McLaurin Memorial

Peter Learned These Truths From Jesus

MORNING MESSAGE – John Cline

Text:  Matthew 4, 6, 7, 19, Luke 6, 19, 20, 21

Scripture Reader:  George Daniel

Today and next Sunday, and maybe the Sunday after that, we are going to consider the theme of financial giving. Considered by many to be as much fun as having a tooth pulled by the dentist, the topic of giving is painful to a person only if they are not giving as the Lord would want them to. For those of you here today who are giving as the Lord wants, this topic will be pleasant and encouraging but if you are not giving as God wants, well, this sermon may make you uncomfortable. A good thing for all of us, though, is that I, as your pastor, don’t know the amount that anyone gives to the church and its ministries, and its various mission groups. That is the way I always want it to be. Unlike a church in Vancouver I saw one January that posted on the foyer wall how much everyone gave the year before, I really do believe that giving is a private matter between a person and the Lord.

The one time I knew about how much anyone gave was one man who repeatedly told me that he gave nothing to the church budget because he didn’t agree with how we were spending the money we had. Later, he then announced that he wanted to be the church treasurer as he thought he would be good at it. I responded with, “well, you’ve told me often that you give nothing to the church budget so the answer to your request to be the church treasurer is a firm ‘no’. The privilege of being involved in making decisions as to how our church sets its budget or spends its money is reserved for those who contribute financially.” He left the church within a year of that conversation. In any case, for those who have been here for a long time, you know that we have not had a Stewardship Campaign in our church for at least 25 years, so financial giving is hardly a topic that we can be accused of fixating on here at McLaurin. However, it seems to the Church Board, of which I am a part, that the time has come for us to do some teaching on this topic so here we go.

During the 4th century, B.C., the Greek philosopher Plato developed a system of teaching that changed the world. He gathered around him a group of students who followed him everywhere he went, living and journeying with him. As Plato walked and talked, his students followed after him, learning from him. The Greek word used for those students was that they were a “mathetes” or, to put it into the English which we all understand, a “disciple”. The word “disciple” described a person who learned but was not just a pupil taking notes. No, a disciple described one who intentionally learned from his or her teacher through the use of listening, inquiry, observation, and then doing as their master did. The disciple devoted their life to learning, to understanding what it was their master and teacher was imparting to them. After Plato, one of his disciples, Aristotle, established formal schools called “academies” which were established to train more disciples. This Greek discipleship system was very effective, because even after Rome had conquered Greece, the Romans could not eradicate Greek influence over the way people thought and lived. Thus, while Rome certainly wielded military power, the Greek philosophers wielded power over their people because well-trained Greek disciples were functioning at every level of the society. Their thoughts ruled the culture of the day.

Now, the brilliance behind what the Greek philosophers had done in intentionally creating disciples who would learn from their master and teacher was observed by people in other countries, including John the Baptist in the land of Galilee. There, he gathered around him a group of men who he called his “disciples”. One those disciples was a man known as Andrew. When John the Baptist’s cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus began his own ministry at around age 30, the ministry God had assigned to him while he dwelled in heaven, of proclaiming to people that the kingdom of God had come to earth with him, that freedom and salvation could be gained through people putting their faith in him, etc, John the Baptist knew and told his disciples that Jesus was the Messiah, the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. Andrew heard John say that and so he went to his brother Simon Peter and told him, “We have found the Messiah”. Andrew then brought Peter to meet Jesus. Now, Jesus recognized the power that came through discipleship, of having individuals who would follow after him as he spoke and ministered, learning from him, inquiring of him, observing what he was doing and then doing as he did, and thus he called certain people to leave what they were doing and to follow him, to be his “disciples”. Guess who he started with? People who already knew him.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-20)

Simon Peter and his brother Andrew looked at one another, “let’s do it!” They would have been chomping at the bit to know Jesus more, ever since learning about him and meeting him. Andrew was already used to the way of life of being a disciple because he had been one of John the Baptist’s. Peter and Andrew certainly would have had told their partners in the fishing business, the brothers James and John, about Jesus. We read that James and John owned a fishing boat with their father Zebedee, and that they in their boat would go out in tandem with Peter and Andrew in their boat whenever they would set out for a day of fishing. Peter and Andrew deciding to give up the fishing business to become disciples of Jesus would have had a financial impact on James and John, and certainly a spiritual one, as well.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:21,22)

Over the course of three years, Jesus gathered around him a travelling horde of 120 disciples. 12 of them he named “apostles”, a word meaning a “messenger, an envoy, an ambassador commissioned to carry out the instructions of the commissioning agent”. So, Jesus, as the commissioning agent in this case, named Peter and Andrew, James and John, and 8 others to be his apostles. But he still called them first “disciples”, people who would learn from him and then do as he did. So, what did they learn from him that they could then take to the world as his messengers, his ambassadors, his envoys? Well, he

“Gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” (Matthew 10:1).

