“Peace be with you” Luke 24:36b today I had everything ready to preach as I normally do out of the lectionary. As a matter of fact, “Peace be with you” is the opening line from today’s gospel reading, I had Luke all ready to go when I realized that the lectionary does not relate to the world. The lectionary is a tool, a good one, it lets us touch on all the themes and topics throughout the bible in a methodical way and being a Methodist I find it comforting because it ensures that the whole picture is revealed, it makes pastors look at topics that we may not be comfortable with and that helps us and you grow as Christians. Still it’s a tool and cannot replace the Holy Spirit, neither can it foresee the evil in humanity nor when it will spring forth to cause pain and suffering. I don’t think there’s anyone here that has not heard about the gas attack in Syria and our government’s response. When I look at the pictures of the dead and dying children my first response is the same as anyone’s I suppose, any person with a shred of humanity, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, no matter; the first thing I feel is horror and compassion, then anger and I want someone to pay for this and I want it to be painful and degrading and immediate, I want revenge, now, not later and I don’t want to wait and see or talk about it I want action. But I have to stop and I have to remember that someone has paid for this already, Jesus paid for this when He was hung on a cross, Jesus paid for it even before then for ”he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed”. [Isaiah 53:5] I cannot speak for the evil that is in people’s hearts, I cannot understand or rather I know all too well the excuses that people make and the drive behind the desire for power, power over everything. It’s the same thing that drives Satan and his followers, it’s the same thing that drives political rivalry and religious intolerance. It’s what drove us out of the Garden, it cost us our relationship with God, that desire to be God. It perpetuates itself in hatred, in intolerance, in destruction, in the desire to control what people think and feel. There is only one thing that has before and can continue to overcome this and that is love and compassion for all, even our enemies.
To paraphrase Philippians 2:5 we must have the same mind in us that is in Christ Jesus. He tells us this in Luke speaking to His disciples He said “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. [Luke 6:27-36] Luke comes in handy after all, but the path that Jesus commands is hard to do especially when dead kids are involved, I have such compassion for those people and their suffering, I too want retribution swift and terrible, but we must be careful that we also do not harden our hearts to those that cause such thing. That we do not seek retribution in anger or in the name of justice for those slain. Paul makes it clear in Romans 12:19 when he says “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Vengeance is the Lord’s not the governments, not mine, not yours, but God’s. I know we feel obligated to protect those that are helpless and those that are oppressed, we wouldn’t be human … much less Christians if we didn’t feel that way. However, war has consequences, sin has consequences, not listening to God has consequences. Those consequences are usually death and destruction, God gave to the prophet Jeremiah this warning “But if any nation will not listen, then I will uproot that nation, uproot and destroy it,” declares the LORD. [Jeremiah 12:17] We have an obligation to our neighbors to help them and to protect them as we are able, but we have a far greater obligation to follow the commandments that God has set forth; that He sent His Son to bleed for us and to die for us to redeem us is the greater obligation. Jesus commands us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, and most specially to pray for those who abuse us.
These aren’t just pretty words or platitudes to tell people, so they’ll be impressed, we need to live this like there is no tomorrow, because without love and compassion, there will be no tomorrow. Jesus showed this in His ministry, everywhere He went He showed compassion, listen, “When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things”. [Mark 6:34] There’s no getting around it, showing compassion and forgiveness to child murderers is not something that I ever thought that God would ask of me. It just doesn’t seem right somehow to forgive them for killing children. Sometimes being Gods children is hard, yet we have to remember that he chose us he chose you, and “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others”. [Colossians 3:12-13] Do not worry about the Lord’s vengeance because God will have His vengeance according to His will, not ours. I’ve said it before, God does not delight in destruction. It’s the other guy who delights in mass murder, hatred, confusion, depravity, and injustice. God is a God of love, mercy, and compassion, but also being outside of time it may seem like things aren’t progressing and I say be thankful that He is slow to anger and slow to pass judgement. If God held a grudge or acted immediately, none of us would be here right now. Thank God that He gives us what we need and not what we deserve. That’s not to say that He is not timely in His promises. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance”. [2 Peter 3:9] The evil in the world demands an immediate response from us because that is in our nature. We want immediate gratification. We have come to need that instant fix, we have become a fast food society and we automatically try to put God in the same box. Yeah, how’s that working out for us. Yeah, not so good eh! God will do things in His time, we are simply commanded to love Him with all our heart, with all our might, and with all our soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves, even the ones we don’t like. It is not for us to know the mind of God or to dictate when He will act. He sent His son to us to sustain us in these times, listen, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world”. [John 16:33]
Remember that Jesus is always within us as the Holy Spirit, as the comforter, the counselor, the healer, the defender, as these horrible things happen in the world it is important to step back and recall the power of God and the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, that as children of God the Holy Spirit resides within each of us. Remember that no matter what befalls us in this world we have the Kingdom of God to look forward to. “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning”. [Lamentations 3:22-23] As such we are eternally renewed, eternally forgiven and we can do no less as His children, as brothers and sisters in Christ it is our obligation to extend that forgiveness to all. None are undeserving of our love, our compassion, our brokenness does not disqualify us from this neither does it prevent us from doing what the Lord has commanded us to do. It empowers us and makes us more formidable than the enemy because He has never contemplated defeat in his pride and arrogance, while we have only known success except through our own failure and having put our trust and faith in God we now know that we cannot fail for if God is with us who can stand against us? Amen.
