Now Is the Time to Serve the Lord!
The Gospel of Matthew
Sermon by Rick Crandall
Prepared November 20, 2020
*Please open your Bibles to Matthew 4. Last time in vs. 1-11, we looked at the temptation of Jesus Christ, but there is a big jump forward in tonight's Scripture. Under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, Matthew abruptly skipped forward almost a year. He omitted the Judean ministry of Jesus that is covered in John 1-4. (1)
*With that little bit of background in mind, let's read Matthew 4:12-17. This Scripture helps us see why now is the time for all of us to be serving the Lord.
*About 250 years ago, John Wesley was a tremendous servant of God in England. Revival came to the nation, and they were spared the murderous darkness that descended during the French Revolution.
*John Wesley's motto for Christian living was:
"Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can." (2)
*As long as he possibly could John Wesley faithfully served the Lord. But now it is our time to serve God. And here God's Word shows us some crucial reasons why.
1. FIRST: IT'S BECAUSE OUR LIVES ARE SPEEDING BY.
*Our time in this world is running out. John the Baptist's trouble in vs. 12 reminds us of this truth. Here Matthew gave this report: "When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee."
*John the Baptist lived an excellent, godly life. His was fully devoted to the Lord, and his life counted for Christ. In Matthew 11:11, Jesus even said: "Among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist."
*John the Baptist faithfully served the Lord. But now his time had almost run out, because Herod the Tetrarch had put John into prison and would eventually kill the great prophet. Church: We may not like to think about it, but our time is running out too.
*There is a steep hill in our neighborhood. One afternoon I was walking up that hill, just as a young mother came running down, pushing her little boy in a stroller. When I saw her, I thought, "If I came down that hill as fast as she did, I'd have to go back up to get my kneecaps!"
*Anyway, -- just as I passed that mom and that stroller, I asked her, "Do you ever wish you could swap with him?" She laughed, and I trudged on up the hill. But then it dawned on me: One day she will. If that young mother lives long enough, one day she will swap places with her son, and he will be pushing her.
*Our time is running out much faster than we realize. We need to pray like King David prayed in Psalm 39:4-5. From the Amplified Bible: "LORD, let me know my life’s end, and to appreciate the extent of my days; Let me know how frail I am, how transient is my stay here. Behold, You have made my days as short as hand widths, and my lifetime is as nothing in Your sight. Surely every man at his best is a mere breath, a wisp of smoke, a vapor that vanishes!"
*Our time is running out much faster than we realize, and now is the time to serve the Lord, because our lives are speeding by.
2. ALSO SERVE THE LORD BECAUSE GOD'S LIGHT STILL SHINES.
*We see the Lord's great light shining in vs. 12-16:
12. Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee.
13. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali,
14. that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
15. The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles:
16. the people who sat in darkness saw a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.''
*Here Jesus fulfilled a 700-year-old prophecy from Isaiah 9:1-2, and one day, God will fulfill all of His prophecies! But Jesus Christ is the "great light" shining in vs. 16, and He is still shining in the world today!
*Take a moment to think about our sun. We tend to take it for granted, because it's always up there in the sky, but our local star really is amazing. It's 93 million miles away, and 864,000 miles across. About one million earths could fit inside! That boggles my mind. And the sun is hot. At the core of the sun the temperature is about 27 million degrees Fahrenheit! (15 million degrees Celsius). (3)
*The sun is essential. Without its heat and light, life on earth could not exist. But Jesus is the greatest light, and He is infinitely more essential.
*Luke's Gospel tells us how desperately people need the light of Christ. A few months before Jesus was born, the father of John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit. He was a priest named Zacharias, and he began to prophesy both about their baby John and the coming Savior.
*In Luke 1:76-79, Zacharias said, "And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission (or forgiveness) of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give LIGHT to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.''
*Jesus Christ is the great light that the world so desperately needs. We know this because there is great darkness in our world. We see examples every time we turn on the TV or read the news. Spiritual darkness is obvious in places like Pakistan, China, and the big cities of our nation.
