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THERE AM I WITH TMEM

Matthew 18:18-18:20
Key Verse: 18:19,20

Thank God for his amazing love that he cancelled all our debts in the Son Jesus Christ. This grace of cancellation has been given us freely, but as for God he had to pay the unspeakable price, the life of his own Son. We thank him for the riches of his glorious grace. May we be able to keep this grace in our hearts every day and practice his mercy on others. We remember our Lord Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Mt 5:6), and the words, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13; 9:7). May God help us to be the merciful because of his mercy and grace.

As we studied, Matthew chapter 18 is about a Christian community. A desirable Christian community contains humbling oneself, serving a little one in his name, preserving a spiritual vessel in the church, praying together and forgiving fellow members. The basis of all these elements of the Christian community is the mercy of God and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we want to think about Jesus’ three consecutive promises, in verses 18-20 in this chapter. May we claim these promises as our own.

First, the promise of earth initiating heaven (18). Look at verse 18. “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Here we see something unusual: earth precedes heaven. Usually heaven comes first. Heaven initiates and influences earth. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the God created the heavens and the earth.” Jesus taught his disciples how they should pray, “…your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In making all the necessary things for the tabernacle, God said to Moses, “Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you” (Ex 25:8) and “See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain” (Ex 25:40). What is in heaven is the original one, and what is on the earth is a copy one. And Micah 1:3 says, “Look! The LORD is coming from his dwelling place; he comes down and treads the high places of the earth.” This is the expression of the LORD’s ruling the earth. God is sitting on a throne in heaven (Rev 4:2-3). He reigns (Isa 52:7).

But here Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” As we studied, Jesus said this when Peter made a confession of Christ. Matthew 16:19 reads, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” In this case Jesus’ promise is about using the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Those who confess that Jesus is Christ can use the keys of the kingdom of heaven. When they use the key on earth preaching the gospel of salvation and praying for the souls, God can work in heaven to open the hearts of those who hear the message. But if they are reluctant to use the key, not preaching the gospel message, God cannot work in heaven. What a tremendous privilege and responsibility a Christian has! It is about the binding or loosing for the kingdom of heaven.

However, in 18:18 Jesus said this after talking about how to deal with a brother who sinned against. The church should protect the spiritual vessel of the church from an unrepentant brother, from giving Satan a foothold. Afterward Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” This concerns a church’s binding and loosing. The word church, in Greek “ekklesia”, appears first in Matthew’s gospel (16:18; 18:17). Jesus is the one who spoke the word “church” first. What a church does matters to God. A church’s direction is very important. God pays attention to what a church does. For example, at the time of the apostles, King Herod had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this pleased people the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also and put him in prison. It was a very discouraging time to Jerusalem church. What was written next in the book? Was God’s rescuing work for Peter written? No. What was written in the book was first what the church did and then how God responded to it. In that discouraging situation what did the church do? Acts 12:5 says, “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” Then what happened? An angel of the Lord appeared to Peter who was sleeping on the prison, woke him up and freed him from the chains. The angel led Peter to come out of the prison safely and let him go. When the church members saw Peter with their own eyes, they could hardly believe what they saw was real. They were astonished (Acts 12:2-16). It was a clear fact that God worked even supernaturally when the church prayed. Obviously the church took the initiative in this work of God. The sovereign God in heaven works according to the prayer of his church on earth. As we pray together as a church, God can move the hearts of U of T students. May we have a strong vessel of prayer in our community. Jesus’ promise in this verse can also certainly be applied to each individual.

Second, the promise regarding two people’s prayer (19). Look at verse 19. “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” As we studied, in Matthew’s gospel the number two is important. When he wrote the names of the twelve disciples, he grouped two by two: Simon and his brother Andrew; James and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot. In chapter 8 Jesus healed two demon-possessed men who came from the tombs to meet him (8:28;33). When two blind men called out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” Jesus touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you”; and their sight was restored (9:27-30). Again, two blind men came to him when Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem to be crucified. When they asked for Jesus’ mercy persistently despite people’s discouragement, Jesus gave them sight (20:29-34). Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work”: In ESV, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil,” in NET, “Two people are better than one, because they can reap more benefit from their labour,” in NLT, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed,” and in MSG, “It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth.” And Ecclesiastes 4:10 says, “If one falls down, his friend can help him up.” It is much more true in prayer. When one is disheartened and disappointed to pray because of some reasons, the other can encourage the partner. In their agreement they can pray together. Here Jesus promises, “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” We find the power of two people’s prayer. It is the meaning of our “two by two” prayer. What a blessing it is if one has a prayer partner! We must not make light of having a prayer partner. There are many partners, such as business partners, walking partners, jogging partners, cooking partners, study partners. But we believe that prayer partners are the best, and the most significant and powerful.

