Take your Bible and look with me at Matthew 12. We worship the Lord in the study of His Word as He unfolds to us His truth, and we respond with open hearts. I want us to look at Matthew 12:43-50, the last section of this great chapter.
We are all exposed, I am quite sure, today, in our society, to the current emphasis on morality. We hear about the new right, the moral majority, a great call from many parts of our country that syas to our nation, "We must return to our roots, to the standard of behavior, ethics, morality, religion upon which our nation was founded." This cry has come rather repeatedly in our particular time in history, but it really isn't anything new, even for America.
There have been other times in our history when there has been a call to morality. Even in my own lifetime, I have seen the Roman Catholic Church holding up its own standards of morality as against the society's disintegration around it - such things as abortion and divorce. We've all been made aware of the morality of the Mormons, particularly them, although there are many other groups which also call for a moral, ethical kind of behavior. We have been made aware of the morality of the Moonies, who have a very high ethical standard. For years and years in our country, liberal Christianity has developed into a system of ethics with only a quasi-definition of God somewhere in the middle of all of it.
I can remember years ago when I was young, there was a move in our country known as 'moral rearmament,' which was publishing a lot of materials, letters, and books calling America to a moral perspective. There has even been some familiarity in our lifetime with the John Birch Society, and extreme right-wing groups who have called for a moral America. So really, it's nothing new, but I would just add that it has never been so much the message of the evangelicals as it has become in the last two or three years.
Many evangelical churches are preaching morality, patriotism, loyalty to the standards of America, and spending their time influencing legislators, judges, and other national leaders and lobby groups to try to keep America moral, or to take America back to a moral position. They very often spend more time attacking the national drift away from morality than in calling people to know Jesus Christ. As I said, the most well-known group in our society is the moral majority. They really do want to bring America to a position of morality, and most assuredly seek every political avenue possible to accomplish that.
I want to say at the very beginning that I agree with morality, so that I won't be misunderstood. I definitely agree with ethics and morality and standards, and I believe that we should adhere to those which are the truths revealed in the Word of God. But morality, by itself, is in many ways more dangerous than immorality. That may shock you, but it shouldn't, because that's exactly what we see around the life of Christ, and that is basically what our Lord is teaching us in the passage we're going to look at today: the danger of morality, ethics, religion, reformation, cleaning up your life, changing from evil habits to "good habits."
Let me see if I can create a context for your thinking. The Pharisees were classic moralists. There was no other group in existence at the time that was more committed to ethics, standards, principles of life, and morals than the Pharisees. They lived by a complex and demanding ethical moral code. Laws existed for everything, and their life was utterly and totally circumscribed by a mass of legislation and morality. In some ways, they would be the moral majority of their time; they were calling people to ethical behavior based upon the law of their own pious tradition. But in the process of their moral pursuit, they were in fact rejecting God Himself, who was in their midst in human form.
So while they were deeply entrenched in morality, they were damned to Hell. It appears as though the more they came to commit themselves to morality, the more they set in concrete their own judgment. They cleaned up their lives outwardly, and so effectively did they do this that they convinced themselves that they were righteous, moral, and good. Consequently, when someone came along preaching the message of sin, they were not interested in listening.
So under the illusion of their own self-righteousness, they became unreachable. Jesus had little trouble reaching the harlots, the thieves, robbers, criminals, outcasts, and sinners of society, including the tax collectors and the extortionists, but He had an almost impossible time reaching the religious, self-righteous, moral people who were under the illusion and self-deception that because of their goodness, everything was OK between them and God. They recognized no sin, so they needed no Savior.
That is always the danger of morality. Morality creates an illusion of safety when in fact the person who is moral may be in the greatest danger of all. We see this particularly among the Mormons, who feel so secure because of their morality when in fact, they are so insecure and under the judgment of God and so hard to convince.
Look for just a moment at Matthew 23, and I think this will help give perspective. This chapter, down through verse 33, is an indictment of the moralists, the religionists, the Pharisees, and in all of this, there are several things that stand out very pointedly, so I want to draw them to your attention.