They learned that they could do the things Jesus did! That must have been nerve-wracking and exciting! But, what about seemingly mundane truths, such as that of the theme of giving? Peter and the others would have been challenged when a rich, young ruler who had stated that he also wanted to be a follower, a disciple, of Jesus, had Jesus respond to him, “That’s great. Now, all you have to do is give up the things you love the most, your wealth and your possessions, and then you can certainly follow me.” The rich, young ruler decided he couldn’t do that and went away sad. He could not see that there would be not enough benefit in following Jesus for him to give up those earthly treasures. Jesus responded to him going away with the famous line to his disciples about how it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:25-27)

That was a fair question by Peter. Note that Jesus explicitly said that it is possible for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, but the key is that their attitude about the things they treasure the most must be pure. They need to put the kingdom of God, first, in their thinking and actions. Peter, by now really confused, then asked his question, which was actually quite understandable. What would his reward be for having given up everything to follow Jesus?

Jesus responded, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29)

Now, I don’t believe for a moment that Peter had any clue as to the significance of what Jesus had said. But Peter was doing what a true disciple should do: observe, ask questions, and then do as taught. Later in his life, though, as we have seen in previous sermons, Peter did come to see and value the treasures and rewards and blessings he received for following Jesus and putting the Lord first in his life. There was something more important and valuable awaiting him for his faithful service to Jesus. Peter would have remembered Jesus taught:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

So, what is it we should we be treasuring? The things of heaven for when we do, we will experience God’s pleasure and Him blessing us. Jesus identified giving as an attitude tied with other attitudes.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:37,38)

Imagine a picture in your mind of God giddily, happily, pouring out a barrelful of blessings into your lap. God is happy to pour out those blessings to you when we have the right attitude in life and towards others. Jesus finishes that thought, though, with the caution that “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

I am sure that many of you have similar testimonies to the one I am about to tell from my own life and if you do have a testimony about God’s blessings to you for your faithful giving, please let me know and perhaps we can hear that testimony next Sunday or in the weeks after. Here’s one of mine: on a Friday in July of 1999 when our family finances were particularly tight, I had four requests for money within a half hour. First, I gave $450.00 to a lady who asked for rent money, then I gave $4.00 to a man who showed up here looking for bus fare, and then when he left and told his friend that I was handing out money, his friend came in and asked for $10.00 which I gave to him. Immediately following that, a person working in our Vacation Bible School, asked me for $7.00 to go and buy some bug spray as they didn’t have the money to do so. In half an hour, I had given away all $471.00 in my wallet, money that I could ill afford to give away, but I felt God telling me to do so. Two days later, on Sunday, Ron Capper, our then church administrator, gave me two cheques, explaining that the first one for $265.89 was due to the fact that, he had just discovered, the church had mistakenly underpaid me two months before, while the second cheque was due to the government overcharging me the sum of $205.34 for E.I. (Employee Insurance) the month before. I had given away $471.00 on Friday because I felt God compelling me to do so, and on Sunday, I received two cheques totalling $471.23. God tipped me 23 cents! Remember, Jesus’ words, “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”. God gives to us according to what we give to Him and to others in attitudes and money. Peter would later understand that truth but, at the time of Jesus teaching it, this would have been a hard truth to comprehend.

