Dancing to the World's Tune or to God's (Matthew Sermon 44 of 151)
January 26, 2003 | Andrew Davis
Abiding in Christ, Sinful Nature
Today we're looking at Matthew 11:16-19. We come to a passage of scripture that you might just read over and not recognize its significance, but I think it is very significant for how we relate to our world, to the culture that surrounds us, to the expectations that they have on us. The world does have expectations. It wants us to dance to its tune. I think it's important for us to see the examples that are set before us in the text today: the example of John the Baptist and of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and see how they would not dance to the world's tune, but followed instead a heavenly music that they heard within themselves. There are two different strains of music permeating this world.
There is the song of God and of the Lamb, spoken of in the Book of Revelation. And there is the song of the devil and of the world. I was afraid in using this metaphor which comes right out of the text for us, thinking that you would be confused and think that I'm talking against rock and roll music or anything like that. That's not what this talk is about. This is talking metaphorically about the way the world seeks to impose itself on us. The way the world wants to make us dance to its tune. But I picked up this metaphor and thought, let's see what there is in it. There was much.
Many of you perhaps have read C.S. Lewis's masterpiece, The Chronicles of Narnia. The magician's nephew describes the creation of the universe. Aslan, who is a lion and represents Jesus Christ, is singing a song. That song is the song of creation. Listen to what Lewis wrote: “The lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun, a gentle rippling music. And as he walked and sang, the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the little hill like wave. In a few minutes, it was creeping up the lower slopes of the distant mountains, making that young world ever softer.” As the account goes on, Polly, one of the girls in the story, starts to notice the connection between the music that the lion's singing and what's happening around them. And this is what it says, "All this time, the lion's song and his stately prowl, to and fro, backwards and forwards, was going on. Polly was finding the song more and more interesting because she thought she was beginning to see the connection between the music and the things that were happening. When a lion of dark furs sprang up on a ridge about a hundred yards away, she felt they were connected to a series of deep prolonged notes, which the lion had sung just a second before. And when he burst into a rapid series of lighter notes, she was not surprised to see primroses suddenly appearing in every direction. Thus with an unspeakable thrill, she felt quite certain that all things were coming as she said, out of the lion's head. When you listen to the song, you heard the things that he was making up. When you looked around you, you could see them." C.S. Lewis likens creation to a song that was sung by God, the Creator.
That song permeates, and if you are regenerate, if you're born again, you can hear it, though faintly, because this created world is cursed by sin and yet there's still something of those original strains of music around us. Sadly, though, in our history, it wasn't long after that that another discordant song began to be sung — a song of rebellion, a song that our first fathers, Adam and Eve, heard and listened to and began to dance to, the sound of rebellion against our God. This is the song that Jesus is talking about here in Matthew 11:16-19. We played the flute for you and you did not dance. We sang a dirge and you did not mourn. The flute is happy music. The world is saying, "It's time to celebrate now. We have something we're happy about. We would like you to celebrate with us," but that which is highly esteemed in the eyes of man is nothing to God, and so we can't celebrate at what the world celebrates. The the world sings a dirge, funeral music. It's time for mourning, and the world is saying, “It’s time to be sad. We're sad about this and you be sad with us. You dance to our tune. You be happy when we tell you to be happy. You be sad when we tell you to be sad.” That's a tune of rebellion. But there's another song that's been sung since the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is the song of redemption. In Hebrews 2:11-12 it says that Jesus Christ sings. "In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation," [ Jesus Christ] “perfect through suffering.” Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family; Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers." He's not ashamed to adopt us. But look what he says next in verse 12. Who's the “he” in verse 12? Jesus Christ. He says, "I will declare your name to my brothers. In the presence of the congregation, I will sing your praises."
Praise the Lord for that song. It is a song of redemption, and Jesus came and sang it to us. He's singing to us a song of salvation. He's singing to us a song of redemption. All of creation someday will hear it plainly. All of creation and the new heavens and new earth will worship to that song, that song of redemption. Revelation 5 says, "The twenty-four elders sang a new song. You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were slain. And with your blood, you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priest to serve our God and they will reign on the earth." Then the Angels join in. Revelation 5:11, "Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and 10,000 times 10,000. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders; in a loud voice, they sang, 'Worthy is the lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.'" We've got the twenty-four elders singing, we've got myriad of angels, more than you can count, singing, and then we come in. Verse 13, "Then I heard every creature in Heaven and on Earth and under the Earth and on the sea and all that is in them singing, 'To Him who sits on the throne and to the lamb be praise, honor, and glory, and power forever and ever.'"