Verse 25 is a good place to start. "Woe [curse] to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."
The real issue was that this was true about them, and the sad fact is they did not recognize that, because such is the illusion of morality, of self-righteousness. There never lived a group that was more adamantly committed to a moral code than the Pharisees and there never lived a group so far from God. You see, the legacy of self-righteousness is the deceit that leaves a person with an empty inside and no real sense that that is the case.
Back to Matthew 11 and 12 for a few thoughts as we look at the passage. The theme of these chapters is the rejection of Jesus Christ by the scribes and Pharisees, and the people as well. They rejected their Messiah. In the first ten chapters, He was presented; in chapters 11-12, we have the chronicles of their rejection. They didn't just reject Him, they went so far as to say He was satanic in verse 24, and as a result of their accusation that He was satanic, they were unforgivable (verses 31-32). The word of our Lord is that they were doomed forever by their conclusion that Jesus was of Satan and they would not be redeemed.
Chapter 12, then, concludes, beginning in verse 43, with our Lord's response to that ultimate rejection. Remember last Lord's Day, we looked at verses 38 and following, and the fact that there was going to come upon these Christ-rejectors a judgment. Even Gentiles would condemn them in the day of judgment, because Gentiles who had less believed, such as the Ninevites, who heard Jonah; such as the Queen of Sheba, who listened to Solomon. Jesus says, "You'll be condemned by them because you have had a greater than Jonah and a greater than Solomon and you haven't listened or believed."
So He has given them the message of judgment, the message of condemnation, and to sum it all up and bring it to a climax, at the end of chapter 12, before he begins a brand new section, Matthew tells of our Lord speaking to them with what really amounts to an invitation. Because in the midst of the multitude that was there, there would be some who would believe, listen, and respond. So there is, if you can see it, as I see it, a simple call and warning in this last section.
The purpose of this section can be summed up very simply. It is to warn them not to listen to the religion of the Pharisees and moralists, but to come to Jesus Christ, and there is a big difference. On the one hand, you have reformation; on the other hand, you have relationship. Those are the two points that I want to talk about - reformation as opposed to relationship.
To illustrate again what we're going to see in the passage, just remember the occasion of Luke 18 where the Lord gave a parable. The parable was of two men who went into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, a religionist, a moralist, and the other was a tax collector, an immoral extortioner. This is the way the parable went.
"The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'" That is the typical prayer of a moralist. "I thank You, God, that I don't have any problems, that I'm OK. I'm alright the way that I am, not an extortioner, unjust, adulterous, not like this tax collector. In fact, on the positive side, I fast and tithe." He's only checking in to let God know he's just as holy as he's always been. That's the moralist.
On the other hand, "The tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' Jesus said, 'I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.'"
Morality, in and of itself, is a damning thing. Self-righteousness is a damning thing. You'd be better off to be immoral and face the reality of your needs so that you would come to a Savior, than to live under the illusion that because you have a moral code on the outside, all is well on the inside between you and God. That is the message of this passage.
Let's begin by looking at reformation in verses 43-45. This has to be one of the most fascinating little parables that Jesus ever told. Here in this parable, the Lord gives the results of morality, the results of the ethical, religious approach. You see it with the Jews, with Roman Catholics sometimes, with liberal Protestants, and sometimes even in an evangelical setting. You see it with Mormons, moralists, and religionists of the world who pursue a moral approach to life but do not have in their lives the living Christ. That is what our Lord is going to say in this passage.
Let's begin in verse 43. "When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none." The main character in this parable is an unclean spirit, which is a demon. The phrase 'unclean spirit' is used several times in the New Testament to refer to demons - fallen angels who have become the hosts of Satan and reflect the instruction of Hell and the pit. They are vile, wretched, wicked spiritual creatures.
I might add at this point that the idea of the unclean spirit indicates their immorality, the filth and vile character of their nature. But I would also add that there are some more wicked than others. In other words, even among the demons, there may be spirits, unclean spirits, and even more unclean spirits. That is indicated to us in verse 45, where it tells that when this demon returns, he comes with seven others that are more wicked than himself. The idea is simply that all demons are vile, wretched, wicked beings, but they are not all as vile and wretched as they could be. They go from vile and wretched to most vile and wretched.
