Saturday, April 29, 2017

Parable: The Wedding Banquet



For many are called but few are chosen.  It sounds more like a recruiting poster for the Marines or the SEAL teams than the biblical witness that proclaims whosover will may come.  As we look at his parable, let this verse resonate in your mind.

For many are called but few are chosen.

Now to the parable.  Once again, we have Pharisees and religious leaders trapped in the crowd of people who think that Jesus is a prophet or maybe even the Messiah.  The religious hierarchy wants Jesus out of the way but for the moment, they are stuck with him as he launches into his third parable in a row that seems to put these self-righteous leaders squarely in his sights.

There could be some allegory at play here but the message comes through with or without it.  If you want to go with the allegory, the king is God the Father.  The son is the Lord Jesus Christ.  Those originally invited are the Hebrew people.  Those invited later are the Gentiles.  Servants once again would be the prophets.  Some variations apply.

This is also a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven.  How do we know this?  Jesus said it was.

It differs somewhat from the previous parable in that the Landowner expected something from the tenants.  They should have given him what was due him.  In this parable from Matthew’s twenty-second chapter, the King—God if we go with the allegory—is being generous. He is extending grace.  He has a wonderful invitation.

We struggle to understand this today.  People get engaged.  They set a wedding date.  Sometimes they even send out hard copy invitations, and people come if they can.  For people that you know well, you want to come and be a part of this wonderful event; but there is work, school, sometimes both, kids, sports, doctor’s visits, dental appointments, the bills need paid, the car needs tags and new tires, online passwords have to be updated, the dishes need washed, and the grass needs cut.  That’s probably the short list for many of you.

If you can make it, you can make it.  If not, well that’s just life.  Sometimes you just have to make sure that you have a quorum—pastor, bride, groom, and a couple of witnesses.  Everyone else is icing on the wedding cake.

But in this parable, the king sends out the invitation.  This is not an ad hoc event.  The wedding banquet is not a shotgun affair.  It is not impromptu or off the cuff.  Those invited have expected this invitation for some time, and now the time has come.  In the allegorical sense, the Hebrew people have expected God to call them as his bride for ages.

This is not a banquet on a budget.  During marriage counseling, I stress the point that the couple needs to budget for the marriage and not put themselves into hock for the wedding ceremony.  I pray that wisdom rules at this early juncture.

But in the parable, this is not a banquet on a budget.  It’s not a reception with ginger ale and finger foods.  There is a feast to follow this wedding. This is a big deal!  You wouldn’t miss it for anything.

Yet, the servants sent out with invitations were ignored, given excuses, and sometimes even abused or killed.  Hold on a minute!  Put yourself behind the phylactery for a moment; the very invitation that you had wanted all of your life arrives and you have something else to do.  Really?

Oh, couldn’t he have picked another week?

If I don’t get my taxes done this week, I don’t know what will happen.

Who does this guy think he is to hold an event on Wednesday night?  I’ve got church!

I wonder if when God sends his Son back to claim his people, if he will have the respect for our schedule.  I mean he surely wouldn’t do this on a Sunday morning or Wednesday evening.  Hopefully it won’t be while I am in the middle of watching NCIS.  I don’t like that much television but I do like my NCIS. Surely, he won’t schedule this during my television time.

Now you know that this parable has value for us, but for now just picture the Pharisees squarely in the  sights of Jesus. 

The king destroys the cities where they killed his servants.  If we get allegorical, this could be God using the Roman Empire—as he has used the Assyrians and Babylonians before—to destroy the temple and much of Jerusalem.  It could be destruction reserved for the end of the age.

It could be that we who live in this modern century, need to understand that God still has wrath—anger—and it will be poured out on the rebellious and the wicked.  We will never receive it but God’s anger still burns against wickedness.

The Pharisees might have been trying hard to figure out this last part, but what came next in the parable was a little more to the point.  The King sent his invitation out to everyone else.  The very banquet at which the Hebrew people—especially their religious leaders—expected to be an exclusive affair just for them was now open to many, some of whom would have been regarded as pagans and heathens, even the Samaritans.

The light should have been coming on once again for the Pharisees.  Remember that in the previous parable, Jesus told these self-righteous yahoos that the Kingdom of God would be taken away from them and given to those who will produce fruit.  In the parable before that Jesus told them that the tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the Kingdom of Heaven ahead of them.