Standing Firm Against the World’s Enticing Tune
The question of the text this morning, Matthew 11, is whose music are you dancing to? Are you dancing to the world's song? Are you dancing to the song of creation and redemption that God is singing in your heart? This text calls us to stand firm against the world's music, against the world's enticing tune. In a simple sense, this is a talk on resisting peer pressure. If I were a youth minister, for example, or speaking to youth, I would talk about the importance of resisting peer pressure. That's a common theme, though, that were somehow germane only to youth, and none of the rest of us need to be concerned about resisting peer pressure. This text seems to say differently. We all need to be concerned about the opinions of the world around us, especially the ungodly ones, and how pressure affects us, how we are slightly dancing to the world's tune. Parental concern always has to do with negative influences; smoking and drinking and hanging out with the wrong people and relationships with members of the opposite sex, and these are valid concerns for peer pressure at a vulnerable time in development. But the fact of the matter is, all of us are surrounded by a world that is hostile to our faith. I you don't realize that you're in enemy territory, you may not realize how much that music is getting into your heart and how you are gradually slowly, perhaps unwittingly, dancing to the world's tune. “To what can I compare this generation? They're like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others ‘We played the flute for you and you did not dance. We sang a dirge and you did not mourn.’” There is hope, is there not? Because apparently, the world's tune is being frustrated. "We played our music, and you did not yield to it, you did not dance to it and we're frustrated with you. Why won't you do the things we do? Why don't you like the things that we like? Why won't you celebrate when we celebrate? Why won't you mourn when we mourn?" We are God's peculiar people. We are a strange people marching to the tune that we alone can hear by faith, and this is the call from the text.
In our own hearts, there's a constant concern for human approval. You can't deny it, and I don't think it's wrong or it's bad. From infancy, little children learn how to gauge their situation by the reaction of their parents. A little child will fall down and look to mommy and daddy to see if they're hurt seriously. Have you ever noticed that? They will fall down and they'll look and see what Mommy does or what Daddy does, and if they are okay, then they feel like they are okay. A little baby will look up for approval and that is not a bad thing. It's a big part of the way that a parent influences and shapes the children from an early age, so there's nothing wrong with being concerned about other people's opinions.
More than that, there is a system of approval and disapproval woven around us, we call it culture. When I was over in Japan, ministering as a missionary with my wife and children, we had to learn a whole new culture. Japanese have an ancient polished and very carefully thought through culture. It all has to do with who sits where at tables and who bows a little bit lower and all of these things. What kind of honorific titles are used. We were like proverbial bulls in the china shop. We were Americans without any culture at all, so it seemed. We had to learn little by little how to do things. We were still really at the kindergarten level when we left. Japanese peer pressure is intense. All of their kids dress the same. They have a saying, "The nail that sticks up will be pounded down.” They don't look to individuality or individualism as a good thing. There's intense pressure to conform all the time. These are not necessarily bad things. It's a concern for human approval or disapproval. What I'm getting at here is the way that there is a negative demonic or satanic pressure or music also. You listen to the media, you listen to the news stories, you listen to how they are reported, the way that they're written about. There is a value system that they're trying to get over on us so that we think the way that they think. For example, in the schools, they're trying to do what they call diversity training, so that we embrace diversity. Well, what are they getting at? Well, they're getting at what the Bible calls sexual perversion, homosexuality. They want it to be accepted, they want it to be tolerated or welcomed even. We need to think the way they think. We need to rejoice in the things they rejoice in, and call them gifts from God. This is the kind of music that they're seeking to play, even at a very young level. The same is true on all kinds of other issues. Animal rights, abortion, as we talked about last week, cloning, feminism. All of these thoughts, we're being trained to think like the world. There's a tune out there that we're being called on to dance to. They're like children sitting in the marketplaces calling out to us. "We're playing a flute for you, you better dance. And when we play a dirge, you better mourn."
The desire to please people is not a bad thing. It says in Luke 2:52, “Jesus grew in wisdom, and in favor with God and men. What does it mean to grow in favor with men? It means that he learned how to please people. To be a pleasing person is a good thing within its context. People with absolutely no concern whatsoever for other people's opinions are dangerous sociopaths. They're tyrants. They steam roll people and they don't care, and that's wrong, it's an evil thing. But Jesus also warned against yearning for human praise, living for human praise. Luke 6:26 says, "Woe to you when men speak well of you, when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets." Here we get to the key issue. A false prophet is spoken well of by everybody, because they learn to tailor their message and weed it out until it is universally pleasing. If I may say specifically, they do not confront sin. They do not confront the evil that surrounds, and there is much. They do not confront it, and therefore, they are universally liked. They're universally popular.
