Friday, May 27, 2016
There are times in our lives when we seem to face impossible choices. This situation is represented when either choice is bad, and perhaps all we are left with is a choice of bad or worse. The movie ‘Sophie’s Choice’ is another example of an impossible choice. For an independent Islamic Mexican American citizen, the upcoming election may also be another impossible choice. The “impossibility” represents our resistance to making the choice, and our belief that some options cannot be reconciled. But the thread that runs through our choices, the impossible scenarios, is always an element of evil. Stealing in order to keep my family from starving, is still stealing. A mother choosing which one of her children will die, leaves one of them still murdered. Pulling the election lever for President still elects a very flawed human being, who may do many things that increase the burden on our poor, as few candidates seem to genuinely care about the poor from either party. In all our examples, an element of evil, or evil’s potential exists.
The other common thread in all our impossible choices is our inability to see past our self-imposed human constraints. Were we to introduce an all-powerful God into our scenarios, our outcomes become expanded beyond what our human eyes can see. As I pray to feed my family, my God provides for our needs when I could not, and we are fed without theft. Were Sophie to have introduced the true power of Christ into her impossible situation, guardian angels may have been dispatched in mass, or hearts and minds may have been melted by love, or eyes of persistent evil may have been temporarily blinded. When God enters her scenario possibilities begin to emerge that are not there without Him. When we make our vote for our President, a very flawed human being, with the support of a nation’s collective prayers, may have his/her weakness turned into strength, their minds opened to wisdom, their hearts opened to love in the extreme, and our nation prosper as never before. For with God all things are possible.
But to attempt to use scripture, to define an impossible situation, for our God … is the height of all arrogance. To try to use the Bible, to “tell” our God what He can and cannot do, presumes that we know His scriptures better than He does, and that our interpretation is absolute, and essentially that He must defer to our wisdom. This sounds crazy. And it is crazy. But our Pharisee forefathers did exactly that, rather our Sadducee forefathers in this instance. We will review the encounter Peter recalls to John Mark in chapter 12 of his gospel. And for many of us, we will focus on the arrogance of the Sadducees, and mock them in our minds, thinking how stupid they must have been to try something like this. While never imagining how often we do it ourselves. As we take a second look at this encounter, let us keep an open mind about how we may be equally guilty in what the Sadducees attempted.
John Mark records the incident picking up in verse 18 saying … “Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying,” First, context is everything. The Pharisees had just attacked Christ on His refusal to speak out against, or end Roman taxation, the number one job of the Messiah as the nation believed. Let that sink in a minute folks, the entire nation believed that the Messiah would end Roman rule when He came. The entire nation for generations came to believe this truth from studying their scriptures. They were reading the right texts, from the right prophets, while worshipping the right God, and this is what they collectively came to believe. There was no sect of Israelites who disputed this view, it was a unanimous one. They were right, Jesus was wrong. Yet still, Jesus was able to dispute them without losing the favor of the people.
While the Pharisees had failed, the Sadducees had prepared yet a different attack. The Sadducees made up the other half (or third if you count scribes independently) of the Sanhedrin ruling body in Israel. They did not rule over political matters, the Romans, and Herod did that. They ruled over religious matters, which to a believing Jew were far more important. The Sadducees however, did not share the view of the rest of the Sanhedrin where it came to a resurrection. They believed life was a one and done proposition. This was the key distinction that kept them apart from the rest of the Sanhedrin. If they had abandoned this belief they might as well had been part of the Pharisaical order. But the Sadducees were devout (translate stubborn) on this point, and would not give up their interpretation for any argument the Pharisees, scribes, or Jesus could present. They knew they were right about this interpretation. Sound familiar? How many of us are certain about our doctrines? Completely certain.
The entire nation was certain about the role of the Messiah ending Roman rule. And Jesus did not end it. What is more, He never spoke a word against it. He advocated giving money to it. He forgave Roman soldiers for killing Him at the cross. And He healed Romans and Roman children anytime they asked throughout His entire ministry. During His trial He convinced Pilot of His innocence, but did not demand His freedom. Despite Rome being the pinnacle for wickedness and sins against the people of Israel, Jesus did not make one move to end or diminish their rule. He did not speak one word against them. He advocated service and love, not resistance in any form. This is how evil is ended, it is driven out, driven away, by love. A message for us, in our vain quest to legislate it away, or fight it away, or kill it as we defend ourselves. And our entire nation is just as certain about our beliefs in this matter. All of us wrong as well.
