Following His Footsteps: “Tenderized” – Matthew 19

Frank PurdueThere are probably only a few of us that remember this face very well. By the mid-1950’s this American business mogul was watching his market share grow in what has been called “the US chicken craze”, as people were incorporating the wondrous bird in recipes of each of the three meals of their day (as well as late night snacks!). Chicken patties were selling at some breakfast outlets, while everything from fried chicken to chicken soup was flying off the shelves of American markets for the second half of the twentieth century. The twenty-first century kept pace with the steady growth of the food market as well. Frank Perdue’s iconic face with its “ironic beak” became famous with his simple phrase: “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken!” Maybe it did, I cannot say. One thing I can say is that Frank knew how to sell chicken. Obviously, he also knew something about marketing in general. He knew that people wanted tender chicken on their table.

I thought it was interesting that he used the word “tender” in that way… that is, until I began to notice that the word is most often used in the English language to denote food of some kind. One of the lesser uses of the term “tender is for an innocent or even naïve person, sometimes poetically referred to as a “tender heart”. I wonder why we associate a tender heart with someone who is young and perhaps inexperienced in life. Truthfully, I think many of us with some mileage on our lives know the answer… as time passes, it is easy to let the problems of your life grow thick callouses on our heart. It is a protection from feeling more pain too easily. Without that protection, it is natural to allow emotional wounds to become memory scars, and as time passes, we can easily let those welts turn to hard places that cover our once “open” heart.

Anyone who has been on the planet for a while knows that life can hurt. People who you trust can let you down. Dreams you pursue may dry up in front of you. Your health can slip away while you are paying attention to other responsibilities. In fact, in the normal process of passing through a year, you may lose a friend or beloved family member to death. A good friend may move to a place inaccessible. Your place of employment may close its doors… none of these things would be “abnormal” – but all of them would hurt deeply. The fact is that life in a fallen world is painful. At the same time, the good news is that the God we serve is well aware of all of the pain – and His Son felt it in His earth ministry. We have been following that time, tracing His steps…

As we traced His sandal prints through the popular ministry around the Sea of Galilee and its environs, we have noted Jesus’ ability to teach crowds and handle conflicts with religious leaders with significant patience and clarity, but in this study the tone will change. The time in the last six months of His ministry (in what is called the Perean Ministry) reflects an even more intense sound, as Jesus knew the time for departure was drawing near. During those months both His skill and His caring heart became more evident as He prepared the disciples for the time after He was gone, and He modeled for them how to handle people when they were in a ministry apart from His physical presence.

Key Principle: Jesus had four powerful ways of communicating a caring heart to His followers as He taught them.

• He knew that with physical pain and sickness it would be hard to focus on ministering in His name – so He healed and comforted people.

• He knew some were offering noise and confusion to God’s revealed truths – so He confronted false teachers.

• He knew that followers could easily become insensitive to other weaker followers – so He corrected them.

• He knew that surrender was what God desired – so He clarified what it meant.

I want to look carefully at each of the four ways Jesus showed His tenderness and caring heart, so that modern disciples can consider how that example will change our way of presenting the Savior in our time. Let’s examine them each, one at a time…

First, Jesus showed a caring heart by touching those in pain and healing them.

Matthew 19:1 When Jesus had finished these words, He departed from Galilee and came into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan; 2 and large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there.

Jesus wasn’t impractical. He knew starving people, people racked with pain and people distracted by loss wouldn’t be able to think about God until their immediate need was met – at least for the moment. He was surrounded by very large crowds, and with them came people with all kinds of pain and needs. Jesus saw them. Jesus healed them. The physical needs were not a DISTRACTION from His ministry, because they were a part of helping people see Him, and know He had the power to transform their lives. When one was healed, the whole crowd gained confidence in the word of the Teacher.

Because we don’t all have a constant empowering to heal doesn’t mean we can learn nothing from the model Jesus left us. A balanced ministry, based on observing carefully Jesus’ model before us, reminds us first that we need to see hurting people. In addition to seeing hurting people, we need to make the effort to touch their lives, and that process cannot be seen as a mere distraction from our teaching and discipleship ministry. It can become a distraction, if we don’t also teach and train – but we must see it with balance. Needy people need Jesus, and they need to see His love from His church.

As we think of Jesus’ healing ministry, we need to recall that people profoundly see the power of the Risen Savior in His church when the church does what is unnatural – and cares for those left behind in the community by a harsh world and its broken emotions. The healing ministry is still very much alive today. Hurting people are not a “drag” on the ministry – they are a reminder of the broken condition we all share. We must touch lives, and we must seek to bring God’s healing to people.

Second, Jesus showed a caring heart by dealt directly with those who were skewing truth while claiming His Word as their basis for doing so.