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death…even death on a cross. Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”. [Philippians 2:5-11] This is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week and my absolute favorite time of the year. Historically speaking we are approaching the Passover and then the resurrection of Jesus as we just heard. Today though I want to focus on the mind of Christ. To many his entrance into Jerusalem on this day is the fulfillment of prophecy and expectations are high. The Pharisee are expecting to condemn and murder Jesus, but the people are ready to crown Him the new king, though sadly this would change almost as quickly as He is celebrated as the new David, he would be reviled and denounced by all, even his own disciples. But the most important thing to remember is that throughout all of Jesus’ ministry on earth he never placed himself above those he ministered to. Always He placed himself as a servant to the people and never did he make use of his rightful position as the word made flesh. Never did He place himself on the same level as God. His entire ministry was based on his service to us. His sacrifice for us was the greatest gift that one can give for he gave his life selflessly for the selfish. He served the lowest of society, the sick and the socially outcast, lepers, tax collectors and prostitutes. I know that today’s world doesn’t seem to relate well with ancient history, that’s because we tend to dismiss it. Let the same mind be in you, this literally translates as let yourself think as Jesus, let his mind be your mind. Let the example that Christ brought to the world be your focus, your desire, your example to the world. We think of the Israelites as ignorant and unsophisticated but when you think about lepers, instead remember the aids epidemic in Africa, the children born addicted to drugs, and prostitution has never gone away and won’t while countries are legalizing it and promoting it as a tourist attraction and wherever there’s money the tax collector isn’t far behind. Yesterday’s problems have never gone away, they are still present in this time, only the names have changed, and that’s always been evil’s way. It cannot create, it can only destroy so it must constantly change its clothes otherwise we would become familiar with it and it would be easier for us to conquer. While evil constantly changes Jesus never changes, God never changes, the Holy Spirit, the Word, never changes, only our perceptions of them do. Jesus is our unchanging example, His obedience to God, His love of us, and His glorification of God and not Himself, those are what we should model for the rest of the world. Not just today…but every day we should be of the same mind as Christ in all that we do. “So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”. [2:10-11]
This is the fourth Sunday in Lent, we are 22 days into the Lent season a little over half way. We have hopefully looked within ourselves and contemplated our relationship with ourselves and with Christ. We know that our salvation begins when we acknowledge Christ, turn from self and turn to God. We place our trust in our relationship to God and know that we are his children and heirs through Christ. But what does it all mean? Why the cross if God is about love? Why will faith save us from condemnation? How do we get to heaven? Always a popular question. A friend of mine asked the children in her Sunday School class, that question. She said, what if I sold everything I owned and gave all my money to the church, would I go to heaven? All the children said “NO!” Well, what if I spent all my time working for others and helping them for free, would I get into heaven?” Still, they said “NO!” “Ok,” she asked them, “then how can I get to heaven?” Way in the very back of the room, a little girl says, “You gotta be dead!” It’s a funny story, but true none the less, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast”. [Ephesians 2:8-9] Christianity is the only religion in the world that is strictly faith based, our salvation comes not through our works but through redemption, we have been redeemed, in simplest terms we have been bought back and our redemption comes not through anything that we could ever do. We must pay for our sins period God will call every person to account, all will be judged, “That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by”. [Ecclesiastes 3:15] Gods plan is as unknown and indecipherable to us as it was to Job and Jonah, but God seeks us out and makes himself know, he knows us as only the potter can know the clay. He knows our every flaw and sin; his nature is constant and even after we repented he would still be forced to exact payment for those sins that we committed as yet unknowing. Think about sin as money owed to God. See all I had to do was equate it to money and everyone goes Ok I’m with you, where do I get me some sin. Really though think about it this way, sin is money owed, and you owe that money to a bank, any bank pick one.