So there is, dwelling in this man, a vile, wretched, unclean, demonic spirit. This tells us that this is where they like to be; this is an insight into the fact that these beings live in men. In this case, this one goes out of a man. It doesn't tell us how, so we don't know how specifically in this case; we will see the best explanation, I think, as we move through the story.
So the spirit has gone out, he leaves. Then he walks through dry places. We see this restless spirit moving through the barren waste of a desert, and I don't know why this demon goes there, and I don't want to extrapolate too much out of it, but it seems to me a fitting place for demons to be: in the barren heat and desolation of the desert. It has always interested me that in a very similar situation, the Lord confronted Satan in a place called The Devastation, with limestone, rock, and scorching sun, barren of any growth at all, according to some biblical scholars. So there may be an affinity among demons to the waste places, but this one, at least, found his way into those places.
You'll notice that there is a restlessness with this spirit; he seeks refreshment and rest, but cannot find it. It's as if he needs a place to work out his filthy activity. This disembodied demon is restless until he can find a place back in a human life. I think that is a very important thing for us to note, because our Lord is saying, in effect, in this verse that demons go in and out of men and seem to be more at home in them than out of them.
He concludes in verse 44. "Then he says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.'" That is an interesting statement, 'my house.' There is a sense in which the demon belonged there, in which he perceived that it was his own dwelling place. Demons not only function within men, but apparently they take up a somewhat permanent residence there, because we see that in the term 'my house.' He wanted to go back to the man he had left, perhaps more so than to go into another man. So he went back. Verse 44. "And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order."
I believe that is the key to understanding what is going on in this parable. Why did the demon leave in the first place? I believe this was an unclean demon because it says so, a vile demon. Most likely, the man went through some kind of a moral reformation. In some way, he cleaned up his act, and got rid of some really evil vices.
Men do that, you know. They can stop doing all the evil they could be doing, and clean up their act. Or they can see, for example, the fearful consequences of their sin and do the best that man can possibly do to sort of straighten themselves out; that's why we have New Year's resolutions and calls to moral behavior. Even prostitutes may try to stop their prostitution and try to live a respectable life; criminals may give up their crimes and try to live as respectable citizens.
There is possibly, in the heart of man, the capacity to reform himself, sort of. He may be responding to the fear of prison or of death, or pressure from people he loves and cares about. Whatever it is, and religion may be a part of it. He may actually be responding to religious pressure. It is very possible that this could have been an individual out of whom even our Lord had sent this demon, because we know our Lord healed people who were not necessarily saved; of the ten lepers that He healed, only one came back and was redeemed. So it may have been a person who was delivered by the Lord Himself.
My own feeling is that the Lord is illustrating here an external kind of cleansing, a moral reformation, a kind of 'cleaning up your act' approach. I think, in a great sense, that is precisely what had gone on as a result of the ministry of John the Baptist. When John the Baptist came preaching repentance, it says all Jerusalem and Judea went out to him to the Jordan River, and they were confessing their sins, repenting, and being baptized with the baptism of John. They were not receiving the Lord Jesus Christ, they were just cleaning up to get ready to receive Him. They were sweeping out the house, adorning it with their reformation and repentance, and getting their lives right in anticipation of the coming of Messiah. But when the Messiah came, the vast majority of the people never let Him in. so they sat there, all cleaned up and adorned, but refusing the entrance of the Messiah.
The ultimate end of it all is in verse 45. "Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first." They never let Christ come in to fill the empty place.
The key word, and you should just circle it in your Bible, is at the end of this verse: empty. That is reformation: you just clean up, but Christ never comes in. They would not receive Christ. Theirs was a superficial, external morality, but there was no place for Christ, no room for Him. Many of them had come to John the Baptist and repented and been baptized. Of course, the Pharisees were preaching the gospel of morality without Christ.