Now they hear that the banquet set for them has been opened up to peoples whom should have no standing there.  It’s a good thing that this was just a three-parable series because the Pharisees couldn’t handle any more.  Matthew’s gospel notes next that the Pharisees went to their club house, licked their wounds, and starting making plans to trap Jesus.

They had not yet reached the point where they—along with the chief priest and others in the Sanhedrin—would just decide to hold a kangaroo court and sentence him to death.  

These religious leaders were so blind to the truth that they still thought their intelligence would be enough.  Read the remainder of chapter 22 and continue into chapter 23 to see the rest of this interaction with the religious hierarchy unfold.

If you continue reading, you will see blind leaders trying to defy the truth.  You will see almost comical attempts to try and trick Jesus.  Hopefully, you won’t see yourself in there anywhere.

Here is a simple model and mantra that I think works well.  For this we venture into the grammatical world momentarily.  You do not want to be the appositive or the direct object in a sentence that Jesus begins, “Woe unto you…”

Let’s get back to events in the parable.  The wedding hall is filled with guests.  They came from all over.  They responded to this fantastic invitation and they surely were all thankful.  Well almost all.

You know how stories go.  Everything was going just great, and then there was this one guy.  One guy that didn’t get the memo.  Get you suit out of the cleaners, throw on a tie, polish your boots, put on clean underwear, and wear matching socks.  How hard can it be?  There is always that one guy who thinks he is in a Garth Brooks song.

For parable purposes—for allegorical purposes—this is the person who hears the call and tries to manipulate the invitation.  This is the person who wants the prize but won’t go via repentance.  This is the person who won’t profess Jesus is Lord because he doesn’t want to give up his gods in this world.  This is the guy who thinks he can work a little Jesus stuff in somewhere to hedge his eternity bet.  Yeah, that’s the ticket, throw in some Jesus for seasoning just in case.

The one who professes Jesus as Lord will be clothed in the clothes of the new person—the new creation.  You can’t sneak into heaven in your old clothes.  You can’t have new clothes unless you are a new creation.  You can’t be a new creation unless you are born again—born of the Spirit.

I am going to give this man who showed up out of uniform a name.  I am going to call him Nicodemus.  The Nicodemus who came to Jesus at night was wearing old clothes.  His mind would not comprehend being born again, this time of God’s Spirit.  He was clothed in his own righteousness and not prepared to hear a message of grace.  He was the epitome of the Pharisee, knowledgeable in the word of the law but totally lacking its spirit, and surely in need of God’s Holy Spirit.

He did not come to see Jesus looking for a message of grace.  But he got one.  I share the version found in The Message.

“No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.

 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. 

Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

I return to the point where I began.

For many are called but few are chosen.

It might interest you that the words called and chosen have a variety of different meanings throughout the Bible.  

Language is like that.  The word faith is another example where a single word has multiple facets and complexities.  In the context of this month’s memory verse, called according to his purpose is the same as chosen for his purpose. 

When we come across some of these scriptures that seem difficult, and this one seems a little difficult for our group where we believe that whosover will may come, view them in the lens of the gospel.

Understand also that God desires a fantastic relationship with us. He made us in his image. He loves us and will never stop loving us.  He chose us to be the recipients of his love, to be joint heir with his one and only Son, Christ Jesus, and he gave us the will to choose him in response to his love.

He not only gave us this freewill so that we could choose him or reject him, he gave us the measure of faith by which we might choose him.

Never, ever read God’s word in the context of him stacking the deck against us.  That is not the biblical witness that we know.

God chose you before you even knew you were you.  You are his and now because of your belief, he is yours.  The love that binds you in Christ Jesus is inseparable.  God chose you!  Somewhere in all of this there ought to be an amen or hallelujah!

God’s call has gone out to and continues to go out to the world.  His heart is that all will come to know him as we know him.

His invitation is the invitation that we know so well.  Repent and believe the good news.  You are invited to the best wedding banquet ever and to the eternity with God that brought us into being in the first place.

I am thankful that we have accepted this invitation and I am blessed and privileged to carry this invitation with me wherever I go. 

God has chosen many for very special works and ministries.  He has chosen some—a few—to do greater things than he did.  He has called for all to come and know him.