So, every time you sin you owe the bank $100 let’s say. Now you know it’s a sin, but you don’t care because the bank never sends you bill so you don’t really know how much you owe. So, the bank sends a messenger to tell us about the payment plan, but we don’t look at junk mail. One day for whatever reason you finally open the mail and realize that you owe this huge debt to the bank and that you don’t want to keep on owing this debt, because it sucks to be in debt, right. So, you go to the bank and say, I’m sorry from now on I will sin no more and I’m going to help others and become a model citizen, forgive me for everything I have done wrong. Amen. The bank says, awesome, welcome home we love you and you are forgiven. By the way, when will you be settling your past due account? But your like no, no, no, you don’t understand I not sinning anymore, so I won’t owe you anything anymore and besides I never saw a bill before, and I didn’t really think it was important at that time anyways, so there’s no reason for me to pay the past due account, that’s not fair, I’m a different person now. I shouldn’t have to pay for my past mistakes, because that’s what they were, mistakes, surely you won’t hold it against me now. Put yourself in the bankers’ shoes, I owe you a billion dollars, yeah, yeah, I know, I’m a serious sinner, and I owe a serious debt, so are you going to just tell me never mind, all is forgiven, keep it. No way, you are going to want your money and in the same sense God is the same because He is never changing, He requires what is due and no amount of good works or sin offerings will buy you forgiveness for that kind of debt. So why does the cross represent redemption, why do we look to it for salvation, it seems a little like idolatry doesn’t it, in fact many Christians level that very accusation at Catholics and the crucifix. The answer is in the first verses of today’s gospel which are a little strange “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life”. [3:14-15] Does anyone remember this from Sunday school or the bible, “From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So, Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So, Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. [Numbers 21:4-9] I always wondered about this one because it seemed like God was being as childish as the Israelites, plus he was telling them to worship a snake after He had condemned them for worshipping a golden calf, seriously, can’t He make up His mind. Everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live, it never says to worship the serpent, I was putting my own take on Gods words. The snake is nothing, it represents nothing, it’s a piece of bronze, as a matter of fact later on it would be used sort of like a votive candle in that some Israelites would light incenses to the snake and say prayers to it, they called it Nehushtan and it was worshipped as a false idol until Hezekiah broke it to pieces in 2 Kings. Originally though it was meant as an example to the Israelites, I mean honestly these people are not stupid and looking at a silly bronze statue and being healed from a deadly snakebite is ridiculous, and that’s the point. Israel had to learn to rely on God, to put their faith in the one true God, not in a silly symbol. They had to develop faith, the snake on a pole was the instrument by which Israel focused their faith on God and received his healing power, like the cross, which became the instrument of our redemption and focuses our faith on Christ, whose blood brings us salvation through that faith in Christ and his sacrifice on the cross, but like the early Israelites we do not worship the cross, we recognize it for what it represents not for what it is. How do we know that the cross is relevant, just because it is the bearer of the one who endures our sins?
The one who bears not only my sins and yours but those of all that came before and are yet to come. The cross is the instrument through which we view Christ, and Christ is the one that has made it possible for us to receive Gods love, our salvation freely given and freely accepted. I am going to tell you everything, literally everything that you need to know about God and his love for you, me, everyone. How am I going to do that, how do we know that God loves us, we know that God loves us because the bible says so, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”. [3:16] This one verse has become all things to all people, it sums up our relationship with God in one sentence, it has the most profound meaning for us as his children. It has been translated into more languages than any other verse of the bible, it’s the first thing that is translated into most languages even before the rest of the bible. John 3:16 is Christianity, is the totality of His love and grace for one and all. How do we know love, because He first loved us and there is no condemnation in this world for us for “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; [3:17-18a] That doesn’t mean that everyone gets a free ride either, “but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. [3:18b-20] This is harsh, this is one of those parts of the bible that no one wants in the bible, especially Methodist because we are connexionally bound to one another and we prefer unity and harmony rather than problems, most people do. We tend to expect the best from people and are not willing to just let a person go, which is why I am a Methodist, but all the same, people will refuse to come to God for the simplest of reasons. They will fail to believe in Jesus.
They will love God and glorify him, they will be good people, honorable, not in the least bit evil, and still they will die, and they will be judged, and God will turn his countenance from them, like it or not. That’s no reason to give up on them, but we must accept that a great many will be deceived and will earn the wages of sin and one way that people earn that wage is by accommodating sin. “But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” All things are revealed in the light and Jesus is the light and He said “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” [John 11:25-26]
This is the third Sunday in Lent and todays gospel is about Trust. Where do we place our trust these days? What do we place our trust in? I assure you most our peers don’t put their trust in Jesus, in fact many Christians don’t put their faith in Christ and faith is what we are talking about here. Without faith you can’t have Trust and vice versa they’re mutually interchangeable concepts. We don’t seem to have a problem putting our faith in political systems, tv, sports personalities. We even put our faith into corporate America and the almighty dollar. All these things we are told are perfectly acceptable things to place our trust in, instead of the kingdom of God, instead of the promises that Jesus made, instead of eternal salvation. Not even the Pharisee were that blind. But we are, I don’t really blame the Pharisee as much as I blame contemporary society, because the Pharisee had an established status quo and a vested interest in keeping things the way they were. Honestly if you think about it they weren’t any different than we are today in that respect. We like our religion straight up, with no complications, no conflict and by God we’ll do whatever it takes to keep it that way period. The Pharisee were no different in their day. Part of the problem that arises with respect to Jesus and the Pharisee regards the difference between faith and respect. While faith and trust are synonomous, respect is necessary, you must have respect for God before you can trust Him and have faith in Him. This goes for everything else in life, in Christianity, in our daily dealing with each other, it doesn’t matter. Civilization is based on respect. Respect for God, respect for ourselves, and respect for others, without that respect their can be no trust and without trust there can be no faith, and faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead, [James 2:17] without faith we have nothing but works and no amount of works will bring you to the Father. Only faith in Jesus can bring us eternal life, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [John 14:6]