Two Role Models: John the Baptist and Jesus
Jesus said, "Woe to you if that's the kind of prophet you are." John the Baptist was not that kind of prophet. Jesus was not either. They confronted sin and they bore the wrath of surrounding culture as a result. The fact of the matter is that fear of man is a great hindrance to the advance of the Gospel. Is it not? We fear to offend, we fear to confront sin. We fear to deal directly with issues because we're afraid what they may think. Proverbs 29:25 says, "Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe." A snare is something that entangles your feet and causes you to trip and fall. Fear of man, therefore, is very much like a snare for your feet. It's a hindrance to the advance of the Gospel. Ultimately, living for the praise of man will damn your soul. Jesus said in John 5:44, "How can you believe if you accept praise from one another and yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the one and only God."
Jesus sets up competing praise. Either the world will praise you or God will praise you. But you cannot believe if you set your heart on praise from the world. It will close out your soul, you cannot hear. There were people in Jesus' age and era who were concerned what their friends would think. There were some among the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin that were believing in Jesus to a point, but they were afraid to come out of the closet, as it were, as believers in Jesus Christ. Afraid because they were afraid of what their friends would think. In John 12:42 and 43, it says, "Yet at the same time, many even among the leaders believed in him, but because of the Pharisees, they would not confess their faith for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue for they loved praise from men more than praise from God." That's a devastating testimony from scripture. May it not be said of us that we love praise from men more than praise from God. The fear of man can keep Christians who are ready to be witnesses for Jesus Christ from speaking the gospel they know. The Apostle Paul, knowing that the Galatians were being offended by the things he was saying, said in Galatians 1:10. "Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God, or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would no longer be a servant of Christ."
You really have to choose if you're going to be a witness for Jesus Christ. So, my question today is, is peer pressure, is this surrounding music of rebellion, an irresistible force? What is the answer? The answer within the text is, no, it is not an irresistible force. It can be resisted. Let's look at these two role models. John the Baptist first, and then Jesus. John the Baptist, we've already learned in Matthew 11, was not a reed swayed by the wind. Jesus talked about that. “What did you go out into the desert to see, a reed swayed by the wind?” You can imagine long grass, dead brown grass and the wind is blowing in the fall, and it's just moving. It almost looks like water. It just blows and the grass blows whatever way the wind blows. John wasn't that way. He was a mighty oak tree; he didn't sway in the breeze of public opinion. That's not the way he was. John's appearance was not culturally acceptable. I don't think that John set any fashion trends. He wore camel's hair, which is not very comfortable and not very attractive. Functional, yes, but comfortable, no. He wore the leather belt around his waist, yes, but it was how he tied the leather belt that was so special. There was nothing to it. He did not set fashion trends, that's not why he was here. His appearance was not culturally acceptable, his lifestyle was not culturally acceptable either. His diet was locusts and wild honey. He wasn't there to eat. That's not what he came for. His lifestyle was a rebuke, at least to King Herod, who dined on silk pillows and ordered the prophet’s head be cut off. His lifestyle was a rebuke. Hebrews 11:38 speaks of men of whom the world was not worthy, wandering in deserts and mountains and in caves and holes in the ground. I think of John the Baptist when I think of that. That's the way he lived.
John's ministry was shocking to Jewish sensibilities. You know why? Because he baptized Jews— this is unheard of. We were the Gentile outsiders, called by some Gentile dogs. When we turn to the Law of Moses, we would need to be cleaned up from our Gentile excesses. We would need to be washed with water. We would need to be baptized in order to become a Jew, certainly circumcised if you're a man. And so, you'd be brought into the law of Moses. But through this cleansing of baptism, John baptized everybody— baptized Jews, and that was very offensive. He's saying, "You're[the Jews] as repugnant to God as the Gentiles are."
And John's preaching was all on fire. He didn't preach to entice or appease, he preached to convict. In John's religion, he showed a total disregard for the narrow confines of Pharisees-ism. The Pharisees called the shots for religion. I you followed in their steps, if you obeyed what they said then you were religious, you were acceptable in Jewish society. When the scribes and Pharisees said “Fast”, John ignored it. When the scribes and Pharisees said “Feast”, John ignored it. When the scribes and Pharisees said “Drink”, John ignored it. When the scribes and Pharisees said “Refrain from drinking”, he ignored it. He was not marching to their tune, they had no hold over him, and he was therefore dangerous, very much like a loose cannon.
