Sunday, December 13, 2009

God Always Gives The Perfect Gift ~December 13, 2009

God Always Gives The Perfect Gift
Matthew 11:1-6

With Christmas right around the corner most of us have been looking for just the right gift for the people we love. And, if you are parents with more than just one child at home, you are probably not only looking for just the right gifts for your kids but also for gifts that are equitable so that one of your kids doesn’t end up feeling slighted because his or her gift was not as big or as kool as his or her sibling’s. I mean, you just can’t get one of your kids a $10 toy and another a $30 computer game—even if those particular gifts were perfect for them. More than likely, you would feel that in order to make up for how much more the computer game cost that you would have to get your other child a few more gifts. But then that poses another problem because now he or she will have more gifts under the tree than the other kid and we all know that this can’t be, so you’ll have to pick up a few more things for him to equalize out the number of gifts under the tree. And of course the cycle continues until finally—we forget all about the gifts and just get them both “gift certificates” for $30 so they can go out and buy what they want.

Well—that is sometimes how we operate when it comes to gifts but that is never how God operates when He gives us gifts and the Bible tells us in James 1:17 that “every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” God only gives “perfect gifts” but that does not mean equitable gifts. You see, God does not experience the same sense of obligation that we do in wanting to ensure that all of our children receive gifts of equal value and enjoyment. God has no such sense of obligation. In fact, He can’t because if He did then the things He brings into our lives while being equal could not be “perfect”.

You see, God is not interested in making sure that you and I receive equal gifts by ensuring that our circumstances are the same. Rather, God is interested in giving us gifts that will do us the most good—so He gives us different gifts represented by different sets of circumstances so as to grow and mature us as the individual believers that we are. And the fact is that oftentimes, these differing gifts God gives us which are represented by differing sets of circumstances are not only unequally pleasant—they are sometimes unequally difficult and hard. And when we are the recipients of those divine gifts which are not really what we would have picked for ourselves—it is sometimes difficult to maintain our spiritual equilibrium.

I mean, when it seems like all God is giving us hurts and we look over at our Christian brothers and sisters and see them receiving what we perceive to be painless gifts—it makes us wonder what God is up to—doesn’t it? And if we are honest—in some extreme cases—we even begin to wonder if God really does love us the way the Bible says He does. And sometimes we move from that to wondering if God is really in control and if He is in control—is He really good. And finally, if left to ourselves, we sometimes can even begin to doubt whether all we had thought we knew to be true about God is true at all.

Well, this morning, I’d like us to consider a great man of God—in fact, the man Jesus Himself called the greatest of all the Old Testament saints and prophets--who in the midst of some very difficult circumstances doubted the goodness of God’s gift to him—so much so that He even began to doubt God Himself.

Turn with me to Matthew 11 and let’s read verses 1-6.

Now, John the Baptist has been in prison since Matthew 4:12. From that point in Matthew until this account in Matthew 11, John the Baptist had been imprisoned in an underground dungeon in an old fort at Machaerus, located east of the Dead Sea for about a year. He had been imprisoned by King Herod because he had confronted Herod for committing adultery. And it was here in this old fort of Herod’s that John the Baptist would be beheaded after having served God as the Messiah’s forerunner. For 18 months before being imprisoned, John the Baptist preached laying the groundwork for Jesus’ ministry.

To get an idea of what God thought about John’s 18 months of ministry listen to Jesus’ words about him in Matthew 11:7-11. Jesus tells us that John the Baptist was more than a prophet and that up until that point in time there had been no one born who was greater than John the Baptist. Thus, in Jesus’ estimation, John the Baptist was greater than Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and all of the prophets. And yet as great a minister and a preacher and a prophet as he was—He sat out the last year of his life and ministry in a dark, sweltering, lonely, underground dungeon—finally being executed at a teenage girl’s request after dancing an erotic dance routine for King Herod.

Wow……you would think that He deserved better than that…..wouldn’t you?!

I mean, this isn’t how God’s most esteemed servants should end their lives and ministries……right?!

I mean…….after all John the Baptist was in character and service……how is it that God permitted him to suffer in this way?

Well, this is a vivid example of the fact that God’s ways are not our ways and we better get used to it and be glad for it because God’s ways are always best—remember—God always gives His people “perfect gifts”.