There are many examples of the power of two people’s prayer. In Genesis Isaac and Rebekah prayed together when they had a family problem, that was Rebekah’s bareness. They prayed for twenty years. Then God gave them twin sons. Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter and John were very competitive. But after Jesus’ resurrection, they became prayer coworkers. Acts 3:1 says, “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.” In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were put in prison after doing the gospel work. Then in the prison, about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. Then suddenly there was a violent earthquake. They were not only relieved but also they could have a convert. Especially when the parents pray together for their children, God will surely hear their prayers and work in the hearts and lives of the children.

Third, the promise concerning two or three gathering in Jesus’ name (20). Look at verse 20. “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” It is truly an amazing promise. Who can give such a promise? No human can give such as this. Suppose there are millions groups that gather at the same time in Jesus’ name. How can he be present in each of the group? Humanly it is impossible. But we know that it is possible through the Spirit of our Lord Jesus, that is, the Holy Spirit. This promise shows who Jesus is. He is God, truly God with us.

One condition for his presence is to gather in his name. When we pray together, we are gathering in his name. When we study his words together, we are gathering in his name. When we sing the praise of him together, we are gathering in his name. When we are aware of him in our walk, talk and serving, we are gathering in his name. But since he is invisible, it is very easy to gather together just in visible people’s name, recognizing and praising one another. Human beings are close to themselves and want to gather in their names. In their sinful nature they don’t like God’s name and his presence. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and thus sinned against him, they escaped from God and gathered together hiding themselves among the trees of the garden. They could not gather in God’s name. Cain’s descendants could not come together in the name of the LORD. They boasted their names (Ge 4:23,24). After the fall, it was at the time of Enosh, who was the son of Seth whom God granted Adam and Eve in the place of Abel that people began to call on the name of the LORD (Ge 4:26). When human race was spread again on the earth after the flood, they only wanted to stick together, not being scattered. They attempted to build a city with a tower that would reach to the heavens so that they might make a name for themselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth (Ge 11:4). But God confused their language and scattered them. They could not but stop building the city, so it was called Babel. When human beings gather together in their name, what they do is plotting against God. Psalm 2:1,2 says, “Why do nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.”

When I studied a history of the Christian Church, I realized that even the fundamental problem of the Christian Church is humanism, human-centredness, that is human pride. In the period of the early Christian church the atmosphere of Rome was multi-religion with multi-gods. People made use of the gods for their convenience, their human-centred life. Most people’s belief was relativistic and changeable according to their life situations. So when the Emperor worship was imposed as a matter of life and death, all people yielded it and worshipped the Emperor without much trouble. They could easily compromise not to lose their lives. But the Christians were different. To them Christianity was true and absolute. So they kept their faith, confessing that Jesus is the Christ. They rejected Emperor worship, though it meant their cruel death. They were willing to be martyred for the sake of Jesus’ name. But in the mediaeval period the theological issue was whether the head of the church was Pope or Emperor. In any case Christ was removed. The congregations did not gather in Christ’s name. In Reformation time, even for their salvation they wanted to add human good deeds, not recognizing human beings’ total helplessness in sin. In issue of modern church time was about God’s revelation of the Bible or human reason. They tried to put human reason above all, not acknowledging that human reason also came from God when God created them. In our postmodern time people seemed to ignore even human reason, cherishing human emotions and feelings. Yet, the root is human-centredness, that is humanism. In humanism human beings want to gather in their names.

In light of the Bible and Christian church history we can see that even the church tends to dislike gathering in the name of Christ, not to mention the people of the world. Then how precious a group of two or three coming together in Jesus’ name! When Jesus said, “two or three”, we know that it does not limit the number. It can four or five, etc. We believe that by saying two or three Jesus meant a small group of people. It is easy to think that Jesus can be present only in a big congregation. That’s not true. Jesus can be with a small number of people, even two or three, when they come together in his name.

As we studied, we can come together in his name as we study the word of God together, pray together, sing together, or do services together being aware of him. One UBF staff shepherd said, “One to one is not the meeting of two people but three.” This statement is true based this promise of Jesus. Then how beautiful the one to one Bible study will be! But we should know that when we are humanly too close, we cannot come together in his name. Then Jesus cannot be present in our fellowship. As for parents, it is easy to see and meet with their children in human affection only. We need spiritual discipline to seek him and strive to please him. At each time we should consider him and fix our thoughts on him (Heb 3:1).

Let’s read verse 29 together. “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” How can we measure the blessing of his being with us? Paul says in Romans 8:31, “…If God is for us, who can be against us?” If Jesus is with a certain group of two or three people, the group will be most powerful and nobody can be against them. When Jesus is with the assembly, nothing can be a problem to them. When Jesus said, “…there am I with them,” it means a lot. He will not be present there, just doing nothing. By being with them, he wants to listen; he wants to speak; he wants to intervene. He wants to interfere in every matter in order to help them and bless them. He wants to lead them and serve them. He knows all about us. He holds our present and our future as well. He holds the future of all. He is in control and he holds the future of the world.

Thank God for helping us to study the precious promises of Jesus. May we believe based on these promise that the earth can initiate the heaven, believe the limitless power of two people’s prayer and believe the utmost blessing of two or three coming together in his name, that is, his being with them.

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