October 1, 1989
What Do We Need for Faith?
There are plenty of laws “on the books.” If we were to visit the great law libraries of the world we would be overwhelmed by the number of volumes of laws. Yet, there are new laws being made every day, because life is a constant flowing stream. Every day we need to reinterpret life and the help that God gives us in following Him.
The text tells of two men, their lives and the results of their living. The first man, unnamed in the text, is rich. In the fourth century, Jerome translated the Greek New Testament into the Latin Vulgate and used the adjective dives to describe the man as rich. The word of description became a proper name.
The parable takes place in two scenes. The first is Dives’ mansion. His fare was a feast every day. His clothes were elegant, his home palatial, no need went unmet. While he feasted, the second man, Lazarus, a poor starving beggar, suffered at Dives’ gate. Poor in clothes, food, and health, Lazarus was in the worst possible condition for this world.
In the second scene, both men are dead. Jesus describes life after death as one of reward and punishment. Lazarus was taken to reward (the bosom of Abraham) while Dives was taken to punishment. According to Jewish thinking of that day, Hades (or Sheol) was the place where all souls must wait for the final judgment, with Gehenna and its fires on one side and Paradise and its fountains on the other.
Jesus did not attempt to give a full and complete description of life after death; rather he gave a symbolic interpretation of the final mystery that had an impact on the way we live now. He moved into this realm to point out the intention of God for His people.
I. God intends for His people to be compassionate.
Life is not equal. The majority of people have more or less than others, and very seldom the same. The call of God is for those who have more to be compassionate towards those who have less. We live in a world of selfishness, hatred, crime, and injustice. The call of God is to care for those who suffer and to give as time, energy, and ability permit.
II. Separation occurs when we fail to treat others with compassion.
Jesus talked in this text and in Matthew 25 of the separation that will occur based on how we treat others. The step toward “bridging the gap” between our lives and the lives of the less fortunate may seem to be difficult and perilous, but it is necessary.
In western North Carolina — at one of the most scenic spots in America — is a bridge connecting two towers of rock. The only way to pass from one tower to the other is to step out on the bridge made of wood, rope, and cable. It oscillates with the wind, with changes of weight, with each step you take. The bridge seems very insecure. But it is the only way to the other side. So it is with compassion. It may be difficult, but it is the only way.
III. All that is necessary for us to follow God has been done.
Dives, when he discovered his plight, begged for a miracle. “Shock them — send someone back from the dead!” he pleaded. We often call for trumpets when God is playing on the flute.
The reply came back to the request of Dives that all his family needed had already been provided, yet they refused to heed the law of Moses and the prophets. Surely they would reject even one who came back from the dead. To put it in our terms, they have the Book, the Bible, and that is sufficient. That is enough.
What do people need to follow God? To concentrate on His Word and follow the teachings of God. We don’t need miracles — just the Book! (SNW)
October 8, 1989
Remembering Who’s Who
(Amos 5:10-12; Luke 17:5-10)
One of the members of our church was telling me recently about a neighbor of hers. Seems her neighbor, whenever he would go to town, would pass her house. Occasionally, he would stop in for a visit, as he did on one particular day when he was on his way back home after a trip to town.
During the course of the visit he asked, “Did you ever have the feeling that you’ve forgotten something?” He checked his hat; he had it. He checked his coat; he had it. He checked his wallet; yes he had that too. Still he could not escape the nagging feeling he had left something behind. Something had been lost and forgotten.
He returned home, and after a while, he was seen going back to town. It was unusual for him to make two trips to town in one day. Sure enough, he had forgotten something — or rather someone. He’d left his wife in town in one of the stores. He’d forgotten to bring her home. Now that is forgetfulness!
I find it comforting that I am not alone in my forgetfulness. We have all forgotten something. I am comforted by the fact that at least I have never forgotten my wife.
I am impressed by how many times in Scripture we are told not to forget something, and that we are told to remember. There are, in fact, some 300 references to remembering in the Scriptures.
One such reference is from Deuteronomy 6. Here, Moses, in speaking to the people of God, tells them, “Israel, remember this, the Lord and the Lord alone is our God. Never forget the commands I give you today. Teach them to your children. Repeat them at home, tie them on your foreheads and hands. Write them on the doorposts. Remember them.”
