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Evan Earwicker: Unstuck, Matthew 9:1-38

February 12, 2024

Audio Recording

Regardless of our current state of faith, encountering Jesus can bring about new passion and transformation in our lives.

Westside Church
Westside Church
Evan Earwicker: Unstuck, Matthew 9:1-38

Sermon Transcript:

You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us. What is the healthiest or the most alive you've ever felt in your faith?

What's the most engaged in your faith, the closest you've ever felt to the presence of God and to the life of Jesus? Some of you might say, well, it's now I know many of you are getting baptized next Sunday, right here in our service, next week on the 18th. And for you, maybe the fire of your faith is strong right now, and you feel more in love with Jesus and you want to be in his presence.

And maybe that's right now for you. Maybe for some of you, you have to go a long way back in your history to find a place where your faith felt alive and vibrant, where you felt connected to Jesus. You felt like being here in these settings of worship was meaningful and deep and rich.

But we all, I think, should consider where we are at today.

And if your answer about where your faith is at today sounds more like, well, it's a little unsure or uncertain, it's maybe filled with doubt. Or maybe you just say, I'm tired, I'm kind of exhausted.

I don't know if I have the energy that's required to get into a place where I even know that I want to encounter God.

I have this favorite passage of mine out of romans, chapter five in the message translation. And for probably the last decade, this has been my go to image in the New Testament about where I want to live in my faith. And this is what Paul writes, translated through the wonderful pen of Eugene Peterson. He says, by entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us, set us right with him, make us fit for him, we have it all together with God because of our master, Jesus. Maybe today you don't feel like you have it all together with God. That's okay. And that's not all. We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. And we find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand, out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and his glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.

It's kind of where I want to live if I have to set up camp somewhere.

The wide open spaces of his grace and his glory sound like a wonderful place to set up camp.

But oftentimes that's not what it feels like following Jesus, that's not what our faith feels like. Many times, it feels a lot more like the valley of the shadow of death.

But there's good news there, too. Remember in there, when the valley seems like it's going to go on forever, we remember that we don't have to be afraid because he's with us. And what is he with us for? Well, it's to lead us out.

It's to keep us moving when we want to give up and set up camp in the valley. He says, come on. We're walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Why? Because there's a wide open space of grace and glory. Well, you'll stand tall and shout your praise. And we want to get there, not in spite of the trouble, but through it, we find his grace and his glory is waiting for us.

And this really flies in the face of where I oftentimes find myself feeling like I don't know if I can do it. I don't know if my doubts are going to win over my faith. I don't know if I have the energy. I feel exhausted by what it requires to live a life of faith.

Well, here's the good news as we're going to see today and looking in the life of Jesus.

The prime candidates for encounters with Jesus are people who are tired and exhausted and burnt out on religion and in desperate need of a miracle and who have people that they love and they don't know if they're going to make it. They are the prime candidates for Jesus to absolutely turn everything upside down.

Two nights ago, we're asleep. It's the middle of the night, about 01:00, and my son, I'm not proud of this parenting, but he has one of those smart speakers in his room. And rather than getting up to find us if he needs something, he just makes an announcement through Alexa.

So we're asleep at one in the morning. I hear dung dong. And then he makes this amount. Dad, where are you? Dad?

And this is not an uncommon occurrence.

And so I get up, and the annoyance level is high, right? One in the morning.

And I go in, and my five year old, my son Jack, he's in his bed, but he's clearly got a fever. And so give him some tylenol. Take his temperature. It's like 103. Okay? This is a legit fever.

And quickly, I realize what happens in me as a dad when I realize that my little guy is sick is that the annoyance and the tiredness of being woken up in the middle of the night is replaced by something. And that's care for this guy.

And so I'm sitting there in his room and eventually get him settled and he's falling back asleep. And I'm like, well, I should probably go back to my bed and go to sleep. I'm going to be exhausted in the morning. But there's something in me as a dad that I wanted to stay and make sure he was okay.

And so as I'm sitting there, I open my phone and I go to work because I'm a workaholic. No, I open my phone and I read through the chapter that today we're going through in Matthew, chapter nine. And I came across the story and this is a really dense chapter. There's all these stories of miracles and healings and Jesus moving. But I hone in on 918 where this man Jerius, he's a leader of a religious community and his daughter dies.

