Sunday, March 21, 2010

Thursday: A Supper Together

(Matthew 26:17-30; 31-57)

A. Introduction

  1. Gethsemane, Gethsemane go to dark Gethsemane. Thursday of Holy Week ends with Jesus being arrested. How did we get there? In one of the holiest weeks of the Jewish calendar, how did the story seem to come so abruptly to an end? And what does it tell us about what kind of king Jesus was? About what kind of kingdom he was ushering in? And what is expected of his subjects?

B. Body

  1. Mark begins the story this way: (14.12-13) On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover’? So he sent his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you, follow him…’ Where do you want us to make preparations for the Passover?
  2. The Passover. Recall that over a thousand years earlier, God had sent Moses to Pharaoh to demand that he set the people of Israel free, “Let my People Go.” but Pharaoh refused. Over and over again he refused. God sent plague after plague, pests, turning the water blood red, hail that destroyed crops and killed livestock. “Let my people go.” But Pharaoh refused. Finally, the tenth plague would convince Pharaoh. It would kill every first born in Egypt. But God instructed the children of Israel to take a lamb for each household and slaughter it at twilight for a meal to be eaten in haste. Then they were to take some of the blood and put it on the doorposts and on the lintel of the house in which they ate the meal. The Angel of Death would then pass over the houses, pass over the houses, where the blood had been placed on the doorposts and lintel. They were to eat their meal in readiness to depart, with their loins girded, sandals on their feet, staff in hand. No time to let the bread rise. They were to eat unleavened bread. Then God instructed the children of Israel that they would observe this meal, this festival on the appointed day in perpetuity to remember the mighty acts of God in delivering the children of Israel from slavery to freedom. Now was the appointed time. Thursday evening, this particular week was the appointed time that all the children of Israel, Jesus and the disciples included, were called to observe the Passover. It just happened to be their last supper together.
  3. So, what might the Last Supper have looked like? Here’s the traditional Davinci depiction. We don’t think there is much right in the picture. First of all he shows it as daylight. We know that it was night. More important is the seating arrangement. Archeologists have found Mosaics in Galilee depicting what is called a “triclinium,” a common Greek and Roman seating arrangement, also we believe used in better Jewish homes. Here’s a picture of a typical Roman meal being served at a triclinium. Note there are cushions rather than chairs. It was convenient for serving and for talking across the table. It explains a lot of things in the Biblical narrative that can’t be understood if we have Davinci’s picture in mind.
    1. First, the host does not sit in the middle. This is probably the seating arrangement. We know where Jesus and at least three of his disciples were seated from the Biblical narrative. The host position is position one. Jesus would have sat here resting on his left elbow or hand if the cushion was lower, feet to the rear, eating with his right hand. John, the youngest, and one who might have helped with the meal or to rise and greet guests would have been seated in position 2, and we think Peter would have been here.
    2. Listen to this exchange in the Gospel of John (13:21-26 RSV) When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, (We believe John called himself, “The disciple whom Jesus loved) was lying close to the breast of Jesus; (do you see how John here, was lying close to the breast of Jesus?) so Simon Peter beckoned to him (do you see how that would work?) beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.” So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.” (Now position 3 was the most honored position. It is the position that the host would normally serve. So who was it in the most honored position at the last supper? Judas. Continuing.) When he dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscarot.” (Interesting isn’t it that Jesus has placed Judas in the most honored position at the table. I’ll let you ponder that.)
  4. So how important is the conversation that took place around this table that night? Well, the Gospel of John spends four and half chapters on it. You may recall the events: Jesus washing the feet of the disciples; Jesus reassuring the disciples by telling them, “In my father’s house are many mansions”; Jesus giving a new commandment “that you love one another”; Jesus telling the parable of the vine and the branches, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them will bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing”; then Jesus says he will ask the Father to give them the gift of the Holy Spirit to be with them forever; and then he ends the conversation around the table with a prayer for his disciples. Interesting, the Gospel of John really doesn’t talk about what we call “the Last Supper.” He has talked about the body and blood of Christ after the feeding of the 5000. We find the institution of the Last Supper in the first three Gospels and in 1 Corinthians.
  5. So what did he teach us that night? Lots of conversation in John that goes to the heart of Jesus’ love for us.
    1. The Thursday of Holy Week is called Maunday Thursday. Maunday, from the Latin root of mandate and command. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. Even as I have loved you, that you have love for one another. By this you will be known as my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
    2. His second teaching took place in the washing of feet. (John 13:12-15) 12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” So the second thing he taught us is to follow his example and serve one another.
    3. Then Jesus tells them, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Love one another, serve one another, love Christ by keeping his commandments.
    4. The final teaching comes from the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke tells us that as Jesus prays, he prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Submission, not my will but yours, God’s be done.
    5. So Jesus teaches us to love one another, to serve one another, to love him by keeping his commandments and to love God by submitting to his will. Not my will but thine be done.’
  6. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And on that night he told us, “Do this, as often as you will, in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor 11:25) The command is to remember, to take, eat, drink as often as you will in remembrance of me. To recall the mighty acts of God in Jesus Christ, to proclaim the Lord’s death until he returns.
    1. On that night as they shared the Passover together, Jesus redefined the meaning of the Passover meal in terms of the New Covenant. He took bread and after blessing it, broke and gave it to his disciples saying, “This is my body given for you.” Christ presenting himself as the substitute for the Passover lamb. The Passover lamb had been given to redeem the first born. Jesus was now giving himself as the Passover lamb. Redeeming us, the first born in God’s eyes, redeeming all of us.
    2. And in the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This is my blood of new covenant, poured out for you.” Never again would a death be required for the forgiveness of sins. Christ defining a new covenant of his love for us.
    3. The Passover feast, the Old Covenant remembrance of God’s mighty acts in delivering the children of Israel from physical slavery to freedom.
    4. The Passover, now transformed into what we call The Communion, the Eucharist, The Great Thanksgiving, the Last Supper as remembrance of God’s mighty acts in Jesus Christ delivering us from slavery to sin to eternal freedom, life everlasting.
    5. “Do this in remembrance of me.”

