Tri-City Chinese Baptist Church

English Worship, November 26 2023

Message: The Lord Has Come | Scripture: Matthew 9:14-17 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy

The Lord Has Come | Matthew 9:14-17 | Nov. 26th, 2023

Worship Songs: My Heart Is Filled With Thankfulness; Christ Is Mine Forevermore; Yet Not I, But Through Christ In Me

Full Manuscript


If able, please stand as I read to you from Matthew 9:14-17.  TWoL: Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”  And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.  No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made.  Neither is new wine put into old wine skins.  If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed.  But new wine is put into fresh wine skins, and so both are preserved.”

I once heard a story about a preacher who wanted to give his sermon a little more visual emphasis.  So, during the week, he picked four worms from his yard and put them into four separate jars filled with different substances.  The first worm was placed into a jar of alcohol.  The second into a jar of cigarette smoke.  The third into a container of chocolate syrup, and the fourth into a jar of good, clean soil. 

At the end of his sermon, the pastor held up each jar to show his congregation what had become of the worms.  The first in alcohol had died.  The second in cigarette smoke had died.  The third in the chocolate syrup had died.  But the fourth in good, clean soil, it was alive, which prompted the pastor to ask his congregation: what can we learn from this demonstration?  And a little old woman in the back of the sanctuary quickly raised her hand and answered, “As long as you become an alcoholic, smoke cigarettes, and eat gluttonous portions of chocolate, you’ll never get worms!” 

The point, I hope you can see, was entirely lost upon the elderly woman, but we have to ask ourselves how much like her are we on a regular basis, especially when it comes to matters of faith?  How often do we miss the point?  How often do we make it a moralistic issue rather than a heart issue?  How often do we think of the social implications rather than the eternal outcomes?  How often do we make it about ourselves than about Christ? 

And this morning our text is a clear reminder for us who call ourselves Christian, and an introduction for those of who don’t call yourself Christian, not to miss the point.  Don’t forget who it’s all about.  It’s about Christ.  That’s what the entire Old Testament was about, that’s what the New Testament is about, and that’s what all of eternity will be about.  It will all be about Christ, and the kicker is this: when you make it all about Christ, you, though you don’t deserve it, will receive all the joy.  The point is Christ, and to be in Christ—to see him as the be all and end all of your life—is to be defined by joy.

This is where our passage leads us this morning.  It calls us not to miss the point of being defined by joy in Christ, and our text tells us the two steps that we must take in order to possess that joy.  It tells us to put away petty rivalry and to pay attention to the company.  2 steps to have joy in Christ—2 steps to everlasting happiness with him.  Let’s look, then, now at the first: be defined by joy in Christ …

1) By Putting Away Petty Rivalry

What we’ve been walking through these past few weeks is unpacking what it means to be Christian.  First, we discussed Matthew’s calling in verse 9—how he is confronted with the magisterial truth that Jesus isn’t only the foretold prophet, priest, and King as predicted in the Old Testament—the fulfillment of everything it was pointing us towards—but he is also God himself over nature, over the supernatural, and over the power of sin.  He brings us outcasts in not only as our Saviour but also as our Lord, Yahweh. 

But then, secondly, as Matthew, out of the overflow of his awe and wonder about who this Jesus is—as he’s calling his friends—other tax-collectors and sinners—to come meet this man who calls the most deviant rejects to follow him, in Matt 9:10-13, we’re confronted with Pharisees who feel that an injustice is being done to them because Jesus is upsetting their establishment.  The Pharisees require their disciples to be the most pristine, most reputable, most sacrificial followers, but Jesus says to them that mere sacrifice isn’t the thing he’s looking for.  Sacrifice, itself, is not enough. 

No, what he desires is the harder thing to do: he requires mercy—not just sacrifice of your things and a focus on yourself but sacrifice of yourself for the sake of others—even those who do not deserve you or who have harmed you.  In the dawning of Christ, he desires and requires his disciples to move away from this sense of moral and personal superiority—this idea that you are made righteous in your own eyes by your own conduct—by your own sacrifices.  True Righteousness, Christ tells us, the kind that is acceptable to God—is recognizing that your good works—your sacrifices—flow from the one who has already sacrificed on your behalf—the one who’s shown you mercy.  His mercy begets our mercy.

Those are the first two aspects of what it means to be Christian: that you are, firstly, called by an awesome and wondrous God, and, secondly, as you’re called, you’re called away from meaningless, self-justifying sacrifice because mercy has enabled you to do and be more.  Yet, as our text points out today, not only are you called, and not only are you called from meaningless sacrifice, but you’re also called to something, and this leads us into a confrontation not with Pharisees but the disciples of John the Baptist. 