Now, what I want you to see however is that even God’s choicest and best servant’s sometimes doubt God and His ways—especially when God’s plans are not what they expected them to be. And we see this in Matthew 11:2-3. Look carefully at what caused John to ask whether Jesus was the Expected One—in other words—The Messiah.

Verse 2 in the NASV, puts it like this: “Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ . . .”

The NIV renders it: “When John heard in prison what Christ was doing . . .”

In other words, it was not Jesus’ lack of works or lack of displayed divine power that caused John the Baptist to doubt His identity—it was His works and His powerful display of might in performing miracles that caused him to doubt Jesus’ identity. And to really understand the depth of John’s doubts we need to look at his words concerning Jesus in John 1:32-36.

John saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove upon Jesus.

John heard God the Father identify Jesus as the Messiah—the One Who would baptize in the Holy Spirit.

John testified that Jesus was the very Son of God.

And finally, John introduced Jesus to his own disciples as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.

But now in Matthew 11:3, John sends some men to Jesus to find out if He really is the Messiah—the Son of God. And the reason why he does so is not because Jesus is not displaying divine power but rather because He is. So—why did John doubt Jesus’ identity when He heard all that Jesus was doing? I think the answer lies in the rest of the story. Look at Jesus’ response in Matthew 11:4-5.

Jesus confirms what John has heard—He is indeed doing great works that are authenticating His identity as the Son of God. The blind are being healed so as to see and thus have been freed from their darkness. The lame are being healed so as to walk and thus have been freed from the prison of a dysfunctional body. The lepers are being cleansed and thus freed from being social outcasts. The dead are raised to life and thus freed from the grave. And the poor in spirit are having the Gospel preached to them and thus are being freed from spiritual condemnation.

Jesus was indeed doing what the Old Testament promised the Messiah would do—He was freeing all kinds of people from all kinds of terrible circumstances. And that, is what I think was bothering John—It appeared to him that God the Son was working in and for everyone else’s circumstances but his.

Everyone was being freed except John!

And this comparison of his circumstances with others was causing him to doubt to some degree whether Jesus was really the Messiah—the Son of God. Now, it would really be a huge stretch to think that John the Baptist really does not know who Jesus is. I mean, after all that we read in John 1 about John seeing the Spirit of God descending upon Him and hearing God the Father acknowledge Him and then even confessing Him as the Lamb of God—I find it very difficult to believe that John’s problem here was one of “mistaken identity”. I think there is more to it than him just wondering if Jesus is the Messiah.

In fact, I think that what may have been going on was that John was so disappointed and discouraged with his circumstances that he was not so much wondering if Jesus was the Son of God as much as he was wondering why the Son of God was not working on His behalf. Interestingly enough, in the year that John the Baptist was in prison…..we have nothing in Scripture that tells us that Jesus even went to visit Him or sent His disciples to visit Him. And whereas John knew according to John 3:30 that Christ must increase and therefore he—John—had to decrease—I don’t think John had any idea that this would take place with him going to prison for the rest of his life. Thus, I think John’s question was motivated more by his disappointment and discouragement with God the Son’s sovereign plan for his life more than it was a bad memory. This, I think, is born out by Jesus’ mild rebuke in Matthew 11:6. Look at what Jesus says.

“And happy (contented, satisfied, and joyful) is he who does not take offense at Me.”

Note that Jesus cuts right through to the motivation behind John’s question—John had taken offense at his circumstances. And note as well—that Jesus takes responsibility for John’s circumstances. In essence Jesus says—“Happy, contented, and joyful is the person who is not upset and offended that My ways and My plans for his life are not what he would have chosen to be the plan for his life.”

If you read between the lines—what you see Jesus saying is that—unless we realize and understand that our circumstances are God’s best for our lives at that particular time and accept these circumstances as His “perfect gift” to us—we will not live above our circumstances so as to experience happiness, contentment, satisfaction, and joy regardless of what we are having to deal with.

You see, Jesus’ work of deliverance in other peoples lives while not doing anything to deliver John from his circumstances should not have been taken as a reason to doubt His control, care, concern, or character. Rather, He needed to believe that God’s sovereign purposes for glorifying Himself and ultimately filling John’s life with joy required that he not be freed from his troubles in this life. And it is the same for us.