Then after this exhortation to remember, God gives this wonderful promise: “The Lord will give you a land with large and prosperous cities, which you did not build. The houses will be full of good things …
which you did not put there.
There will be wells …
which you did not dig.
There will be vineyards and olive orchards …
which you did not plant.
But when you get to the land, remember — it was God who brought you out of Egypt and gave you this land.”
We are a forgetful people, but the worst thing we forget is not our appointment at the dentist’s, or where we put our car keys, or even that we might forget to bring our wives home after shopping trips in town.
The worst thing that we forget, is that God is our Lord — that He brought us to this place in life; that He brought us out of the land of bondage, or sin; and that He has brought us into the kingdom of His grace.
But we forget that God is Lord.
In our Old Testament lesson for this morning, the people have forgotten who God is, that He is Lord. The prophet has to remind them, and he does so very poetically,
The Lord made the stars,
the Pleiades and Orion,
He turns darkness into daylight
and day into night.
He calls for the waters of the sea
and pours them out on the earth.
His name is the Lord.
But in Amos’ day, the people have forgotten this. So he recalls the words of Deuteronomy, but turns the words of Moses around.
You have built homes, says Amos,
but you will not live in them.
You have planted vineyards,
but you will not drink from them.
Now it is not that we forget that God exists — that He is. What we forget is that He is Lord; we forget His character.
And an excellent illustration of this comes straight out of our Gospel lesson for this morning. Here the disciples address Jesus and say to Him, “Give us faith.” It is not a humble request; it is a demand! It is an order that the disciples give to Jesus. Even though it is a good thing to request faith, the tone of their words form a demand rather than a prayer.
Herbert J. Muller was the one who said, “The doctrine of the material efficacy of prayer reduces the Creator to a cosmic bellhop who is neither very bright nor reliable.”
We forget who God is. He is Lord. And yet we treat Him as if He is a cosmic bellhop. Give us faith, give us joy, fetch our luggage. Do this. Do that.
Recently I have been reading a book by Louise Barber that deals with Christian education and the preschool child. One of the concerns of the book is prayer. It suggests that as we teach our preschool children about prayer, we ought to first teach them about prayers of adoration and thanksgiving — in which the child praises God for who He is, and thanks Him for the things He has done and for the world He has made.
Most of us, however, teach our preschool children about prayers of intercession rather than prayers of adoration. We teach our children to ask God for things. We teach them to pray for rain or fair weather, to pray for happiness, and in the event that someone is sick, we teach them to pray that the person be made well. These prayers are fine for adults and older children, but for the preschooler, these prayers teach the child a concept of God similar to the concept that they might have of the giving Santa Claus or the generous grandfather, whose role in the child’s life is to provide for and serve the child.
A lot of us have grown up with that kind of concept of God. God’s purpose is to serve us. We have forgotten who God is. We have forgotten that God is Lord.
And so our prayers are demands. Give us rain. Give us health. Or like the disciples, give us faith. We forget who God is. And when we forget who God is, we also forget who we are. And that is just as dangerous and just as easy as forgetting who God is.
The people of Amos’ day have forgotten who God is. And look at the way they live. Having forgotten who God is, they now have forgotten who they are. They have forgotten that — as disciples of God — they are to be a people of justice, and so they hate those who challenge injustice.
Having forgotten they are disciples of God, who are called to be a people of truth, they have grown to hate the truth. They do not speak up for justice, because their own lives are unjust. They do not speak out for the poor, because their own lifestyles oppress the poor. They do not know who they are anymore.
Have we lost touch with who God is? Have we lost touch with who we are?
To remember who God is and to remember who we are ought to have a direct effect on the way in which we live out our lives. We can never again look at injustice and do nothing. God is a God of justice, and if He is our Lord and if we are His servants, we must work for justice.
And we can never again look at the poor and homeless and turn our backs on them. God is the loving Father of us all, and if He is our Lord and we are His servants, then we must love our neighbors and have compassion.
We can never again look at the world or at ourselves in the same light.
We are a forgetful people. That is a flaw that is not always a disaster. It is forgivable to forget a dentist appointment, to forget where you put your car keys, and even where you parked your car. And if one has a forgiving wife, one might even be forgiven for forgetting to bring her home after a trip to town.