C. Close

  1. As Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he follows by asking the Father to give them the gift of the Holy Spirit. God will not leave us alone. It is the Holy Spirit that binds us together as the body of Christ. We are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God (Eph 2:22) Paul told the Corinthians (1 Cor 10:16) “This cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread that we break a sharing in the body of Christ?”
  2. The Greek word used here for sharing is koinonia, or fellowship, communion, joining together. Communion is more than an individual act, it is an act of joining with the body of Christ in remembrance of this mighty act of salvation, his body broken for us, his blood poured out for us. It is an act of sharing with the community of believers, all of us coming together with Christ, our Rock, our Redeemer.
  3. As we come to the table today, let us remember, yes, that Christ died for us, but that it is also the remembrance of the fellowship of believers that are remembering and joining together as Christ’s body on earth, joining together as the heart and hands of Christ bringing eternal hope to others, being obedient to Christ, loving one another, serving the world around us, submitting to the will of God. So may it be in all of our lives. Amen.

D. (At the Table)

  1. So, what kind of king is this? One who will do anything, go to any lengths to save his subjects.
  2. What kind of kingdom is he ushering in? One in which we are called to love one another, to join together in fellowship to be his body one earth.
  3. And what does he expect of his subjects? “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The Table is set.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wednesday: Love and Betrayal

(Matthew 26:1-16)

A. Introduction

  1. Judas must have been livid. A woman of the city. Costly ointment. Three hundred denari, a year’s wages. (By contrast, the 30 pieces of silver that Judas was to receive for ultimate betrayal was but three month’s wages.) He must have been livid. Matthew tells us that the disciples complained that it could have been used to help the poor. The gospel of John also tells us that it was Judas that complained and that he was a thief and that he stole from the common purse that he was entrusted to keep. The poor indeed.
  2. But there may have been more to it. Let’s look at it from Judas’ perspective. Jesus had obviously gone off the deep end. Hadn’t Peter declared him Messiah, the Christ, when we were in Caesarea Philippi? And hadn’t Jesus declared himself so when he entered Jerusalem on a donkey three days ago? Remember, he declared himself the Jewish Messiah.
    1. And where are we now? At the home of a leper. A leper. Unclean, Unclean.
    2. And now a woman touches him in public. We don’t even know who this woman is. And the costly ointment, 300 denari, can you believe it? And what does Jesus say? “By pouring ointment on my body she is preparing me for burial.” If He’s the Messiah, he’s got to get over this fatalistic stuff and get on with the business of overthrowing Rome. Hated Rome. We could be using the 300 denari for our army.
    3. All this is enough to send a person to the chief priests.