I think you could perhaps have your thinking stretched a little bit in this regard by listening to Acts 19. It would be somewhat typical, I think. This is much later in the development of the church, but an incident happens that feeds into this story. Paul is coming to Ephesus and finds some disciples there. He says to them, "Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?" And they said, "We have not so much as heard whether there is any Holy Spirit," they hadn't even heard about the Holy Spirit. "And he said to them, 'Into what then were you baptized?'"
He's saying, "What baptism did you have? If you had been baptized into the body of Christ, believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, you would have no doubt heard of the Holy Spirit. In fact, you may have even seen manifestations of the Spirit, as others did." And they replied, "Into John's baptism." Oh. In other words, they were baptized with the baptism of repentance in the wilderness, preparing their hearts for the Messiah, but as of yet didn't even know who the Messiah was. So the house was swept and garnished, but there wasn't anyone home.
Hurriedly, "Paul said, 'John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.' When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." In other words, they believed in Christ, and the empty place was filled with Christ.
So our Lord's parable may relate, or reflect, at least, upon that preparation ministry of John, where, in a sense, the cleaning up of the life and the demons go out, when that moral reformation takes place, because a vile, wretched, evil, unclean spirit might not be at home in a person trying to live a moral life. So that demon leaves initially. But if Christ doesn't come in, the place stays empty. Then eight demons come back, and it will be worse then than it was in the beginning.
The empty house, then, speaks of the spiritual vacuum that is created when people get moral but don't know Christ. The reason it is more dangerous than immorality is because it says right here, from the lips of our Lord, that instead of just one unclean spirit, you get eight back! A religious, self-righteous, moral person becomes the victim of Satan in a way that an immoral person doesn't.
There is a sense in which Jesus could even be speaking nationally here. If you want to look at the history of Israel, you can see it as a time when they had an unclean spirit, from Egypt to the Babylonian captivity. In the Babylonian captivity, they cleaned up their house and got rid of idolatry, and maybe they were empty. When Christ came, they wouldn't let Him in, and finally, in the end, the anti-Christ and all his hosts will enter the nation in league in the Great Tribulation.
So whether you see it in its broad range of historical perspective or whether you see it in a very limited sense of history at that moment in time, I think the message is very clear: just cleaning up the outside, sweeping the house, getting it ready, and leaving it empty is going to leave you open to a worse problem than you had before.
You say, "Why? How is it that it is worse to be moral?" Simply, I think, because the sinful person who is aware of his sinfulness has more vigilance than the moral person who has no such awareness. I think what happens is when a person becomes self-righteous and moral, he then loses the sense of fearfulness about evil, and feels himself beyond the activity of Satan so that Satan can come in en masse, without that individual ever being aware, vigilant, or prepared to deal with it.
You'll notice in verse 45, it says, "They enter and dwell there," and the word 'dwell' is katoikeo, which means 'to settle down and be at home.' They are comfortable there, entrenched; it is the same word used in Ephesians 3:17, when Paul prays that Christ may settle down in your hearts by faith. They come in and find their permanent, settling place in the heart of a moral person. Better the person should have been immoral and face the immorality of his life than to be living under the illusion of morality and be demon-infested.
Listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 23:15. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte." In other words, to convert someone to the Pharisaic morality. "And when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves." Why so? Because the disciple who is discipled into self-righteous legalism is usually more committed to it than his teacher. The person who is new at it is usually more committed to it than the one who has been around a long time and seen all the loopholes. You are already sons of Hell by your morality without Christ and you are making double sons of Hell out of your proselytes. Morality makes a person a son of Hell, and the more you are subscribed to self-righteous morality, the more you intensify your hellish relationship.
I don't believe, then, that the church's message is morality in a vacuum without Jesus Christ. I think God has called us to preach the Gospel. Jesus didn't preach morality; He preached salvation, repentance from sin. I am not interested in making America moral without Christ; all that will do is give them a false sense of security and maybe increase their prospects for damnation. I guess, in some ways, it's better to be immoral than moral. It is better to be irreligious than religious. I find it much easier to reach someone who is overwhelmed with their sense of sin than to reach someone who is overwhelmed with their sense of righteousness, don't you?