And you cannot come to Christ except through faith in Him and before you can have faith you must have trust and respect and before you can have all these things you must first confess your sins and then turn from them, turn from evil and turn to God. Confession and repentance are the beginning of respect, for yourself, for Jesus, for God, stop lying to yourself, admit that you don’t got this, because God cares, he will forgive you and love you, we are his children and heirs to his Kingdom. We are human, and we are born to sin, there is no getting around that, or out of it without God and you need Jesus to get to God, besides you can’t lie to God, do yourself a favor don’t even try. The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” [2:13-16] You see… at that time… the only way that you could get rid of sin, was to make a blood sacrifice because the wages of sin are death, Romans tells us that, and the instant that you committed a sin you were spiritually dead physically alive but spiritually dead. And God would only accept blood as payment for that sin. And you shall bring to the Lord, as your penalty for the sin that you have committed, a female from the flock, a sheep or a goat, as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for your sin. But if you cannot afford a sheep, you shall bring to the Lord, as your penalty for the sin that you have committed, two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. [Leviticus 5:6-7] You see even in those days if you were too poor to properly get rid of your sin then there was always the discounted rate. Therein lies the problem. The demand for this was huge at Passover, everyone that could come to Jerusalem and the Temple did. If you traveled a great distance you didn’t want to bring a sacrifice with you, probably couldn’t, even if you were rich. It just wasn’t practical. It was also tax time. The temple tax was due for upkeep of the temple, because the ½ shekel temple tax could only be paid with a shekel or ½ shekel coin, no other type of coin was accepted, and throw in the sales on animal’s… and you had to have money changers as well.
Where there’s money there’s someone wanting a piece of it, so now you have vendor’s selling turkey legs and kettle corn, ok maybe I’m exaggerating a little. So, what happens when there’s a demand for something, someone will supply that demand and next thing you know there’s a farmer’s market in your Temple. Can you imagine coming in to church on Christmas eve and wading through a flea market, buying a couple of doves to sacrifice for your yearly sins plus paying your required tax for the upkeep of the church? Imagine that. Just like the Pharisee in the temple, we tend to commercialize religion, especially Christmas, so we don’t have anything to say about the Pharisee, there’s nothing we can say because we do the same thing 2000 years later and we still commercialize holy days, Resurrection day is coming, you may know it better as Easter and corporate America will rake in billions of dollars over the course of Holy week, all in the name of profit, because we have removed God from Easter and Christmas, it is no longer a time to celebrate the birth and resurrection of our savior. Instead we celebrate things that have no relation to God, we celebrate corporate greed. In those days, I won’t say that Passover held greater significance than it does today for Judaism because that would be insulting to any person of the Jewish faith but like Christianity and Christmas it has suffered a bit from age. Because this generation does not have the veneration for the Lord that is found as you go farther back in time and that’s partially due to the size of our culture and the huge array of choices that we are constantly bombarded with daily. It tends to drown out the word of God. It doesn’t really matter does it? I mean today we can just whip out a credit card and tithe on the spot, bingo, instant fire insurance. Luckily for us, we don’t need a blood sacrifice any longer to get rid of our sins. Now, when Jesus comes into the temple and kicks butt it’s one of my most favorite passages, of course there are over 31,000 verses in the Bible and I have a lot of favorites, but still, Jesus is righteously angry here, and with good cause and everyone tends to forget three things about Jesus. He is capable of anger and laughter because He is HUMAN, just like us, with all the emotions, good and bad that we have. What would you do if someone came into your father’s house, your house and disrespected it? I’d be angry too. You see the people had lost all respect for the house of the Lord, for His Fathers house, he reminds them with those words that not only is he the Son of Man but the Son of God. But they do not hear him.
They are not listening, of course neither are we. Look around the world today, we have been warned, we have been educated, we know the consequences of a life of sin, we know what Jesus sacrificed for us and that we are guaranteed eternal life, we know what’s expected of us as Christians and yet we still don’t listen. Still we seek signs, we ask, is that what God means, really, are you sure? His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [2:17-19] The disciples heard him, this time they remembered the words of the prophets but not the Pharisee, and both were focused on the here and now and not the divine. Both heard Jesus but neither understood what it was that He was talking about. Neither one truly heard Him, heard His message. Essentially, He was baiting the Pharisee, “go ahead do your worst, you see what I can do. He had just run everyone out of the Temple, interrupted a holy gathering and stopped the priests from performing their jobs, rebuked them in front of a multitude and all they can say is “well, who do you think you are?” what they’re really asking Jesus is by what authority does He say these things. And Jesus gives them prophecy again, and again they just don’t hear him. Now I am divided on this because, the Pharisee are the number one authority on scripture, back then they only had the first five books of the bible, the Pentateuch. So, I must wonder if it was all part of God’s design, I mean of course it was but really, if anyone should have gotten it, it was the Pharisee. They should have been falling all over themselves, proclaiming the Messiah, instead they were his greatest enemies after Satan. No repentance there, no respect, no faith, certainly no trust. The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. [2:20-22] Again we just aren’t getting any reception here, this time it’s both groups that are confused, though the disciples do finally get it. The Pharisee not even, they have no respect for Jesus, they are committed to the secular world and have completely abandoned God. I really feel sorry for them at this point, at least the disciples get it eventually or are allowed to after the Holy Spirit comes on them.