B. Body

  1. Let’s go back. It’s Wednesday of Holy Week. Matthew tells us that Jesus’ public teaching is over. He says, “After Jesus finished saying all these things.” All. All these things. Say all. All will be a byword today. The book of Matthew is divided into five teaching segments. After each of the first four, say, following the Sermon on the Mount, it transitions by saying, “After Jesus had finished saying these things.” Here, after the final teachings, it says, “After Jesus had finished saying ALL of these things.” He had finished his teaching sometime Tuesday evening or maybe Wednesday.
  2. But the rest of Wednesday is a drama. And the scenes of the drama move rapidly from one to another. Scene 1: I see Jesus and his disciples leaving the Temple, leaving Jerusalem, and walking to Bethany. On the way, Jesus reminds them of what he had told them in Caesarea Philippi, “You know that after two days, the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
    1. Now you need to understand that Judas wasn’t alone in not understanding what Jesus was saying. None of them did. For them, this was the Messiah, the Christ, the one who would restore the majesty of Israel. The disciples didn’t understand what kind of king this was.
    2. You think I’m wrong? After the resurrection, after the resurrection, they still didn’t get it. After 40 days, they still didn’t get it. In the first chapter of the book of Acts, Jesus is ready to ascend to the Father, and what do the disciples say? “Lord, is this the time you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” And they didn’t understand what kind of kingdom he was ushering in?
    3. No wonder Judas missed the boat. None of them got it. “You know after two days, the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
  3. The scene changes quickly to the palace of the High Priest, Caiaphas. 4 and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.” (Mt 26:4-5) Little did they know that Judas would arrive later in the evening and accelerate their plans. And while all of the drama is playing out privately, we can see the scenes of the drama: Jesus teaching his disciples privately; the Scribes and elders conspiring privately; and Judas, conspiring in his heart privately.
  4. Now the scene shifts to two miles away, to the town of Bethany and the home of Simon the leper.
    1. We don’t know who this Simon is. Remember now, hundreds of thousands of people came to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. They depended on the hospitality of the locals for room and board. Possibly, Jesus was staying at the house of Simon the Leper.
    2. Only Jesus would have stayed at the house of a leper. Unclean. Unclean. Not only were lepers ritually unclean, the disease was thought to be God’s punishment for their sin, and that sin could enter others by touching them. Not only were they ritually unclean, leprosy was a terrible disease. If a man was named, say Simon the Leper, by his condition, this was probably the real deal. There was no doubt it was Hansen’s disease leading to fear, isolation, the deprivation of human contact, and finally death. Only Jesus would have stayed at the house of a leper.
    3. In our time, AIDS is the new leprosy, especially 25 years ago, when it was new. Fear, isolation, deprivation of human contact (remember Ryan White?), then death. Mother Teresa, like no other person, was the heart and hands of Jesus to the AIDS community. Not only did she run real leper colonies in India, she was the first to set up an AIDS hospice mission in New York City called the “Gift of Love.” Juan, one of those cared for is dying. There’s a stirring at the the hospice, at the Gift of Love. Mother Teresa is in town, in New York, and she’s coming to visit. The old nun with the bad heart climbs three flights of stairs to enter Juan’s room. Mother Teresa touches him, “You are going to Jesus, Juan,” she says. “And when you arrive, there will be a great welcome for you. God loves you, you know.” She clasps his willing hand. “When you get to Jesus, Juan, tell him that I love you, the sisters love you, the volunteers and the patients love you. He will know that you have much love.” (“Readers Digest,” December 1987, p 246)
      Only Jesus would choose to stay at the house of a leper.
  5. And then there was the woman in our story. Hear it from the Gospel of Matthew: while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. 8 But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? 9 For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” (Mt 26:10-13)
    1. Here it is, Jesus’ final night of freedom—tomorrow night he’ll be taken from the Garden of Gethsemane in chains. His final night of freedom and he receives the most extravagant gift of love that this woman knows how to give. Extravagant love, extravagant generosity, so much so that we are still talking about it today. “Whenever this story, whenever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
  6. Jesus explains to them and to us. “The poor will always be with you.” There will always be opportunities to serve; but when the opportunity comes to show great love, it may be a once in a lifetime opportunity. This woman didn’t miss her chance to show great love.
  7. Judas missed it. Another change in scene. John would say it was a dark scene. It was night. It was the blackest act in the history of the world. “14 Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.” (Mt 26:14-16) Mark says when the Chief priests heard it, they were greatly pleased.
  8. On the heal of extravagant love, incredible betrayal. Judas. I want to spend some time talking about Judas. It’s important. It’s important to us.
    1. Why did he choose as he did? Why did he do it? Was it predestined? And was he predestined to eternal damnation? It’s important to us to ask. Because if that’s the nature of God, what about us? Could we be condemned, could we be outside of God’s love?
    2. I will tell you from the outset. NOT. That is not the nature of God. You see the nature of God in this woman with the costly ointment. You see the nature of God in Mother Teresa. You see the nature of God in Jesus. No one is outside of the love of God. No one. So, what is the truth about Judas?
  9. First, it was not God’s will that Judas chose to betray Jesus. But Judas did choose. Why? Why would he choose? There may have been at least two reasons.
