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My Servants

January 27, 2019, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev Enoch Keong (Matthew 12:9-21) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Matthew
Preached at a Mandarin (Sunday) service

Tags: Matthew 马太福音

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Title: My Servants
Date: 27 Jan. 2019
Preacher: Rev Enoch Keong

Something catches our eye as soon as we begin reading the story. Jesus went to the synagogue. He went there probably just to observe the Sabbath, nothing more. But as soon as he stepped into the synagogue, the Pharisees and the Scribes approached him with the question, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"

Scenarios as such are not as common in the gospels. Usually, Jesus would receive questions or comments only after he or the disciples had done something people considered to be offensive. We find an example of such cases at the beginning of this chapter. Jesus had allowed his disciple to pluck heads of grain a Sabbath day. That’s considered harvesting, that’s something offensive to do on Sabbath. And sure enough, he soon received the comment, "Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath." (v.2)

But that’s not the case in our story, Jesus probably didn’t plan to perform any healing in the synagogue that day, and neither are we told that the man with the withered hand had tried to approach Jesus for help.

We know what’s happening here, don’t we? The religious leaders could no longer stand the sight of Jesus, and wanted to get rid of him. If that wasn’t the case, they wouldn’t have pounced on him with the question. Matthew affirms our reading by saying that the religious leaders did not just ask the question in hope for an enlightening answer. They actually wanted Jesus to give the wrong answer, so that they might use it as evidence to accuse him.

But what is it about Jesus that had made them wanted to get rid of him so badly? We only have to read a little bit more to find the answer . When asked whether is it lawful to heal on a Sabbath, Jesus countered the question by asking whether one should pull a sheep out of the pit on Sabbath. Friends, it wasn’t because sheep were Jesus’ favorite animal that he mentioned the sheep in his response. Rather, it was because there was an active debate on just such a point in Judaism at that time. In those discussions and debates on whether one should help his or her sheep on Sabbath, what many debaters wanted was a good and convincing answer to a question, that is, “how much a person was willing to sacrifice to give honor to God and his holy day?”

The answer to this question was so important to those debaters because they had a belief. They believed that if the Israelites were to do it correctly in living holy lives, to the point where God is please, then their piousness will cause God to return sooner to his chosen people, to help them overthrow the Romans. And when that happens, Israel would once again be a sovereign nation.

“How much more sacrifices should everybody be making?” “How much more should everybody be doing to honor God?” “What are the things still not done correctly?” Such were the questions that filled the minds and the debates in those days.

Then came along Jesus and his friends; a group that plucked grains and ate grains on Sabbath. Instead of sacrificing more for God, this group was satisfying themselves. And plucking grains was not the only so called offense committed by this group. Jesus was seen eating with tax collectors and sinners, and performed healing on Sabbath. In the eyes of the religious leaders, all these offenses were counterproductive in their effort to regain God’s favor. To them, Jesus and his friends must be stopped. Otherwise, it might instead be them stopping God from returning sooner to Israel. In other words, the religious leaders were so afraid that by allowing Jesus to continue what he was doing, it would only prolong the days of oppression and slavery under the Romans.

Understanding the issue in this manner, we would say that the religious leaders were in fact doing something good for the Israelite community. And friend, I don’t think it’s the first time that we are hearing about the good side of the religious leaders, but I tend to think that we would still see them as the bad guys. Once we hear names like Pharisees, scribes and Sadducees, what come up immediately would usually be word and images that are negative rather than positive. We would think of descriptions such as self-serving and controlling, and we don’t think of them as heros and healers. Presuming that I have guessed it correctly, then, why? Why do we keep regarding them as the bad guys?

My guess is that although there’s indeed something good about them, they just don’t come across as really holy or godly. The gospels give us many reasons to view them in such a manner. But may I add one more that I think is suggested by our passage, that is, with all the effort that they put in to serve God and his people, they still fall short of being true servants of God.

That’s then begs the question, what are the qualities of a true servant of God? How does a true servant of God look like?

Matthew refers us to Isaiah 42 for the answer.
"Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope."

This is how the true servant of God should look like, according to Matthew. The quotation refers of course to Jesus, the one whom God choses to be filled with his Spirit to and proclaim his justice. But may I risk by saying that Jesus, the true servant of God, also serves as the example for all who come after him to follow. In other words, we are all called to such true servants. We, his followers, are called to reproduce his kind of service. And one who does so will come across as holy and godly.

So what we called to do?