John the Baptist lived his own kind of life. He followed only the way of God, which He heard in his mind and his heart by faith. But John the Baptist, for all of his greatness, could not hold Jesus' sandals. He says in Matthew 3:7-8, "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them, 'You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath, produce fruit in keeping with repentance? The one who comes after me, who will baptize not with water, but with the Holy Spirit and with fire, I am not worthy to stoop down and untie his sandals.’” As great as John the Baptist was, and Jesus said He was greater than anyone who had been born to women up to that point, he could not have carried Jesus' sandals. Why? Because Jesus also was not swayed by men, but lived only to do the will of His Heavenly Father. He lived only for one thing, moment by moment, to please his heavenly Father. He constantly angered the religious establishment. I believe he did most of his miracles on the Sabbath on purpose to challenge their faulty understandings of the Sabbath. He was his own man and he followed in the way of God. He marched to the tune that he heard within his heart and with his mind that his Father was playing. He refused to follow man-made traditions. He didn't wash his hands or the ceremonial washings and other such Pharisaic traditions. He preached openly against the scribes and Pharisees calling them hypocrites. In John 5:41, he said, "I do not accept praise from men." Very interesting statement. We do lavish praise on him, and he wants us to praise him, but he's saying in that context, "It's not what I live for, I don't accept it, I don't live by it, praise from men." He lived only for one thing, John 4:34: "My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work."
Praise from Man of Praise from God
The question that we have set before us by John the Baptist and Jesus is, “How are we going to live? Are we going to live for praise from man or praise from God?” The simple choice is, whose praise do we seek? In Luke 6:22 it says, "Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and insult you, and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man; rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in Heaven." Are you willing to live that kind of a life? What's interesting is that both sides will force a choice in this matter. The Father will force a choice, the world will force a choice. They're actively competing for your loyalty. James 4:4 says, "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." 1 John 2:15 it says, "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." If you're a Christian, the Holy Spirit's living within you and aggressively wooing you all the time so that you will love God and seek his praise and seek to please him, and when you veer off and seek to dance to the world's tune, he is jealous and wants you back. Both sides force a choice.
The world also forces a choice. “We played the flute for you and you did not dance. We sang a dirge and you did not mourn.” Both Christians and worldly folks have this in common— we both look insane to the other, we both look crazy to the other. We're saying, "How can you not believe in Christ? How can you not seek forgiveness of your sins? How can you not want to go and live with God forever and ever? How can you not seek to please your Creator who knit you together in your mother's womb, and who sent his son to die for you? How can you not live that way?" Meanwhile they're saying, "How can you not love what we love? How can you not hate what we hate and follow in the pleasure seeking that we recommend to you? How can you not?" There's an aggressive evangelism for music going on on each side. They've got their tune and the Father has his, and He wants you to listen to his as much as the world; even more than the world wants you to listen to theirs. More than anything, I'm challenging you today to listen to the music that God is playing in your heart if you're a Christian, the music to follow him, to love what he's doing in the world, the redemptive plan, the advance of the kingdom of God, Heavenly music that you alone can hear by faith. If you are called to be a Christian, to some degree you're called to a prophetic role in this world. You're called to stand and testify on behalf of God that what the world does is evil. If you testify faithfully, you will be hated by people.
Verse 18 and 19 says, "For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say he has a demon, The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. But wisdom is proved right by her actions." This is a pair of very unfair assessments made by the world against John the Baptist and Jesus. Very unfair, very un-truthful, very insulting. But the cause of it, I believe, is that both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ preached sin and righteousness and the world could not accept that. Martin Luther, speaking to young preachers said, "You should always preach in such a way that when you get done people will either hate you or hate their sin." What a challenge is that? To be a genuine preacher of God and you end up with a division every time you preach. That's very, very difficult. But John the Baptist did that —and Jesus, too. Basically, I think that life is somewhat like traveling along a road and you come to a fork in the road, and we're standing at the fork saying, "Choose life, follow this way." You're bringing people to a decision, you're bringing people to a fork in the road, and that's uncomfortable for people. You're calling on them to love God more than they love their sin, to repent and turn away and enter the kingdom of God, and that's not going to be popular.