By the way, immoral people didn't blaspheme and cry for Christ's death, immoral people didn't plot His execution. The harlots, thieves, and murderers didn't do it; the religious people did it. That's the curse of morality - moral, religious, self-righteous people, confident they are holy in themselves, are utterly deceived into believing that Satan has nothing to do with them, and they have no vigilance or protection, and they can be swarmed by demonic hosts. In the end is in verse 45, and the last state is worse than the first.
Self-righteousness and morality is a curse that ties men up and draws them away from true conviction that can bring salvation. Listen to an illustration from II Peter 2:20. Here, we have a picture of some people who even come to Christianity and listen to Jesus Christ's message, and they have a head knowledge.
It says, "They have escaped the pollutions of the world." It doesn't say they have been cleansed or truly purged, but through the knowledge of the Lord Jesus, the standards of the Lord, and the exposure to Christianity, they have escaped the world's pollutions; they have cleaned up their act and "gotten religion." They have started living the Christian moral code. But, "They are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them."
Why? Because you have a greater judgment if you have a greater amount of knowledge. So not only is there an intensification of demonic activity potentiated, but there is definitely an intensification of judgment on that moral person. That is essentially the message of Romans 2. Then He gives a proverb to illustrate it. "'A dog returns to his own vomit,'" and, "'A sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.'"
Morality is a dog who eventually will go back to his own vomit; morality, in and of itself, is a sow going back to the mire. It's like taking a big hog out of the muck, giving her a bath, painting her toenails, putting a ribbon on her neck, and letting her loose. She'll go back to the slop she came from because there is no change in her nature. The dog may wear a rhinestone collar and a little sweater, and have his nails painted too, but you may find him sometime licking up his own vomit because there is no change in his dog's nature.
People who escape the pollutions on the outside may intensify the damnation that awaits them because they have an empty inside. They are like lepers, with no sense of pain, who eventually rub off their extremities and don't even know it. So I think our Lord is warning the people in the multitude there who might still be open to hearing. He is saying, "Don't follow the path of the Pharisees; don't follow their lead into a moral life that is void of Christ, or your end will be worse than your beginning." That is the way it will be, says verse 45, at the very end with this wicked generation.
I believe He has in mind there the very people to whom He spoke; the people at that time. That group of people is going to be living proof of that. Their end will be worse than their beginning; they will become demon-infested, judged by God, and of course, it got worse and worse. Finally, the terrible judgment of 70 A.D. destroyed Jerusalem and all of its environs. But more than that, their eternal souls were lost in Hell forever because they had morality, but left an empty place in their hearts.
That takes us from reformation to a second word that we have to look at that is very important here, and that is the word relationship, starting in verse 46. Reformation is not salvation or regeneration or redemption. In fact, it may only increase the very opposite. In order to have a true redemption and regeneration, there must be a right relationship. So the Lord finishes with what I think is a beautiful invitation, and it was made possible in the setting there by the arrival of Jesus' family, His mother and brothers.
He's in a house, because Matthew 13:1 says, "He went out of the house," so He is in the house and has the crowd as well as the Pharisees there, and now it says in verse 46, "While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him." That was Mary and his half-brothers, sons of Joseph and Mary.
Here is His family. Matthew 13:55 gives us the names of His half-brothers, and they are concerned about Him. It doesn't tell us why they were there, but we can assume why they were there - they loved Him. It says in John 7:5 that His brothers didn't believe He was the Messiah, but certainly they cared for Him. Mary knew, and she loved Him. And the word that perhaps came back to them was the word that we would have expected to reach them - that Jesus had really gone far now.
Now He was giving these terrifying rebukes to the leaders. In Mark 3:21-22, it tells us that the friends of Jesus reported that He had become mentally unbalanced. The people who knew Him best were saying He had gone off the deep end, over the hill, lost His mind, was going too far. Now, of course, they are accusing Him of being satanic and there is a plot to kill Him. I really think that Mary and His brothers came, probably prompted by Mary, on a sort of rescue mission to try and get Him out of the situation into which He was getting Himself so deeply entrenched. They knew He was being accused of terrifying things; they could see the imminence of His death and wanted to help, so they came.