    1. First, the money. Greed. Yet, for 30 pieces of silver? Hardly a grand bargain. Just one quarter of the value of the expensive ointment? Could have been greed, but it seems there was something more going on here.
    2. The second, and the one I find most satisfying is zeal. While we have no way of knowing for sure, many believe Judas was a fervent nationalist, a patriot, part of the party of sicarrii, or dagger bearers. If so, Judas in his fervor wanted Rome overturned, and Jesus was the one to do it. Jesus was his man, but he was getting cold feet. He had to be forced to show his hand. Surely if he faced death he would call down his legion of angels and the kingdom would be restored. He had to force Jesus’ hand.
    3. Or there may have been another twist. Judas may have become disillusioned, tired of it all and went the Chief Priests to see what he could get for three years of his life that he had followed Jesus.
    4. In either case, Judas misunderstood, like so many of us, what kind of kingdom Jesus was ushering in. Judas was trying to fit the kingdom to his purpose rather than fitting himself to kingdom purposes. Greg Boyd, a St. Paul, MN, pastor calls this Judas Christianity. We often do that too, don’t we? We try to fit the kingdom to our purposes.
    5. Churches on the right portray issues like pro-life, defense of marriage, national security as kingdom issues and political issues. Politics and the kingdom get blurred.
    6. Churches on the left are no better insisting that the social gospel, caring for the poor, the needy is priority of government, and the roles of church and government get blurred. They too try to fit the kingdom to their purposes.
    7. Jesus said clearly, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Now, it is fine to be right or left or in the middle. It is good to take a stand, to vote, to make a difference in the life of the body politic, but don’t do it in the name of the church of Jesus Christ. “My kingdom is not of this world.” Have you noticed, if the hearts of the people are right, so will be the political institutions. If the hearts of the people are wrong, no political institution can change them. We bring the kingdom of God on earth by changing the hearts of people. That’s kingdom politics. Take a stand, vote, but don’t confuse the two.
    8. So why did Judas choose? Probably to force his political agenda. And it all went wrong.
    9. But the important question is, “Was Judas predestined to eternal damnation?” I’ve wrested with this, and I’ve had much help from a recent sermon by Greg Boyd, Woodlandhills Church. (“Judas Christianity,” 2/7/10) He believes that we have had a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to “fulfill Scripture.” I would marry his thoughts with those of Wesley who fervently believed in free-will, in choice, and Wesley believed we had to look at issues from the context of the whole Bible. So, what does it mean to “fulfill Scripture”? Two things:
  1. The first is Scripture that is prophesy that is predictive.
    1. Moses said “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me among your own people.” (Deut 18:15)
    2. Or like the prophet Micah:
      But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
      who are one of the little clans of Judah,
      from you shall come forth for me
      one who is to rule in Israel,
      whose origin is from of old,
      from ancient days. (5.2)
    3. Or like Malachi foretelling the coming of Elijah, fulfilled in John the Baptist: “5 Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents,” (5-6a)
    4. Scripture that was predictive, that foretold, that had to come to be, for the salvation story to unfold. The lineage of the greatest king, the lineage of the greatest prophet who was to be Jesus forerunner.
  2. Others are not predictive, but Jesus simply lives them out like a son fills his dad’s shoes. Nothing predictive or necessary about them but they happened. Two cases:
    1. Let’s read Psalm 69.21: “21 They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” We know that the soldiers at the cross dipped in sour vinegar and placed on the lips of Jesus. It happened. It was fulfilled. It didn’t have to happen for him to be the Messiah. His food wasn’t poisoned and we don’t say, “Well, his food wasn’t poisoned so I guess he wasn’t the Christ.” His life simply fit Scripture.
    2. Psalm 22 says the soldiers cast lots or his clothing. It happened. It was fulfilled. But it wasn’t predictive, it didn’t have to happen. Or Psalm 22 also implies his bones would not be broken. In most crucifixions they break their legs late in the day to accelerate the suffocation. With Jesus, they did not. The Scripture was fulfilled, but wasn’t predictive, it didn’t have to happen. But Jesus fit the Scripture.
    3. Now to the one which is the crux of the matter, ones that are often quoted as predicting, predestining, Judas as the betrayer of Christ. In the gospel of John, Jesus quotes Psalm 41.9 says, “the one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” Surely Scripture was fulfilled, Judas was eating with him, but it didn’t have to happen that way. The Scripture wasn’t predictive. We’ll see that if we read the verse from Psalms 41 in context. David writing says
      7 All my enemies whisper together against me;
      they imagine the worst for me, saying,
      8 “A vile disease has beset him;
      he will never get up from the place where he lies.”
      9 Even my close friend, whom I trusted,
      he who shared my bread,
      has lifted up his heel against me.
      10 But you, O LORD, have mercy on me;
      raise me up, that I may repay them.
    4. David, the writer, says he has a vile disease. Did Jesus have a vile disease? Ever? Not that we know of? David asks to get well so he can extract revenge. Did Jesus ever pray such a prayer? Ever? Not that we know of. The fact that Judas ate with Jesus, fulfilled Scripture; but it wasn’t predictive. It didn’t have to happen that way. Judas chose to betray Jesus. It was not predicted by Scripture. It fit Scripture.
  3. But I think a more important to view this within the context of the whole of Scripture; the reason to say that Judas was not predestined to eternal damnation is that it is not the nature of God to predestine anyone. In fact it is the will of God that all be saved. And that included Judas. That’s what the Bible says. John Wesley was adamantly opposed to the theology of predestination because he read the Bible as a whole. Wesley said, “God knows all believers; and wills that all should be saved.”