Nevertheless, as the Sadducees had reached the point of absolute certainty that the scriptures, held up their beliefs about the lack of a resurrection, they had devised a trap of their own for Jesus. Mark continues in verse 19 … “Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man's brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.” Before we let ourselves be taken into an impossible choice, perhaps we should examine the premise a bit more carefully. First, taking care of widows and orphans, or rather, taking care of the most helpless, and poor who surround us, is an extremely high priority with our God. Refusing to do so, reveals the extent of our own selfishness, and the lack of a transformation in our hearts. So because the traditions of men in the times of Moses, did not allow for a woman to own property, or care for herself … when her husband died, she risked becoming impoverished. If she had children (particularly a male child), her son could inherit the land, and care for his mother. But without a male heir, in a male dominated society, not dictated so by God, the rules of society in the time of Moses created the situation of poverty a woman would face.
To account for this situation, Moses offers, that the brother of the widow, now take her in, and care for her. But from the brother in law perspective, if he could impregnate her with a male child the problem takes care of itself. And so for laziness on the part of the in-law he would rather impregnate her with a son, than have to care and feed her for the rest of his own life. All of this complexity, because men had created a male dominated society, instead of an independent one in the first place. Now lesser sins were to be committed to avoid greater ones, in order to resolve a situation men created. What if the brother in law was already married? Is he to take 2 wives now to fix this? The complexities of a recommendation like this derive from a mis-reading of the intent of Moses, to care for a widow who is already related to a family, who should already have been caring for her, for life.
The premise is steeped in selfishness, not charity as Moses had intended. They continue picking up in verse 20 … “Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed. [verse 21] And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise. [verse 22] And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also. [verse 23] In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife.” The Sadducees who did not believe this situation could ever materialize anyway, now used it to trap Jesus. If Jesus did not believe in marriage or the resurrection, they would not have picked this topic to trap Him. But Jesus believed in both.
Jesus responds in verse 24 saying … “And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?” Jesus tells them their interpretation of scriptures, the one they are so certain about, the one that distinguishes them as different … is wrong. Not only are they wrong about the resurrection, they are wrong about marriage. This situation they bring up is not an unrealistic one. There are certain to be widows in heaven who remarried after their spouse died. The dead spouse is unaware of this until the resurrection. When the dead spouse awakens their hearts are still in love with a spouse who has moved on with someone else. What will God do? God can and will heal the hearts of the hurting, taking from them any pain. There will be no jealousy as only our God can accomplish. And He will resolve these situations as they were intended to be, introducing the partner we were intended for, allowing the servant to remain single, or preserving the marriage of folks who do not have this complication. The point of Jesus, is that the power of God can un-complicate what sin has complicated. Jesus declares they do not understand marriage, Moses, or the resurrection.
Jesus continues in verse 25 saying … “For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.” It is from this text we modern Christians believe there is no marriage in heaven anymore. It is the context we miss again. “For when they rise” is a future tense statement, it is intended to declare to the Sadducees, that there will be a resurrection. This is to declare to the Sadducees that their only distinctive belief is wrong. Certainty is arrogance. Next, consider the back half of this analogy … do you know how the angels in heaven live? Do you know if there are female and male angels? Do you know if they have partners like the spouses we have on earth? Or is it possible for your finite mind, to grasp the idea of loving literally everyone in heaven so much that the distinction between spouse, child, parent, and friend cannot be determined. The point is not to apply our ideas of interpretation of scriptures on God, the point is to let God work His power, and trust whatever He does with your heart is OK for him to do. God has to undo 6,000 years of the impacts of sin. We need that baseline before we start worrying about social constructs, or the lack of them.
But one thing we should remember … marriage was created before sin, and meant to endure forever. If sin had never come Adam and Eve would still be married, their offspring would still be married, as would theirs, as would theirs, and so on, and so on. All of these marriages eternal in nature. While we have damaged the institution of marriage badly, we have not killed it yet. God can undo what we have done through the hardness of our hearts. And if or when He does, our only job is to trust Him, not to dictate to Him what it should look like.