But never forget that God is your Lord. Never forget that you are His servant. (WMP)
October 8, 1989
Isn’t it funny how people act at the end of the day? Can’t you picture the children waiting with hungry looks and tales of woe from the days’ battles? Everyone is grumpy, no one is happy. Even the pets know to stay out of the way until things settle down. Jesus used this setting to remind His listeners of holy obligations.
I. Everyone wants an easy answer to faith.
We all have at our center a God-shaped vacuum we want filled. The difficult part is that we won’t let God do His work in filling that vacuum; we want to do it ourselves. We define how and where God is to act in our lives; we define all the parameters before we give Him time to act. The disciples came to Jesus and asked for more faith. The answer was not one that they were expecting.
II. God is the only source of faith.
C. H. Dodd, in his Epistle to the Romans (Harper and Brothers, 1932, VI, p. 16), defined faith as “an act which is the negation of all activity, a moment of passivity out of which the strength for action comes because in it God acts.” The disciples, as we do, asked for a way to become more faithful. We are always looking for new gimmicks, new ideas, new ways to become what we want to become and yet are so perplexed in our trying.
Jesus’ answer to the disciples and to us is to let go and let God have His way. Our greatest hope is that we would be able to let God convince us we do have a mustard seed’s worth of faith in our being and that we do have the potential for tree-moving power. Jesus said that was what should be expected of us!
III. We have a divine obligation to God.
Jesus used the very familiar (to His listeners) role of a slave to explain the Christian’s faith process. A slave had no freedom other than to serve his or her master. If, at the end of a hard day’s labor, there was the occasion to eat, it would not be a point of consideration whether or not to serve the master food or to serve one’s self. When the master had been served words of appreciation would not be expected, for that would be the anticipated course of action.
When a disciple turns to God and asks for faith, the reply will always be the same: do what is expected of you and you will exercise enough faith to astound yourself. Don’t ask for miracles, ask for obedience. (SNW)
October 15, 1989
The Other Samaritan
This summer the Batman craze struck America again. Part of the attraction to this fictitious character is the automobile that he and Robin drive, the Batmobile. It is an automobile with “gadgets” to do a little of everything in order to foil the bad guys.
In Birmingham, Alabama, there is another batmobile. In the Southern Museum of Aviation, near the Birmingham airport, is a car that is very unusual. This car has every kind of accessory imaginable. It is like the fictitious batmobile in many respects. It is amazing what this car can do — flashing lights and all.
The other side of the story is that the driver of this unusual car would travel the streets of Birmingham looking for people in need so that help could be given. That’s not what most of us are thinking about as we rush from place to place. In fact we very seldom see anyone we can help because we are too consumed with our own mission.
The text tells us of an incident that happened to Jesus as He was on His way to complete His mission. In Luke 9:51 the scripture says Jesus “resolutely turned His face toward Jerusalem.” From that point on the Third Gospel recounts the events that took place as Jesus marched toward His destiny. He was certainly traveling with the future in mind yet He did not miss the needs of the present.
I. God cares for “Everyone.”
Lepers were one of the most ostracized groups of society. The folks that suffered from this dreaded disease — with skin dying and falling off — were forced to live with each other and travel in groups yelling “Unclean, unclean.” They certainly had to feel as if no one cared for them. They were the visible outcasts of society that could be representative of all of us when we feel excluded.
The good news of the text is that Jesus did not ignore them; rather He addressed their problems and gave them a solution. He instructed them to go to their priests. The miracle occurred as they were doing as they had been commanded. They were all healed! The ironic part of the story comes next: all but one did not bother to say thanks.
II. We often do not say Thank you to God.
There have been many attempts to tell all the reasons why the nine did not say thank you. Rather than reflecting at length on this “between the lines” reading, why not reflect on a very interesting fact that the text discloses. The one person who returned to say thank you was the one of the crowd who had known separation all his life and would continue to know the life of non-acceptance from the Jewish community, for he was a Samaritan.
This group of people lived as complete outcasts as far as the Jewish community was concerned. Their lot was one of rejection, insecurity, and contempt. Why, then, is the Samaritan the only one who returned to say thank you? Because this story parallels the story that is much more familiar to our ears, the story we call the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37).