a. It is Biblical. God told Abraham (Gen 12: 3), “Through you all the nations of the world will be blessed.” Say all.

b. Isaiah (49.6) said, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” The whole earth, all the earth. Say all.

c. John ( 1 John 2.2) says,”he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” All the world. Say all.

d. Paul tells us in the letter to Titus (2.11), “11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,” Say all.

e. And in Timothy (1 Timothy 2.3-4), “This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Everyone to be saved. That’s all. Say all.

f. In 2 Peter (3.9), The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” Say all.

g. That’s God through Moses, Isaiah, John, Paul, and Peter.

h. Finally, the one we all know: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosover believeth in him, may not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 KJV) So loved the world, all the world. One last time, say all.

C. Close.

  1. It’s Wednesday, Jesus predicts his crucifixion, then goes to the house of Simon the Leper.
    1. The woman shows her unconditional love for Jesus by doing the most extravagant thing that she could do, the most extravagant gift of love she can provide.
    2. And Jesus prepares to do the most extravagant thing that he could do for you, giving his life for you, the gift of love.
    3. And not just for you, but for all: “11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,” (Titus 2:11)
  2. All means me, all means you, and that means Judas, too… had he chosen it, but instead he chose to betray it. Do we choose the gift of love or do we betray it? It is God’s will, it is God’s gift that we should be saved. It is God’s gift of love. Choose this wondrous gift of love. Amen.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Tuesday: Judgment

(Matthew 24:1-13; 25-27)

A. Introduction
Our purpose in this series is to prepare us to walk in the footsteps of Jesus as we reach Holy Week. We began two weeks ago with Palm Sunday, Jesus’ entrance in Jerusalem and by his drama, declared himself to be king. We asked ourselves the questions “What kind of king is this? What kind of kingdom is he ushering in? And what does he expect of his subjects, of us?” Last Sunday, Holy Monday, we were with him as the religious leaders challenged him with questions intended to entrap him. We ask ourselves the question “How might we be like the Pharisees? How is it that we may start out with good intentions and find that our choices are taking us away from loving God and neighbor?” Today, Tuesday of Holy Week, is “Judgment”; and next week, Wednesday, is “Love and betrayal,” and the following week is “A Supper Together.”

So Tuesday, where do we find Jesus today? Well, like each day, Luke tells us, Jesus is in the Temple teaching: “37 Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. 38 And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.” (Luke 21:37-38)

The temple. We simply have no idea. The Temple and temple mount of Jesus’ day was the largest, greatest structure in the world. Let’s look at a short clip from the history channel. (Video looks at the construction of the Temple Mount and Temple with views from the Mount of Olives.)

B. Body
So today is Tuesday. Tuesday is teaching day, a day of teaching about judgment. You recall that on Monday the religious leaders had been questioning Jesus, trying to either implicate him in an insurrection that could be reported to Pilate; or to answer a question in such a way that would cause him to loose credibility with the crowds. Of course neither happened, and they went away frustrated. They returned for one last try on Tuesday morning. Hear the story from Matthew: “34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)They agreed. The Gospel of Mark tells us that after that, no one dared to ask him a question.

But Jesus asked them as part of his teaching. After all, they believed he claimed to be the Messiah. It was a fitting question, and this may fall into the category of “What kind of king was he?”
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand,until I put your enemies under your feet” ’?45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Now, unless you are your own grandpa, as the song goes, it was not possible for the Messiah to be David’s Lord and son at the same time. What kind of king is he? One greater than David! They may not have understood on that Tuesday. But there was awe and mystery there and no one dared challenge him again.

They might not have known, but we know don’t we. Christ is Messiah and David’s Lord. And he is Lord of our life. Early Christians would declare as their simplest statement of faith: “Jesus is Lord.” And so he is.

We know that after that, Jesus gathered his disciples and the crowds around him and made “not to kind” remarks about the Scribes and Pharisees: He said their legalism caused heavy burdens not intended by God. They were hypocrites, declaring one thing and doing another. They cleaned the outside of the cup but on the inside, it was “full of greed and self-indulgence.” They were like white-washed tombs, beautiful on the outside, “but on the inside full of bones and death and filth.” Then Jesus said, “This generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world.” (Luke 20:50) Wow!If you are going to level a charge, it just as well be a big one.