*But the darkness of sin gets a lot closer than that. We can see some of it in our own community and in our families. God also wants us to see the darkness in our own hearts: Selfishness, dishonesty, and many more kinds of sin.
*In vs. 12, the darkness of sin put innocent John the Baptist in prison. And in vs. 16 the darkness of sin puts people in the shadow of death: Not just physical death, but spiritual death, eternal separation from God in a place called hell.
*There is darkness all around us. But Jesus Christ is the GREAT LIGHT of the world! The Gospel of John uses the word "light" 20 times when it is talking about Jesus.
*For example, in John 1:1-4, Jesus was called "the Word," and the Bible says:
1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2. He was in the beginning with God.
3. All things were made by Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
4. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
*Jesus is also the light in John 3:16-21.
16. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
17. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
18. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
19. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.
21. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."
*Then in John 8:12 Jesus said: "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."
*Jesus Christ is the light the world most desperately needs! And when we believe in Jesus, we have the light of life, but only because Jesus took our death when He died on the cross. Do you believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins? Do you believe that He rose again from the dead?
*If yes, then you have the light of life! You have the forgiveness of your sins through the tender mercy of our God. And no matter how dark it gets in this world, we still have the great light of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Light who gives us everlasting life. He is the Light who still shines on our darkest days.
*About 40 years ago, a terrifying accident took place in the Gulf of Mexico. Darrel Dore was working on an oil rig when suddenly it began to wobble. Before long it tipped to one side and crashed into the water. Darrel was trapped inside a room on the rig. As the rig sank deeper and deeper, the lights went out and the room began filling with water.
*Thrashing about in the darkness, Darrel made a life-saving discovery: A huge air bubble had formed in the corner of the room. Darrel kept his head inside that bubble of air and prayed that someone would find him.
*As he prayed, Darrel felt the Lord's presence there with him. For 22 hours the sure presence of Jesus Christ comforted Darrel. But deep down, Darrel knew that the oxygen supply inside the bubble was slowly giving out. Soon he would be dead.
*Then Darrel saw a tiny star of light shimmering in the pitch-black water. Was it real, or after 22 hours, was he beginning to hallucinate? Darrel squinted his eyes. The light seemed to grow brighter. He squinted again. He wasn't hallucinating. The light was real! It was shining from the helmet of a diver who was coming to rescue him. His long nightmare was over. Darrel was saved!
*But that rescue was nothing compared to the salvation Darrel already had in Jesus Christ! And the Light of the world never left Darrel, even when he was trapped in the dark. (4)
*How could we not serve the Lord who died so that we could live in His light? Now is the time for us to serve Him because God's Light still shines.
3. ALSO SERVE BECAUSE GOD WANTS MORE PEOPLE TO BE SAVED.
*Again, vs.16 says, "The people who sat in darkness saw a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.''
*The people in vs. 16 who truly saw the Light of the Lord were saved, and Jesus Christ is still saving people today!
*GOD WANTS MORE PEOPLE TO BE SAVED! Luke 19:10 tells us that Jesus came "to seek and to save that which was lost." In 1 Timothy 2:3-4 the Bible tells us that God our Savior, "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." And 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that the Lord is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."
*God wants more people to be saved, so He wants us to do everything we can to help shine the light of Christ. There are many ways to do it:
-Pray for the lost.
-Invite people to church.
-Explain the good news to someone else.
-Tell people how you got saved.
-Tell them about the other great things God has done in your life.
*I love to hear testimonies about how people got saved. My Uncle Bo called me in February 2018 to let me know that my Aunt Helen had passed away. It was God's mercy, because she had been very sick for years. And her daughter Susan must have been one of the first people to greet Aunt Helen when she got to Heaven.
*Helen was saved at a Billy Graham Crusade. But years earlier, my uncle had also been saved through the preaching of Dr. Graham. It happened in 1949, when Bo about 20, and he was working at the Goodyear Store in Augusta, Georgia.