Jesus answered the lawyer’s question concerning eternal life by telling a story. The unusual part of the story was the hero. Instead of fitting the good Jewish stereotype of that day, Jesus made the hero to be one who everyone in His hearing would automatically look down on — a Samaritan. As you remember, not the religious leaders but the Samaritan took time to help.
In today’s account the one who does the right thing is again the one the crowd would not expect — a Samaritan! The one person of the ten who had received new life — transforming life — was the outcast, the foreigner. Jesus asked a stunned crowd the poignant question: “Is this foreigner the only one who could give glory to God?” Again it is the outcast, the least of them, who teaches how to live a life of thanksgiving, praising God for His goodness.
III. Our lives are to be spent praising God.
One of the more remarkable events in our country’s recent history was the return of some of our POW’s from Vietnam. Watching that event left every American with a deep sense of gratitude that these who were lost were now alive. While the scars remain, in the lives of those who returned there was an overwhelming attitude of gratitude — for life, for freedom and for the ability to thank God.
The Bible teaches that all of us are prisoners in our own sin and that there are no exceptions. The best response to our situation is to not take for granted what we have received but to return to the Lord giving thanks and praising God for His goodness to us. Let the “Other Samaritan” teach us how to live! (SNW)
October 22, 1989
Praying with Perseverance
One of my favorite posters is the one picturing a cat hanging by one paw from a branch, with the caption: “Hang in there, baby!”
Although he used different words to express the thought, there are times in Scripture when God encourages us to “hang in there” — to persevere. In this text, Jesus offers a parable which encourages us to “hang in there” in prayer, even when there initially seems to be no response.
The widow was the prime example of helplessness in that society. She had no clout, no power to influence, no money to bribe the judge. Her only tool to be heard was perseverance.
This has always seemed a strange story coming from Jesus. Is He comparing God to a judge who is worn down by this woman, finally responding to her just to be rid of her?
Rather than comparing God with this judge, Jesus is actually contrasting the two. With the unjust magistrate, persistence was needed to overcome his indifference; by contrast, when we come to God there is no obstacle of resistance to be overcome. If a human judge will ultimately hear the pleas of a helpless widow, how much more will God hear the cries of His children!
What does it mean for us to be persistent in prayer?
I. We are to pray regularly.
Prayer is not to be a now-and-then affair. Like the widow who persevered in prayer, we are called to be consistent in our prayer life with God.
The manager of a great opera house told of the night he received a telephone call from a woman following a performance. She had lost a diamond pin, and wondered if it might still be in the theatre. He asked her to wait on the line while they looked in the area where she had been seated. Sure enough, in a few minutes someone came across the beautiful piece of jewelry, but when the manager returned to the phone to arrange for her to pick up the pin, the line was dead. Rather than wait for news, she had hung up, and she failed to call back. The manager was never able to return the pin because she never called back.
Christ calls on us to be persistent in prayer — to call consistently, regularly on our heavenly Father.
II. We are to pray earnestly.
Powerful, effective prayer is hard work. The widow worked hard in the parable; she begged, pleaded, earnestly petitioned the judge. Likewise, we are to be earnest in our prayer lives. Sometimes prayer is easy — especially in times of praise. But there are times when prayer ought to be a struggle.
Charles Spurgeon, that great British preacher of the last century, once observed: “Prayer pulls the rope below and the great bell rings above in the ears of God. Some scarcely stir the bell, for they pray so languidly; others give but an occasional pluck at the rope; but he who wins with heaven is the man who grasps the rope boldly and pulls continuously, with all his might.”
III. We are to pray faithfully.
Prayer is to be offered in faith, expecting a response from God. Does that mean we expect God to always give exactly what we request? Not at all — God is not a magic box, into which we can reach whenever we like and pull out whatever suits our fancy.
There are times when God does something altogether different than that for which we ask — and it is always better for us than our original request. God alone can see the “big picture” and knows what is for our best. When you pray, expect Him to respond — then trust Him with the response.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote these words:
“The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.”