The Pharisee never do, there Temple really is destroyed less than 40 years later, many of the people that heard Jesus that day would live to see the destruction of the Temple, though none would live to see it rebuilt. I can’t help but imagine what they must have thought when the Temple was destroyed, they absolutely had to have remembered what Jesus said, because his resurrection was just as well witnessed and testified to. At what point do you finally acknowledge that Jesus is Lord? What must happen before you finally get down on your knees and ask forgiveness? When do we as a people, not a nation but as people, all nations, all people, everyone finally put our trust in God? When do we start serving our Lord and King, our Saviour, Master and Creator of the Universe. When will we believe in the scripture and the words as spoken by Jesus? That’s a lot to ask, and they’re hard questions that really can’t be answered collectively, because the answer depends on God alone, so I’ll leave you with a basic guide. Stop lying to yourself, you’re not fooling God, turn to Jesus, place your trust in Him, your faith will be rewarded.
“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again”. [8:31] Jesus is the Messiah and as such the culmination of his life is His death on the cross and His resurrection three day later. Without the passion there is no Christianity. Without the pain and suffering, the humiliation and degradation of the coming days, Christianity would be nothing more than a fad. Only His suffering and rejection by the people would fulfill Gods requirements. Only His blood on the cross would be an acceptable offering for our sins, for the worlds sins. Only then could we be forgiven and washed clean in the blood of the lamb. Without that suffering then there is no rejection of sin, no price is paid without the blood, remember at this time and in the context of those days, there had to be a blood offering to expiate sin. Not like today where you simply ask forgiveness. I am sorry God please forgive me. In those days only, the high priest could go into the Holy of Holy’s and only on very specific days and times. Jesus delivered us from far more than just our sins when he died on the cross. Without that sacrifice there could be no resurrection and without the resurrection there would be no conquering of death and no eternal life. The entire sequence of event had to follow exactly as God planned it or else there was no point in any of it.
The passion is in fact the very bedrock on which all Christianity is built. For without it there is no redemption, no salvation, no grace, no eternal life, no God, just a pointless morality lesson, not even a very good one. I mean what’s the point love God, love your neighbor and get crucified, no thank you, I’ll have the Vegas package instead, give me booze and dancing girls till I die, after all there’s only one life to live and it’s too short to spend it worrying about a nonexistent afterlife. Right? No…not right and Jesus knew that. Now try to explain that to twelve men who have followed you for three years, have lived with you, would die for, will die for you. Explain to them that you will be tortured, defiled, and murdered, but that it was necessary for not just their salvation but the worlds salvation and that even though you will die, three days from now you will rise again conquering death and begin a new covenant with mankind. That no longer would death hold any terror for God’s children, that redemption, salvation, and grace were there for the asking and no longer was it necessary to buy your way into heaven, because the price had already been paid, once and for all. Not an easy thing to do, especially with those twelve guys. I don’t know if you noticed or not but some of them are pretty stubborn, especially Peter. It must be a fisherman thing, after all you have to be stubborn to go out day after day and throw your nets in the water with only a 50/50 chance of catching enough to feed your family much less make a living. So, I understand Peter’s reluctance. I truly feel for Peter because Jesus really rebukes him harder than anyone else except Judas and even then, I am not so sure it would be better to have never been born than to be compared to Satan. I’ll leave that up to you. “He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” [8-32-33] Poor Peter, compared to Satan.