They stood outside and told someone that they wanted to see Him. Verse 47. "Then one said to Him, 'Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.'" That could be very embarrassing, frankly. I mean, to be in there, a grown man, and to be teaching and exercising tremendous authority against these scribes, Pharisees, and unbelievers with the blistering, dynamic, dramatic language of judgment. He was there in all of that presence of power, and this guy comes in and says, "Your mom wants you."
I mean, that could be a little embarrassing. "Excuse me, my mother wants me." But it wasn't for Jesus, because, as always, He was the master of every occasion, of every situation. This was not a time for mothers and brothers to dominate His life, even though they cared for and loved Him; this was a time for preaching a message that needed to be preached, and they gave Him His opportunity.
In verse 48, He seizes that opportunity and answers. He says to this fellow, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" Your first reaction to that may be to say, "He has gone off the deep end. He doesn't even know His own family." This is not to say that He is denying the reality that they were His family, or that He didn't love them. We know He loved them; He redeemed His brothers. It was not until after the Cross and the Resurrection that they really believed, but they did believe. The Scriptures indicate that to us, and James, His brother, became the head of the Jerusalem church. It certainly does not indicate that He had no affection for Mary, because on the Cross, the one great thing that He does in terms of taking care of what's left on earth is to be sure that Mary is given to John and John is given to Mary so that John can care for her. So we know He loved them.
But He is trying to say, at this point, that earthly, physical relationships are not an issue with Him. "Who is my mother? Who are My brothers?" In other words, "Who is really related to Me? Who is really in My family? Who really has any intimacy with Me? Who can really put demands on Me regarding responsibility and fellowship?" In verse 49, He answers His own question. "And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, 'Here are My mother and My brothers!'" He's saying, "Do you want to know who is related to Me? Here they are. They are related to Me; they are My spiritual family." That's the only real family that matters.
In a very real sense, I think this extended itself to Mary and the brothers as an invitation as well. Mary had to be redeemed just like everyone else; that's why then the angel gave her the message, she thanked God her Savior. Remember that statement? Sure, she had to be redeemed, and so did His brothers. I think there may have been, latent in that, an invitation to them. Certainly, they would have been encompassed in the wide invitation to all who were there. He was saying, "Relationship, to Me, is a spiritual issue. These who believe in Me are related to Me."
If we can somehow connect this passage with the former one, what the Lord is offering here is a relationship as over against a reformation. He is the only one who can fill that empty place. So He gets their attention with His little dialogue about His mother and brothers. Then He says, "You need to know that the people who believe in Me are related to Me."
Then the question immediately comes up: how do you get that kind of relationship? How do we become one of Your mother and sisters and brothers? How does that happen? In verse 50 He simplifies it with a beautiful statement. "For whoever," and aren't you glad that word is there? Whoever; there is no limit on that term. "Does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother."
That is a great truth. Jesus says, "To be related to Me is not a physical thing, it's a spiritual thing. These people who believe in Me are related to Me." The natural question is, "How do we get that relationship?" And He says, "By doing the will of My Father." Notice He put in there, "The will of My Father who is in Heaven." They were asking for a sign from where? Heaven. The Father had given them a sign from Heaven, and I believe that's why He says this. What is the will of the Father in Heaven? I'll show you what it is. Back up to Matthew 3:17.
At the baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ, we hear the voice of the Father. "Suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'" What is the will of the Father in Heaven? That the people on earth acknowledge Jesus Christ as His Son. What is God's will? What is it that they should do that is the will of the Father in Heaven? It is that they should accept Jesus as His Son and be as pleased with Him as God is with Him.
In Matthew 17:5, while they were on the mount of transfiguration, the voice of God again comes out of Heaven. This time, a bright cloud overshadows them and a voice out of the cloud says, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." That is the same statement from the third chapter. Then He adds, "Hear Him." What is God's will? That you recognize the Son, believe in the Son, and have a faith relationship with the Son. God's will is that, in believing, through the Son, you might have eternal life.