And I'm sitting there next to my son who has a run of the mill fever. He's going to be fine, nothing life threatening. And yet there is something that rises up in me as a dad of empathy for this ancient story of a man whose grief and sorrow and exhaustion is something that I can't comprehend.

And in 918, this Manjarius, it says he comes to the place where Jesus at and he falls on his knees and he has this incredible faith as he's certainly wrestling through this grief and this shock and the horror of his daughter dying. And I'm thinking as I'm sitting there next to my son's bed, I'm like, what that represents in that moment for Jerius isn't just the shock and grief that his daughter is dead, but it probably looked like weeks of sleepless nights at the bedside of his daughter.

And so he comes to this place and there is no more desperate situation than I can imagine than what this man is experiencing. He's exhausted and he's grieving, but he makes it to Jesus. He makes it to Jesus and he says, jesus, I just know that if you would just lay your hand on my daughter, she'll live again. Wow. What faith.

What faith.

And so Jesus does, what Jesus does, he engages with great compassion and kindness and gentleness. He says, I'll do it.

I'll do it.

And if you are looking for the know that unlocks your faith today, I would just say this hopefully as loud and clear as I could make it, that all that's required is that you find your way to Jesus.

I don't care how you get there, if you, like, really formalized ways that religion is going to work. If I do this and this, and then I accomplish that ritual, and then I walk through this process and take that course and that class, and then that's how I'm going to receive from Jesus. And Matthew, chapter nine. There's story after story, and they're all different.

And there's people that Jesus heals because their friends brought the man to be healed. The man didn't do it. His friends brought him. And Jesus sees all of their faith. He's like, this is great. Heals him. There's a woman who's been very, very sick for twelve years, can't get any relief, crawls her way to Jesus, touches the hymn of his robe, his garment is immediately healed without Jesus even knowing it.

Man, that doesn't seem like a formula that's easy to follow.

There's blind men and there's a demon possessed guy. He doesn't know what's going on. And Jesus still heals him because what? Because he somehow found his way to be in the presence of Jesus. And here's the great news. I don't care how you get there, but if you're in the presence of Jesus, that's all it takes.

That's all it takes for a fresh new work that will reactivate and restore joy. It will bring back, I believe this. It'll bring back a sense of faith again. Maybe that's gone dormant in our lives. If we can just get into the presence of Jesus, he will provide something new for us.

Jesus speaks with such authority, and he talks about this new work in Matthew 917. He says, no one puts new wine into old wine skins, for the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. Instead, new wine is stored in new wine skins so that both are preserved. I'll tell you this today, a new work of God in your life requires a new container, a new framework of thinking.

Maybe today what God wants to do is to give you a gift.

But it's going to require an opening up of some old frameworks and ways of thinking in our hearts.

To receive a new thing, we need a new framework.

And this faith that so many expressed in the presence of Jesus throughout the book of Matthew seems to be just this dogged willingness to be open to God, working in new ways.

So let's pray. Jesus, we want to be open to the new work of God among us, where we are tired or exhausted in our faith, where we feel desperate.

Lord, we pray for the new work of the Holy Spirit to come close and transform us, to be the kind of people that can receive the new work of God.

In Jesus name, amen.

As we've walked through the book of Matthew, we find Jesus getting baptized by John the Baptist in the desert. He goes out into the wilderness where he faces temptation and confronts evil. And then he sets out to begin his ministry and he begins to heal and begin to announce this main message. Heaven is here. Heaven has come close.

Heaven and earth are colliding in this thing called the kingdom of God, that somehow God is coming back into his world and he's making all things right again.

And so this message is preached, and he says things like we've talked about. Blessed are those who are poor in spirit and know their need for God. The kingdom of heaven is actually theirs. It belongs to them.

And then he does some things that begin to reveal just how legit his power and his authority really are.

We heard last week he calms the storms, the winds and the waves obey him.

He begins to heal even more and more impressive healings like I talked about today, where he raises a young girl back from the dead. And so people around him are beginning to think like, whoa, this is not your run of the mill trickster fooling us with illusions. No, this is a guy who is performing legit miracles.

