In Matthew 12, Jesus encountered a growing storm of controversy. The crowds around Him were swelling to thousands and tens of thousands in size, and at the same time there was a plot in motion to kill Him because He kept healing people and increasing in popularity.
Jesus did not stop healing people. In fact, verse 15 says that He healed ALL who were ill! That is actually an increase in the healings that He was doing! But He STERNLY warned those whom He healed not to tell others about Him.
He wasn’t saying, “Pretend you’re still blind,” or “If you’ve been lame, walk around only when no one is looking.” And He wasn’t saying, “Don’t thank God or give Him glory for your healing.” But He WAS saying, “Don’t identify Me as your healer!”
Why would He give them that command?!?
Matthew answers the question: This was to fulfill Isaiah’s three-part prophecy.
- First, Jesus would be very delightful to God and Spirit-empowered!
- Second, He would NOT be involved in calling for demonstrations or speeches in the streets to whip up the crowds.
- Third, He would be motivated by gentleness and tenderness toward those who were bruised and about ready to break.
This absolutely unique combination of traits would be the proof that this person was the Messiah!
Before Jesus, many had charisma and yet sought to overthrow the Romans or whoever was in power at the time. Others were characterized by gentleness and kindness but didn’t demonstrate the power of God in their lives. But in what one person were all three of these traits found?
Basically this prophecy said that if you find someone who is so blessed by God that miracles flow from Him, yet so disinterested in politics and power that He would take no part in it, and at the same time filled with compassion and gentleness toward people who were at the end of their rope — that EXTREMELY specific set of traits would identify the Messiah.
The second criteria in that group of three traits is the beginning of a very important understanding for us today.
Jesus does not do His work by the escalation of confrontation.
That is man’s way of doing things! Because we are limited in our power, and deep in our hearts we feel inadequate in many ways, we seek to form alliances with others so that our sheer numbers will be able to accomplish what our individual weakness cannot.
For this reason, even those of us who love Jesus are often tempted to conspire with others and try to get them to join our cause. We humans subtly question those around us to see who we can win to our side, and in extreme cases, we specialize in secret meetings or hidden conversations as we make our plans.
Church splits happen that way, and churches are destroyed that way. In fact, it is not the storm outside the boat that sinks us; it is the storm inside the boat.
Some people are SO CONVINCED of being right that they feel things MUST turn out their way. But deep inside they are afraid that the situation will not turn out well for them unless they can get others on their side. Seeking this strength in numbers, they resort to “making a few calls” or “just coincidentally” having a parking-lot conversation or two.
Because they honestly feel that their viewpoint is the right one, they start framing their argument as a prayer request. I have known situations in which someone dialed everyone in the entire church directory with their “prayer request” (except, of course, those holding the opposing view!).
The Matthew 12 passage tells us that Jesus was completely different from us in this regard.
When He would perform mighty acts (which might look to others like He was raising an army of revolutionaries), He would tell them not to tell ANYONE what He had done.
He would send the crowds away. He would escape from them by boat in dramatic, middle-of-the-night departures, even to the point of braving violent storms on the sea to do so.
When they tried to take Him by force and make Him king, He withdrew from their entire region.
Why?!? He actually WAS their king, after all, and He actually DID want to rescue them, didn’t He?
So why not rely upon the power of momentum or popularity? Because Jesus does not need that strategy!
He doesn’t lack power, and so He never operates out of a feeling of inadequacy. ALL BY HIMSELF, He has all the power needed to do whatever His Father wants done.
And He is very stern in insisting that we follow HIS way, instead of our own way.
Jesus rejects the method of “us versus them,” because He came to SAVE whoever we might call “them,” not to alienate them.
“LOVE your enemies,” He said. “PRAY for them! Bless them, and do NOT curse them. Do GOOD to those who are spiteful and use you.”
In other words, break up the groups and factions that start to develop among you by walking across the room and holding out your hand.
Jesus could not have said it more plainly: BLESSED are people who decide to be peacemakers!
And the opposite side of the coin is this: God is CLEARLY against people who divide their churches into groups of differing opinions. He commanded us through Paul, “Warn a divisive person once; warn them a second time, and then have NOTHING to do with them! You can be SURE (in case we were wondering), that such a person is warped and sinful.” In fact, He declares that “They are SELF-condemned” (Titus 3:10).
THINK OF IT! There is a sin that has a three-strikes-and-you’re-out stipulation!! Doesn’t this tell us how much God hates division? If your sin is drunkenness, you may find yourself getting drunk 5 or 8 or 10 times before you finally are able to give that sin over to God and stop doing it. It may be a long journey for you, but God is patient! If your sin is pride, you may battle it internally for a long period of time until the Lord sanctifies you and does away with your pride. And the entire time, the church family is still your home, and you are not in danger of being removed.
But if your sin is causing division, it is so damaging to the body of believers that there is a STRICT LIMIT on how many warnings you are to receive before you are quarantined from the church body and no longer allowed to infect them with your divisiveness.
Imagine how different the local church environment would be if the leaders of the church obeyed this command and said to the church bosses (who had been controlling things for decades by gathering their little groups to oppose what they don’t like), “We have warned you formally about this two previous times, and you have done it again. From this point, we will have NOTHING to do with you. You are not welcome here. According to the Bible, you are warped and sinful for insisting on getting your own way through dividing the congregation, and you have condemned yourself to this punishment!”
I have known of a few cases like this, where the leaders of the church have, with courage in hand, taken the step that should have been taken years before.
- They had to face the towering rage of the bullies that had controlled the church for years.
- They had to ignore the lies that “everyone in the church will leave, and you will be ruined!”
- They had to do the right thing despite mutterings about lawsuits and rumors spread about them around town.
- They had to trust God for the financial survival of the church.
- They had to truly cling to their faith that God would bless the church for taking the right step, even if it would be hard for a while.
But because of their courage, the church experienced a profound change and became a lighthouse of hope and godliness in the community again!
New people began to visit the church — and stay! And others who had left the church in sorrow returned in joy. A new day of health and unity had begun, and the dire predictions of the divisive people were proven to be empty threats, because GOD blessed His church.
Church leaders, you love the people of the church, and you desire to see everyone blessed. In some cases, you try to patiently look the other way as someone in the church frustrates the elders’ agenda and ruins momentum time after time after time.
But the truth is this: a vision plus a vision is a division. When others in the church always insist on a different vision than God has given to those He has chosen to lead the church, they are sowing division. By their fruits you will know them.
I encourage you to obey the Lord’s Word where He says that after two solemn warnings, you are to have nothing further to do with those people. I encourage you to follow the Lord’s example of side-stepping those times when someone else’s agenda is brought out in an attempt to change the one that the Father has given to you.
You won’t always get this right, and you may occasionally wish that you had done something a bit differently, but you will contribute to the long-term peace and blessing that God wants to give your church when you don’t encourage church dividers!!