Be persistent in prayer, trusting God to draw you upward as you rest in His care. (JMD)
October 29, 1989
Saints and Sinners
A single American family in the 19th century achieved such prominence — producing well-known personalities like preachers Lyman and Henry Ward Beecher and author Harriet Beecher Stowe — one commentator observed that the nation was populated by “Saints, Sinners and Beechers.”
Though the third part of that trio no longer holds the prominence of a century ago, it is still not uncommon to hear reference made to “saints or sinners.” In which camp would you place yourself?
Our text offers a well-known “saint and sinner” story, but you may be surprised with the ending. As often happens, God takes the world’s viewpoint and reverses it.
The Pharisee could be found in most any church of our day; in fact, he’d probably be one of the primary leaders. Dare we say it — he might be the preacher! Certainly we’d include him in the roll call of the saints …. wouldn’t we?
There’s just one problem: the Pharisee defines faith according to what he can accomplish on his own. His words and actions are characterized by a prideful spirit.
Look at the signs of pride’s dominance in his life:
1. He sees himself as superior to others (v. 11). How thankful he was not to be like those “sinners” all around him. He felt smug, satisfied and superior.
Two neighborhood ladies had spent much of the afternoon playing religious one-upsmanship — each trying to impress the other with her spiritual and churchly pedigree. After Sister Mary had to go, Sister Susie turned to Uncle Harry — who had been listening in from a neighboring rocking chair — and she exclaimed: “That Mary may be a good Christian, but I feel certain I live closer to the Lord.”
At that, Uncle Harry responded, “Well, don’t believe either of you is crowdin’ Him any.”
Pride has a way of making us feel superior to others. Notice another way in which pride shapes this Pharisee:
2. He focuses on his own actions (v. 12). Pride causes our vision to rest firmly on ourselves, so that we become like Little jack Horner, sitting in a corner, crying “what a good boy (or girl) am I!”
The Pharisee extolled his own spirituality, which he measured by his performance of certain religious activities, such as fasting and tithing. It ought to be clear to everyone that this was clear-cut “saint” material before them. His pride fixed his vision on his own actions.
3. He looked to himself for justification. Truth is, this Pharisee wasn’t really praying to God; his prayer was directed toward himself. Sure, he wanted God to listen in and realize what a pious and perfect saint he was, but there is no sense of need. The Pharisee isn’t seeking God’s face; he’s perfectly happy looking at his own.
Pride does that to us. We begin to look to ourselves as the source of all life’s answers. We think of faith in terms of what we can do for ourselves — whether it is doing the right things (like fasting or tithing), not doing the wrong things (like dealing drugs or cheating on income tax), or even believing the right things.
There is another character in our story, one who seems so different from our Pharisee. He wouldn’t be one of our church leaders; we’re not quite sure we’d even want to sit on the same pew with him!
Whereas the Pharisee understood faith according to what he could do for himself, the tax collector understood faith according to what he was unable to do for himself. His prayer was characterized by humility.
1. He recognized himself as unworthy of God’s grace (v. 13). Do you notice the details in the description? He “stood at a distance.” Here was a man who did not feel worthy to even approach God or to come near holy things. Where the Pharisee swaggered into the heart of the Temple with confidence, this tax collector — this “sinner” — stood at the edge of the Temple court, trembling at the thought of his own sin and unworthiness before a holy God.
2. He looked to God for justification. Unlike the Pharisee, who counted up his own good deeds and waited for his gold medal, the tax collector came before God with empty hands and a breaking heart. He knew he did not deserve God’s mercy, for he had often done that which was wrong.
Now, with a repentant spirit, he kneels before God and throws himself upon the divine mercy. “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
A common, run-of-the-mill, everyday sinner. The folks in the audience, listening to Jesus that day, saw them every day. They were the ones who didn’t follow the religious laws and traditions; the ones who didn’t measure up. They nodded to one another, with just a bit of a smug grin on their faces. Yes, just another sinner.
But they were in for a shock. Jesus told them that their brother, the Pharisee, wasn’t the hero of the story after all. The real “saint” — the one who “went home justified before God” — was that miserable little tax collector. How could such a thing be true?
Because, Jesus explained, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Let pride dominate your life — look to yourself as the measure of faith — and you will fall short of God’s expectations for you. No matter how good you think you are, Jesus says, you aren’t.