He has commissioned all of us to take his gospel across the street and across the planet.

The parable sounds like bad news for the Hebrew people, but Paul—a Pharisee himself—wrote that the time would come when the number of Gentiles would be complete and this original branch—or in parable context, those who ignored the invitation—would be grafted back in. 

The Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ will one day celebrate a wedding together and for eternity but we have confirmed our invitation now.  We are going to be there.

Remember that this parable aimed squarely at the Pharisees is about the Kingdom of Heaven.  This is a kingdom in which we can live in the here and now.  This is a kingdom in which we live because we have accepted our invitation and are putting on our wedding clothes.

We have been given eyes to see and ears to ear and have taken the measure of faith given to us and responded to this invitation.  We live in God’s Kingdom now and we would not miss this banquet for anything.


Amen!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Parable: The Wicked Tenants


Let’s begin with a little framing.  Think back to the religious leaders challenging the authority of this man called Jesus.  They wanted to know by whose authority was he teaching and preaching and doing all of these things that had stirred up quite a following.

Jesus said to them that if they would answer his question then he would respond in kind.  Jesus asked them to get off the fence and state whether John the Baptist’s authority and the baptisms that he performed were from God or from human authority.  Simple enough, right?

If they said from God, then Jesus would chastise them for not getting with the program.  If they said from people, the people might form a lynch mob because they believed John to be a prophet.  So they told Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus replied by telling them that he would not answer their question either; but that was only the beginning of this encounter.  Jesus had the religious leaders squarely in his sights and offered them the Parable of the Two Sons.  At the end of this parable, he told these self-righteous leaders that the tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the Kingdom of Heaven ahead of them.

Apparently, Jesus launched immediately into another parable focused mainly at the Pharisees and other religious leaders. 

Next, we need to note that we might make an exception to the general rule of trying not to be allegorical in our interpretation of parables.  This parable makes that task nearly impossible.  It seems that most things in the parable directly represent something else, though not all scholars agree exactly what all is represented.

The third piece of framing is that this is another parable about the Kingdom of Heaven.  It seems to be talking about things on earth but the Kingdom of Heaven is in play here once again.

So Jesus is teaching—and maybe chastising the Pharisees in parable, he is perhaps allegorical, and we are again keeping company without our old parable friend—the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let’s get allegorical. 

The vineyard is Israel.  Isaiah 5 and the fact that it is set apart from the rest of the world by a wall helps here.  The landowner is God the Father.  The tenants are the Jews—especially the Pharisees.  The servants are the prophets and the Son is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Other items include the tower being the theocracy of Israel and the winepress being the priesthood, though these items don’t seem to be as universally accepted as the previous ones, and perhaps don’t bear much on the message of the parable.

So what happens in this parable?

The tenants seem to be a rebellious and selfish lot of individuals.  They have no regard for the landowner.  They don’t want to give him what he is due.

The landowner sends his servants to collect what is rightfully his and the tenants reject them.  Some were beaten, others stoned, and some were killed. 

The landowner sent his son.  Surely the tenants will have some regard for his own son.  The tenants kill the son.

This isn’t an arbitrary murder.  It is motivated by wanting what the son had—what was rightfully his.  The tenants wanted his inheritance.

“If we kill him, then what was his will be ours.  We can keep this sweet deal that we have.”

But Jesus asks, “What do you think the landowner will do now?  What will he do when he comes in person?”

Those listening replied, “He will give those wicked men exactly what they deserve, and it is not going to be a pretty sight.  Then he will rent the vineyard out to other tenants who will give him what is due.”

On the allegorical side, we have been introduced to new shepherds for Israel and opened the gates for the Gentiles to be in a good relationship with the landowner.

Now consider how Jesus homes in on the religious leaders.  This is from The Message.

Jesus said, “Right—and you can read it for yourselves in your Bibles:

The stone the masons threw out
    is now the cornerstone.
This is God’s work;
    we rub our eyes, we can hardly believe it!

“This is the way it is with you. God’s kingdom will be taken back from you and handed over to a people who will live out a kingdom life. Whoever stumbles on this Stone gets shattered; whoever the Stone falls on gets smashed.”

It is at this point that the Pharisees and other religious leaders were sure that Jesus was talking about them.  This part you didn’t have to figure out.  God’s kingdom will be taken from you and given to people who will live as God’s people.

