************ Sermon on Matthew 13:47-50 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 26, 2002
"Hypocrites in the Church"
A pastor was walking down the street and met a member, a young adult who had not been in church for a long time. Stopping to talk with him the pastor asked why he had not seen the young man in church. The young man's answer: "Pastor, if the truth be told, the church is just too full of hypocrites." "That's okay son," said the pastor. "There is always room for one more."
More people seem to be bothered by hypocrites in the church than by anything else. Yet, to a certain extent every person here this evening is a hypocrite. Not a single one of us – and that includes me – perfectly live up to what we believe. Not a single one of us – and that includes me – really practices what we preach. Of course, some people are bigger hypocrites than others. There is always a gap between faith and lifestyle, isn't there?
I've met many believers, especially young ones, who are impatient and fed up with this in the church. They wonder why something is not done to totally purify the church from within. They see the big and little sins that Christians commit and become frustrated, perhaps even angry, about them.
In the Parable of the Net Jesus addresses the problem of hypocrisy within the church.
I The Picture-Half of the Parable
A In the first half of the parable Jesus portrays a very commonplace scene in Palestine: He draws a picture of fishermen in pursuit of a catch with a drag-net. A common way of working the drag-net is to have one end attached to the shore while the other end is taken seaward by boat. The boat travels in a large circle so eventually the net is brought back to land again. The upper side of the net floats on corks while the lower side, being weighted, sweeps along the bottom. The ends are gradually drawn in until the whole net is brought up on the beach, carrying with it all the fish in the area through which it passed.
Everyone listening to Jesus would nod their heads in agreement. Many of them depended on the fish of the Sea of Galilee for their livelihood. Living by the same sea many of them had seen fishermen using a drag-net to catch fish. It is probable that Jesus even spoke this parable within sight of the Sea. Spread out on the beach in front of the crowd would be the nets of the fishermen drying out in the sun.
B Once the fish are on the shore they are sorted. The "good" ones are gathered into containers while the undesirable ones are thrown either onto the shore or back into the sea. In the Sea of Galilee 24 different species of fish have been counted. Some of these fish species are classified as being unclean and could not be eaten by the Jews (cf Lev 11:10). As well there also live in the lake non-edible marine creatures such as crabs or clams. The unclean and non-edible are the ones thrown away.
C Jesus tell us that the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away.
When we interpret this parable, then, we have to say something about the kingdom of heaven. As we soon shall see, the Parable of the Net says something about the kingdom in the present age and in the future age.
II Interpretation for the Present Age
A In the present age the drag-net thrown into the sea gathers fish of every kind. What does this mean? What does this signify? What lesson are we to learn from this?
To understand this parable we need to realize that Jesus is NOT talking about fishermen but about God and His work through the church. Also, He is not talking about fish but about mankind. With this in mind we see the message Jesus wants to bring. Jesus is saying that in the present age the Lord calls persons of all nations into His kingdom. Just as the drag-net catches "all kinds of fish" so the Lord catches all kinds of persons.
In the Gospels we see God doing this through Jesus during the days that He lived and walked on this earth. Over and over again we see Jesus calling all kinds of persons to enter God's kingdom: He called tax collectors and sinners, prostitutes and Samaritans, fishermen and farmers, men and women, centurions and lepers, Jews and Romans, Pharisees and Sadducees.
How angry Jesus made the Pharisees and other religious leaders when He did this. You see, the Pharisees believed in separation from sinners and the establishment of a pure and holy Messianic community. The name "Pharisee" means "separatist" or "holy one." The Pharisees claimed to represent the holy community, the true people of God. The Pharisees further claimed that they did not lay under God's curse like the bulk of the people who through ignorance broke the law and therefore laid under God's curse.
On the one hand, then, was the Pharisees attempting to establish a separate community of the pure and holy. On the other hand was Jesus gathering around Himself the very people who were cursed because they did not know or keep the Law. Among Jesus' followers were to be found people who – not only by the standards of the Pharisees but also by His own admission – had no standing before God. This set the stage for a confrontation. "Why," asked the Pharisees, "did Jesus allow this? Why did He tolerate such riffraff around Him? Why did He not join their efforts in establishing a pure and holy community of believers?"
To answer these and similar questions Jesus said the parable in front of us. His response is that just as a drag-net catches all kinds of fish so He calls all kinds of people into God's kingdom.
B As I already mentioned, Jesus did this in person while He was on earth. Today He does that through His body the church.
You realize, don't you, what this says about the mission of the church? The church is to proclaim the good news of the Gospel to all persons – regardless of race, creed, color, social class, or nationality. The church is to proclaim the Gospel without discrimination to all. If I may say so, the church is to proclaim the Gospel promiscuously.
It is a relatively simple task to reach out to people just like ourselves: white, middle class, English speaking people with a Dutch background. And of course we do have to reach out to these people. But we also have to reach out to alcoholics, drug addicts, pregnant teenagers, convicts, prisoners, people with AIDS, and those of other races and backgrounds.
I thought about this and the rabble or riffraff that surrounded Jesus as I was at a funeral this past week. I have never seen so many tough looking men and women – tattoos, street clothes, black leather, beards, long greasy hair. They talked throughout the service. They whooped and hollered during a song. None of them sat in the same place for longer than two minutes – they were playing musical chairs but I was not hearing the music. These, I suspect, were the kinds of people that Jesus had around Him. And, these are the kinds of people that we also need to present the Gospel to.