Happy are the believers who instead of looking at their difficult circumstances which cause them to doubt God’s wisdom and goodness—look to the God Who ordained their circumstances--realizing that what He ordained is the best and most perfect gift they could receive. God’s ways and God’s plans for us are often not the ways and the plans we would choose for ourselves and this is where we must fight the battle of faith and believe that just as James tells us—God’s gifts are perfect gifts. They may not be fun or always pleasant but they are perfect and exactly what we need at the time.

Here is an example of this from the Old Testament.

In Genesis 27 we find the story of Jacob stealing Esau’s blessing and of course the resulting anger that Esau had for Jacob because of his deceitfulness. Esau, according to Genesis 27:41 was so full of fury that he intended to kill his brother Jacob. Then in verse 44, Rebecca tells Jacob to leave and go to her brother Laban’s home several miles away “until his brother Esau’s fury subsided. Well as the story goes, Jacob does go to Laban’s home and ends up working 20 years for him as a victim of Laban taking advantage of him. Now, during this time—these 20 years—don’t you think that Jacob ever wondered what God was doing and why God was allowing him to be so taken advantage of that he was basically a prisoner of Laban for 20 years? But remember what Rebecca had said to him—in Genesis 27:44—“Stay with him a few days until your brother’s fury subsides.” Well, as any mom would do—she underestimated her son’s sin and thought his anger would only last a few days. God knew it would last 20 years. And so He kept Jacob with Laban for 20 years until Esau’s anger did subside and then God allowed Jacob to leave and caused his circumstances to change.

I don’t know all that you may be going through but I do know that if you are a child of God—your circumstances, your situation in life, your troubles, your heartaches, your joys, and even your struggles have been sovereignly decreed for you and are God’s perfect gifts to you at this time in your life. And if you desire to live above these circumstances and find joy in them as well as in spite of them—you must come to grips with the fact that they are God’s best for you right now and rather than become offended that God’s plan for your life is not the plan you would have chosen for yourself—You must fight the battle of faith and trust that God really does know best and only gives what is best.

CONCLUSION

As we close, I’d like you to consider Jesus’ reaction and response to John’s doubts concerning Him. The first thing to keep in mind is that John’s question was not asked in private. His question was posed to Jesus before a great crowd of people according to verse 7. Thus, his question, which was really more of a complaint and a challenge of sorts was posed in a public forum and thus had the potential of discrediting Jesus before the crowds.

Second, we need to keep in mind—who John the Baptist was. He was the second most popular and famous preacher in all of Israel. And here he is questioning and challenging Jesus’ credentials if you will.

It would be like John Piper sending a couple of his friends to Grace Community Church where John MacArthur is the pastor to ask him, in front of his church on a Sunday morning, if he is really a preacher of the Gospel. Now I doubt that MacArthur would publicly try to defend himself but I wouldn’t be surprised if many in his church would. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of MacArthur’s friends and listeners wouldn’t be sarcastically asking—“What’s this guy’s problem?” or “Who does he think he is—asking John MacArthur a silly question like that?” And of course there very easily might be some in the church who, given Piper’s credibility, might even join in and ask—“Yea, is MacArthur really preaching the Gospel?”

I don’t think we’d be too far-fetched to think that the same thing wasn’t going on in the crowd Jesus was ministering to. And note Jesus’ response. After mildly rebuking John—Jesus then defended him before the crowd. Look at verses 7-11.

He, Who makes no mistakes and Whose plans and purposes are perfect and Who was publicly questioned and in fact challenged as to His identity, motives, and goodness when it came to His sovereign plan for John’s life……Understood John’s doubts and after correcting him—defended him.

And that is how He deals with us as well.

Our Savior and Lord certainly corrects us when we are wrong but just as quickly as He corrects us—He is the first to rise up to our defense.

What a Savior—What a Lord—is Jesus Christ.

Pursuing the Glory of Christ as though He were the most important pursuit in all the world--Because He Is!

" Looking for the Blessed Hope and the appearing of The Glory of our Great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." Titus 2:13