Ouch!  If they could have arrested Jesus right then they would have done it but the people would not stand for it.  Jesus taught with authority.  The people considered him a prophet.  Some were already hailing him as the Messiah.  They were stuck having to listen to him.

Before we move beyond this point, we should not that all manuscripts do not have that last verse.  It is the one that reads:

And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.

That sounds like bad news across the board.  It might be the ultimate lose-lose scenario, or not.  For there is an interpretation on the first part of this phrase which is very much good news and is in sync with the audience to whom this parable was delivered.

Whoever falls on this stone will be broken.  What does that mean?  It could mean that this is the stone that breaks hardened hearts.  It could be the only way that the self-righteous could come to accept Jesus as Lord.  Brokenness prepares the heart for redemption. 

On the other hand, it could be that it is just typical Hebrew parallelism.  That is say something one way and then say something that means the same thing another way.  It’s the walk on the right side of the road; do now walk on the left sort of syntax that we see frequently in the Psalms and other Old Testament writings.  We see it very clearly in verses 16 & 17 of John’s gospel.

Realize in this interpretation at the end of the Parable of the Tenants, that this is the lose-lose scenario.  Fall on the stone or let it fall on you and you are toast either way.  That could be it.

I think for this age, it leans more towards be broken in human spirit so that we can receive God’s Holy Spirit by acknowledging Christ as Lord.  That is exactly what the Pharisees needed.  They needed to give up their self-righteousness and come to Jesus as the broken men that they truly were.

The good news is that Jesus receives the broken.  He calls out to the weary and heavily burdened.  He came not to condemn but to save.  But some reject.  Some rebel.  Some want God and Jesus out of the way and out of their lives.

There is a concept that I call anchoring.  An anchor is set so that we do not drift away.  Anchors can be good things. We sing, On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.  That’s a good anchor.

But sometimes we adopt a position or strategy or even a doctrine.  It may have developed in a moment or over the course of years.  We may have heard a fantastic sermon or done a biblical study that hit home.  It could be anything, but it is something that we believe.  It may or may not be true and if we continue to learn, we may update our doctrine or outright have a change of heart and mind so long as we have a teachable spirit. 

God wants us to grow and grow in his grace, where we may fail time and time again; yet, through confession and an absolute assurance of his pardon, we get back in our race of faith.

But sometimes, we find ourselves defending a position, or a mindset, or a doctrine.  The more we defend it, the more we become anchored to it.  Logic and emotion combined and produce anchoring.   The more we become anchored to it, the less we want to learn, because learning may invite change—and we don’t want to change.

We are comfortable in our way of thinking.  Sometimes, that is a great thing.  There are some thoughts and beliefs that I am anchored to and will not change.  For instance:
God is good!  I’m not giving that up.

God loves me.  Sometimes that seems hard to believe, but in the worst of times, I will hold fast to this.  I am anchored to it.

How about, God created.  It didn’t all just happen.  It didn’t all just come out of nowhere without something divine kicking it off.  Now how long it took—how long a day in Genesis was—well I am not anchored to a 24-hour day.

The Pharisees were smart people.  They memorized much of the Old Testament.  They knew the law and where it seemed that there were gaps in the law, they came up with their own rules and regulations and made the people comply with them as if God was the author.

They defended their rules and regulations and their way of life and became anchored to them.  God told them to have no other gods, but what if your own version of godly living becomes your god.

Why did the religious leaders want to kill Jesus?  He was taking away their god.  He was busting up this whole religion business and bringing people to right standing through relationship.  The whole story of how we would come to this right relationship was unfolding before their eyes—not yet complete—but already sending tremors through the comfort zones of those anchored to religion.

The religious leaders did not want the one true God because he was not made in their own image.  The Pharisees and the Sanhedrin did not want to be the tenants in the vineyard; they felt like they were the owners.  And if the son of the landowner came to set things right, they would kill him.

Make no mistake about it, this was an in-your-face parable for the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law.  The son had not only come in the parable, but he was the one delivering the parable and he was messing with the establishment.

The religious leaders were looking at Jesus as a rebel when all the while they were the rebels.  They are the ones rebelling against God.  They are the wicked tenants.

Jesus will hit them with another parable where they are the primary target audience, but we will keep that for another time.  