After the teaching and as they were leaving, the disciples remarked to Jesus (These were Galilean Jews for whom the Temple was not an every day occurrence), about how it was adorned with beautiful stones (Luke 21:5). Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

You’ve seen the temple. It was made of the same 10,000 lb stones as the Temple Mount. What Jesus just said was beyond comprehension. So that evening, Tuesday evening, as they were sitting on the Mount of Olives looking directly across at the Temple Mount and the magnificent temple, they “came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3)

Jesus tells them these things, many we’ve heard: There will be wars and rumors of wars, persecutions, false messiahs, desecrating of the temple such that the world as they know it would end.

And that was true. In just 40 years, 70 ad after months of siege, the walls of the city, then of the Temple were breached, the city sacked and destroyed, the Temple burned and then razed to the ground. Not one stone left upon the other. The world of the Jewish people, with their Temple-based faith came crashing down.

But we know that Jesus had become the cornerstone of the new Temple, literally ripping the curtain that had barred access to the Holy of Holies and giving direct access to all people through him to our heavenly father. Never again would a sacrifice have to be made to heal the breach between God and humanity. Christ was that sacrifice. Jesus the sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus the new high priest going before the throne of God once and for all. Jesus the cornerstone of the new temple, the body of Christ, the new dwelling place of God on earth. (from Eph 2:20-21)

That was the end of one age, the age of a Temple-focused religion.

But Jesus also talked of the end of another age The question asked by the disciples really implied two questions: When would this occur? And what will be the sign of your coming? The latter would be the age of his second coming, an age that we all must face.

The hour and day are unknown: “But about that day and hour, no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36)

Jesus told of the necessity for watchfulness” 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13:33-37)

And this is the one that frightened me as a child. I was fearful that I was not ready. I didn’t know how long it would take for me to get ready. Jesus says, “so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. (Matthew 24:39b-44)

Then Jesus told two more parables, one of the ten bridesmaids and the other the parable of the talents. Ten bridesmaids were waiting through the night for the bridegroom could come so that the festivities could begin, but five were were foolish and had brought no oil for their lamps and tried to borrow some but were told to go and buy their own. While they were out buying the oil, the bridegroom came and took the wise bridesmaids, those who were prepared, to the wedding party and closed the door to the foolish maids. And the moral of the story is that no one else can prepare for us. We need to bring our own oil. We need to be prepared in advance. Jesus ended the story by saying “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the hour nor day.”

And we all know the parable of the talents. Three slaves were entrusted with talents, a life time of wages. Two employed the master’s talents to make more. The third buried it in the ground simply to preserve it, fearful of the master’s judgment if he lost it. The master ends by saying, “As for the worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Preparation is making use of our gifts in the service of the Master.
So how is that we prepare ourselves. How is it that we serve the Master, do his wishes with the talents, the treasure we’ve been given? Maybe the clue is in the final, the very last parable of Jesus’ teaching, the very last parable of all.

(Read Matthew 25:31-46, the parable of the judgment of the nations (Sheep and goats))

We began Tuesday morning with Jesus answering the question, “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” To love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind strength, and the second is like it to love your neighbor as yourself. On these hang all the law and the prophets.

Is it possible that all of the day’s teaching was in answer as to how we fulfill those commandments? And in so doing, preparing ourselves?

How is it that we love God? And love him now, rather that waiting til the end of the age? How do we prepare ourselves for his coming? By what will we be measured when we stand in judgment? And we all will.

Keith Jaspers, the founder of Rainbow Network believed that Matthew 25, the parable of the judgment of the nations, the “Sheep and the Goats,” gives us no choice. We love God, we serve our Master, we prepare ourselves for judgment by serving the least of these in our society and in the world. For Keith Jaspers, we have no choice; there is no option. It is the love of Jesus played out in the service of the least of these that drives a man like Mel West, and members of the Salvation Army corps, and those who work in food pantries, at Habitat for Humanity sites, clothing stores, or shelters. Or dig wells for thirsty villages.The good news is that all of these have created frameworks by which one or more of us can serve the least of these, and in so doing, serving Jesus.

C. Close
Will we be ready? I can still picture myself in that Sunday School room when I was in grade school, hearing “two will be in the field, one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together, one will be taken, one will be left.”

We will neither know the hour nor the day. You all know those who thought they had a lifetime in front of them to prepare, and suddenly they didn’t. How much time will we have to prepare? Jesus says, “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

Be ready. Amen.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Monday: Authority, Taxes and Marriage

I continue to be indebted to Adam Hamilton for the concept of this series. I have understood Jesus' teachings in vignettes but not in the totality of the week.