Jesus continues in verse 26 saying … “And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? [verse 27] He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.” The most important point Jesus makes in this passage is at the outset of the verse … as touching the dead, that they rise. This is not a statement about immediate life after death. This is not about disembodied ghosts running around heaven in spirit form. This is about real people, who really died, were really buried, and will one day REALLY rise again in a resurrection. The God of the living statement is a proof Jesus offers to insure the resurrection will one day occur (and that these three men will be in it). Lastly, even though these Sadducees were religious men, leaders in the church, they were wrong, according to Christ very wrong.
Now let us skip forward to our age. How many of us hold to doctrines with absolute certainty the scriptures back our positions with an affirmative “thus saith the Lord”. Yet there are many different Christian churches, all with differing positions on doctrines. Beyond the generalities of our differences, how many times do you attempt to create an impossible situation in your own prayer life to dictate to God what the outcome must be. You pray, God give me this, or give me that. You do not introduce alternatives, or ask God to fix the situation. Instead, you outline only few choices and expect Him to pick from the ones you give Him. How many times does your certainty about doctrine and scriptural interpretation constrict what you pray for, or how you pray, or how you expect God to answer?
We pray for a sinner engaged in sin to be saved, because our version of scriptural understanding declares his behavior to be wrong. Samples of such sins include: wearing shorts or jeans to church, a woman wearing her hair up, or having it cut. We condemn eating unclean meats, clean meats, meat by-products, canned fruits or vegetables, or anything GMO. We condemn social behaviors like sex before marriage, the wrong kind of sex in marriage, no sex in marriage, self-service sex anytime, and lust as a general rule. We condemn electric instruments in church, the organ in church, modern ditties instead of arias in church, chants of any kind. When you look for sins to condemn, you will find many through history, in everyone but yourself. While we waste our time praying for less jeans or shorts in church, we are effectively asking God to change the heart of ones who already love Him passionately, but do not dress according to our standards. While we dress right, and love Him not at all. We would do better to pray for more love, and let God fix the sin problem in all of us, our neighbor included. We need not focus on sin in our prayer, we need to focus on the cure to sin in our prayers, of His transforming love to reach us.
How can there be an impossible choice, if our God makes all things possible. When Satan asks us to choose between the lesser of two evils, we should ask our God to choose another way altogether for us. Where it comes to our doctrines, we should abandon certainty, and ask Christ to lead us with humility in our hearts, realizing we may well be wrong. The entire nation of Israel was wrong. The nation of our America could be wrong as well. The right church, established by Christ, was wrong on doctrine. Perhaps your church or mine, established by Christ, could still be wrong as well. It is the certainty, that keeps us from learning. It is the certainty, that keeps us from being truly humble. It is our humility, that brings out the child in us, and sets us free to finally grasp His truth, in His time, and in His manner.
Friday, May 20, 2016
The simple acronym ascribed to the TEA party is “taxed enough already”. It is a very simply idea, whose premise is easy to understand. We, the people, don’t like taxes. We do like roads, and our service men and women in our armed forces. We do like infrastructure and anyone who has an entitlement is likely to die before ever voting to lose it. In short, we the people, love our services, but hate having to be taxed to pay for them. Don’t get me wrong, we understand that “some” taxes will be required. But the rate we pay (no matter what it is) is always something that just feels too high. This feeling is only aggravated when we see spending by the government on “stuff” we would never buy ourselves. It does not matter what the “stuff” is, only that it conflicts with our preferences, and common sense. When I think that my tax dollar paid for “that”, it makes me nuts. Therefore, I am taxed enough already, our government will simply have to learn how to pay for the stuff I like, with the money they already have (preferably by stopping the spending on the stuff I do not like).
As it turns out, a simple idea becomes complex in execution, because the stuff I like, does not agree with the stuff my neighbor likes, and so … resolution becomes illusive. But we have things in common. We are both Americans, paying taxes into an American system. We are not a conquered country paying taxes into a foreign government system. Imagine that. In the time of Christ, the average Jewish citizen was paying taxes on multiple fronts. Chief of all, they paid taxes to Rome. They hated Rome. You can keep your Roman roads, and Roman aqueducts. I would rather keep my money. But even absent Rome, taxes must be paid to Herod (the king), who “governed” the province to the extent that Rome allowed it to be governed. So more money gone. Then finally, tithes and offerings, must be paid to the Temple, to secure the favor of God (I mean the priests who say it is the same thing). Talk about taxed enough already. We do not have the copyright on that idea, the Jewish people in the time of Christ must surely have invented it.