Matthew 19:3-6 was essentially the record of an argument between Jesus and the Pharisees. Such a passage may not seem, on first glance, an act of love and caring to some of you, so I need to draw it out and explain. If you saw me punching a man in the park down the street from my house, you would probably stop and wonder what happened to me. If you got out of your car and rushed over as I jumped on top of the man and held him down, I am sure you would be asking a question like: “Doc, are you alright?” If I told you that the man attempted to harm the tiny and defenseless children that were playing on that little playground beside the ball field, you would likely step in and help me defend them. At first glance, it looked like I was doing harm. With more investigation, you would stand shoulder to shoulder with me to defend the little ones, and wait for the sheriff’s deputy to arrive. You wouldn’t be embarrassed about my display of violence, you would join it as an overt protection of our community’s children.

In the same way, when you first read the words of Jesus, you can think: “Gee, that doesn’t sound kind!” That means it is time to look closer at the situation. Remember, Jesus could see the enemy of our souls at work behind the physical struggles. His power and insight prompted Him to help people, because He knew what they did not know. He knew the methods of His enemy – and we are sometimes slow to see the devil’s hand behind personality and emotional conflict… because we have become too much children of this world. In Matthew’s account, there were three ways the enemy was attacking, and they were through the voice of religious men – as has often been the case in the history of mankind. How was the enemy attacking?

One method was by his distraction of Jesus’ followers by presenting opposing theologies in an open attempt to equalize false ideas with the truth (19:3-6). Take a look at the example given in the text:

Matthew 19:3 [Some] Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful [for a man] to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created [them] from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, 5 and said, FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’? 6 “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

A tiny bit of historical background is in order here, so that we can approach the question the way Jesus and His first followers would have heard it. There is a context to things we say…

If the day after 9/11 someone asked you in a phone survey about whether you supported airport security profiling, do you think they would have had to explain to you why it may be even considered by a people that love our freedoms as we do? The context of the time would change the way you heard the question. The same is true about the history behind the question posed by the Pharisees…

A generation before Jesus, two popular rabbis – Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai and their respective schools separated over what constituted an appropriate “cause of uncleanness” mentioned in Deuteronomy 24, that made a divorce legitimate. The more liberal school included such heinous acts as “if she burns your dinner” – showing a less than lofty place for marriage in their teaching.

The Pharisees tried to draw Jesus into the theological debate in order to break the rising popularity of Jesus among the crowds. Jesus answered with a direct quote that would have likely caused some to stop following Him, because it didn’t open the door to what some of the people wanted to hear. This was the reason for the test – get people to shy away from the growing movement. We need to be aware that one of the ways the enemy divides believers in a work place is to get them to battle theological points in front of lost people – in order to make the Gospel look confusing.

Another method the enemy uses to distract disciples of Jesus has always been to “adjust” the Biblical story in order to attempt to change people’s memory of the record of God’s intent (19:7-9). This is a more blatant attack on God than the theological one; for that can result from mere lapses in philosophical reasoning. This is the enemy CHANGING GOD’S WORD by making slight adjustments to the record – in an effort to make a BIG CHANGE in what we believe is right or wrong. Look closesly…

Matthew 19:7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND [her] AWAY?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.

Notice several things about the exchange:

The Pharisee used the word “commanded” when Jesus used the word “permitted”. Moses didn’t COMMAND anyone to get a divorce, and neither did God. Yet, the change of that word gives an entirely different look at the Word of God concerning marriage.

You will also notice the Pharisees used the terms “send her away” when the Savior used the word “divorce”. Jesus made clear what they were really talking about. I never cease to be amazed at how people talk about things like “an affair” when what God calls it is “adultery”. We have a habit of making really BAD things sound like ACCEPTABLE things.

One more thing we should notice: The Pharisees assumed the whole case rested on Moses and the Word that was recorded by him; Jesus assumed the important thing was what God put together at the beginning. Moses recorded – but God wrote the Word. They projected the idea that the words of Moses came from the brilliant mind of Moses – but that isn’t true. I am not suggesting Moses wasn’t smart, I am making plain that his writings weren’t his own. The Spirit of God is the author of Scripture, regardless of who the writer was. The standard didn’t begin with Moses – it always began with God. The way God created things is the way He wanted them.

Another important method was to trap believers in one side of a political debate (19:9). Matthew recorded: Matthew 19:9 “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

How is this a political topic? It may help if we set the whole test in context. Herod Antipas the Galilean and Perean King had just stolen his half-brother’s wife and forced a divorce to take her for himself. John the Baptizer spoke out against the divorce and illegal marriage, and John was beheaded. This test, I believe, was to trap Jesus in a similar offense. Jesus didn’t back down. He answered their test with a straightforward claim that those who do EXACTLY what Herod did are WRONG.