Now, if you remember, as I hope most of us do, John the Baptist was the forerunner to the Messiah, the last prophet of the Old Testament age, and he came preaching repentance, like other prophets did before him.  Yet, what distinguished him from other prophets was that he was baptising people.  No longer was circumcision evidence of belonging to the kingdom.  A new sign was needed to display the reception of a new heart—a repentant, holy heart. 

The problem, however, is that they didn’t have anything to point that new heart to.  They were penitent for their sinfulness.  They saw the error of their ways, but they were left in a proverbial limbo.  And according to Matthew 4:12, the man who was supposed to lead them away from the old, sacrificial system and to this new thing, he had just been arrested, thrown in prison, and he’d likely be soon put to death. 

See, these disciples of John had been called by this prophet of God, and they had been called away from Pharisee righteousness, but they were missing the thing in which they were being called to.  John, himself, as we find out, wasn’t even a hundred percent sure what that thing was.  We read in Matthew 11, John, while in prison, sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” 

In other words, if John doesn’t know exactly who Jesus is, then it’s a sure thing that John’s disciples do not know who Jesus is, which prompts the question in verse 14 of our passage today, “why don’t your disciples fast like we and the Pharisees do?” 

Now, you’ve got to understand something about fasting in Christ’s day.  It had become something completely associated with grieving, and in particular, grieving the judgment of God.  We see this in Old Testament books like Nehemiah 1 and Jonah 3, but we see it more directly here in Jesus’s response.  The disciples of John say, “why don’t your disciples fast,” and Jesus’s answer is in part, “Because my disciples don’t have anything to mourn about currently.” 

We’ll talk more about Jesus’s response in a bit, but for now, what we need to know is that fasting was something you did when you were sad.  The Pharisees were constantly fasting because they mourned the fact that they were exiles in their own land.  The disciples of John were mourning because their leader had been captured and imprisoned.  They believed God was judging them and testing them for their faithfulness. 

And since they did not know who Jesus was—or since they saw him as one less important than John, their question to him is a question of competition.  It’s a question of rivalry and envy.  “If we, the people of John, have to fast, then you and your people should have to fast too, because John isn’t here, and we’re at a loss, which means you’re also at a loss.  God has judged us all, and we ought to be in mourning—pleading with him to restore us.”

And I hope all of us see how petty this is—not only that the disciples of John make themselves out to be the victims in this situation but that they desire to make their pain and their sorrow the pain and sorrow of others.  In their minds, if they aren’t happy, then no one has the right to be happy.

Who amongst us is like this?  Constantly feeling sorry for ourselves and letting others know that they ought to feel sorry for us—ignoring what’s going on in their lives or assuming that they don’t have their own issues or, maybe, the means to lift us up, to console us, to care for us?  We don’t truly care about them.  No, we want them to think about us, and in our self-pity, we miss how we not only distract ourselves from letting others in, but we seek to bring everyone else down with us. 

We all know people like this, perhaps, on occasion, we are these people—if you’ve ever lived with family—if you’ve ever been a teenager—if you’ve had toddlers—if you’re a husband or a wife, then I know you’ve definitely been this person.  And you need to know this morning that it’s sin—that lie you indulge yourself in that says your feelings are the most important feelings in the world—that self-centeredness that corrupts not just your own heart but the hearts of everyone around you.  Why?  Because the pinnacle of help and salvation for your sorrow is yourself—your views—your abilities.  All things are rivals and competition to you because you find sufficiency in yourself. 

Yet, the Bible was given to us—the gospel was given to us so that in our pity—in our sorrow—our pinnacle of help might be found at the cross of Christ who has no rival—who is incomparable, even in the smallest degree.  He laid himself down and died in order to lift us up.  When we give into self-pity, and when we require others to pity us, we consider our situation as if God isn’t an infinitely gracious Father.  When we pity ourselves in this way, what we’re saying is that the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of his Holy Spirit—they’re not enough for us. 

This is exactly what the disciples of John are saying.  They are literally staring into the face of God—God is right in front of them, as Matthew has painstakingly made obvious to us throughout chapters 8 and 9, and instead of seeing what’s right in front of them, all they can do is think of themselves and increase their own importance so that others, even Jesus, might turn their focus from him to them. 

And Matthew is including this event between the disciples of John right after Jesus’s confrontation with Pharisees because he’s trying to tell us that unless we see Jesus as the incomparable thing that we are called to—that we aren’t meant to make more of ourselves but to make more of God who has come to save sinners—it doesn’t matter if you’re an evil Pharisee or a good disciple of a good man or woman—none of that is sufficient.  You are not sufficient. 