First, to proclaim justice. “To proclaim justice” does not mean that it is for us to judge who is right and who is wrong; who deserved blessings and who deserves condemnation. The word justice is used here not so much to refer to legal aspect of things. It refers rather to the good purposes that God has for this world. So, “to proclaim justice” is to partner with God and to be a blessing to others, meeting needs and conveying God’s love to them. In the first service of this year, Ps Hock Seng touched on these verses in his sermon. He encouraged our members in the sermon to serve as volunteers with the Chinese Kindergarten. He also shared about Healthserve, the Christian organization that helps migrant workers in Singapore, and encouraged our members to step out of our comfort zone to render help to people in need. May it be the Chinese Kindergarten, Healthserve, in our church, at our workplace, in our neighborhood or somewhere overseas, when opportunity arise, will we not hold back, but to avail ourselves to proclaim God’s justice? To proclaim justice, that the first thing we are to do.

Second, true servants live lives that are focused on God and not on oneself. We find in the quotation the phrase, “He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets”. Strictly speaking, this part of the quotation refers specifically to Jesus quietly withdrawing from the synagogue when his enemies conspired to destroy him.He did so only to avoid unnecessary confrontation till it was time to face the enemies boldly at Jerusalem, when it’s time for him to go up to the cross.

But allow me to draw a mini reflection based on it. Whether to heal or to withdraw, whether to speak or to keep silent, we see Jesus doing what he did with an end goal in mind, that is, to see God’s justice being brought to victory. This is Jesus’ example to us, who are called to be true servants of God.

We may want to say that we are not like Jesus, who was called specifically to go to Jerusalem. And neither are we Peter or Paul, who were called as apostles to Jew and the gentiles respectively. In other words, we may not have a specific calling, and how are we to live with an end goal in mind?

If we are troubled by the question concerning specific calling, then let’s be sure, not many Christian have a specific calling. It is ok not to have a calling to go somewhere, or to do something in particular, to marry a certain person, or to join a certain profession. Our live should be equally meaningful and purposeful whether or not we have a specific calling, because God is working in our lives no matter what we are working on. What is really needed is living a life of worship and service, a life that is focused on God and not on oneself. And if we need clarity, check this out (referring to Matt 22:37 & 39) .

And this leads us to the third aspect. Not only are we to live a life that focused on God and not one oneself, we are to also live a life focusing on others. We find in verse 20 these words, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench. This part of the quotation should speak volumes to a society like ours. Let’s unpack the metaphor a little bit. Reeds are useful because it is hard and is able keep its shape and structure. In both ancient and in modern times, reeds have been used to make containers, pens, measuring rod, flute and walking canes. Now imagine a flute that has become a bruise reed, half straight half dangling at a weird angle, how to make music? Or how about let’s imagine a walking stick that started to give way. Wouldn’t the next person who uses it fall in no time. The logical thing to do is to break it, so that no one would meet any harmed. But just in case that the metaphor of the bruised reed is not enough for us to understand his point; Isaiah added one more metaphor of the smoldering wick. The wick is a small strip of cloth used to light a fire in a lamp. When it starts to smoke, the only things to do should be to have it changed, because what it produces from that point onward would not be brightness from fire but air pollution from smoke. In short, a bruise reed and a smoldering wick depict uselessness, something that has no value, something that should be destroyed and discarded.

Ours is a society that demands speed, high quality, value add, increased chances of winning. Both for products and people, we demand such qualities. We band with the good ones so that we can get ahead, and in doing so we conveniently leave behind the others.

It’s only logical to do it this way when it comes to products. If your smartphone app is too slow or too cumbersome to use, chuck it and install a new one. But, people?

Isaiah tells us that God’s true servant would be one who displays extraordinary willingness to encourage people who are not appreciated by others. The true servant is willing to be a friend to these people, and give them opportunities to find success in life, in relationships. The true servant will not be quick to pass judgments, to cast people aside, but will go an extra mile for these people, till God’s justice is seen.

The sudden passing of Aloysius Pang is still vivid in the minds of many Singaporean. Among the news and write ups one him, the words of MediaCorp actress Felicia Chin in remembering Aloysius caught my eyes. She says in a CNA report, that “Aloysius was one of a rare breed of people who would actually stop and care – with actions and not wanting a single bit of attention or anything in return,” [1]

Should people like Aloysius Pang remain as a rare breed? It shouldn’t be, since God has called us, many of us to be his true servants.

[1]https://cnalifestyle.channelnewsasia.com/trending/aloysius-pang-a-young-life-devoted-to-acting-11160342

Matthew 12:9–21 (Listen)

He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

15 Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all 16 and ordered them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

18   “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
    my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
  I will put my Spirit upon him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19   He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
    nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
20   a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
  until he brings justice to victory;
21     and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

(ESV)