And the TEA party in the time of Christ had a plan. They got their plan from their scriptures. The Messiah above all other duties, was supposed to free them from Roman bondage. In effect, the Messiah, was to be the first Republican, who could solve the problem of ending taxes, while at the same time, provide the nation with anything it needed (or rather wanted, again the same thing). Every law abiding Jewish citizen shared this belief, even His disciples. There were no accusations of racism in this early TEA party philosophy, as freedom from Roman taxation would be universal to men and women, of any color, as long as they resided in Israel, and subscribed to a belief in the Messiah. Jesus had done a ton of wonderful things. He had proven He could feed the nation out of near nothing. He could resurrect fallen soldiers in His army and put them right back in the fight even though they may be killed a few times. His power was certain, but His intentions were not. He kept talking about dying. He kept talking about loving. It was aggravating, and frankly it eliminated Him from being the Messiah from a priestly perspective (or Godly perspective as the priests reasoned, again, same thing).
So if a trap was to be set, to trip up this new Messiah, it must surely be anchored in the one task He is refusing to do. Question Him on taxation, reveal He has no plans to end it, and the people will lynch Him faster than anything. It was a good plan. It was well thought out. They had Him. He refused to end taxation, so this was sure to be the topic to trip Him up, and get the people to dump Him. After all, the entire nation of Israel was a solid member of the TEA party in His day. This was the context for the story Peter recalls to John Mark, in his gospel in chapter 12.
Mark picks up in verse 13 saying … “And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words.” Notice here, the ruling counsel the Sanhedrin was bent on killing Christ, but needed the people to dump Him first. So in this instance not only do they send Pharisees to set up the trap, they are sending Herodians as well to witness what He says. This is one of the first unions of church and state. Every time church (even the right one), unifies with state (no matter which one), persecution and death of truth is to follow. Today will be no exception thus far.
Mark continues in verse 14 saying … “And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” OK folks, when you see the flattery open the conversation you should pretty much infer, a trap has been set. In effect what the Pharisees were just about shoving in Christ’s face was the idea that He was supposed to tell the truth, even though the Herodians were present to witness what He says. Other men might complain about taxes in private, but to do it in front of the guys who collect it, and for the local king, was a really bad idea (for long life that is). In addition, they are taunting Christ, that He must tell the truth now, when it is not convenient for Him, or the people will dump Him as a hypocrite or liar. The Caesar question of taxation was more than red meat for the TEA party folks, it was nearly a question of national loyalty. Anyone who expressed favor for Caesar was not likely to have Jewish friends long.
Mark then records the remainder of the exchange picking up in verse 15 saying … “Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it. [verse 16] And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar's. [verse 17] And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him.” So there are quite a few things we need to focus on in this passage. First, notice that Christ knew it was the religious leaders who were the hypocrites in this situation. It was they who hated Roman taxation above all else, as it ate into their Temple offering profit lines. Yet none of them would ever admit it publicly or risk the wrath of the Roman empire.
Second, notice that Christ does not own even a penny of His own. He needs them to bring Him one. He is too poor to have one Himself, as He gives EVERYTHING He owns to the poor. Instead of accumulating wealth through a job to provide for Himself, and His merry band, He relies on God for everything, because He does not even have a penny to His name. It is a Roman penny they bring. Then without advocating taxation, He reveals what priorities should matter in the believing heart. Give away what the world considers wealth, it does not matter. And embrace what God is offering, a new life, a new way to think and love, give Him your will, your desires, your submission … and watch what happens to you. Watch what real wealth looks like.
Finally, the Pharisees are simply awestruck. They have no words. They have no response. They just stand there marveling, not only that He escaped their trap, but that He so concisely summed up the law and the prophets in a simple declaration of priorities. The Pharisees are not ignorant men. They are well studied. They know scripture better than most. And the beauty of what Christ teaches is based in the purity of His truth. They do not lack understanding; they lack will to believe. They know He is the Messiah. They know He speaks only truth. It is simple. It is life altering. But they would rather have control, than to submit to His authority and be humbled before the people. As if the people cared. The Pharisees have the curse of arrogance, holding themselves up to be better than the people they are supposed to be serving. In this curse they think the people actually care about every detail of the Pharisee’s life.
