Welcome to Wednesday’s podcast. I hope you are enjoying your week. As I sit writing this the weather forecast suggests that today we will all be enjoying a mini heat wave of 21 degrees!
Today our Bible passage is Matthew 12 v22-37, and we are going to focus on v30 from The Message translation:
“This is war, and there is no neutral ground. If you’re not on my side, you’re the enemy; if you’re not helping you’re making things worse.”
Sometimes I would love to have the option of using an image or a picture in these podcasts. Today I would use the famous World War One recruitment poster designed in 1914 by Alfred Leete, in which Lord Kitchener stares out with pointed finger, alongside the slogan “Your country needs YOU!”
The poster was highly effective, and continues to be used as inspiration for advertising to this day. Ironically it was also copied by both Germany and Russia in their own recruitment campaigns! Art historians have commented on the strength of the capitalised word “YOU” which grabs the attention. The focus on the word “You” engages the reader with the question of what they are doing or how they are participating with the war.
The same could be said of Jesus’ words in v30: “This is war, and there is no neutral ground. If you’re not on my side, you’re the enemy; if you’re not helping you’re making things worse.”
This verse forces us to confront the fact that we are in a battle. It is not a physical war of flesh and blood, but a spiritual war between the kingdom of Jesus and the enemy of God – the devil. The devil knows his time is short and so, as we read in verse 29, his intention is to plunder while he can. His aim is to tie us up, to distract us, to carry us away from God, by whatever means he can. Therefore, whether we like it or not, we are recruited, called to be, soldiers for Christ.
Within our passage today there are 4 things Jesus says that we can do in order to ensure we serve well as soldiers in God’s army.
Firstly, we need to Commit to Discipleship.
A good soldier listens to and learns from the instructions given by his commanding officer. In the NIV translation of verse 30, Jesus uses the words ‘with me’ twice….. “Whoever is not with me……whoever does not gather with me….”
A commitment to discipleship is a commitment to be with Jesus, to communicate with him through prayer and to learn from him through reading the Bible. In Ephesians 6 we read all about the armour of God. It is specifically designed to help us stand against the schemes of the devil. In that passage we read that the sword of the Spirit is the word of God, and the chapter ends with a reminder to be alert and always keep on praying. If you are part of STC Sheffield, the mention of the armour of God may have left you humming the tune to the family worship song ‘God Suit’. The words go “This way, this way, I know you’re with me. Every step I take.” Because a commitment to discipleship means that not only do we focus on being with Jesus, but we can also face our enemy without fear, because we know Jesus is with us.
Secondly, we need to Commit to One Another.
To be successful in battle, an army needs to be united, not only in terms of their strategy, but also in their relationships with one another. We see this in the military pledge to ‘leave no man behind’. We cannot even imagine an army where half the soldiers are just sat on the sidelines as the enemy approaches because they don’t really get along with others in their battalion. From verse 25 we know that we are not called to be a house divided, as this will never withstand an attack from the enemy. Instead we are to be a united household or family, and we will look at this more in tomorrow’s podcast.
This commitment to one another links closely to the third truth in this verse: that we need to Commit to Serve.
Jesus’ words could hardly be any more obvious or clear – “If you are not helping, you are making things worse.” We can all help in some way. Every person has a role to play. When fighting a battle, an army will not be successful if just one small company of soldiers does all the jobs. That small battalion would become exhausted and ineffective. They would not be able to gain ground or defend themselves. That is why if we are not helping, then we are making things worse; leaving our fellow soldiers open to attack and preventing the kingdom of God from advancing. The Alfred Leete poster is a fantastic reminder to us all. Every soldier in the army of God is needed. We are all called to serve. If you are not currently serving in some way in church, ask your cluster leader or church leader about how you can get involved.
Finally, we are an army that needs to Commit to Fruitfulness.
The last few verses of today’s Bible passage remind us that we are called to bear fruit and we are called to use words. Jesus returns to this language of fruitfulness, multiplication and harvest in Chapter 13 and it will form the basis of Friday’s podcast. However, the NIV translation of verse 30 echoes this with the words “whoever does not gather with me scatters.” We are to be gatherers. The army of God needs you not only to be a soldier for Christ, but to be an advocate for Jesus with your words, and an advertisement for Jesus as people see the fruit of the Spirit in your life. We are not to rely on clever artists making iconic posters for national campaigns, because the commitment to fruitfulness is not about recruitment, it is about rescue. We are inviting people to join the army of God, because we know this is the only way they can be rescued from the enemy. “This is war and there is no neutral ground.”
Lord Jesus, thank you that you have already won the ultimate battle, and that you have rescued us from our enemy. Show us where we can help and serve, and where we are called to be fruitful and gather, in order that others can be rescued. Amen.
READING: Matthew 12:22-37
Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, ‘Could this be the Son of David?’
But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.’
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
‘Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.
‘Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
‘Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognised by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.’