book a second try.” Yet, I connected the dots and concluded that God indeed wanted me to read a book that I would not have chosen to read of my own accord.
Pastor John Bevere, author of “The bait of Satan: Living Free of the Deadly Trap of Offense,” argues that the Devil attacks us as Christians not primarily through the media, a particular political party, or through an annoying in laws, but through the sin of offense which is rooted in our own selfishness and lack of love. Bevere points out the origins of the Greek word for offense which is found in Luke 17:1, in this passage, and throughout the New Testament. To quote Bevere,
“The Greek word for “offend”….comes from the word skand-alon. This word originally referred to the part of the trap to which the bait was attached. Hence the word signifies laying a trap in someone’s way. In the New Testament it often describes an entrapment used by the enemy. Offense is a tool of the devil to bring people into captivity.” (Bevere, 5% in kindle).
Bevere says this about offense in our society. “The possibilities for offense are as endless as the list of relationships, no matter how complex or simple. This truth remains: Only those you care about can hurt you. You expect more from them- after all, you’ve given more of yourself to them. The higher the expectations, the greater the fall.”
John certainly took the bait in this passage. He was disappointed in Jesus that is why John sent his disciple to Jesus. Only a few chapters before John said he was unworthy to untie Jesus’ sandals. And yet now, when Jesus isn’t doing what he expected, John’s faith has turned into an inquisition. How do we avoid taking the bait of Satan in order that we may partake in the blessings of Jesus? I think three steps might be helpful.
- Don’t judge a book by it’s cover
- Be slow to speak and quick to listen
- Humble ourselves.
First, as my dream suggests we must rebuke the old adage that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and take seriously the old adage that we should not judge a book by its cover. God knows our hearts and as followers of Christ we should try to get to know the hearts of others. Since we are not all knowing like God the only way we can get to know the heart of another is to be patient and to listen.
As Jesus says if we are going to accept his teachings we need the ears to hear. Jesus is not saying that God wants to give us an ear transplant. Instead, he is saying that he wants to change the way we listen to each other. Proverbs 18:13 says this, “He who answers before listening-that is his folly and shame.” When we are formulating in our minds our reply when someone else is still speaking we are not really listening, we are instead politely arguing. Instead when we put aside our own preconceived notions of what things should be, to truly listen to another, we form a bridge of understanding that we can both walk across. When we show others that we understand their hurt and what they care about it is often likely they will open the doors of their hearts to us so we can tell them what we care about. And we can’t tell others our concerns effectively unless we put our concerns in their language.
Finally, we need to humble ourselves. John was disappointed primarily because he didn’t know who Jesus really was, he assumed he did. He read the predictions of who the Messiah would be and he put his assumptions about the Messiah on Jesus. He never asked Jesus what kind of Messiah he actually was. John was wearing rose colored glasses when he looked at Jesus. Those glasses came off when John ended up in prison. Often in entering into relationships we are wearing rose colored glasses. We see the idea of the other person instead of who that person actually is. Because we are not actually looking at the reality of the relationship we are bound to hurt one another. When we hurt one another the rose colored glasses come off as we get trapped in a cycle of bitterness and unforgiveness. But Jesus tells us there is a way out of that prison. He will give us the key if we let go of our pride and humble ourselves.
Bevere puts the danger of pride this way in The Bait of Satan, “One way the enemy keeps a person in an offended state is to keep the offense hidden, cloaked with pride. Pride will keep you from admitting your true condition. Once I was severely hurt by a couple of ministers. People would say, “I can’t believe they did this to you. Aren’t you hurt?”
I would respond quickly, “No I am fine. I ‘m not hurt.” I knew it was wrong to be offended, so I denied and repressed it. I convinced myself I was not, but in reality I was. Pride masked the true condition of my heart. Pride keeps you from dealing with the truth. It distorts your vision. You never change when you think everything is fine. Pride hardens your heart and dims the eyes of your understanding. It keeps you from the change of heart- repentance- that will set you free.” Bevere goes on to say this about pride, “ Pride causes you to view yourself as a victim. Your attitude becomes, “I was mistreated and misjudged; therefore, I am justified in my behavior.” Because you believe you are innocent and falsely accused, you hold back forgiveness. Though your true heart condition is hidden from you, it is not hidden from God. Just because you were mistreated, you do not have permission to hold on to an offense. Two wrongs do not make a right!.” The book of James warns about pride by saying this, “ That is why scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then to God. Resist the Devi, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come hear to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded. Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” I have found in life before we can be touched by shalom we must humble ourselves. And that is neither fun nor enjoyable. But I have also found that if we don’t humble ourselves God will often find a way to humble us against our will and reveal the bitterness that we have hidden in our hearts. It doesn’t do so to embarrass us. Like everything he does he does it for our good because he doesn’t want us to live in prison. Even if he has willed that our circumstances be limited for a time he wants us to be free in Spirit.
This season of giving we may go to great lengths to find expensive gifts for our family and friends. But for those who have hurt us often such gifts are a distraction from the only gifts that truly matter, our forgiveness and understanding. I have found in my own life that forgiveness doesn’t come when people tell me that unforgiveness is a prison. I have found that forgiveness didn’t come when people told me that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. I had to face the truth that I didn’t forgive because I hated the person I wasn’t forgiving and I rather be in prison and drink poison than let them get away with the wrongs I felt they had done to me. But two wrongs don’t make a right. Not only is offense and hate a trap it is also a sin. The LORD has given us the map to avoid the trap, the key to escape the prison. The key is his love. For when I think about the price Christ paid for me on the cross, I am reminded of my lowly estate, that I am a sinner, a hypocrite, a mixed bag of good and bad like everyone else. And when I am humbled I feel compassion for the weakness of other people which is not my own. And I feel pity and love for the ones who hurt me for Christ felt pity and love for me even though I have rejected his love a thousand times over. The key to escape the prison is Christ love. And he has bought that key for us at a great price. So this Christmas season let us not waste our fortunes on new wardrobes for Christ has already paid the price for our new clothes. To quote Paul in the book of Colossians, “ Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly love, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtue put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12-17). Blessed are those who are not offended by me. Lord we desire your blessing, your shalom above all else, help us set the captive free, even if that captive is us. Help us to humble ourselves and choose blessing over bait.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.