Today, I ask that we examine how many rules and regulations and personal preferences are creeping into our relationship with God.  How many things are there that we are comfortable with and that we give equal status with God?

Of course our initial answer is that there is nothing, notta, no thing or practice that we hold in equal status with God.  Good!  Are we willing to confirm that?

How many people have left one congregation for another because they didn’t like the pastor, or the color of the carpet, or that newfangled music, or words on the wall.  Sometimes people leave because the words are projected on the wall instead of transmitted onto huge video screens.

We are people who are supposed to worship God, serve God, and grow in grace.  A whole bunch of this gets wrapped up in loving one another.  That’s where the rubber meets the road.

But sometimes, we let things get in the way of worshiping God and serving God and when we continue down this path, we surely are not growing in God’s grace. 

I can’t believe in a God who would send people to hell.
I can’t believe in a God who would not send people to hell.
I can’t believe in a God who would let homosexuals in the church.
I can’t believe in a God who would not let homosexuals in the church.
I can’t believe in a God who lets his church host an Easter Egg Hunt.
I can’t believe in a God who would not let his church host an Easter Egg Hunt.
I can’t believe in a God who lets people raise their hands in worship.
I can’t believe in a God who won’t let his people raise their hands in worship.
I can’t believe in a God who ministers to prostitutes and drug addicts.
I can’t believe in a God who does not minister to prostitutes and drug addicts.
I can’t believe in a God who lets his people smoke cigarettes and watch Captain Kangaroo.
I can’t believe in a God who won’t let his people smoke cigarettes and watch Captain Kangaroo.

I am intentionally including the mundane and the absurd on this lengthy litany because any of these things can get in the way of our relationship with God.  Any of these beliefs can become as important as God if we let them.

We all have personal preferences and pet peeves, but when they become more important than loving one another or having ears to hear when God is speaking to us or getting absurd in our behavior—God hit me with lighting if you don’t want me to run Billy Jo Bob out of the church—then we have become the wicked tenants in the vineyard.

We know the truth.  God loves us more than we can imagine.  How will we respond?  Will we respond by loving God in every way that we can or will some of our pet peeves, personal doctrines, pious policies get in the way?

Our human nature often gets in the way of enjoying the relationship with God.  Sometimes we want to be the landowner even if only in a small way or in a few things; but we are the tenants.  We are the stewards.  Everything in this world was created by God and belongs to God.  We put things to use, govern resources, practice stewardship but we are the tenants.

We wrestle sometimes with being a friend of God and being the tenant, but this is not a dichotomy.  This should cause no dissonance.  God is almighty, holy, righteous, good, forgiving, redemptive, and his primal nature is love.  I am glad that he is the landowner.  I am not up to the job just yet.  I have not been made for that job.

I am being shaped in the image and likeness of his Son.  I am a joint heir with his Son.  I am a friend of God.  But I am not God and neither are my pet peeves or personal doctrines or my pious policies.  My religion is not my God.  God wants a relationship with me where we are friends not in competition for sovereignty. 

This week, do some personal inventory. See what thinking or beliefs or thoughts or attitudes that we have that get in the way of our relationship with the one true God.

See where religion is getting in the way of relationship.

See if we are producing the good fruit that God desires.

Amen.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Do not be afraid!


It’s another Easter morning.  What can we say about the day and its significance?

He is risen.

He is risen indeed!

Death is destroyed.

By his stripes we are healed.

Despair has no home here.  We will have trials and tribulation but despair gets kicked to the curb.

I am crucified with Christ.  Christ lives in me.

He lives!  Maybe we should just give our answers in song.  He lives. He lives.  Christ Jesus lives today.

Up from the grave he arose, with a might triumph o’er his foes.  He arose the victor from the dark domain and he lives forever with his saints to reign.

Let’s get a little more current.  My chains are gone.  I’ve been set free.  My God my Savior has ransomed me.

“I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  Jesus spoke those words to Martha at Bethany shortly before he healed Lazarus, but they should hit home with us this morning.

“He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces” Isaiah’s words should ring true this morning.

What else can we say?  What can we add to these words of victory.  Is there anything to add to up from the grave he arose?

How about, “Fear not!”  How about, “Do not be afraid.”

Do not be afraid!