And then we get to this passage in Matthew nine one. It says, jesus climbed into the boat and went back across the lake to his own town. And some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Now, if you know the story out of Mark, you'll know that the men who bring their friend to Jesus don't just bring him on the mat. They actually can't get into where Jesus is at because of the crowds. So they go up on the roof, they disassemble the tiles of the roof and in dramatic fashion to ensure that they would be listed in the story, they lower him down through that roof to get to the feet of Jesus.

Matthew will have none of that drama. He just says they brought him. I love Matthew's straightforward delivery of the story, but they bring this paralyzed man, they get the man to Jesus.

And I love right off the bat in Matthew, chapter nine that we find that the faith of the community is acceptable to Jesus in a way that benefits the man.

I think sometimes we put all the pressure on ourselves as individuals to stir up in ourselves enough self discipline and good intention and good habits that if we can just personally do this and get to God, that's what works. And while that's all good, sometimes I don't have the strength that's required to get myself to Jesus. And I need you.

I may not have the strength in my faith to find my way to the presence of Jesus tomorrow. And so I'm going to need a community that can hold me up and bring me to Jesus, and so do you. And I think to a story. Again and again we find that the best expression of faith is faith that comes out of a community, a community centered around the way of Jesus. Last year we were in our leadership team. We went to Anaheim and we were there for our annual convention with our denomination, our movement of churches. And this happened to be the 100 year anniversary of our movement, which is called Foursquare 1923. Foursquare was started in Los Angeles, California, and from there it spread and became a global movement. And this is fascinating and unusual for denominations. We have about 1800 churches in the US, which relative to large denominations is quite small outside of the US. We have over 100,000 churches in Foursquare. It's absurd. I mean, that is a large number of churches all around the globe. And what can be lost in those big numbers? And I read on our Foursquare website 8.8 million members in Foursquare churches around the world. And what can be lost in those numbers is some of the really beautiful ways that our church and churches like ours within our movement are expressing this kind of new community that Jesus came to start. And we heard just a couple weeks ago that in the nation of Bulgaria, there are these communities of romanian gypsies. So roma people and many denominations have not been able to have any inroads in these communities except for Foursquare. Out of the 50 or so communities that have churches among the Roma population in Bulgaria, 40 of those churches, or 80% are foursquare churches.

And there is such a transformative effect that's happening within these communities that the president of Bulgaria has come to the director of Foursquare in Bulgaria and said, I don't know what's going on, but whenever one of your churches is established in one of these communities, it is transformational. And so what's happened is the government has begun to come to Foursquare in Bulgaria and said, hey, we have another community. Can you please plant a church there?

It's amazing.

And so what we see is what the gospel does when it takes root. It looks like health and community and faith and healing and all these wonderful things. So we're down in Anaheim amongst not only us leaders, but all these international leaders that have come for this hundred year celebration of the movement. And during a break, we go out for lunch and we're walking around Anaheim. And we come around the corner and there's these gates to the happiest place on earth, to Disneyland.

And as we're walking by the gates of Disneyland, there is a street preacher up on some kind of makeshift platform, not just with a bullhorn but with a pa system that he had brought.

And he has his Bible and he is obnoxiously as loud as that little pa system could go, is shouting and screaming about the judgment of God falling on people.

And I'm thinking, man, this was the happiest place on earth till the preacher showed up, right?

It was just such a contrast as I'm in these sessions with thousands of pastors and leaders who are preaching every week out of the same Bible.

But it is not the same message and it is not the same gospel.

And I would tell you this, it is not enough to have scripture on your side.

It is not enough to wield a Bible and read from the page. Because how many know that can be manipulated in a thousand ways?

It can be just as much death as it is life. But when it comes from a community of faith centered around the way of Jesus, exemplified in the gospel and embodied every day amongst people like us, it is life, it is transformative, not only in our nation but around the world.