*One day Billy Graham, Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea walked into the store. They were there for a revival, and they needed tires for their car. As they waited, Billy started talking with my uncle. He told Bo about the revival, and Billy said, "I'd love for you to come down and be with us."
*My uncle Bo did go to that revival, and he told me, "The second night, I had to go down (during the invitation), and that's when I got saved."
*I love the way the Lord works. Yes, He used Billy Graham to help my uncle receive Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. But God also used a worn out set of tires!
*Let me ask you, Christian: How did you get saved? Who helped you trust in Jesus? You have a story to tell, and your testimony can help other people get saved too.
*My uncle has now gone to Heaven, and Billy Graham has gone there too. But we're still here! And God wants us to do everything we can to help more people get saved. It's urgent because time is short, and many people are lost.
*Now is the time for us to serve the Lord because God wants more people to be saved.
4. AND SERVE THE LORD BECAUSE THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND.
*We see this truth in vs. 17 where Jesus said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'' Lord willing, next time we will focus on repenting. But tonight, notice the last part of vs. 17: "The kingdom of heaven is at hand.''
*William MacDonald noted that the Kingdom of Heaven was near because the King was there. And God's Kingdom is near us today because King Jesus is also here! (5)
*"The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.'' And there is a great word picture in the original word for "at hand." It's the idea of a bended arm, drawing us closer to God, even squeezing us closer to God. You see, Jesus really wants us to be close to Him!
*Sometimes it may seem like God is far away, but He is never far away. Jesus is right here with us, close enough to be our best friend! Proverbs 18:24 says, "There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother," and that's our Savior Jesus Christ!
*Some of you will recognize the name of Joseph Scriven. He was a brilliant young man engaged to a beautiful lady, during the 1800's. Tragically, Joseph's fiancée slipped into a pond and drowned. Her body was found on the night before their wedding. Joseph never really got over the shock, and many more tragedies plagued his life. But he spent his life serving the Lord among the poor people of Canada.
*In 1855, Joseph wrote a poem to send back home to his mother in Ireland. His goal was simply to comfort his mother during a difficult time in her life. But thirty years later the poem was discovered by a friend who was taking care of Joseph in his final illness. That poem became one of our favorite hymns:
"What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged.
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; Take it to the Lord in prayer." (6)
*Jesus is not far away. He is here with us right now! The kingdom of heaven is at hand, so now is the time to serve the Lord!
*As we go back to God in prayer, ask the Lord to show you exactly what to do. And remember: You can make an everlasting difference for Christ, even when you go to the tire store.
(1) BELIEVER'S BIBLE COMMENTARY by William MacDonald - Edited by Arthur Farstad - Thomas Nelson Publishers - Nashville - Copyright 1995 - "Jesus Begins His Galilean Ministry" - Matthew 4:12-17 - Downloaded to e-Sword by Rick Meyers - Copyright 2000-2019
(2) "John Wesley - Revival and Revolution," Christian History, no. 2 - Source: “Bible Illustrator for Windows” - Topic: Service - Subtopic: Spiritual - Index: 3894-3899 - Date: 12/1997.1440 - Title: John Wesley's Rule for Christian Living
(4) Rev. Richard J. Fairchild, www.rockies.net/~spirit/sermons/b ad04sm.php - Source: Sermons.com sermon "This Little Light of Mine" by King Duncan - John 1:6-8, 19-28 - Christmas 2008
(5) BELIEVER'S BIBLE COMMENTARY by William MacDonald - Edited by Arthur Farstad - Thomas Nelson Publishers - Nashville - Copyright 1995 - "Jesus Begins His Galilean Ministry" - Matthew 4:12-17 - Downloaded to e-Sword by Rick Meyers - Copyright 2000-2019
(6) From "Hymns" section of Luther Seminary home page, St. Paul, MN. Cited in "Preaching on the Lessons" by Carol M. Gregg, THE CLERGY JOURNAL, Feb. 2000, p. 54 - Source: email from Sermons.com 11/21/2004