Comparing gospel accounts of this morning’s activities, Mark’s version has women receiving this same message of not being afraid.  So the women left the tomb excited and bewildered because they were afraid.

In Matthew’s gospel, the angel told the women not to be afraid and a very short time later, the resurrected Jesus told them the same thing.

Do not be afraid.

Let’s give the women and the disciples a little slack.  Their world had just fallen apart.  Their leader was arrested, convicted, verbally abused, physically abused, and nailed to a cross until he died.  These followers had been in some tough spots before and lived to tell about it, but Jesus had always been there.  Now he was gone.

They were afraid.  Was this special thing that they had been a part of over now?  What came next?  Would they even have time to find out what happened next or were they next in line for the cross?

The man who had preached that the Kingdom of God is near—and had sent these disciples out with the same message—was gone.  The empire of Rome and those religious leaders that Jesus put on the spot so many times seemed to have emerged victorious.

In similar circumstances, we too might have been a little afraid.  We might not have been on our “A-Game.”  Being in the presence of an angel always seems to evoke the words, “Fear not!”

In addition to everything else that goes with this morning’s celebration, let’s make it our goal not to be afraid.  Of all the things that seem to survive the ages, fear is chief among them. 

Jesus lived and died and rose again and that took away the power that sin and death held over us, at least as far as our salvation goes.  That was the once and for all sacrifice that took away our sin.  The Lamb of God took away our sin.

So why do we still deal with fear in this century?  

Specifically, why do Christians fear?

We as followers of Jesus have been told that we will probably do some suffering because we follow him.  We have been told that we will have some trouble in the world because we belong to him and not to the world. 

But fear?  We are people who don’t do fear.  Yes, we fear the Lord.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and as it turns out, wisdom as well.  But we need to understand this fear as a starting point not the ultimate destination. 

The fear of the Lord gets us pointed in the right direction but it is not the destination.  It should, however, release us from all other fear.

See if these words don’t ring a bell.  Perfect love casts out fear.  Fear has to do with punishment and condemnation.  Jesus paid the price for us.  We stood condemned but Jesus paid the price not out of a sense of duty but out of love.  

Should we not respond in love and not fear.

Perfect love casts out fear.

God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

Here’s one that always gets me motivated.  Have I not commanded you, be strong and courageous?  Do not be afraid.  Do not be discouraged for the Lord, your God will be with you wherever you go.

Fear is real but living in fear is a choice.  God says choose courage over fear.

Here is the rhetorical question for the ages.  If God is for us, who can be against us?

Why is that a rhetorical question?  Because God is for us.  Nothing can stand against us.  No weapon formed against us shall prevail.  Nothing in heaven or on earth or anywhere else can separate us from the love of God that we know in Christ Jesus!

What do we have to fear?  What are we afraid of?

There are 613 commands in the Old Testament.  Jesus added one more while he was here walking the earth in the flesh.  He told those who would follow him that we must love each other.  In so doing people would know that we are his disciples.

That makes 614 commands.  That’s a lot.  Now if we abide in the last one, the others will take care of themselves, but I wish that there were 615 commands.  I so wish that Jesus had added “Fear not” to the list of commands required for those who love God and want to follow him.

We celebrate Easter every year.  We are reminded that the blood of Jesus took way sin’s power over our life.  It took away death being final.  These clay vessels may wear out but our life goes on because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, and in his resurrection, is the promise of ours.

Sin and death have been defeated.  Now it’s time to defeat fear.

Today we celebrate the victory that Jesus gave us over sin—as the Lamb of God sacrificed in our place.  Today we celebrate our victory over death.  When Jesus rose on that third day, this was our victory as well.

Today, let’s not only celebrate victory over sin and death, let’s make our response to the love that gave us these victories loving one another and living without fear.

Today we celebrate the resurrection.  Tomorrow we pick up our own cross, take the yoke of our Master, and we go fearlessly proclaiming the love of God in the world.

May you have a blessed Easter Day!

May you celebrate the victories won.

May you live in strength and courage, not being afraid or discouraged.  The Lord, you God, your resurrected Savior, is with you wherever you go!


Amen.

Wanna get away?


When I consider these scriptures, I am sure that you think about the same thing that I do.  What’s that?

Southwest Airlines!