Look at Matthew 18:11. It's a marvelous passage that expresses the Father's will. "For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost." That is a great insight into the will of the Father, isn't it? Jesus said, "I have come to do the will of Him who sent Me." Here He said, "I have come to save." Therefore, the will of He that sent Him is to save men.
He illustrates it by saying, "If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the 99 and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the 99 that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish."
It is the will of the Father that you hear the Son. It is the will of the Father that you believe in the Son. It is the will of the Father that you be saved, and it is not the will of the Father that you perish. Doing the will of the Father in Heaven, then, is simply coming to salvation in Christ.
In II Peter 3:9, Peter put it this way: "God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." I Timothy 2:4 says, "God our Savior who will have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." God's will is that people be saved.
Back in Matthew 7:21 is another verse that we need to note in this regard. There are going to be a lot of people who claim this relationship but don't have it. "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,'" and that passage always interests me. It certainly indicates that the people who never say, "Lord, Lord," aren't going to be saved, so then the Lordship of Christ is the key issue. Certainly, the people who never say it are not going to be saved, because some of the people who do say it aren't even going to be saved. But they will come and say, "Lord, Lord," but they won't enter the Kingdom by saying something, they will enter the Kingdom by, "Doing the will of My Father who is in Heaven."
It isn't what you say, it's what you do; and doing the will of the Father is believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and receiving the gift of salvation that He offers. I believe that is the invitation of Matthew 12. So you contrast reformation in verses 43-45 with relationship in verses 46-50. That is why, beloved, you can have a Pharisee who doesn't cheat, lie, steal, or commit adultery, who gives tithes of everything he possesses, fasts twice a week, but goes to Hell, because he's swept up the place and adorned it, but it's empty.
On the other hand, you can have a tax collector who is an extortioner, adulterer, a cheat, a liar, and all of that, but he goes to Heaven because he has Christ on the inside, and believe me, when Christ comes to the inside, He will clean up the life. Cleaning up the life superficially on the outside, though, will only intensify the probability of damnation.
In Acts 4:12, the apostles put it so succinctly; "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." The only message Heaven ever had was that Jesus was the way of salvation. All the rest of the Scriptures surround that major message. There are plenty of people calling for morality, but we're calling for a relationship with Jesus Christ; that is our message. Out of that relationship comes true morality, as generated and affected and maintained by the power of the Holy Spirit. Bow with me in prayer.
Father, thank You for the gift of salvation given to sinners such as we are - unworthy, undeserving. Thank You that You have told us so many times that You have come to save us, but in order to be saved, we have to know we need to be saved, to be redeemed, to be cleansed. We can't do it ourselves. Thank You that it is in the total reality of our utter sinfulness that there is hope for us. As we see ourselves as immoral, we put ourselves in the place of being made truly moral by the power of Christ.
Lord, deliver any here in our midst from the illusion that their self-generated morality is sufficient. May they not lose the vigilance that would prevent them from being infested with demons and made a greater son of Hell than ever.
Father, help us, at this time of the year, to preach our message, the message of a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ - the very message that He preached. May there be many who come into that relationship. Break those walls of security and deceit that hide the self-righteous from the truth. May there even be some modern Pharisees, moralists, who see the folly of self-righteousness and come as sinners to Christ.
While your heads are bowed, if you don't know the Lord Jesus Christ, this has really been a very simple message from our Lord. I think you understand what He has been saying, and I encourage you to open your heart to Christ. It isn't enough to sweep it out and adorn it; that is so dangerous, and just fooling yourself. You need to live a pure life, not in a vacuum, but one filled with Jesus Christ. If you don't know Him, I trust that right now, you will open your heart to receive Him.
Father, we pray that You will bring to the prayer room those whom Your Spirit is calling, that You might move on the will of all who are here to be obedient to You in whatever You are saying. We worship and adore You for the great salvation You have offered us, which does not require of us anything but the recognition that we have nothing, and to turn to You in faith.
We pray that You will save those who are lost, and for those of us who already know You, make this a time when we proclaim that same message to others for Your glory, in Christ's name, Amen.