May 25, 2011

"He Must Increase And I Must Decrease!" My Son's First Sermon

Caravaggio, The Calling of St Matthew

Tonight, my wife and I had the unparalleled privilege of hearing our son, Matthew, open the Word of God and preach to his peers. This 16-year-old explained the Word of God with conviction and in a compelling manner, interacting with the historical background of the text, using appropriate illustrations to draw his listeners closer to the truth, and citing relevant supporting biblical texts copiously.

The point of Matthew's sermon, developed out of John 3:22ff, was that we must humble ourselves and exalt Christ entirely with our lives. Fallen humanity naturally desires to lift up itself, but God calls us to a different way of life. John the Baptist had a vibrant and popular ministry, but after Jesus came on the scene the crowds began to diminish. Unlike us, John was not bothered that somebody else was more successful and eclipsed him. John understood that the ministry of Jesus, the Son of God, was most important. Jesus Christ is God Himself and He deserves all the glory. "He must increase and I must decrease!"

Drawing on Ecclesiastes, Matthew showed how all human efforts are ultimately vain. The things that will last forever all come from God as divine gift, and should thus all be focused on God's glory. Drawing on the Gospel of Luke, chapter 17, he pointed out that we must see ourselves as mere servants of Christ and simply be happy with doing God's will as our reward. Everything we have in this life, including the Christian's ministry, is a gift of God, and we must use everything with all our effort for God's glory. He must increase and we must decrease!

Matthew concluded by calling on us to apply this truth in our lives in five ways: 1) confessing and repenting of all known sin, 2) getting rid of every questionable habit, 3) confessing Jesus Christ to others, 4) obeying every prompting of the Holy Spirit immediately, and 5) encouraging God's work in the lives of other people. Too often, we do not encourage the ministries of others, but we should. Not only must we increase Christ in our lives but we must help others see and reflect God's glory in their lives. This multiplies the increase of His glory, while we properly decrease!

They were all speaking well of Him and were amazed by the gracious words that came from His mouth, yet they said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22)

When Jesus preached His first public sermon, people were amazed that this one who could preach with such authority came from the home of a simple carpenter. They knew Joseph, who they assumed was Jesus' earthly father (though He was actually born of a virgin and God was His Father by generation), and they could not understand how Jesus had gained such teaching authority.

Honestly, when I heard my son preach for the first time, I was personally shocked. My own first sermon was nowhere near the level of rhetorical and theological subtlety of my own son's first effort. Where did this come from, except God?! Matthew is still in the process of discerning God's particular vocation for his life, and his parents pray that he will follow wherever God leads him. However, Matthew's father is very proud of his son's depth of biblical devotion and he is amazed at how fluent of a speaker his son is.

Matthew, our heavenly Father in Christ is pleased when His prophets speak His Word with clarity, and your earthly father is pleased that our heavenly Father has chosen to gift you with lips ready to proclaim His Word. You were named for a Gospel writer (Matthew) and for a Gospel theologian (James Leo Garrett), and you have reflected well on both men, but you reflected best the desire of your heart to exalt God alone. Never stop doing that! Always give Christ the honor!

He must increase and I must decrease? Indeed!
Soli deo gloria