You have seen the commercials.  The most recent, I think, is one where a man an eloquent party picks up a champagne for himself and for the beautiful blonde sitting on the sofa.  All he can see is the back of her head but she’s got to be hot, so he heads her way only to discover a long haired Afghan Hound.  The polite chuckles make their way around the room.

Oops or in the vernacular of the airline, Wanna get away?

It is one of those moments where you just want to disappear off the face of the earth.  Why?

In the case of Matthew’s account, about noon the day turned to darkness for 3 hours.  You don’t see that too often.  I have been in Iraq and Kuwait when the sky was dark for miles and miles and for several months, but everyone knew what happened there.  You set a bunch of oil wells on fire and the sky turns black.

But on Golgotha, the sky was black for another reason, one the Romans might not pick up on right away but the religious leaders should have known.

Now at about 3 in the afternoon, Jesus calls it good.  Matthew records that Jesus cried out in a loud voice and gave up his spirit.  If you compare this account with John’s gospel, we see that what Jesus said was, “It is finished!”

It seems that the 3 hours of darkness has lapsed because there is a great earthquake and people can see the curtain of the temple was torn.  This was not just a little tear that could be mended by the Sabbath.  It was torn in two from top to bottom.

We like our modern-day symbolism that tells us that nothing stands between us and God now.  We don’t have to go to a priest or bring a sacrifice.  Jesus made a way—he is the way—to the Father.  The torn curtain is a fantastic symbol.

But for the moment, just consider all of this in the moment.  People are not standing around thinking, “Wow!  That’s surely a symbol that now I have direct access to God.” 

People are in the middle of unprecedented darkness—finally lifting, an earthquake, and off all the things that are notable in Jerusalem, the curtain of the temple is torn.

If that were not enough, rocks split open.  It does not say that rocks rolled down a mountain and split when they hit the ground.  It says they split.  Imagine the vibration that it took to split rocks.

On top of that, dead people are coming out of their graves.  I am not talking about a Poltergeist movie moment where coffins are popping up everywhere because the new housing development was built on an old cemetery.

People are coming back to life.  This is not a bizarre first century version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.  These are holy people coming back to life.

Now at this point, you have to admit that this is not your ordinary Sabbath Preparation Day.  Just imagine being a faithful Jew.  Father and sons are out working hard to get everything done by sundown.  Mom and the girls are preparing meals for the next day, and low and behold, Uncle Bob—who has been dead for a decade—pops in and asks, “What’s for supper?  I haven’t eaten in years.”

You would think that the religious leaders might have wanted to have called a meeting to consider all of this; you would think.

But it is the Roman centurion—the captain and probably the senior officer or among the senior officers in Judea—that has the epiphany that should have come to the religious leaders.  This was an officer surely seasoned by several campaigns that extraordinary events would not rattled; yet, he was terrified.  He was terrified, but the truth did not escape him.  What was the truth?

Surely, he was the Son of God.

So we come back to Southwest Airlines.  I am in command and we just killed the Son of God.  Wanna get away?

Surely, he was the Son of God.  The only thing that the centurion missed was the tense of the verb, for the story was far from over.  We know the rest of the story.

He would be pierced by the spear but not a single bone was broken.  He would be put in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea and with a little help from a Pharisee named Nicodemus, some hasty burial preparations were made.  The body of Jesus was wrapped in some cloth and the stone placed over the entrance.  

Worried about the disciples coming to take the body, the religious leaders convinced the Roman governor to place guards on the tomb.  They even sealed it shut.

Dead is dead and nobody was going to pull off some resurrection charade now.

But the words of the centurion would prevail over the desires of the Sanhedrin.  Surely, this is the Son of God for on the third day he was not in the tomb.

He was risen from the dead.  He is risen from the dead.

Surely, he is the Son of God.

He is risen from the dead and he is Lord!

For 20 centuries now, men and women have come to the realization that Jesus is the Son of God.  Today, we celebrate not only that he is the Son of God, but that in demonstration of God’s great love, Jesus became the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world.

He became the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Our sin had sentenced us to death but he died in our place so we could once again be in right standing with God.  Long ago, Adam and Eve had unencumbered fellowship with God.  For a very long time, sin interfered with that communion, but sin has no such power now.

And death is defeated as well.  When Jesus rose from the grave, he conquered death not only for himself, but for us as well.

Surely, he is the Son of God!

Amen!