And so I want to embrace what jesus came to set up. Not just the transfer of information, not just a book that we could read from, but a kind of community. He wanted to set up a community of restoration and healing and wholeness and a community of forgiveness. Check this out. Verse two. Seeing their faith, jesus said to the paralyzed man, be encouraged, my child, your sins are forgiven. And at this point, the man on the mat is thinking, that's cool. I was actually here for something else.

Can you heal me?

Your sins are forgiven. Verse three. But some of the teachers of religious law said to themselves, that's blasphemy. Does he think he's God?

Spoiler alert. Yes, he does.

Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked him, why do you have such evil thoughts in your hearts? Is it easier to say your sins are forgiven or stand up and walk?

That is a given. It's way easier to say your sins are forgiven because nobody can prove whether you did it or not, but to say, stand up and walk.

So I will prove to you. Jesus said that the son of man, his favorite term for himself, the son of man, has authority on earth to forgive sins. And then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and he says, stand up, pick up your mat and go home.

It's this amazing moment of Jesus going from teacher, healer to authority.

And the religious leaders freak out.

And in fact, this is the moment in the story where Jesus is going to begin to pick these fights with religious leaders. Not because he's bored.

He knows the stakes.

He's going to do it because he wants to confront in these religious leaders and in this culture the old wineskin that could no longer hold the new work that God was intending and establishing and bringing on the earth.

And he knew that to break down the old wineskins and to bring in a new container for the presence of God was necessary to establish heaven on earth. And so Jesus boldly steps into this interaction with the religious leaders and it might be lost on us. Why are they so upset that he would say, your sins are forgiven? Isn't that just something the religious people say? No, it's not. Because in Jesus day, everybody there would have known there is one place and one place only where you can go to get your sins forgiven by God. And it is not up here in the hill country of Galilee. It's 70 miles south in a very specific place at the temple in Jerusalem. That is where you go to meet with God. That is where you go to make your sacrifice, that will absolve you from your sins there and nowhere else.

And so for Jesus to stand here in this house in Galilee and say your sins are forgiven, that is not okay.

It's almost as though Jesus has the nerve to say that God will no longer be living in a box, but that forgiveness and mercy is going to be out on the streets and in homes. How dare he?

Your sins are forgiven.

For the jewish people around Jesus and in Jesus'community, what was so sacred about the temple was they knew and they were taught. And this is how it had always been, that the temple was the place where heaven and earth met.

It was the one place that they had the physical space where the presence of God could encounter sinful humans and absolve them of their sin. The temple was grace to them because it allowed them to be in the presence of God and walk away alive. Because why? Because there was forgiveness there.

And now Jesus seems to be upsetting all that by saying, anywhere I am, you can get forgiveness.

And what he is starting to do is he is unveiling the big picture that no longer will God only be in the temple, but that God has met with mankind in him, in Jesus, that heaven and earth have met in this person.

And this is blasphemous. I mean, this is crazy. But the irony of the people believing that God was only accessible in the temple was this. They had the holiest place in the temple, the very center of the temple, the holy of holies. And the whole thing was designed around the idea that the Ark of the covenant, where historically, the presence of God had dwelt with the people, that's where the ark was supposed to be set, behind this massive curtain that would protect people from the unfiltered holiness of God.

And behind that curtain, there was going to be the ark. And that's where the God of the people was going to dwell. And the thing was that they hadn't had the ark in the temple for 600 years, since Babylon came.

So for 600 years, they are sacrificing and worshipping God who is absent from his temple.

And I don't ever want my heart to be such that I miss the point that when God shows up and his presence is close, that I cling to my old traditions, thinking that God is in a place where God is not, because God is in front of me, asking me to expand and open my eyes to the new work that he is doing.

Jesus would eventually go on and just to flat out say that he is the temple, he's not going to do that now, but he is making these comments in a way that we miss them because of our culture. But for them, he is breaking down hundreds of years of tradition to say, God is doing something new. God is doing something new. And for them, here's what the old looked like. It looked like religious leaders deciding who's in and who's out.

It looked like people gaining access to God only in holy places, rituals and buildings. And it looked like the job of good people to point out the sins of bad people. Okay? I mean, this is like textbook religion.

And here's the new that Jesus was bringing that was such a threat to the religious establishment. Jesus decides who's in.

