HYMN Tell me the old, old story
1 Tell me the old, old story
of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory,
of Jesus and his love.
Tell me the story simply,
as to a little child,
for I am weak and weary,
and helpless and defiled.
Tell me the old, old story,
of Jesus and his love.
2 Tell me the story slowly,
that I may take it in;
that wonderful redemption,
God’s remedy for sin.
Tell me the story often,
for I forget so soon;
the early dew of morning
has passed away at noon.
3 Tell me the same old story
when you have cause to fear
that this world’s empty glory
is costing me too dear.
Tell me the story always,
if you would really be,
in anytime of trouble,
a comforter to me.
Arabella Catherine Hankey (1834-1911)
READING MATTHEW 16:1-12
The Demand for a Sign
16 The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.
2 He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ 3 and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.
The Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees
5 When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. 6 “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
7 They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”
8 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? 9 Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 11 How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
SERMON Religion without Reality
Have you ever been in a strange Church – and sensed that there was something about it which was wrong? You couldn’t quite put your finger on it, but when you left that Church you just felt that there was something wrong – was it what the minister said, or what he didn’t say? Was it the format of the service – or maybe the people in the congregation?
I want us to look this evening at two of the most common problems in our Churches today – and they are the problems exhibited by the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus warns the disciples in verse 12 of our 16th chapter of Matthew: GUARD against the TEACHING of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Well, WHAT WAS this terrible teaching which the disciples were to avoid – for we will have to avoid it too!
It may be of interest to you to know that the Pharisees and Sadducees were, in fact auld enemies. They disagreed on just about everything. The Pharisees were ever so religious – they did all the right things – all the religious things – all the Church ceremonies, faithful and regular in Church attendance and in doing all that looked proper. The SADDUCEES were quite different – they believed only in what they could see with their own two eyes. They wanted the Kingdom of God to come on earth, but they wanted to try to bring it about themselves – even in a political way. If something couldn’t be proved, they weren’t interested.
But these very different people now team up to test Jesus. They want to show the crowds that Jesus is an imposter – they demand that He show them a sign – right there and then – they wanted Jesus to perform like a circus clown for the amusement of the people. But Jesus was not willing to flap His fins when they threw fish to Him.
They sought a sign – but they were blind. The sign was already standing right there in front of them! Jesus was that sign. But they were so blinded that they could not see Him for Who He was. They didn’t want to admit that He was really the Son of God – for to do so would mean that they would be entirely humiliated.
The Sadducees seemed poles apart from the religious Pharisees – but Jesus says their failing was identical:
First He accuses them of majoring on minor things. They can tell the weather forecast – and presumably they did just that for the people of Israel. But Jesus says that they can’t read the times in which they were living. The Kingdom of God has just been ushered into the world – and they have failed to see it!
Now, I cannot help but feel that we have the same kind of problems in our Church today. We have a number of ministers and Churchmen who make public pronouncements about the Health Service, about the Scottish Parliament, about education. These spokesmen set themselves up as experts in these fields, but I fear they are very amateur on so many occasions. Far from advancing the cause of Christ they show themselves up as the fools they are when they are shown to be entirely inaccurate in their assessment and predictions.
When a man is given the inestimable privilege of passing on the unsearchable riches of the glorious Gospel of Jesus and lowers himself to getting involved in petty squabbles about other things – that man has lost his way – he is majoring on minors – and Jesus says Guard against that teaching.
Jesus had just fed 5000, then 4000 and John tells us that this was a miraculous sign (John 6:26) – but still these religious leaders sought a sign – and Jesus told them very plainly: none will be given . . except the sign of Jonah.
Now, this seemed a very obscure reference, but I think we can now see the meaning quite plainly. The sailors on board a ship had tried to kill Jonah by throwing him over the side – but God brought Jonah back to life, by having him swallowed by a large fish and then released after three days in that awful prison to do God’s work.
And it doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to go on to see what was in Jesus’ mind. These very Pharisees and Sadducees were going to try to kill Jesus in a short period of time. For three days.. they will have appeared to have succeeded, but then God will raise Jesus to everlasting life to bring about His great salvation for the world. Hard though they would try, they would NOT manage to get rid of Jesus.
And the ultimate fate of those wicked men was that (Verse 4) Jesus then left them and went away.
What a sad ending to such prominent people. Jesus left them.
Now, we have Sadducees and Pharisees today – although known by other names. There are those people who need everything to be verified by scientific proofs – they will not believe in heaven – because it cannot be proven : OH, how sad and blind can people be! They will find that their arrogance will earn them a place far away from Jesus – Jesus will leave them and go away.
But the Pharisees’ problem is an almost identical one – it is that of RELIGIOUS ARROGANCE. They imagine that because they have come to Church and been religious for so many years that God will somehow be obliged to give them an M.B.E. in heaven – an award for goodness and niceness and devotion to their Church! OH, friends, do not be fooled, GOD IS NOT IMPRESSED by your outward show of religion. Fur coats, never swearing, non smoking, non drinking, good-living, hard working, Kingpins of the Church don’t move the heart of God one whit.
What we are talking about is RELIGION WITHOUT REALITY. Oh how awful it is to have all the show of religion, keeping up good appearances, keeping the Ten Commandments and a few of your own as well. Oh how tragic that all that effort counts for nothing in heaven – Jesus left them and went away. Oh, dear friends, please take warning here if you have religion without realty. You cannot know, but you are in fact missing out on life itself. Instead of trying so hard and so arrogantly to go it alone – to do it your way – why don’t you give in to God’s searching Holy Spirit. He has been called the Hound of Heaven – has He been hounding YOUR soul in recent days and months and years?
While He still calls you to accept His free offer of salvation – ACCEPT THAT CALL – who can tell when He may leave YOU and go away – never to return? We must guard against that terrible teaching in our pulpits which encourages us all to try harder to please God so that He may let us into heaven. But we must also guard against that same attitude in our own hearts. God help us all!
Hymn I hear Thy welcome voice
1 I hear thy welcome voice
That calls me, Lord, to thee,
For cleansing in thy precious blood
That flowed on calvary.
I am coming, Lord,
Coming now to thee:
Wash me, cleanse me, by the blood
That flowed on calvary.
2 Though coming weak and vile,
Thou dost my strength assure;
Thou dost my vileness fully cleanse,
Till spotless all and pure.
3 And he the witness gives
To loyal hearts and free,
That every promise is fulfilled,
If faith but brings the plea
Lewis Hartsough (1828-1919)