Yet, Christ comes to call you—to call you from self-importance and to himself.  He calls you from self-pity and unrelenting sorrow to joy, but if you can’t look past yourself, you’ll never get to see what’s staring you in the face,  And, brothers and sisters, what’s staring you in the face—what’s calling you isn’t something that increases your helplessness like your self-pity does—but is in itself—in himself all the things that we are not: glorious, kind, sovereign, loving, merciful, gracious, just, and strong. 

Maybe some of you come in here this morning feeling sorry for yourselves, and you need to hear this: the only salve for your self-pity is not the praise or attention of man but the hope of God whose pity for you is far greater and far stronger than what you think of yourself—a pity that would cause him to come for you—a pity that would cause him to die for you, if only you’d stop and move from looking at yourself long enough to see him.  And what is it, in looking upon him, that we’re supposed see?  Well, that leads us to our second point: be defined by joy in Christ …

2) By Paying Attention to the Company

Consider, now, Jesus’s response to the disciples of John.  His exact words to them as they question him about his own disciples’ fasting is, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”

In other words, why is it that Jesus’s disciples aren’t in a state of grief, like the Pharisees who are constantly lamenting the land that no longer belongs to them, or like the disciples grieving their loss of John the Baptist who prophesied about the coming Messiah?  The reason why Jesus’s disciples aren’t grieving is because Jesus is the answer to Israel’s longing for land, and Jesus is the answer to Israel’s waiting for a Messiah. 

On the one hand, the land was always meant as the place in which the peace of God might dwell with his people.  This is why the inhabitants of the land—those touching the ground—had to be pure—free from defilement.  It’s because the peace of God was to be with them, and if the peace of God was to be with them, then sin must be atoned for, and uncleanliness must be cleansed.  And Jesus’s coming was a fulfillment of that land promise but in the form of a person.  Land is no longer needed.  Peace with God comes through the person and atonement of Jesus walking, talking, and being amongst us—being one of us.

And this, on the other hand, is why the loss of John the Baptist, although a sorrowful thing temporarily on earth, is not quite so sorrowful—because his prophecy—the prophecy of all the Old Testament prophets has now been fulfilled.  The Messiah has arrived.  The waiting is over.  The seed of Abraham and of David—the greater Moses—has dawned.  His throne shall be an everlasting dominion.  Heaven and earth are his inheritance.  You need not grieve for man’s salvation is here, and John the Baptist’s ministry has been vindicated. 

But notice the words that Jesus uses.  He doesn’t respond with analogies to the land that the Pharisees longed for, or to the Messiah that John the Baptist spoke of, as they might expect.  No, he moves into language of marriage.  First, he calls his disciples wedding guests.  Why?  Well, we need to note that the words he uses for wedding guests are words that signify more than mere friends or acquaintances.  They are words referring to those who are intimately connected with those getting married—not even simply family, but those who are his dearest kin—those who are like treasured sons and daughters to him.

And what does he say about these wedding guests—these dearly beloved disciples of his?  He says they need not mourn.  Why?  Because the bridegroom is with them.  He’s using wedding language because, for those who would have been well-acquainted with the Old Testament, like these disciples of John were, they would have known that reference to the bridegroom was a reference not just to the promise for land or the promise for a Messiah but for God, himself, to show up.  It’s language that you see especially in prophecies like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah.  In fact, the whole book of Hosea, which Jesus quotes to the Pharisees in his previous interaction, is about God as the bridegroom of the prostituting and evil Israel. 

In those prophecies, Israel is depicted as a wayward woman who just can’t get it right in her head about whose she is.  Yet, God sovereignly, intimately, persistently fights for her, seeks her out from her other lovers, and offers to restore her to himself, and for so long he’s done this through intermediaries.  He’s had his prophets, priests, and kings call her back to him, and she has not listened.  He has waited for her, and yet, she would not return. 

But now—Jesus says, the bridegroom himself has come.  He’s left his seat of glory and power—not merely prophet, priest, or King.  Not merely the fulfillment of the land promises for a peaceful dwelling place with God.  Not merely the dawn of a messianic figure to redeem his people.  This is God, himself, the bridegroom, come for his wife—after centuries, after millennia of waiting, the event of history is taking place.  The joy of the universe is unfolding.  The happiest of all possible happy occasions is underway, and he is telling the disciples of John, that those who are invited—those who are the dearest to Jesus—those who are given the privilege to witness it, to enjoy it—they will not grieve for even a single moment. 

I had the privilege of attending a fantastic church when I worked as a lawyer in a small city just outside of Toronto named Waterloo.  And I remember one sermon that the pastor preached, he marveled at how underwhelmed we as a congregation always seemed.  I remember him remarking that the things he was talking about when it came to Jesus, they were the greatest truths that he could share with us, and yet, for all the truthfulness of his words, he would never hear any affirmation from us.  Never a single ‘amen’.  Never a single tear or yip of resonant joy.