The one who is willing to recognize his own sin and unworthiness, on the other hand, is the kind of person capable of receiving God’s grace. And God’s grace is the only key able to to unlock the gate leading to life abundant and eternal. (JMD)
November 5, 1989
A Study in Contrasts
I remember a favorite chorus from Sunday School days:
“Zacchaeus was a wee little man
A wee little man was he.
He climbed up in the sycamore tree
for the Lord he wanted to see.”
Zacchaeus was a favorite story of many of us, perhaps because — as little children — we could relate to the idea of being small.
Yet it would be a mistake for us to oversimplify this character named Zacchaeus — to think of him in childhood terms. For this is a complex man, a study in contrasts. And his encounter with Jesus is evidence of the power of Christ to transform lives forever.
Notice the contrasts that are evident in this passage:
He is slight of stature but strong in influence. Though Zacchaeus is physically short, he has compensated by maneuvering his way into a place of great power in the community. As the tax collector in Jericho — an active community — he represents the Roman government. His powers of taxation allowed him to help some and hinder others.
Don’t make the mistake of seeing Zacchaeus as a sweet little man; he is a formidable character.
He is a man of great wealth but great loneliness. His power as tax collector allowed Zacchaeus to amass quite a fortune. The Romans were only concerned about getting their own tax dollars; whatever additional money the tax collector could demand from his clientele was his to keep. It was a position in which corruption was considered commonplace, and Zacchaeus must have been quite adept at the game.
Yet his wealth could not purchase the kind of meaningful relationship for which he longed. To use the old phrase, he was “alone in a crowd.” There was a burning in his heart for something more than money and power could bring, so he went out to try to get a look at Jesus as He passed through town.
Our own day is filled with people who have amassed money, power, position — but for whom life still leaves an unsatisfied hunger, a desire for some greater meaning and purpose. Zacchaeus felt it; perhaps you feel that same hunger in your own heart.
Discover for yourself what Zacchaeus discovered that day:
1. Great Grace Overcomes Great Sin.
Zacchaeus wasn’t the kind of man you invited home to Sunday dinner with the family. When he came down the street, people looked away; mothers moved their children out of his path; the men of Jericho looked down with contempt, murmuring his name and spitting into the street as he passed by. And the religious people just shook their heads and thanked God they weren’t like “that awful man Zacchaeus.”
What a shock, then, when the preacher Jesus stopped on the Jericho road and called Zacchaeus down to host him for lunch that day. A preacher going home with the biggest sinner in town? Unheard of! What a scandal!
Funny how Jesus has a way of defying our conventions by reaching out to claim sinners with His love. A profane fisherman like Peter, a revolutionary like Simon the Zealot, a persecutor like Paul, a corrupt tax collector like Zacchaeus — all transformed by the amazing grace of Jesus Christ.
What happened to Zacchaeus after his transforming encounter with Jesus?
2. Great Grace Produces Grateful Living.
The experience of God’s love and acceptance altered Zacchaeus forever. Immediately, he announced his desire to set his life right — to restore all he had taken wrongly, plus more.
Under Jewish law, a person who took property wrongly was required to return the property, plus an additional one-fifth as compensation (Lev. 6:5; Num. 5:7). Yet Zacchaeus goes far beyond the requirement of the law — he pledges to make a four-fold restoration of his ill-gotten gains.
Why such an action? Because Zacchaeus had experienced the forgiving power of God’s grace, and the result was a desire to live in such a way that he could express his gratefulness.
Have you experienced God’s grace in your own life? Then let God’s grace express itself through grateful living. (JMD)
November 12, 1989
Gaining the Winning Position
There are many terms we use in everyday language that are derived from sports. One of these terms is “a reversal.” Have you watched a wrestling match? I don’t mean the bash and clash of the TV variety; I mean the real, gut-wrenching variety you see on the college or high school mats.
In these exhausting contests, the second and third periods are started with the combatants positioned in a superior and inferior position — that is, each takes a position on his hands and knees, while one places his hand on his opponent’s elbow and his arm around his waist. When the referee signals to begin, he tries to drive his opponent into the mat. The athlete in the inferior position tries to escape the others’ grasp. When this is accomplished and he succeeds in placing a hold on his opponent, it is called a reversal and points are awarded.