Is Jesus really calling Peter, Satan or is he comparing his attitude to that of the Adversary. What Peter is voicing is the mind of the worldly and it’s not really Peters fault. All of the disciples, the Pharisee and people in general were expecting the Messiah to herald a worldly kingdom. That he would be a King of the line of David and a new era would start with his coming. He would right all wrongs and kick out the Romans. Judaism would conquer all and everyone would live happily ever after. They were in fact expecting a fairy tale ending. When Jesus told them, to get that happily ever after ending he would first have to die, well that did not sit too well with Peter. Unfortunately, when Peter rebuked Jesus he was putting himself in direct confrontation with Jesus, the same place that Satan is coming from. So, he got the same response. Jesus rebuked Peter because Satan had already tempted Jesus with this very thing in the wilderness. Jesus had already accepted the cross, for without the cross there can be no crown. I feel for him because I often find myself in that position. If you notice Jesus turned his back on Peter and addressed the disciples when he rebuked Peter. And that’s something we need to ask ourselves are we following Jesus or are we trying to lead? Do you say thy will be done Lord and then go ahead and do whatever it was you had in mind, anyways? Do you turn your back on Jesus? Do you find yourself rebuking God, maybe just a simple, that’s not the way it should be statement? That’s the problem with society today, we try to impose our worldly view on the divine and that places us in direct opposition to God, and we should not be surprised to be counted as one of Satan’s when we do. When we pray for things that are in direct opposition to God’s word we need to consider who we are actually praying too. Is it God or the other fella? Are you setting your mind on the divine or are you more concerned with the things of this world? “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. [8:34]
We must die to selves, that has always been the message of this passage as well as my personal favorite Matthew 10:38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. That means that we have to focus on the bigger picture on what we should be for God and not what we think God should be for us. We have to stop the petty bickering and get with the program because I assure you Satan can see the big picture and he’s perfectly happy with society as it is. The world is full of Sodom and Gomorrah’s. They have become the norm rather than the exception. The term “Just Do It!” may just be a slogan for a shoe but it also seems to be the worlds new attitude. If it feels good, “Just Do It!” We are most comfortable in this world and that’s understandable it’s what we know, but people we are going to spend a lot more of eternity in the divine realm and Jesus tells us what’s needed to accomplish that. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? [8:35-37] The harder you try to live your life for yourself the more certain that you will lose it. No matter how hard you work for yourself, no matter how much wealth you accumulate, no matter how badly you want it, you will lose it in the end. You ever here that saying, “He who dies with the most toys wins” Yes. Well Malcolm Forbes said it, but it would be more accurate from a non-Christian perspective to say, “He who dies with the most toys, still dies”. Yet, we do not have to fear that, if we live for Jesus and the Gospel as it is, not as we think it should be, we need never fear death. And Jesus is showing us the way, but it’s on His terms not ours. For we have nothing to offer, we are God’s creation, everything we have is owed to God in the first place. If we were to get everything we ever wanted but it costed us eternity, what good is it? What point is there to living for self only to die.
I would rather die and live eternally serving God, than live a thousand years serving myself. But that’s not what society tells us today, “Just Do It, the only way to happiness is to live for self, and don’t you even dare mention God or Jesus. Why? Do you think it’s a coincidence that these are societal norms at this time in history? Have you ever wondered why the current media and politics have become ashamed of Jesus? Why “Political Correctness” has become the rallying cry of the other side. “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” [8:38] There are no coincidences, the world is the way it is because Satan has a free hand in it and we have free will. So where do you stand? Who do you follow? Do you stand with the media, are you ashamed of the Son of Man? Will you die for him, will you deny yourselves and follow him? Will you rebuke Jesus in the name of expediency, or will you follow where he leads? The choice is yours, as it always has been your choice. As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.
It’s the first Sunday of Lent, the Resurrection season has begun. Ash Wednesday kicks it off and for the next 40 days we spend time reflecting on what it means to be a Christian. It’s a time of self-awareness and examination, when we repent of our sins and fast. The forty days represent the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted by Satan and preparing for his coming ministry. In the early days of the church it was a time to prepare new members for Baptism. In the present we tend to focus on our relationship with God and usually choose to give up something or give something in return to the community at large. Some choose to give up a specific thing like sodas or smoking, but it doesn’t have to be physical and doesn’t have to be done in a sense of rejection. You could choose to be kinder to your neighbor for forty days or you could choose to always start a conversation with a compliment. It’s not so much in what you do but who you are doing it for, every time you are tempted to do the opposite remember that Jesus endured far more than forty days without soda. Whether or not you choose to give up something for the next forty day or not it is a time for us to repent, to reflect on where we are in our walk with God and our personal relationship with Christ. Over the past weeks I have been trying to bring together the elements of Christianity, to get us thinking about what it meant to the disciples and what it means to us, what God expects from us and what Jesus taught us. To reflect on our humanity and what it meant for Jesus to partake of that humanity. To understand that while we revere the Apostles and what they did for us, nevertheless they were no greater than you or I, that we possess the same capabilities. To realize that all that was accomplished through them was by the will of our Lord and Savior Jesus. To give thanks that while Jesus was born as you and I, the Son of Man, yet He is the Son of God, the Alpha and the Omega. “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life and the life was the light of all people”. [John 1:3-4]
To comprehend the fullness of what Jesus did for us we have to take a look within ourselves and comprehend the nature of the covenant that God made with humanity and for that we have to go back to the beginning and that beginning is Genesis. I am not going to go into the fall and original sin, who’s to blame etc. rather what concerns us now is the covenant that God made with Noah. “Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” [Genesis 9:8-11] Why was it necessary for God to make this covenant with us? Why did God destroy the earth? “And it repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart”. [Genesis 6:6] Of all creation we are the only ones that God has actually repented of, twice. God was not only sorry that he made humanity but we grieved His heart. Usually when we are talking about repentance it’s us for our sins, not God, he does not sin yet he felt sorrow and regret that he created us, God felt that he had done wrong by our creation. Think about that. Exactly what does that mean, remember we can’t change Gods mind and God can do no evil, yet he repented of us. Repentance in the simplest from is “to turnabout or to turn away from” in the theological sense it is to turn away from evil and to turn towards God. So practically speaking God turned his countenance away from our evil because it pained him so much. Fortunately for us “Noah found favor in the eyes the Lord”. [Genesis 6:8] So humanity survives but buried deep within us at our core is still that seed of evil that we took with us out of the garden. There is just no way that we can atone for our sins, it is not possible for humanity to earn God’s grace. We were given a reprieve (free and clear) and still we didn’t get it, thousands of years and we were heading right back down that same road. What’s God supposed to do? God has made a covenant with us, and He must be true to His nature. He won’t destroy us, doesn’t want to in fact, yet he cannot countenance evil.