God is no longer in the box. Instead, he's on the streets and around the table. And the job now of Jesus people is to announce good news.

I think it's true that if you never spent another moment in your life debating over who is in and who is out with God, if you've never spent another moment having conversations about who God condemns and who God accepts, and instead, you took every ounce of that energy and every one of those moments and focused it on the work of announcing the good news, you would look a lot more like Jesus.

This is what he set out to do to announce the good news. What's the good news? The news that God has met with sinful humans and he's forgiven them.

Not in a box, not in a specific place, doesn't have to be in this room, doesn't have to be in a religious setting. Everywhere that Jesus presence is, that's where we can encounter God. And when we encounter him, it's all good news in Matthew nine.

All these different kinds of scenarios, all these different sick people and broken people are brought to Jesus.

He heals all their diseases. He forgives their sins.

But story after story, we find these people are a mess.

They're a mess.

They're blind, they have a demon, they're paralyzed.

They're sinful.

And this is probably my favorite part of Matthew, chapter nine.

Right in the middle of this mess and these stories of all these broken, hurting people finding Jesus. Do you know what Matthew wrote?

He said that Jesus was walking by a tax collector's booth and he saw a man named Matthew.

Matthew puts his own story, not at the beginning of the book, where Jesus is out calling Peter and James and John like the golden boy disciples. No, Matthew puts his story right in the middle of chapter nine with the blind people and the lepers and the sick people and the people that need forgiveness. He sticks himself in his story, right in the middle of the mess, and he raises his hand, he says, just like that blind man needed a touch from Jesus, just like that little girl who was dead needed a touch from Jesus. I needed Jesus to see me.

I needed him to see me and call my name.

And just as much as he saved that man who had a demon and was crazy, and just as much as he restored life to him, Jesus called me and it restored life to me.

And so my friends in this community, religious people, non religious people, whoever you might be today, I want to ask you, would you put yourself in the middle of the mess of broken people?

Could we remind ourselves today that, like Matthew, we might be in the cool club now, we might be the ones that follow Jesus. We might think we have it all together now because we've been walking with him for a while. But come on, when it comes time to write our story, would we put it where it belongs, among the people who needed so desperately a touch from Jesus?

Where would I be if he hadn't seen me?

Where would I be if he hadn't called my name? Where would I be if I hadn't been able to experience his presence?

Matthew knows that he owes everything to a man who saw him and called him.

And so I want today for us to, I guess, take on that kind of mindset and posture of Matthew, that we know where there's mess in our hearts and our lives and that we would just set down any arrogance or pride, that we'd say, oh, we're above all those people that really need something from, no, no, we're right in the middle of this.

Some today need healing. Some need forgiveness.

Some are bringing friends or family members to the feet of Jesus today. You've got kids or grandkids that desperately need a touch from Jesus.

But wherever we're at, we find ourselves right in this story, in Matthew, chapter nine. And we say, we need you, Jesus.

And so what I want to do, I'm going to read this verse that Jesus is about to get to after encountering all these people. He's about to say this to the crowds. And if you would do this, close your eyes as I read this and receive this for you.

Jesus says this to you today. Are you tired?

Are you worn out?

Are you burned out on religion? Well, come to me.

Get away with me, and you'll recover your life.

I'll show you how to take a real rest.

Walk with me and work with me. Watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

I won't lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you.

Keep company with me, and you'll learn to live freely and lightly with your eyes still closed, your heads bowed. Today, if you want and are willing just to say, like Matthew, I want to be counted among those who is in need of Jesus today.

Maybe you've been a faithful churchgoer, Christian, for 30, 40, 50 years. Maybe today is your first time in a space like this, but you're saying, yeah, count me among the mess. I need Jesus today. Would you just raise your hand as a sign of your faith?

Yeah, all over.

Yeah. Jesus, you see our hands, you see our acknowledgement.

We need you.

We need a touch from the master. We need a healing today. We need forgiveness today. And so, Lord, wherever there is the need, we pray the presence of a living Jesus who your holy spirit, would come close today, that you would expand our hearts for the new work that you are bringing into our world through us, through your community, and that we would find you and find rest for our souls. In Jesus name. Name. Amen. Amen.