Behind theological debate, the second most important way the enemy divides God’s people is in political debate – it is part of the reason he works that angle so much! Jesus took a firm stand based solely on God’s revealed Word. He confronted as a function of caring and loving those who were weak and impressionable.

Confrontation of those who are attempting to confuse believers is not unloving – it is a defense for those who will be led astray. It is a function of love – but must be offered in a loving way. Belligerence isn’t Christian – and it is a constant danger to try to defend while not sounding defensive, to guard without sounding possessive and controlling.

Third, Jesus showed a caring heart by adding sensitivity to His followers concerning commitment to God (19:10). Jesus didn’t only teach crowds and let the disciples watch; He leaned in to the disciples and helped them gain important abilities – and in the area of sensitivity, Jesus also challenged them. One way to help His disciples learn to be sensitive to other followers (a vital skill when they took over leadership later) was to remind them that not everyone has the same immediate ability to do hard things (19:10-12). Matthew recorded:

Matthew 19:10 The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” 11 But He said to them, “Not all men [can] accept this statement, but [only] those to whom it has been given. 12 “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are [also] eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept [this], let him accept [it].”

Without getting deeply tied up in the eunuch issue, just look at the essence of the disciple’s objection. They said: “Master this is hard! Shouldn’t we just tell people not to get married?” Jesus reminded them that there are a variety of people in the Kingdom, and they get to their station in a variety of ways. The end of His statement is this: “You men will need to be patient with the differences in people, because not everyone can endure the same path. That helped them to grasp what some believers don’t seem to ever really understand: Not everyone can do what they can do – so they need to be loving and allow others to learn to follow Christ as God enables them. That isn’t a call to allow people to rest in laziness, but it is a reminder not to put our lives on others. No everyone will do what you would have done – they haven’t lived your life.

Another way to help disciples to be sensitive was to remind them Jesus felt blessing those weakest among them was more important than “displays of dignity” (19:13-14). Children weren’t going to be much help to the ministry of Jesus in the coming months ahead – the Passion week was coming quickly upon Him. Yet, the Master didn’t want to have the children kept away out of some sense of “honor” to Him. Follow what the text revealed:

Matthew 19:13 Then [some] children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 After laying His hands on them, He departed from there.

Jesus was prepared to heal, pray and touch sick children. Many rabbis did not spend time with children, and the disciples were attempting to honor Jesus by keeping them away. Jesus didn’t want personal prestige more than he wanted to touch the hurting – and that was a perfect model for what the men needed to see. Jesus wanted relationship. He loves to be in lives – as messy as they are. God never intended to be caged in a Cathedral, that isn’t the kind of God He is! He told Israel to talk about Him traveling along the roadways, share about Him as they reclined in their houses and tents, and remember Him as they entered the doorway of their home. He is the “Ever-present God” of all of our lives – and He wants to come with us on the daily journey.

Fourth, Jesus showed a caring heart by making clear the truth about commitment to God.

One way He made clear the truth was by stripping away excuses and complications, and making surrender crystal clear (19:16-22).

Matthew 19:16 And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” 17 And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is [only] One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 [Then] he said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR false WITNESS; 19 HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go [and] sell your possessions and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.

When you read the account of the rich man who questioned the Master, it is easy to miss the strikingly different approach the man had to following God than the one Jesus presented.

First, notice the man thought eternal life was based solely on what he could DO – actions to please God. This is at the heart of any religious thinker. Jesus countered with attaining eternal life through what the man surrendered to God’s use – things given to him by God and then yielded back to God. The surrender showed the values system of the man – God’s will above his want. Religious people give up things, one by one, in order to placate God and eventually get an earned reward. Heaven is the earned salary due to the good man in religious terms – but that isn’t what Jesus taught. Jesus told the rich man that eternal life was attained by following God’s Word, but fundamentally this was not just about the man’s actions. Jesus explained it was chiefly about choosing to surrender the things God placed in the life of the man to steward. He needed to recognize his life was not his own, and his things were to be surrendered back to the God Who gave them to him in the first place.

Jesus’ key issue wasn’t how good the man was, but how yielded the man was – that was at the heart of the issue. The fact that the man “went away sadly” helps us grasp something critical – gaining eternal life required surrender, and that was a deliberate act of the man’s will. More than anything we DO for God, the Master said what we yield to God is what makes us part of His Kingdom. I don’t just ask for forgiveness of sins and add Jesus to my insurance policy for the afterlife, I engage Jesus now, and I give Him my life – that was Christ’s command to the rich man.

