Something in Return - Matthew 7:12

Some years ago, an article was posted on the website of the business magazine Fast Company discussing how employees respond to change. Business consultant Rodger Dean Duncan argues that when leaders announce changes, their approach is often to simply say “Here’s what we’re doing,” without considering how the employees will feel about it. And in doing so, Duncan says that the leader fails to consider an important reality. He writes, “When confronted with change, most people tune in to their favorite internal radio station: W-I-I-F-M–What’s In It – For Me?” Have you ever tuned in to that station? Have you ever done good for someone else and thought, “What am I going to get out of this?”

 
Something in Return - Matthew 7:12
 

“Where is the payoff for me?” “What will I get in return?” Of course, you have. We naturally do good for others with an expectation of something in return. At least a “thank you,” right? At the very least, some recognition or credit. However, when God redeems us by the blood of Christ, he saves us so that we can do good for others without it being in a constant tradeoff. It turns out there are other – better – reasons for doing good. So, we should go about our lives doing good without requiring something from others. Maybe you’re wondering, “Ok, well, then why do good?”

In 2 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul says this: [14] “…the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; [15] and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Paul refers to what we sometimes call the “work” or the “finished work” of Christ. That finished work of Christ is why we should do good. But even though you may believe in the finished work of Jesus, and even though you perhaps have saving trust in Jesus, when you’re honest with yourself, you must admit that the nagging question remains; the harassing thought keeps coming back: “Shouldn’t I get something in return for the good that I do?

How can we move past that and live the selfless life God calls us to live? On page 6 of your Worship Guide, two things are listed from verse 12 related to the finished work of Jesus. What is in view is Jesus’ work as the mediator of the New Covenant or “peace treaty”between God and his people. Earlier in worship as we proclaimed together what we believe, we read a wonderful summary of the Bible’s teaching on Christ our Mediator. A mediator is a middle-man between two parties who interacts directly with each party on behalf of the other. Jesus mediates the relationship between the believer and the one true God, and when we find ourselves tuning into W-I-I-F-M as we do good for others, we should reflect on the actions of Christ as Mediator’s toward us and toward God. Keep in mind that not only does Jesus represent us to God, but he represents God to us.

Notice Jesus begins verse 12 with the word “So” which also could be written as “Therefore.” Anytime we see that, we know that the previously words are essential for our understanding. Here, Jesus seems to refer not just to the verses immediately before verse 12, but to the whole Sermon on the Mount, which began back in chapter 5. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says [17] “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Jesus came to fulfill all the promises made to God’s people and all the laws required of them. After that statement, Jesus goes on for 2 chapters explaining what it takes to fulfill the law. What we learn is that none of us does it perfectly. Yet Jesus began by saying he came to do it. Matt. 5:17 and Matt. 7:12 form bookends, both referencing “the Law and the Prophets.”

At the start we learn that Jesus came to fulfills this, and at the end we learn that we must abide by it according to this summary statement: “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” You may recognize that as “the Golden Rule,” a widely-embraced saying. Interestingly, scholars have found something like the Golden Rule in early first-century Jewish writings. But the difference is that the idea in Judaism is stated this way: “What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else. This is the whole law.” Jesus turns that idea, which they stated negatively, into a positive. The statement in Judaism dealt only with not doing bad things. Jesus is concerned with that, but also, with doing good things, which makes sense because God’s law isn’t concerned only with what we should not be doing. We should be proactively loving God and loving our neighbors.

In chapters 5, 6, and 7, Jesus basically leveled everyone; he left no one with the allusion that he or she had kept God’s whole moral law. And his statement here boils down to this: do you only do for others what you want them to do for you? Do you only speak to people the way you want them to speak to you? Do you only act toward others the way you want them to act toward you? Do you only think thoughts about others that reflect how you want them to think about you? No, you don’t. Neither do I. That is a major point made by Jesus in the preceding chapters.

You don’t think you’re a murderer, but you have murderous hate in your heart. You don’t think you’re an adulterer, but you have adulterous lust in your heart. Sure, the consequences of the thought and the act are different, but either way, you a sinner. No one is righteous, not even one. No one keeps the law. And for that reason, we cannot represent ourselves in the presence of a holy God. From the time sin entered the world, it separated God from man. Our consciences may be seared and deformed by our sinful natures and the sinful world we live in, but God’s standard of holiness has never changed. So, we need a mediator between us and God.

When has someone done you wrong in some way, and you longed for justice? You wanted a sincere apology, but a pound of flesh probably sounded good as well. Maybe you wanted vengeance – for the person to get a punishment that fit the crime. And perhaps justice was not served. I don’t know your situation. But no matter what, the person couldn’t go back and undo what he or she did to you. You must absorb the pain of that. Forgiveness doesn’t magically change the past. And it is the same between us and God. Justice must be served, for our God is a just God. In his mercy and grace, God supplies a mediator to accomplish that justice.

Moses mediated the relationship between God and the people at Mt. Sinai, when God gave the 10 commandments and the rest of the law. Afterwards, the priests mediated the relationship as they approached God for the people and made atoning sacrifices on their behalf. But none were perfect mediators. Jesus, however, is that perfect mediator. What did Jesus do toward us as our Mediator? Well, by his perfect obedience (living a perfect life), and by the sacrifice of himself, he made us acceptable to enter again into the presence of God. He took the just punishment for sin to bring us to God, to escort us into God’s holy presence. Listen again: “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” What did Jesus do for us? He laid down his life. What does Jesus want us to do for him? Lay down our lives.