You’ve all heard the saying “if you want something done right you have to do it yourself”. Amen. So, the only way for us to receive salvation is if it is given freely and accepted and apparently, we can’t figure it out, so God decided to show us the way personally. Our true salvation begins not with Noah’s covenant, that’s the old world our salvation begins with Jesus and his ministry, if you will recall I said that the true beginning of Jesus ministry was his Baptism by John. “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”. [Mark 1:9-11] Up to this point Jesus has been practicing but this moment defines the beginning not only for Jesus but for all Christians that moment when we are accepted as children of God by accepting Gods sovereignty in our lives. The one man that does not need to repent his sins for he has none, yet he acknowledges Gods authority and God approves and the spirit descends and the Trinity is complete on earth as it is in heaven. The Messiah is at hand “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence”! [Isaiah 64:1-2] God has come and rent the heavens to anoint His servant, Jesus. “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations”. [Isaiah 42:1] And God has declared him his Son “I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you”. [Psalm 2:7] I love it when the Old Testament and the New Testament connect and you get to see God’s plan in action. I get a profound sense awe and wonder that this actually happened and then I get excited because the best is still to come. But like anything worth having it has to be worth waiting for and there is always a price.
“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him”. [Mark 1:12-13] Forty days in the wilderness. Please don’t think of this as a camping trip in the Gila. No food, no water and wild animals, we are not talking about sheep and goats here, but jackals and lions. People were regularly killed in the wilderness, it was not a Sunday picnic. It was dangerous and demanding, survival is not a game and the adversary is not someone to be taken lightly. But neither is Jesus and unlike the children of God (Israel) that had failed in the wilderness, Jesus is the Son of God and he conquers Satan and cast him away returning from the wilderness only to find that John the Baptist has been arrested. This was a cruel blow for Jesus as John was his cousin but more importantly he was also the harbinger of the Messiah for “A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God”. [Isaiah 40:3] As much as John was necessary to prepare the way for Jesus so to was it necessary that John’s presence must lessen as Jesus begins his ministry, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” [John 3:30] “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” [Mark 1:14-15] Repent and believe in the good news for the kingdom of God is near. Turn away from evil and turn toward God for His kingdom is near and his Son is truly the Messiah, our Lord and Savior. Jesus will come again. I get a little bit excited when I think about everything coming together, because it’s amazing, even if for some reason your here today and don’t believe in Jesus. Consider this, according to biblical scholars Jesus fulfilled over 300 references to 61 specific prophesies written over a thousand years and by many different people in different geographical locations and cultures. The odds of fulfilling just one is like winning the Irish lottery. To fulfill all of them is impossible, well unless you are the Messiah. Something to reflect upon this first Sunday in Lent? Last week I was hard on Peter, so I’ll let him have the last words this week because Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah, even when he didn’t get it right.