Luke 19:47-20:2

A. Introduction
The conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders had begun years before in Galilee where they had sent their representatives to challenge Jesus especially for his seeming disregard of their Sabbath laws, and his association with sinners. (see Lk 13:10-17) But now this upstart from Nazareth was teaching in Jerusalem in their Temple. This country bumpkin who had no education, who had not sat at the feet of the great teaching Rabbis, who had just thrown the money changers and merchants out of the Temple, who did he think he was? And it says, the people were spellbound by what he said. They were hanging on every word.

Today we focus on Monday of Holy Week. Although that day is four weeks away on our 21st Century calendar, we’re taking a day of Holy Week each Sunday to follow Jesus during his final week on earth. Three months before, he had resolutely set his face toward Jerusalem to arrive during the Passover festival where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims would have been gathered. He had entered Jerusalem yesterday, Palm Sunday, and been declared Messiah, anointed one, King by the throng who shouted, “Hosanna (God save us), Hosanna to the son of David.” Surely this was the King who would throw off the shackles of Rome and restore Israel to the greatness of his ancestor David. Surely this is the one.

By the drama he had played out, entering Jerusalem on a donkey as it had been foretold, Jesus had declared himself King, but as we know, not the kind of king they were expecting, and before the week was out, he was rejected by those same crowds.

Yet the New Testament writers go to great lengths to point to Jesus as the Messiah, the Hebrew word for anointed one. The Greek word is Christ. From Matthew to Revelation, we know that Jesus is King. So as part of this series, we are asking the questions,
What kind of king is he?
What kind of kingdom is he ushering in?
What does he expect of his subjects?

I guess that is kinda’ what the religious rulers of that day were wondering. “By what authority are you doing all of these things, saying all of this stuff?” But their motive was more than just wondering; after three years of conflict, they’d had enough. They believed Jesus a threat to their comfortable life. While it seems extreme, they sought to kill him. He was either blaspheming, claiming to be God, which was punishable by death, or he would cause an insurrection which would bring Rome down on their heads, a chance they couldn’t take. He had to be dealt with. So they send waves of people to question him, trick him into incriminating himself. We’re going to talk about three of those encounters today.

B. Body
Let’s hear the first of the encounters. Reading from Matthew: 23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. (Mt 21:23-27) Jesus had turned the tables and put them between a rock and a hard place, but Jesus didn’t stop there. In rapid succession, he told them to the delight of the crowd, three parables:

One of a man with two sons, both told to go to work in the vineyard. The first said he wouldn’t go but did. The second said he would but he didn’t. Then he said this: 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him. (Mat 21:31-32).

That wasn’t enough. He then told the parable of the wicked tenants. Remember the story? The land owner went away leaving the tenants in charge then sent slaves to collect his rent. But they beat them, one after another. Finally, he said, I’ll send my son, surely they will respect him. Jesus says, 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” (Mt 21:38-41).Do you get the picture? He was talking about and with the religious leaders, those standing right in front of him!

Even that wasn’t enough, he then told the parable of the wedding banquet. The wedding was all planned, the invitations out to the finest guests. But when the final arrangements were made, they said they were too busy. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Mt 22:7-14).

Luke added, “None of those invited will taste my dinner.”

What had set this off? The chief priest’s response to Jesus’ question, “We do not know.” We do not know whether John’s authority came from heaven or earth? We do not know. Get serious. Of course they knew. I would ask you, how often do we say that? How often do we know full well what God requires of us and we say to ourselves, “Well, I’m not sure whether that’s God telling me that or not.” We do that don’t we? We need to ask ourselves, are we the child that said we would but didn’t? Are we the one who accepted the invitation but when we found out the details, decided we were too busy to have Christ in our lives?

Who is invited to the kingdom? Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom ahead of you.” Just so we don’t misunderstand, we don’t have to become tax collectors and prostitutes to get there, we simply need to acknowledge Christ’s authority in our lives.

By the way, was this question, “by whose authority?” an authentic question? Not on your life. It was a trick. They were looking for Jesus to incriminate himself. They had hoped Jesus would say, “Because I’m the Messiah, the King, that’s why.” They would have marched right over to Pilot and said, “You’ve got a man out there claiming to be king, and we know, there is no king but Caesar.” Gotcha Jesus. It didn’t happen. They went away more furious than ever.

So, the next wave arrived. Mark says, the Pharisees and some Herodians came to entrap him. Herodians, Jews who were influential supporters of King Herod Antipas. The Pharisees and the Heroidans were going to put Jesus in a conundrum, between a rock and a hard place of their own. So listen to this “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Mt 22:16b-17)

Aha, they had him now. If he says, “No, don’t pay taxes,” it’s off to Pilot again. But if he says, “Yes, pay taxes.” The crowds expecting him to throw off the oppression of Rome will go nuts. The crowds may kill him themselves. He’ll certainly be discredited in their eyes and we won’t have any more problems with this Jesus.