And from that moment on for the rest of the time that I served as a lawyer in Waterloo and attended that church, I would hear the preacher preach, and I would hear a choir of congregants yelling “amen” and displaying their affection for the truths being proclaimed in that place, and I will never forget, because there was always that one guy who was louder than everyone else.  He yelled “amen” louder.  He cried louder.  He thanked the Lord louder. 

And while I don’t necessarily want to require that from you, my church, this is what I imagine it must be like to be in the presence of God—our Saviour—our Lord—our Christ—our Jesus.  If sounds were to be made in his presence, they were to be sounds of celebration.  If tears were to be shed, they were to be tears of unfettered happiness because this festival—this wedding—this was the point for why we exist—that God has come for us.  And Jesus, the bridegroom, God himself, will not let the point of our existence be lost by letting our focus deviate onto ourselves. 

No, he commands our gaze—he commands our every attention—because he is the point, and you, pharisees, and you, disciples of John—disciples of anyone else, you’re missing it by your self-centered acts of sacrifice and piety.  This is what he means by the two illustrations in verses 16 and 17, by the way.  Why are you fasting if the culminating event in history is taking place?  Why are you offering sacrifices if the one to whom the sacrifice is meant to appease and call upon is already here?  Why would you mix what was symbolic with what is now made real, tangible, and experiential in your midst? 

Back then, you had to fast.  You had to offer sacrifices because you did not yet have the joy.  But now that the reason for fasting and sacrificing has been fulfilled—now that God has responded not through insufficient middlemen—or through imperfect prophets, priests, or kings, but with himself—why do you still act as if you do not have the joy?  Why are you putting an unshrunken cloth on an old, shrunken garment that will rip off and create a bigger tear when it does?  Why are you putting new wine into an old wineskin when doing so will cause it to burst losing out on both the wine and the wineskin?  When Jesus comes, joy—deep, lasting, satisfying joy comes with him.  The new wine of Jesus comes with the new hide, new heart not of sorrow but of joy. 

And he doesn’t want them to miss it.  They’re meant to take it in and revel in it as much as they possibly can because a time is coming when the bridegroom will not be with them, and in that time, there will be mourning.  A time is coming when the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Lord of hosts, the foretold Prophet, Priest, and King, the God over all gods—a time is coming when he shall suffer for those wedding guests who remain without joy. 

A time is coming where he will have to ascend up that hill, where he will have his hands and feet nailed to a cross of wood, and where he will die and bear an excruciating weight of wrath so that his guests—those invited to the feast—those who anticipate him and live their lives in light of that anticipation—he suffers our sorrow so that we might never be in mourning again.

And the question for us, this morning, for those of us who confess to believe in the bridegroom is this: what do you look like as the bridegroom comes for his bride?  What is your posture as he pours out his blood for you, is raised for you, sends his Holy Spirit to help you, and as he indwells you?  Is your wedding attire and posture reflective of a sadness, a self-loathing, and a self-pity, or is it reflective of a deep, abiding joy?  Joy in his canceling of your debt.  Joy in his provision of righteousness.  Joy in his promise of everlasting life and love with him.  What does your life reflect—that you have Jesus or that you don’t? 

I’ll admit that there are days where I look at my wife, and to my shame, I will be downcast.  I’ll think about all the things she didn’t help me with that day, or all the things she asked me to do when she should have known better not to ask me to do them.  I will complain at times in my mind and maybe even out loud about how she does something with our children.  I will be angry with her about things that I think she should have known better not to do—things that I think, pridefully, I can do better than her.  There are days when the word joy would be the farthest thing that characterizes what I feel for her because, in that moment, it’s too grand, too demanding, too inflexible of a word. 

Yet, when, by the grace of God, I think upon our wedding day—when I remember her walking down that aisle—when I consider how she adorned herself for me, the vows she said to me, the hope she placed in me, her willingness to look past my faults and my awkward dispositions—when I think upon that day and how she has exceeded all of those things in her beauty as she has walked through this life with me, the word joy, itself, seems to be the farthest thing that characterizes what I feel for her because, in that moment, and I hope for the rest of my life, it’s too small, too simple, too easy of a word. 

Our joy in Christ is meant to be like an ever-flowing spring of life, filling us to the brim with a desire to know him, to serve him, to be with him, and this desire isn’t meant to be hidden from the world or interrupted with our own self-pity because he is not apart from us anymore.  The cross, death, sin—he’s defeated it all.  He is risen.  He intercedes.  He dwells in us.  He abides for us.  His love shall never be separated from us, and his beauty shall always exceed what we could fathom or expect.  Let your life, then, be defined by joy because Christ has come, he is here with us, and he promises to never leave your side as he calls you to forsake all other things and follow him.

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