“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him”. [1 Peter 3:18-22]
Today is the day that is traditionally called Transfiguration Sunday. In the synoptic gospels it is approaching the time when Jesus will begin his final entry into Jerusalem and the terrible suffering that he foretold was to commence, with His eventual death and resurrection. But for now, that time is still many days in the future and the significance of the transfiguration is that it is the second confirmation by God that Jesus is in fact His Son and the Messiah. I am going to ask you to place yourselves in your minds eye in those men’s sandals. Consider for a moment, I am going to ask you to continually remember a couple of facts. One, these men are just like you and me and as far as they are concerned, so is Jesus. They have not had the benefit of two thousand years to think about this. In their time, Jesus was a radical Rabbi, preaching the kingdom of God for all, that salvation was for everyone, not just the wealthy or the priesthood. That salvation was not earned but was freely given to those who would ask for it. That God did not want their sacrifices but rather their love and devotion. The second thing I want you to remember is that to these men Jesus was just a man. We know that he is the Son of God but two thousand years ago before his death and resurrection he was a man, born of woman and raised just like you or me. His mother changed his diapers when he was a baby and kissed his owies away when he fell. To these men he was just another man. A teacher to be sure, a worker of miracles absolutely, but at the end of the day still a man. We focus so much on His ministry and the miracles and divinity that we forget that he was foremost sent to us to be human. Jesus came to be tempted by the same sins that we are tempted with, in order that he might show us the way. So, I want you to consider this passage from the viewpoint of the three men whom Jesus took up the mountain that day. Because to them he was not God, and even though Peter had just recognized Him as the Messiah in [Mark 8:29] Jesus “asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” We will see how easily that is forgotten. We are more fortunate in that we did not know Jesus as the disciples did. I know that seems contradictory but think about it, our faith is based purely on faith not on sure knowledge, not on facts. The disciples had all the facts and still they didn’t get it. They literally witnessed the salvation of mankind and still they did not get it. They did not have the same faith that we have, now stay with me a moment, I am not saying that it was greater or less, just different, in [John 20:29] Jesus is speaking to Thomas and “Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” We are all familiar with the phrase don’t be a doubting Thomas, right. So think a moment, you have never seen Jesus in the flesh or seen Him perform a miracle and yet we believe that he is alive and will return, we affirm this every Sunday in worship and confirm our belief every time we participate in the Holy Sacraments. Not so the very men who were daily with him for three years, they were able to see these things that we take on faith, first hand. And that was their problem, I think Chaucer, first used it in print but the origin of the phrase goes back much further, and that is “familiarity breeds contempt”, I know no one likes to think of that word in the same sentence as Jesus, much less connected directly to him, and I do not suggest that the disciples held Jesus in contempt on the contrary they were in awe of him. But you cannot live with a man day in and day out, watch him eat and sleep and do all the things that you and I do daily and keep them on a pedestal. I think most of us are or have been either married or in a long-term relationship before, so let me ask you how long did the honeymoon last? How long before familiarity set in and you became comfortable with each other, before dirty socks and morning breath stopped bothering you. Exactly, not too long. So, as we go through this passage, remember that at this end of history we know the rest of the story and try not to judge the other guys to harshly. Even though I am going to hammer Peter pretty good, I recognize that he is still the one that Jesus chose to build the church, our church and happily, they did eventually get it. Now that we have the right frame of mind let’s look at one of the more important passages in my opinion in the entire bible, only His birth and His final days are more significant to humanity. Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. [9:2a] Jesus did not take everyone only those three, and remember who those three are, Peter who would build the church, James Jesus’ brother who would be the first bishop of Jerusalem, and John the beloved who would write the Revelation, the only disciple that was not martyred. He did not take Matthew, Mark, or Luke. He took the three men who would be instrumental in the creation of the church. They were to witness Jesus in all his Glory “And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them”. [2:2b,3] the Greek word used here for transfigured is metamorphoō it means to change in appearance, literally Jesus’ appearance became something else. His clothes became dazzling white, beyond anything possible at that time. Both Matthew and Luke report that His face was changed and that it shone like the sun. “And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus”. [2:4] The bringer of Gods law and the defender of Gods law, together with the Son of God in all his heavenly Glory. We are talking about heaven on earth, when we pray on earth as it is in heaven, this is what we mean. The Messiah reigning on earth, this is what we are waiting for. This passage is called the Transfiguration and it’s a snapshot of the second coming of Christ and the redemption of mankind, but I think it’s also not the first transfiguration. The first was when God came to us as a man, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known”. [John 1:1-18] Now is when I need you to remember what I said in the beginning, now is the time to remember that these three men disciples of Christ and pillars of the church to come are in fact just as human as you or I. Peter the rock of the church given the opportunity to see the coming Glory of the messiah, God incarnate and the two greatest historical figures in Judaism, I want you to put yourself in his shoes and ask yourself what would you do? What would I do? I want to believe that I could come up with something better than Peter, but that would be my pride talking. “Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” [9:5-7] You have just seen your friend, your teacher, your confidante transformed before your eyes into the Messiah that you acknowledged as such, talking to the two greatest men in your history on the side of a mountain and the voice of God confirms him as his Son. Tells you to listen to him and you say, hey bro, this is cool, I think we should throw up a few tents and kick back for a while, figure this all out. Now I am paraphrasing that, call it the gospel according to me, but what would you do? And then “Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. [9:8,9] Poof…all gone. No more glory, no more Moses, Elijah, or God. Just Jesus, just an ordinary man, once again your Rabbi, your friend. His glory covered until his resurrection. Four men coming down the mountain. One with surety and three perhaps a little unsteady. What would you do? What would you believe? Would you believe? Would you have faith? Would you? It’s easy to look back with all the answers, we can be proud of our faith because we never witnessed the miracles and still we believe. We like to say that all you need is a personal relationship with Jesus and I believe that it is a fundamental need to have that relationship, but if you had been there on the mountain with Jesus had been witness to the Glory of the Son of Man. What would you do? Would you be terrified, would you praise his name, would you pitch a tent, would you walk away, or would you glorify God? Because Jesus will come again. We will see him as Peter, James, and John did either here on earth or in heaven. We know how the story ends so the real question I think is not what would you do? But, what will you do?