It is the modern equivalent of Pharisees posting pictures on Twitter, and Instagram, and Facebook every time they do anything at all. And then expecting the entire world reads these posts with bated breath, sitting in eager anticipation of the next one. Sound familiar? The reality is, no one cares. No one reads the posts of Pharisees until and unless it is convenient for them to do so, and then after they read them, they forget them almost immediately. It is only in the self-involved, self-obsessed head of the Pharisees where the entire world cares about them, and what they do. Had they humbled themselves before Christ the people would not have cared. Instead it might actually have raised the opinions of the people for the Pharisees that they could finally “get it”. But alas the Pharisees had no room for humility in their hearts, only a ton of self-obsession.
There would be no victory for the TEA party this day. But in our day, perhaps the lesson of Christ is just as poignant. We focus on our taxes, and resent our government for what they ask of us, always believing it is just too high. But our God, the one whose name we proudly call ourselves after, asks us not to worry about taxes at all. In fact by His logic, we could give ALL our money to the government. Note that the Roman empire did not worship the right God, or believe the right doctrines, or value life. They were wicked through and through, yet Christ makes no distinction about this hindering giving them all the money we have. The God who was so poor, He had to ask to borrow a penny for illustration, asks us to look beyond our money, and to what is real wealth. He asks us to give our hearts (the most valuable thing we own), to His Father to be transformed. Once this occurs, we will not value money anymore any way. That we cling to our pennies, is only a sign we still cling to our hearts as well.
Jesus could care less about His finances. He relied on God to meet His needs as He had them. Jesus cared deeply about our priorities, our lives, and our ability to love others as He loves them. Giving our desires to God can fix this for us. What will our TEA party say in response, what will we value? In whom will we trust?
Friday, May 13, 2016
There are stories that pull at our heart strings. Stories, that when we hear them we get so riled up, we feel like we need to “get out there and do something”. When these stories are true, they are all the more effective at inciting us. But even when they are mere allegory, they can still have a profound effect on us. When injustice is the theme, something in us cries out for things to be made right. Perhaps this is part of the image of our Creator that wells up within us. Perhaps even though we suffer from corruptions we have embraced, there remains an imprint on our soul, that longs for equity over injustice, and that longs for love over isolation. When King David listened to the Prophet Nathan about the story of the one little sheep that was so beloved, and then taken by the greedy wealthy man, David was indignant. He believed the story to be real, and determined that somebody needed some killing … until he realized that “he” was that wealthy man who had stolen the sheep.
As stories have always been an effective weapon in the arsenal of persuasion, Jesus had one of His own to tell. To set the context, Jesus had been teaching in the Temple for 3 days, since His triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a colt that had never been ridden, and fulfilling another prophecy about the Messiah. The leaders of the Temple, did not believe the Temple belonged to Christ, that it had been given to “Him”, but rather they believed the Temple was “theirs”, and He was trespassing without their consent. How much like us, who believe our churches to be “ours”, only allowing believers to enter with our consent, as it is convenient for us. Those sworn enemies of Christ, the religious leaders of His day, perhaps of ours, had just confronted Him. And now, Christ had something to teach them as well. Jesus was looking to reach that divine imprint that still remains upon their souls, the place they could not reach to have it removed.
Peter begins the recollection to John Mark in his gospel in chapter 12 beginning in verse 1 saying … “And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.” This was to be a parable, a story. Not all the ideas laid out in the story were concrete facts, but the parallels were easy to draw, and the ideas easy to be understood. In this story, the certain man was Jesus Christ. It was He who planted the vineyard, which in this case was to be His church. It was He who tried to defend it with the hedge, who made the preparations for it to be fruitful with the place for the winefat and tower. And finally it was He who had chosen the husbandmen, or selected the priesthood, in order to maintain the vineyard, His church, until He could return to do it Himself.
As the context of this story begins with Jesus speaking to the Pharisees, it is easy for our minds to leave the parallels right there, in history. But consider how closely this story could be told to us, to our religious leaders, to the man in our mirrors. All the points are the same. There is no generational difference, in fact, the idea that Jesus had gone away and was hoping to return again, speaks more to us, than it did to the Pharisees. Mark continues in verse 2 saying … “And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard. [verse 3] And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty.” The church was ready to bear fruit. So Jesus sends a servant with a message and a mission to harvest what was ready to be given.
