SOMETIMES WE STUMBLE OVER THE VERY THINGS WE PURSUE
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
6 OCTOBER 1996
BYFrank L. Hoffman, Pastor
I suppose that if you asked people what they really needed to make their lives happy, most might initially respond, "More money."
But if they had a chance to think about it for a short while, most would more than likely respond, "Love and peace."
Yet people lose true love and peace because they seek power, and in a way, money can be a form of power, as when you buy a vote, or bribe someone.
In Matthew 21:33-39, Jesus tells us a parable that speaks of stumbling over the source of love and peace in the pursuit of money and power:
33. "Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey.
This was a very common method of agriculture, and is still being used today.
A landowner would develop a farm, and then have other people work the field for no salary and for no rent until the harvest.
In the time of the harvest, the crops or the money from their sale would be divided, according to a prearranged agreement, between the landowner and the farmers, or in this case, those who worked in the vineyard.
34. "And when the harvest time approached, he [the landowner] sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce.
35. "And the vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third.
See how evil they became over their love of money?
36. "Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them.
37. "But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.'
38. "But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and seize his inheritance.'
And here we read of their pride.
They want to have the position of the son of the landowner, as if this method would work.
Evil and greedy people always think they can take and get away with it, but they can't in the long run.
But in the process, they can do a great amount of harm, depriving others of love and peace for a period of time.
39. "And they took him [the son], and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
40. "Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?"
41. They [the disciples] said to Him, "He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers, who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons."
And thus there is loss of life on both sides, just as with a war.
But note that Jesus isn't the one suggesting these people's destruction, but the disciples.
We must keep in mind that Jesus isn't really talking about a vineyard and vine growers; He is talking about this world, Himself, and the kingdom to come.
42. Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures,
'The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the chief corner stone;
This came about from the Lord,
And it is marvelous in our eyes'?
Listen carefully to what Jesus is saying.
These vine growers tripped over the wealth of the landowner, much as people trip over God as the ultimate owner of all that He created.
They tripped over the servants of the landowner, much in the same way as people trip over the prophets and servants of God.
They tripped over the son of the landowner by killing him, in an attempt to acquire the property of the land owner, in the same way that people killed the Son of God, in an attempt to force their way into the kingdom.
43. "Therefore I say to you [says Jesus], the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it.
Jesus is saying that because of Israel's rejection of Him as Messiah, the kingdom is being taken away from them and given to the gentiles; but in a similar way it is being taken away from many gentiles and Christians, for they, too, have tripped over Him; for many have become hard of heart in their pursuit of upholding God's commandments.
44. "And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust."
45. And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them.
See, people know the truth about themselves, even when they protest and pretend otherwise.
46. And when they sought to seize Him, they feared the multitudes, because they held Him to be a prophet.
Remember, they fear the multitude because they are not acting in love.
Listen to how Paul explains this in Romans 9:30-33:
30. What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith;
31. but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law.
32. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone,
33. just as it is written,
"Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense,
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed."
Unless we come to realize that everything we have is really God's, including the air we breathe and the water we drink, we trip over this stumbling block.
Unless we realize that no person is truly righteous in every aspect of their life, and that our ultimate forgiveness comes only from God, we trip over the stumbling stone, which in this case is Jesus Christ.
But as Jesus reminds us, those who believe will not be disappointed.
Think about the water we drink.
Don't we, in essence, give it back to God after it passes through our bodies?
But, would you want to drink the water that has passed through even your own body, let alone someone else's body?
Because itís contaminated, much in the same way we contaminate other things of God with our sins.
But if we thank God for the water we drink, which is a sign of our faith, we have pre-cleaned the water that passed through us; thus, as it passed through God's purification process, it was justified as being clean, and it is fit to re-drink.
And think about it.
We flush away our waste.
The water is processed to some extent by other people, and then flows into the river and oceans.
But the ultimate purification occurs when it evaporates back into the air and returns to earth as rain.
We could say it is purified in First Heaven.
God made all these physical laws by which we are to live, or we die.
God gave us all His commandments, that we might live and not die; and in particular, He gave us love, that by it we could fulfill all the Law and live ever so much more easily.
But if we think we can thank God for what has come to us through ill-gotten gain, or through the suffering of others, whether human or non-human, we are sadly mistaken, for such thanks have no spiritual purification value.
In Acts 15:5-11, we are told why so many of the Jews then, and an ever growing number of Christians today, are still stumbling over the grace and forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
5. But certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed, stood up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses."
They have put their own works first.
They have stumbled over faith, even though they believe.
Many Christians have this same problem today.
6. And the apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter.
7. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.
8. "And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us;
9. and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.
10. "Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?
11. "But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are."
We are saved by grace through faith, and not by works.
As an example, before us today is the table of grace and love.
We can eat the bread and drink the juice, by works, and enjoy their taste, and later get rid of them from our bodies.
Or we can come together in faith and share in the everlasting life, love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ our Lord.
We don't have to stumble over the things we really desire.
Your Comments are welcome
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