C Through us, then, Jesus calls all kinds of persons into His church. This means that the church is not a pure and holy church. Just like there are unclean fish and non-edible marine creatures caught in the drag-net, so there are false and wayward believers in the church. A completely pure and holy church is not possible on this earth. There is chaff mixed in with the grain, there are weeds mixed in with the wheat, there are wicked among the righteous, there are false believers among the true believers, there are hypocrites within the church. Furthermore, this is in accordance with God's will – or else He wouldn't call all kinds of persons into His kingdom.
Just one note of caution. This does not mean the church tolerates members who are wicked and evil. Rather, she welcomes sinners who repent. She welcomes sinners who humble their heart before the Lord and ask for forgiveness.
III The Interpretation for the Future Age
A The gathering of the fish in the present age is followed by the sorting of the fish in the future age. "This is how it will be at the end of the age," says Jesus.
"Just like fishermen separate the good from the bad fish," says Jesus, "so the angels will separate the wicked from the righteous at the end of the age."
Jesus is talking about the Final Judgment here. But, do you notice that He is not talking here about the Final Judgment of the heathen? Jesus is talking here about the Final Judgment of the church. "The angels will come," says Jesus, "and separate the wicked from the righteous." Or, to translate the Greek even more clearly, "The angels will come and separate the wicked from among the righteous." In the Final Judgment it isn't just the nations or the heathen who will be judged. The church too will be judged. In the Final Judgment the church will be judged and purified and made holy inwardly as well as outwardly.
B The fish caught by the net are divided according to the good and the bad. Likewise, the church is divided into the righteous and the wicked.
Who are the righteous? The righteous are those few in the church who are chosen, not the many who are called (Mt 22:14). They are the genuine flock of God who: know and do the will of God (Mt 7:24; 13:23), give testimony to their faith and are prepared to die for it (Mt 5:10), and persevere in the face of afflictions (Mt 24:9-13). The righteous are pronounced "blessed" by the Son of Man and will inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world (Mt 25:34), thus entering into everlasting life (Mt 25:46).
The righteous, of course, are not righteous in and of themselves but only by virtue of their relationship with the Lord Jesus. The righteous are those who believe in and have a living relationship with Jesus.
C And who are the wicked? The wicked are those in the church who are not completely dedicated to the Lord. They are double-minded in that they serve two masters: God and money, or God and pleasure, or God and self. Outwardly they look like Christians but inwardly there are not. They are like seeds planted among the thorns – their faith is being choked out by the worries and concerns of life. They are like seeds planted among the rocks – for a while they flourish, but because their roots are shallow, eventually they wither and die.
When it comes right down to it, the wicked are those who do not truly believe in the Lord Jesus, who do not have a living relationship with Jesus, who do not walk and live with the Lord Jesus.
These wicked within the church are thrown into the fiery furnace. This symbolizes eternal damnation. It is the place reserved for those who will be forever condemned at the Final Judgment.
In the fiery furnace there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth." "Weeping" means it is a place of the most intense pain and distress. "Gnashing of teeth" refers to the impotence and helplessness of the ungodly once they are in hell – once there they are totally unable to do anything about their condition. They are forever under the judgment of God. In other words, once a person is in hell it is too late to do anything about it.
Many people today do not want to hear this and they don't want to believe this. According to a recent survey conducted by the Barna Research Group only three out of ten adults in the United States believe that hell is a "place of physical torment where people may be sent." Four out of ten Americans think that hell is not an actual place but "a state of permanent separation from God." Finally, two in ten Americans, according to this same study, say that hell is merely a symbolic term. Now, this is a survey of the general public.
Things are not much better in the believing or Christian segment of the population. The Barna Research Group's surveys indicate that American Christians are seriously confused about how one goes to or is kept from going to hell. For instance, four out of ten born-again Christians accept the proposition that if a person is "generally good" he or she will escape the punishment of hell and enjoy the rewards of heaven.
At a recent meeting I was listening to a Muslim speak. The organizers thought that after 9/11 we needed to hear from someone in that religion – in order to show us that many Muslims are good and peace-loving people. The Muslim said something that almost had me out of my seat. He said, "The Muslim faith, like the Jewish and Christian faith, believes that people who do good go to heaven and people who do bad go to hell." I am sad that most people in the room nodded their head in agreement with this statement. I am glad that three or four people let me know that this statement was and is totally wrong. You see, all of us are sinners; none of us are able to do any saving good; we all deserve eternal hell fire. Muslims believe in salvation by works but Christians don't; we believe you are saved only because of Jesus. And, if you don't believe in Jesus you end up in the fires of hell because of the sin you are born with as well as the sin you actually commit.
Did you notice our parable is missing something? Did you notice the Parable of the Net does not say a word about the bliss and happiness of the righteous? Our Lord does tells us, however, about the fate of the wicked. There is a reason for this. Our Lord wants us all to consider the fate of the wicked. More than that, our Lord wants us all to examine our own life to make sure we are not counted among the wicked.
The Day is coming, congregation, when the bad fish will be separated from the good fish, when the wicked will be separated from the righteous, when the chaff will be separated from the grain, when the weeds will be separated from the wheat. The Day of Judgment is coming, my brothers and sisters. And, don't ever think that just because you are a church member you will be counted among the righteous. Jesus tells us today that there are both righteous and wicked in the church.
So I ask you, on the Judgment Day will you be with the good or the bad fish? On the Judgment Day will you be reckoned with the righteous or the wicked? Are you one of those who truly believe in the Lord and have a living relationship with Him or are you one of those who don't really walk and live with the Lord?
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