But the leaders of the church, or the husbandmen in this story, did not allow the harvest. They prevented it, by catching the servant of the master, of Christ, and not only did they prevent him from doing his appointed work, they beat him, and sent him away. The religious leaders of their day, and of our day, are very often quick to punish servants of God. They ostracize them, they despise them, they envy them … and so when they can, they prevent them from their appointed work, and punish them for their willingness to serve. It is now interesting the reaction of the certain man, of the real owner of the church, of Jesus.
Jesus continues in verse 4 saying … “And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled.” The owner does NOT abandon the vineyard, or His church, or His people. He does not just give up, or give in. For Love drives Him to reach out again. He sends another servant, and the violence against the servant of God escalates. The religious leadership is not content with just a beating this time, this time they throw rocks at his head, wounding him, and sending him away wounded and shamefully treated. Servants of God who have a message and a mission are the ones punished by the religious leadership of the church. And once that leadership rejects the message and the mission, the violence against God’s servants escalates.
Jesus continues in verse 5 saying … “And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some.” Jesus still does NOT abandon His church, or the vineyard. He sends yet another servant, and this one they kill outright. The violence has escalated once again. The husbandmen, or the person appointed originally by Jesus to lead the church, has decided to kill the servants of God rather than relinquish control of the vineyard back to its original owner. Imagine this in our day. Are the leaders of today so concerned with control over the message and the mission, that they would kill to keep control over it?
Are we so ready to do church our way, that we would cast out those who disagree with our style, our preferences, and our methods? What do we expect to greet those who are cast out of the fellowship, but Satan, the enemy of souls? Is it worth the eternal loss of our brothers, over matters of taste? Our arguments conflating our preferences with the only acceptable preference of our God, are mere arrogance on our part, and the excuse we tell ourselves as we cast them out of our fellowship. But the joke is on us. For Jesus is no longer in our fellowship, He was cast out a long time ago. Those we cast out now, only seek Him out away from us. It is Satan that now resides over our hallowed halls, and weak minds. It is his Satanic majesty we serve, calling him Messiah, and not even realizing what we do.
Jesus makes it clear in this parable, He would not abandon the vineyard ever. He continues to send servants of God with message and a mission. They are met with violence every time, either beatings, or murder, as it is with the sons of Satan who deceive themselves into thinking that since they were originally installed in positions of leadership in His church, it is their positions that save them, not their association with the true owner, with God. This kind of self-deception was not just meant for the Pharisees in His day, but for those who carry the banner “Christian” today. The leaders have long been tempted to believe leadership was a position of power over the vineyard. But God does not send leaders to His church, He keeps sending servants, those who understand that service to the vineyard is more precious than authority over it.
Jesus continues in verse 6 saying … “Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. [verse 7] But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. [verse 8] And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.” This part of the story seems like it was directly aimed at the Pharisees. The well-beloved and only Son is sent to the original church, to the leadership to redeem the vineyard. He too has a message and mission. But alas, even He is killed by the wicked leaders, presuming they will take His “inheritance” and be able to perform salvations on others instead of Christ. They kill the Son without remorse. They cast Him out of the vineyard.
Now look in the mirror at yourself. You may not carry a large wooden cross for Him, or the nails and hammer to insure the job is done right. But when you decide that “you” can be responsible for your own salvation with God, it is you who attempts to claim His inheritance. When we, who call ourselves by His name, cast out from our fellowship, those who we are meant to love; when we cast away love itself from our hearts, and in the person of others, we too cast Him out of our vineyards. And over what? Because our youth prefer another kind of music? Because our elders do not? Because our divorced have clearly made at least one mistake? Because our widows and orphans, and least among us, need to “man up”, “get a job”, and “take care of themselves”? Because those caught in public sin, deserve our public ridicule, ever driving them away from forgiveness? Why do we Christians cast out Christ from our vineyards and call ourselves righteous while we do it. And yet we believe this parable to be about “them”, not about “us”.