Second, notice the man spoke of the Kingdom of God as a list of obligations and restrictions. Jesus didn’t see it that way. A few chapters before, Matthew recorded Jesus saying: Matthew 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid [again]; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Jesus’ view of following God wasn’t a heavy set of obligations, but rather an opening to the door of truth! God’s Kingdom wasn’t a “restrictive environment” filled with temptations to be avoided and bitter obligations to be dragged through. The longer I live in an environment where people are convinced that “freedom” is only and always about “being one hundred percent happy one hundred percent of the time”, the more I recognize why people struggle with a godly view of the good life. Let me explain:

Marriage is designed to make us truly fulfilled on a level no other relationship can offer. It is an opportunity, for those who are led by God into it, to open your life to another person in a very unique, personal and intimate way. In a healthy marriage, our husband or wife has access to our deepest feelings and thoughts. Does it take work? Yes! Is it always easy? No! Are you guaranteed that you will feel warmth and happiness, and nothing but, all the days of your marriage? Absolutely not! Yet our marriages are something to treasure, and if they are good ones, they will provide memories of love, laughter and living life that are rich beyond compare.

What was marriage created to symbolize? In the case of Israel, Hosea prophesied the relationship to be a picture of the Father’s love for Israel. In Ephesians, Paul told the first century believers that it was also a picture of Christ and His church. In other words, regardless of which redemption economy you are a part of, marriage was a picture of the union of people and God. The intimate connection of God and man is seen in the delights of a good marriage. It is valued, treasured, desired and cherished.

Jesus saw a walk with His Father in those terms – not in cold, obligatory religious terms. The rich man walked away because he wanted to invest something in this life and get a reward in the next. Jesus wanted him to see that the next was the only one that really mattered in the end. He wanted the man to recognize that God wasn’t asking him to surrender so that he would become less, but so that he could become immeasurably more when God used his life.

Another way Jesus made truth clear was by reminding the disciples that commitment wasn’t only based on men’s abilities (19:23-26). Matthew recorded:

Matthew 19:23 And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard [this], they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 And looking at [them] Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

The disciples grew up in a world where power had money and money had power. The gap between the “haves” and “have nots” was immensely clear in the first century Roman world. The challenge Jesus made to them was that giving up more is often more difficult than giving up less – since we have a sense of self-determination when we have more assets. With more money in the bank, we feel more options are available. Poor people don’t feel the options are available to them, and they set the bar on their expectations much lower. A recent study on “happiness” shared on NPR revealed that most Americans start life with a high “happiness quotient”, only to suffer a “dip” in their middle age period, and then it rises later in life. Most Africans start with a much lower threshold of happiness, and it remains at a lower threshold throughout their life. They have less, and so they expect less. The disciples were confounded – but Jesus reminded them that even our own surrender is made possible by God’s strength. God is at work in my life to direct my will, and to assist me to accomplish the things that honor Him. He won’t FORCE me, but He does actively and powerfully HELP me.

A third way Jesus made the truth clear was by consoling those who felt the sting of sacrifice in their surrender (19:27-30).

Matthew 19:27 Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” 28 And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. 30 “But many [who are] first will be last; and [the] last, first.

It is true that some believers have truly given all they had, and it pains me to think of how badly they were treated. Martyrdom is not a word from the historical past. In the Near East, it is increasingly a word used in sermons among believers in Jesus. They don’t mean “people who blow themselves up”, but rather people who, for the cause of Christ, are violently and brutally handled by a world not worthy of them. Some really give up much. Just remember, we never give up more than God sees.

Step out onto the back porch of your life, and look at what comes next for a moment. As a believer, my Savior is preparing for my life after life. It is hard to understand, but it is powerfully encouraging.

Dr. Larry Petton told this story at a church meeting a few years ago: “Years ago I heard the compelling story of a young pastor whose son was very sick and not expected to live long. Night after night the pastor and his wife would put their boy to bed and say a prayer hoping for a miracle. One evening, the boy looked at his father and said, “Daddy, what does it feel like to die?” The father struggled to speak a word. He said a quick prayer for courage, put his hand on the face of his child and said, “Son, it’s something like this. Night after night you go to sleep on the couch watching your favorite TV shows. You don’t know it, but I find you asleep and come and take you in my arms and place you in the room I built for you with my own hands.” The young pastor could barely finish. “And, son, one of these days…… are going to fall asleep here, but don’t be afraid. Jesus is going to come and pick you up and take you to a special room He has built just for you.” Jesus said, “I go and prepare a place FOR YOU.” (John 14:1-6). That man tearfully shared truth – and faced both the pain and joy of it!”

How thankful we are that our Savior had four powerful ways of communicating a caring heart to His followers as He taught them.

• Healing and comforting people.
• Protecting the weak by confronting false teachers.
• Teaching sensitivity by correcting followers.
• Recalling that surrender was essential by clarifying its importance.

Stop now and reflect on how well we are duplicating the model. Do we make comforting people a priority of our work? Do we clearly articulate truth so that weak ones will not be entangled by those who teach falsely? Do we value one another enough to get involved in one another’s lives? Do we take every blessing and consume it on ourselves? We honor Jesus best who imitate the Savior most.