It is a very exciting time, for it is difficult to be in the grasp of another and to escape and reverse the circumstances. What seemed to be an impossible situation is changed and the one originally at great disadvantage can win the battle.
That is an apt description of the story found in the text. Jesus was in the midst of people trying to conquer Him by asking questions designed to trap. The question that is the focus of this text was a standard of the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection. They asked a ridiculous question that was fashioned to be impossible to answer.
Yet Jesus did a reversal and placed Himself in the winning position. He changed the focus from the absurdity of the question to the Nature of God. He did this by proclaiming these truths.
1. The Resurrection Life does not have the concerns of this life.
Have you talked with young persons preparing for marriage? Have you listened to a group of young mothers-to-be expecting their first borns? Have you talked with a child coming face to face with death for the first time when a pet dies? Have you tried to explain what is going to happen when they have not experienced the event to come?
We try to put the experiences of the future in terms of the past and present. We try to explain what is going to happen by talking about what has already happened.
The only problem is that we are talking in terms of imagination rather than experience. The listener has not experienced what is going to take place and sometimes the terms we use are not adequate for the situation. The gap between the listener’s understanding and the reality of the future cannot be bridged.
That seems to be the case in this text. Jesus says plainly that the Resurrection life will be free from the concerns of this life. The beauty of the text is that the point struck home to some.
2. The Resurrection Life belongs to and will be defined by God.
When the scribes said, “Teacher, you have spoken well” they acknowledged the principle truth of the text. We cannot describe what is God’s in our limited terms. We have to hold at the center of our faith a sense of mystery and wonder and trust. We don’t say “Tell us what it going to be like” but “Lead on, O King Eternal!” (SNW)
November 19, 1989
Do you realize that we are only one decade away from the year 2000? Do you ever wonder what the twenty-first century will be like? It seems as if the question of the future has always, and will always, be with us. The question for us is not what will happen but rather what we will do with what happens.
The text centers around the Temple. The temple that Herod the Great remodeled was an object of great beauty. On colossal stone foundations, the temple courts were surrounded by great marble columns. The temple was built on the hill called Zion and was described by Flavius Josephus — Jewish historian of the first century — as appearing from a distance like a snow covered mountain. It reflected light that was as dazzling as “the sun’s own rays.”
Josephus wrote that Herod esteemed his building of the temple to be “the most glorious of all actions, and this should be an everlasting memorial of him.” Herod wrote that he intended “to make a thankful return, after the most pious manner, to God, for what blessings I have received from Him by giving me this kingdom.”
The disciples heard their Master say that in the future there would be nothing left of this great and glorious structure. They must have wondered what the future would bring.
Alvin Toffler wrote the book Future Shock in 1970. In it he explained strategies for survival in the future. His argument was that life is changing so rapidly that we in the modern world have lost all form of stability.
He offered several interesting options for facing the uncertainty of tomorrow. The ultimate goal of his hope for the future was that those who planned the economic, social, and political organizations of society would become “human.” He argued for the end of racism, the battle between the generations, crime, cultural autonomy, and violence.
Above all, Toffler argues that everything we are experiencing today is temporary. His argument certainly parallels the thrust of Jesus’ teaching in this text.
1. The Future Will Bring Great Change. Have you ever looked at one of your photographs from years past? Have you ever watched in wonder as your children change so dramatically — and so quickly!
Jesus spoke in a time of crisis. The people of Israel had sought independence and power but had become a powerless puppet of Rome. The yearning in Jewish hearts for autonomy and independence was painfully restricted by the reality of Roman oppression. The best hope of the listeners of Jesus would have been that God would intervene and provide a new world. They hoped for change, and yet Jesus promised change, but change accompanied by trials. He pointed to a certain fact that all of us have experienced:
2. The Future Will Include Testing. All of us have faced exams. We have spent long hours — sometimes into the early hours of the morning — worrying over how we would answer the exam questions. This time could be described as a time of pessimistic expectation. The fear of the unknown overrides and blocks out the ability to recover and remember the facts that are necessary to answer the questions.
It is the anxiety of the trials to come that can be the greatest enemy. Jesus spoke words of hope in the midst of this sense of crisis. He assured them that even though they would face difficult times, they would receive sufficient strength for the moment.