Jesus now poses the most just of all questions in verse 9 saying … “What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.” The leaders who reject the message and mission, are no longer leaders. Their position does not protect their souls. Their position was “given” to them by Jesus. It is only through continued association with Jesus that they remain in this position, not through anything inherent in themselves. When the message and mission is rejected, the owner Himself comes back, destroys the husbandmen, and gives the vineyard to others. Whether in the days of the Messiah, when Judaism loses its prominence to Christianity, or in the last days when Christianity, is returned to Christ; human leaders of the faith do not keep their positions over it by power, but by service. We do not preside, we support. We do not have power, we have love. We do not have control, we have a message and a mission.
As to those who reject Jesus as the Messiah He continues in verse 10 saying … “And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner: [verse 11] This was the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?” What men cast aside, is the cornerstone of the next faith. Judaism loses its prominence NOT because God ever rejected them, but because they cast God out of their vineyard. What they cast away has become the cornerstone of our faith. But why they cast Him away, what they were tempted to do that led to that, must be the watchword ever in our ears, or we will do exactly the same thing, exactly the same way. If history is to avoid repetition, let it be with us, in this matter. Let us hold love close. Let us serve with a message of our conversion, and of our redemption, and of our perfection, by Jesus Christ alone. Let us serve with a mission of pointing others to Christ, and loving them every day while they do so, through all of their failings, shortcomings, and negativity; just like Christ does for us.
The post mortem on this story was terrifying in verse 12 saying … “And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.” The husbandmen wanted to kill the only begotten and well-beloved Son of God right there and right then. They literally wanted to act out the parable Jesus said, as if He prophesied right to them. They reasoned that somebody needed some killing … not the wicked leaders who had done so many injustices to the servants of God, but instead to His only Son. If this was the response in their hearts and minds, is it likewise in ours. Are we ready to kill the one who continues to suggest that we should embrace “all” genres of music in our worship of God? Are we ready to kill the one who suggests we should reform our church services to be action oriented, instead of only passive? Are we ready to kill the One who would save us from our sins, and our evil motives, and evil thinking and instead do it ourselves?
It is we who deserve the killing we espouse; that, would be only justice. Like David, it is we, who are “that man”. Are we to continue with the arrogance of our forefathers believing that once installed it is our prerogative to remain in power forever over His church? Or can we submit to Christ, and finally be a servant, with a message and a mission, heading in to support the vineyard, no matter what the consequences to us?
Friday, May 6, 2016
How do you prove that you own something? I have a plastic cup on my desk, if my ownership of this cup were challenged, perhaps I could produce a receipt for it. But a receipt only shows that I bought “a” plastic cup, not that I bought “this” plastic cup. At some point, the person who challenges my ownership of something is going to have to believe that it is mine, perhaps based on my word, perhaps based on the evidence I can produce (receipts, eye-witness testimony, etc.). But if the questioner is determined “not” to believe me, no matter what truth I tell, what witnesses I can produce, and what evidence supports my claims … they can remain unconvinced simply because they choose not to believe. Most of us would not be so hard headed, particularly where it comes to the ownership of a plastic cup, mostly because we could care less who owns a particular plastic cup. When the stakes are higher, we need more to be convinced. When the stakes are for your soul, what would it take you to be convinced?
Satan is playing the highest stakes game there is. And he is playing it with you. His argument is simple; he does not exist, in fact, nothing supernatural exists. Therefore, you are the only one in charge of you. You own you. You must take care of you, as no one else will. His goal is not to argue against God, for in this he would undoubtedly lose. His goal is to convince you there is no game, there are no players, and the only one here, is you. Atheists gladly accept this idea. They like it better. They prefer it. They understand it. Accepting that there is a supernatural, that there is something beyond their sight, complicates their decisions, and presents a different choice of ownership to them, one they do not want to make, or believe exists. Atheists claim to believe only in evidence, and yet can find a way to disallow every piece of evidence, and eye-witness testimony you provide. They are determined NOT to believe, and so they remain unconvinced by choice.
God is also playing the highest stakes game there is. He is not playing by choice, but by necessity. Satan has forced God into this position, because for Love’s sake, God must do something, or see Satan destroy His children with no remorse. God never intended His children to suffer. God never intended His children to know what “death” is. Satan introduced that knowledge of good and of evil to us in firsthand experience. God wanted us to be blissfully ignorant of disease, of pain, and of death. But we wanted to know, Eve wanted to know. And so we do. God’s argument is also simple. God wants to free us from the slavery we have unknowingly embraced in ceding our dominion to Satan. God wants to take the chains of slavery of self-love off of us, and make us free to end pain, end death, and know perfection once again. He offers us this gift, for no more reason, than He loves us, even more than He loves His own life. And He dies to prove it to us, to take our punishment upon Himself.