John confronted sin, and the world dealt with him unfairly. They said he was demon-possessed—the most righteous man that had lived up to that point. Jesus confronted sin, and they said the same thing about him, that he was demon-possessed. But in this matter, they charged him unfairly because he was willing to eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners, and so they pushed it beyond the boundaries that Jesus set, beyond the boundaries of sin. He didn't just eat, he was a glutton; he didn't just drink, he was a drunkard. It pushes it beyond the boundaries. Very unfair, but the motivation was the conviction that the people felt when they spoke. But the power of wisdom in the end is final vindication. Look at verse 19, it says, "But wisdom is vindicated by her actions." Vindicated. Another word for that is justified. In the end you will stand vindicated as you follow a wise course of action, as you follow God himself. Evil peer pressure leads to condemnation on that final day. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of that way is death.” Proverbs 13:20 says, "He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm." Following the crowd and doing evil leads to condemnation. Where are you heading? Whose music are you listening to? What is the ultimate end of your life? Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 9:10 says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." A wise life begins there. Say, "I want to live for God. I want to live for him, I want to please him, I love him, I don't want to dishonor him." That's where wisdom begins. You live like that, you'll be vindicated in the end. Even though you seem insane to your surrounding neighbors, in the end, you'll be vindicated. God's music is eternally beautiful. I wonder what that'll sound like. I love the music we hear every week from our music ministry. These folks work hard, don't they? They practice and they play and they bless with their spiritual gifts, and I'm grateful for it. But even they would say they can't compete with the new song that we're gonna hear in Heaven.
Power of Wisdom: Final Vindication
I can't wait to hear that music. God's music is eternally beautiful. Surrounding culture's music is enticing, it's luring, it's interesting, but it's deadly. Very much like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they were standing up and everybody else bowing down. There was that enticing alluring music of the flutes and the zithers and the harps and the lyre and all that, and they were told to bow down to the golden idol that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. We must not bow down. We must not listen. We must stand up like those nails in that Japanese proverb, and we will not be smashed down. We must be willing to stand up like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and listen to a more beautiful music. In Zephaniah 3:17 the Lord God is singing over you and in you. It says, "The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save, he will take delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Isn't that beautiful? God will sing over you and you will respond also in kind. You will sing back.
In Revelation 15:2-4, it says, "I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and standing beside the sea those who have been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name." They had reached the finish line, they were victors. They were singing, they held harps given to them by God, and they sang the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb. "Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the Ages, who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to Your name, for you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you for your righteous acts have been revealed." We're going to sing like that and that music will drown out Satan's rebellious tunes. We already saying "Crown him with many crowns. The Lamb upon his throne hark how the heavenly music... Heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.” How beautiful when the sound of rebellion will cease, and nothing will be there but worship and praise and adoration.
The hymn,”What Wondrous Love Is This?" speaks to this issue : “To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing. To God and to the lamb, I will sing. To God and to the lamb who is the great I Am, while millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing. While millions join the theme, I will sing.” That's the advancing kingdom of God. Millions joining in and singing to God and to the lamb. And verse 4, "And When from death I'm free I'll sing on, I'll sing on, and when from death, I'm free, I'll sing on. And when from death I'm free, I'll sing and joyful be. And through eternity I'll sing on, I'll sing on, and through eternity, I'll sing on."
What application can we take from this? First, set your heart on pleasing God. Set your heart on listening to his music, pleasing him, moving to his music, dancing to his tune. You can only do this by praying and by having Jesus Christ live within you powerfully. You can only do it if you're Christian. If you're not a Christian, there’s a step before this. Come to faith in Christ, trust in him for eternal life. But if you are a Christian, you must pray and say, "Lord, set you before me, always." Psalms 16, "I have set the Lord always before me, I want to live for you."
Secondly, renew your mind with scripture. Let the clear pure water scripture flow through your brain. Only then will you be able to test and approve what God's will is, his good and pleasing perfect will, and what the world's discordant music is. You can start to see it more and more. Recognize, therefore, the world's tunes. The way that the media is trying to brainwash us into thinking certain ways that are not scriptural. Recognize them and then reflect on your own tendencies. Could it be that you're already starting to move to the world's tune? Could it be that there's some areas in which you've become un-biblical, in the way you're living, in the way you're thinking, in your value system? If so, you must repent. You must say, "I've been living wrong, I've been thinking wrong. I need to repent and come back to your way of doing things".
Then resolve to make a stand, stand firm and be a witness for righteousness in your world. Be willing to take the abuse that John the Baptist took. Be willing to take the abuse that Jesus took, the abuse of misunderstanding. Be willing to live for God. Finally, rejoice in your future that some day you will hear that new music and sing to God and to the lamb.