3. God Will Provide When Our Lives Are Tested. It is most appropriate that the early Christians who suffered for their faith were called martyrs. This word is taken from the Greek word martus, which meant witness. They suffered great trials as they faced persecutions. Yet the description of their lives was that they were faithful to testify to their faith in God even though their lives were taken from them.
Martin Luther, standing before the Emperor and the great lords of church and state at the Diet of Worms, claimed in the face of terrible accusations, “Here, I stand; God helping me, I can do no other!” We too will be able to stand and claim God’s assurance when the times of trials and testing come.
November 26, 1989
The Meaning of Messiah
Actors love to make “an entrance” — to come onto the stage in such a way that every eye in the theatre is fixed on them. So do politicians!
Jesus is preparing to enter Jerusalem, beginning the last week of His earthly ministry. It was to be quite an entrance, but not the one the people might have expected.
The crowds were in Jerusalem because of the Passover feast. Faithful Jews from all over the Roman world desired to go to Jerusalem at least once for this event, and each year the city was crowded with thousands of visitors.
And this particular year the major topic of conversation had been this amazing preacher from Nazareth who, it was said, had just raised a man from the grave! In fact, the crowds made their way from Jerusalem to Bethany just to get a look at this wonder-worker and Lazarus, the man who had been resurrected.
Now Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, and the crowds were out to meet him, covering His path with palm branches and shouting praises to the deliverer sent from God. The tragedy was that nearly everyone misunderstood who Jesus was.
1. The crowd thought He was coming as a conquering king. Their actions and words gave evidence that they expected Jesus to assume the throne of David and overthrow the Roman oppressors. The palm branches were symbolic of a conquering leader; the people would have been quite familiar with Simon the Maccabee, who a little over a century before had thrown the Gentiles out of Israel and who, upon his return to Jerusalem, was welcomed back “with a chorus of praise and the waving of palm branches” (1 Macc. 13:51).
The crowd saw Jesus as the Messianic king who would restore their nation to past glory.
2. The religious leaders thought He was coming as a rebel. Their power and authority relied on Roman permission, and the one thing Rome would not allow was rebellion against its power. If this Jesus was a revolutionary out to lead the people against Rome, the first ones to suffer would likely be the Sadducees — the religious leaders.
Consumed with self-interest, it was no wonder they were out to get rid of Him. They even wanted to get rid of Lazarus, since he was evidence of Jesus’ power.
3. Many people today misunderstand who Jesus is. Most people don’t think badly of Him; in fact, they don’t think of Him much at all. He is a historical figure, a great religious leader, a moral teacher — but that’s about all. Few people think that Jesus has any real connection with them; that He can make a difference in their lives. They move blindly through life, oblivious to just who Jesus really is.
Yet in this event of entering Jerusalem — what we now call Palm Sunday — Jesus made it clear just who He was.
Jesus accepted the role of Messiah. Jesus did not refuse the role of Messiah. In fact, His decision to ride a donkey into the city was a clear acceptance of the Messianic role (Zech. 9:9-10).
Yet Jesus reinterpreted the role of Messiah. The very use of the donkey was a deliberate attempt to correct a false understanding of the Messianic role. Zechariah 9:9-10 describes the arrival of the Messiah — “he is righteous, gentle, bringing salvation, riding on a donkey, proclaiming peace to the nations” (George R. Beasley-Murray). A king planning war arrived on a horse; a king coming in peace arrived on a donkey.
Jesus was coming, not as a Davidic Warrior-King, but as the Prince of Peace. He did not come to lead an armed insurrection against Rome, but to give His life as a ransom for many.
Yet the question of who Jesus is was not resolved two thousand years ago. It is a question each of us must face and answer for ourselves. The Jesus who gave His life as an atonement for your sins, who was resurrected on the third day, who now sits at the right hand of the Father — what will you do with that Jesus? How will you respond to His claim upon your life? (JMD)
Sermon briefs in this issue are provided by: W. Maynard Pittendreigh, Jr., Pastor of Warrenton Presbyterian Church, Abbeville, SC: Sam N. Wilson, Associate Editor of Preaching; and Michael Duduit, Editor of Preaching.
October 1, 1989