The Gospel that Comforts the Disturbed and Disturbs the Comfortable
As I read the Gospel of Matthew at a spiritually low point in my life, I find myself reading it with the intent of seeking comfort and assurance from God. Am I right with God? Will He be merciful to my failures, and speak words of forgiveness to me through the text? I discovered that, despite my intentional reading, this Gospel both comforted and disturbed me at the same time.
There were definitely portions in the Gospel that offered real comfort. There was the naming of Jesus signifying that He will save His people from their sin (1:21), the Beatitudes which pronounced blessings on the broken, the mourning and the persecuted (as I tried imagining myself to be), the assurance that the Father understands our needs before we asked Him (6:8), and the many occasions when Jesus took pity and healed the masses (e.g. 8:3). There was the invitation to the heavy laden to find rest in Jesus (11:28), and, finally, the great promise after the Great Commission: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28:20).
But what struck me more were the portions, particularly Jesus’ teachings, that challenged and even disturbed certain aspects of my life that I took for granted. Right after declaring that we were the salt of the earth, Jesus warned that if salt had lost its saltiness, it was to be thrown out and trampled (5:13). Is He referring to my lukewarm Christian life, my ineffectiveness as a witness? I also asked myself if I am prepared to “tear out and throw away“ whatever caused me to sin, even a member of my body (5:27-30) — do I truly hate sin as much as my Lord commanded me to, or have I settled for a convenient compromise? What about the tree that bore bad fruit (7:15-20), the self-acclaimed followers whom the Lord never knew (7:21-23), or even the fool who built on sand (7:24-27)? I could easily identify parallels in my life with the very things Jesus was critiquing.
So what started as a comfort-seeking exercise became a ‘guilt-trip’, a critical self-examination to see if I was indeed “in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5). Matthew frequently posited antithetical juxtapositions — such as faithful/unfaithful, righteous/wicked, clean/unclean — in a manner that forces us to identify ourselves in one or the other. He also portrayed Jesus as Someone who exposed the sinful heart with amazing clarity and severity. These condemning words hit the Pharisees and scribes the hardest — the ‘hypocrites’, as Jesus called them. No wonder, since hypocrisy assumes one’s self as better than what it really was. As I read Matthew, I was forced to respond in two ways: to become a more hardened hypocrite, or to be broken and confess that I am hopeless without Christ’s redemption, so sick that I need the Physician (9:12). Matthew’s message of grace was meant only for those willing to confess that they need it.
And that, perhaps, was the point Matthew was making.
God has His purpose in each one of our lives. However, many people do not realise it. When we do not truly understand our life’s purpose and identities, we begin to be somebody else, rather than be what God wants us to be. If we have not submitted the dreams and plans to God, we would never be able to receive His fullest intention for us. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (16:25). The fullness of life is not measured by how much we have received from Him, but by how much we have given up for Him. In giving, we truly receive, in dying we truly live.
Jesus shows us that the way to a full life in Christ is the way of the cross. We must deny ourselves, take up the cross and follow him (10:37). The way of the cross is not one of self-benefit, but of self-losing. It is saying no to ease, comfort, selfishness and attachment to temporal goods and yes to the cross of self-denial and obedience. It means that if we want to have a full life in Christ, we must commit our plans to Him and allow him to direct or redirect our ways. We need to say ultimately, “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (26:39).
It is painful to give up one’s dream and ambition. We can hold them tightly with our dear life, plowing long and hard for them and yet without the certainty of ever-achieving them. We may end up a failure or burnt out like Jacob of old who wrestled with God to achieve the unachievable. To fulfill our dreams apart from God is not only a vain labor, but worst it could be idolatry at heart if we pursue them at the expense of Christ. When Christ is dethroned and replaced by our dreams and ambitions in our heart that is idolatry.
Even though, those dreams are planted by the Lord in our heart, we still need to commit them to him. God wants us to cling to him, the dream-giver, and not to our dreams. He does not want us to achieve the dream through our own strength, but to trust him to bring it to pass. Whether we should struggle with our own strength or come to the Lord and bear the easy yoke of grace. It is all up to us to make a choice.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all things shall be given unto you” (6:33). As we put God first, all our God-given dreams will come true. This is the assurance of Father God, “If your earthly father would give good gifts how much more would heavenly father give” (7:11). He knows us before the foundations of the earth. He knows every hair on our head. He also knows the plans and desires of our hearts because he is our heavenly father and he loves us with the purest love and he has our best interest at heart. Life is like a canvas; God is the artist and has the great pleasure to paint our lives in accordance to His good design.
The flowers look dullish in the absence of leaves; the stars lose its luster without the darkness or without the universe; thus, we could never appreciate the beauty of the rising sun if we have not experienced a dark and stormy night. In life’s journey, we will not be able to understand and taste the sweetness of joy if we do not know what is suffering and sorrow.
It is hard to believe but is always true that when we give up personal dreams and goals in our lives and follow God’s dream and His call in our lives, we will find life, a life that is fulfilling and in abundance.