Then Jesus said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:23-25)

Think of Mother Teresa who gave up all her possessions to be a disciple of Jesus – she gained “everything” as a result. Think of Francis of Assissi who did much the same thing and was blessed for it. Think of Billy Graham: he didn’t give up “everything”, he still retained a salary, but he refused to get financially rich for preaching the gospel, and God provided for him all he needed. And, then think of Howard Hughes, that 20th century playboy billionaire who led a me-first life. He refused to serve the Lord and he died alone, his body wracked by syphilis, his thought patterns ruined by paranoia, and his soul destroyed by greed. When he died, though he could have afforded to eat any food on earth, his 6’4” frame weighed just 90 pounds and the cause of his death was listed, among other things, as starvation. Now, the bible tells of rich people who served the Lord, unlike the rich, young ruler or Howard Hughes. One such man was Zaccheus. One day, Jesus, Peter, and the other disciples were travelling through Jericho on their way to Jerusalem, and there Jesus spotted the chief tax collector in that city, a wealthy man named Zaccheus. Calling out to him that he absolutely needed to stay at his house that day, Zaccheus was so overwhelmed by the presence of the Lord in his life that he changed instantly.

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now, I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8)

That is the kind of attitude that pleases the Lord. Then, leaving Jericho, Jesus travelled to Jerusalem, entering on Palm Sunday. Two days later, Jesus and his disciples were in the temple courts,

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you”, he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4)

Rich people giving out their excess money or plentiful financial wealth did not impress Jesus as much as the poor widow who gave out of all she had to live on. That same day, Jewish religious leaders tried to get Jesus into trouble by tricking him into saying that people didn’t need to pay taxes to the Roman government. Taking a coin used to pay those Roman taxes, Jesus asked whose image was on the coin.

“Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matt 22:21)

In no way did Jesus say that people were to shirk their duties as citizens. “Give to Caesar what is his”. But, what about his statement that we are also to “give to God what is God’s”. What did he mean? I am sure that Peter and the disciples were curious. It was about more than money. It had to do with attitudes. The Jews of that time gave a tithe, 10 % of everything they earned or grew, to God’s storehouse at that time, the temple, just as the Old Testament told them to do. But that didn’t impress Jesus much for they were giving with the wrong attitude. He said to them – because they were so proud of giving 10% –

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23)

Jesus never said not to give the tithe, but to tithe while having the right attitude of justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Loosing quoting from Micah 6:8, Jesus reminded all there that God is not impressed with someone giving out of their wealth if they do so at the same time they are mistreating others. “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God”, is how the prophet Micah had put it, Jesus reminded them.

So, what lessons can we learn from the truths Peter learned from Jesus as he followed him around as his disciple? I believe it was to take seriously what Jesus taught, to follow his instructions for life, to really be a disciple, and not just a pupil taking notes.

After Hurricane Rita in September 2005, had damaged the beach cabin Warren and Pam Adams owned in Gilchrist, Texas, located on the island of Galveston, just south of Houston, on the Gulf of Mexico, they decided to rebuild, precisely following the building codes of their community, building their new home in such a way that it would be able to withstand any future hurricanes. Three years later, on September 13th, 2008, Hurricane Ike destroyed their town, knocking over the fire hall, the city hall, and 199 houses. The 14-foot-high waters of the storm surge in the 118 MPH winds devastated the entire town, save one house. Observe:

https://www.chron.com/news/hurricanes/article/Owners-return-to-last-home-left-in-Bolivar-town-1763667.php

Returning to their home on the ironically named Church Street, in the appropriately named town honouring their Messiah, Jesus, in the town of Gilchrist (Gil Christ), Warren and Pam Adams discovered that their home, alone of the 200 houses in their town, had survived. Why? Because they had followed the building code instructions given to them. In a similar way, Jesus has given instructions to us. He first gave them to Peter and the other disciples, but they are for us, also. He said this:

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

Jesus wants us to learn to listen, observe, question, and then do. Will we heed his words? Will we realize that we are more important than the sparrows God so lovingly cares for? Will we believe that He will bless us proportionately to our giving? Will we be the foolish builder and do whatever we want, or will we build our lives, our homes, our foundations wisely, on the truths that Jesus has imparted to us? Really, the question comes down to this: are we disciples or are we hoping that being merely pupils who may learn some of Jesus’ teachings is good enough? Nusesi read for us from Matthew 6, where Jesus tells us to not store up for ourselves “treasures on earth” but, instead, “treasures in heaven” and to trust in him to provide for us and our family all we need. We are more valuable than sparrows. Don’t worry about the material things of this life but seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Peter and the other early disciples learned these truths. Have we? Jesus calls us to “follow” him, to be his disciples, so, in this area of giving, we know what to do. There are no mysteries to it. May God bless you as you do it as He wishes. Amen.

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