We know Jesus’ reply don’t we? We know it whether we’ve ever read the Bible or not, whether we’re Christian or not. What did he say? “Show me a denarius,” a Roman coin. “Whose image and inscription is this?” Caesar’s. Then what did Jesus say? “Render to Caesar’s the things that are Caesar’s, and to God, the things that are God’s.” And then Matthew tells us, “When they heard this, they were amazed. And they left him and went away.”

So let’s talk about this (Again, I'm indebted to Adam Hamilton's interpretation). Here’s a picture of a denarius, the coin of the realm. And that picture is of Caesar Tiberius, the inscription says, “Son of the divine Augustus.” In other words, this, to begin with, is a graven image. It’s made in the image of Caesar who claims to be divine. In the image of Caesar. “Render to Caesar.”
What about you? In whose image are you made? Genesis tells us, “God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them.” You were made in the image of God.
“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” But the more important part is you: “Render unto God the things that are God’s.” How is it going?

It’s still Monday, and here comes wave number three. Matthew says, “That same day some Sadducees came to him.” (Mt 22:23a) Now the Sadducees were kind of the religious elite. They believed in the books of Moses, the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, but thought all the rest was Johnny come lately. They didn’t believe in the books of the prophets, they didn’t read any of the wisdom literature. As a result, they didn’t believe in the resurrection. And when Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” they certainly didn’t believe him. So they too devised a question that would stump Jesus, and would show just how dumb his idea about the resurrection was.

One other thing before we read the passage. Remember how important we’ve said the land is? God promised the land to Abraham 3500 years ago, and we’re still fighting over the land. Well, one of the laws to ensure that the land passed from generation to generation was the levirate marriage law. If a man died and his wife was barren, in other words, no heirs to inherit his land, the brother was to marry the wife and have children with her that they could inherit the land. It was a law of necessity for the survival of the nation. The land had to be passed on. By the way, it also shows us the place of women in their society. They were property who really couldn’t own property themselves.

So (reading Mt 22:23-28) 23 The same day some Sadducees came to him, saying there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying, 24 “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. 26 The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. 27 Last of all, the woman herself died. 28 In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.”And Jesus replies, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching. (Mt 22:29-33) Let’s take this in reverse order. The second point is the most important point. There is a resurrection. Jesus said it. I believe it. Jesus said it. I’m staking my life on it. You should too. You.. should.. stake.. your.. life… on .. it!

But here’s the thing, Jesus used their own arguments against them. What did they believe? The Torah, the books of Moses. What does Jesus use? The Torah, God’s encounter with Moses at the burning bush, one of the most famous stories of all. God says to Moses, “I am the God of your father. the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” I am, not I was. I am the God of. God is the God not of the dead, but the living. Like I said, I believe in the resurrection. Jesus said it. I believe it. I’m staking my life on it. You should too.

Now back to marriage. Jesus tells them they don’t understand. They don’t know either the scripture or the power of God. “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” One person said, (You judge whether he was wise or not) “Well, it makes sense, it wouldn’t be heaven if there was marriage.” I’m not touching that one.

But here’s what I would say, the culture of Jesus’ day, and even in the day of levirate laws had a shallow view of marriage. The woman was property. The woman needed protection. The woman could not survive without marriage. Yet God in his wisdom had called marriage to be more, for us to become one flesh. In heaven, we will be one flesh again, in this case the body of Christ. We will all belong to someone again, in this case we will belong to God. We will all love completely once again, and in this case the source of that love is God. Will we see and love those who are dear to us? Certainly and we will love them more completely that we can imagine.

Remember, Paul tells us, now we see in the mirror dimly, then we shall see face to face. We will understand how the widow can love all of her husbands equally and need not be the property of any of them. We will see how we can love God and one another completely in the Kingdom of God we are being called to. If we now lack understanding, it is because like the Sadducees, we too do not know the power of God. We do know this: It will be heaven. And I’m staking my life on it.

C. Close
“By whose authority?” Do we say, “I don’t know.” Or do we say, “By your authority, Jesus Christ.” Do we say, “I am wonderfully made in your image; I render myself to you.”? Do we say, “I believe you are the God of the living; I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting”? I believe it. I’m staking my life on it. I am yours. I am submitting my life to you. I will do whatever you tell me to do.

That should be our prayer, shouldn’t it?

John Wesley had a similar prayer that he asked his people to renew every year as part of their covenant relationship with God. It’s on the screen in front of you. I would ask you to place your hands open, palms up, in front of you. Open in a position of submission, but also open as a means of collecting the grace of God flowing to you. A covenant relationship is a two-way street and we receive grace upon grace. Let us pray Wesley’s Covenant Prayer

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low by thee.Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou are mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.