We should view Jesus as having already done for us everything he wants us to do for him. He lived a holy life, brought glory to God in all that he did, and did good for others without expecting anything in return. And Jesus did these things preemptively. He obviously doesn’t require equal payment in return. I mean, even as his followers, look at how we live! Look at how we speak and think! Look at our true priorities and our true loves. Do you demand something in return for the good you’ve done for someone? Then reflect on Christ’s actions toward you as your Mediator.

But reflect also on what Jesus has done toward God as our Mediator. In this second half of verse 12, Jesus says, “for this is the Law and the Prophets.” I remember seeing the Golden Rule posted on the wall in school when I was a child. But I don’t remember those words following it. Many religions make similar statements,

but when Jesus adds these words, the meaning changes, in a sense. See, “the Law and the Prophets,” is biblical terminology. To Jesus and his listeners at that time, it meant “the revealed will of God” or “the summary of God’s revealed will.” It essentially means “the Old Testament” though at the time Jesus was saying these things there was not yet a “New Testament.” The Old Testament was their Bible; Jesus refers to their whole Bible.

The Mediator tells them that the Old Testament – the guidebook, if you will, on how to approach God and be accepted by him – is summed up by this Golden Rule. And for that reason, we should not dismiss the Golden Rule as an unattainable goal.

The moral law of God has great benefit for us. Not only does it show us God’s righteousness and our sin, but it preserves good in the world because it compels people to do right, and also, the moral law guides believers in how to obey and glorify God. Don’t take anything I’ve said as a license to give up striving to obey the Lord.

Just give us striving to obey him as the way to save yourself. Trust in Jesus alone for that. Now, you might have heard or read somewhere that some people disagree with our view of Jesus as mediator. They say, “Jesus didn’t see himself that way. He was just a teacher. The apostle Paul and the early church developed that idea.”

But let’s look at what we understand to be the earliest gospel written, the gospel of Mark, chapter 14, which describes the Passover meal where our Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus. It says, [22] as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” [23] And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. [24] And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.

Jesus’ statement about blood and covenant are so important here. They harken back to Exodus 24 in the Old Testament – embedded in the Law and the prophets. The covenant of grace made with Abraham in the book of Genesis was given clearer expression at Mt. Sinai through the giving of the 10 commandments and the whole law, and the covenant was ratified or accepted at that time by the people of Israel.

Animals had been sacrificed at Sinai, with blood shed, reflecting the shedding of blood at the initial making of the covenant with Abraham. And Exodus 24 then says, [8] Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

The blood signified the cleansing from sin that must take place for a person to enter the covenant relationship with God – and as a side note, not everyone who got blood on them had true faith in God. They were members of the covenant community.

Also, the blood underscored that the ultimately penalty for breaking the covenant was death. Some of them would be covenant keepers, some covenant breakers. Now in Mark 14, in what I read from the Lord’s supper, Jesus changes the words of Moses in Exodus 24. Did you catch the change? He says, “This is my blood of the covenant.” Jesus knew full well and communicated clearly that he was the mediator of the covenant. Now, why was his blood required? Why all the shedding of blood?

Leviticus 17, also Old Testament, God says [11] For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sins. In Jesus’ work as our mediator, he offered to God the perfect sacrifice of himself to fully satisfy the justice of the Father and he atoned for our sins and secured our forgiveness. He effectively shielded us from the wrath of the one true holy God. We could not make such an offering to God for ourselves. When Paul says in 2 Corinthians that “one has died, and therefore all died,” he means that it is as if those who trust in Jesus the mediator died with Jesus on the cross, and therefore, his sufficient payment for sin is our payment.

We have this astounding union with Jesus by faith. He interacts with God for us. So, you don’t need an earthly priest to confess your sins to God. Jesus is your priest. In accordance with what is clear throughout the New Testament, I’m a pastor, not a priest. There is a priestly aspect to what I do as I care for God’s people and lead us in worship, but only Jesus has made a sacrifice for you, only Jesus receives your prayers and confessions, only Jesus is the mediator between you and God. On Jesus fulfilled the Golden Rule for you. Do you think you’re too wretched for God the Father to deal with you directly? Well, you’re right – you are! Yet in his mercy and grace, he sent his Son to deal with you,

to perform the work of Mediator. And now those who are born again find ourselves not only forgiven by God, but made righteous in God’s eyes through Jesus’ obedient record; and what’s more, we are adopted as his children. John 1 says, [12] to all who received (Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” When we reflect on these things – on the status Jesus has secured with God for us – the need to receive credit for our good deeds begins to fade. It practically vanishes. Why would we need something in return when we already have everything in Jesus Christ? Adopted into the family of God, blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ, our future with God sealed, the Holy Spirit within us confirming it to be so.

Are you confident that these things are your own? Have you embraced Jesus as your mediator? In eternity, we need God to protect us from God. You heard that right.
How can that be? R.A. Finlayson made a statement that is helpful here. Finlayson was a theology teacher, and a great Reformed writer and minister in Scotland. He’s well-known for having said this: “Hell is eternity in the presence of God.” You heard that correctly, but that’s not the whole statement. Listen closely. “Hell is eternity in the presence of God. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God with a mediator.”

1 Timothy 2 says, [5] “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” In eternity, there are two types of people:

those who trust in the righteousness of Jesus, and those who trust in their own righteousness. Friends, your righteousness and my righteousness will be no place of safety before the judgment seat of almighty God. 2 Thessalonians 1 says that those without Jesus, “[9] will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” In that sense, God is absent from hell. But remember that one of God’s attributes is his omnipresence. He is, by definition, everywhere all the time. Hell does not belong to Satan. Satan does not run hell. Hell is the wrath of God against sin. Jesus absorbed that wrath for us; that is why he suffered so on the cross. He is the only perfect mediator. Turn from your sin, cry out to God and trust in him today.

Let’s pray together.