So the players are assembled, the prize is you, and the choice about what you believe determines the ownership that will be asserted over you every day of your life. Your death will finally end the choosing. Your life will determine what choice you made most often, and at its end. But what will it take for you to believe it? This choice of whether one will believe or not is far from new. Adam and Eve faced it. You and I will as well. Jesus Christ is perpetually facing those on both sides of the belief question. Some of us accept what He offers. Some decline, some even decline with a vengeance. There are some, who do accept the premise of the supernatural, they just do not accept that Jesus can do anything to free their souls, or their choices.
Peter recalled for John Mark in chapter eleven, some of the first enemies of Christ. These were religious leaders … perhaps that bears repeating … these were religious leaders. These were men who devoutly believed in the supernatural, in the God they worshipped, just not in the manifestation of that same God. They refused belief, because they would have had to give up control to do so. Please read that previous sentence again. How many of us refuse belief, because we would have to give up control to do so? Instead we become the virtual enemies of Christ, while still claiming to follow Him. The Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees also claimed the faith of Abraham, and to serve Abraham’s God. But they refused to be saved by Jesus Christ, the long awaited Messiah, because He loved others, and they could not. They loved themselves more, and they bear a reflection of so many of us, sitting in pews of Christian churches, with all the doctrinal knowledge of our forefathers, and as little love as them as well.
These men had gone from teacher, to killer. They went from studying scripture to making plans on how to kill the Author of scripture. And so this was the context of the day. Jesus was still in “their” Temple, He was teaching “His” doctrine, not theirs, and He did not recognize their authority. Something had to be done to remedy this. The recollection begins in verse 27 saying … “And they come again to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders, [verse 28] And say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?” The trap was laid. This question was designed to have Jesus publicly state that He was the Messiah, the Son of God. Had they been listening, they would have already heard this throughout His ministry by the healed, by the saved, even by the demons He cast out. But the leaders wanted Jesus to say it in their Temple, right after which, they would try Him for heresy.
Jesus responds in verse 29 saying … “And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. [verse 30] The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me.” Perhaps starting the great political tradition of our age, answering a question with a question, Jesus offers them a trap of His own. The motives here are widely different. An answer to Jesus’ question is to prompt their hearts about the state of their own salvation. For Jesus has come to save His enemies, as much as His followers. Sometimes, they are the same people, in His day, and in ours.
The leadership ponders picking up in verse 31 saying … “And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him? [verse 32] But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed.” Ouch! Consider closely the reasoning of the enemies of Jesus, in His day, and in your own churches. They “knew” that John’s messages were of God. It was more than the people who were convicted of the error of their ways by the Holy Spirit speaking through John. Priests were confronted. Hypocrites were called out. Even Herod was privately convinced he needed to change his life, and was planning to get rid of the women that were pulling him away from God (when those women acted to see John’s influence forever silenced by Herod’s pride). The priests know John was telling the truth, as much as they know Jesus is. But they continue to refuse to believe, because it would require them to give up control. How many of us read these words, and ignore the 800-pound gorilla in our own spiritual lives … we too refuse to give up control to Jesus Christ? We want to make ourselves ready for Jesus, not let Him do it.
So the matter is resolved in verse 33 saying … “And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.” How disappointed Jesus must have been. Either answer from those men could have helped them recognize their need of Jesus to save to them. Baptism was a public symbolism of what God does for each of us. The internal carnal man, his nature, his addiction to sin, is put to death in the gentle waters of the Jordon. Or by the Son of God who gently takes from us our chains of sin and pain. We rise from the waters a new creation, a new creature born of our God, with a new life He gives us. We are remade by our Creator. Yet the enemies of Christ refused repentance, and embraced the pain of sin. They cast aside scripture, because it teaches them to love, and embrace only the ideas of killing Jesus, and the scriptures that could be twisted to support that cause.
How like us. We decide the meaning first, then open scriptures to prove our point, not to be taught a different one. We perceive ourselves to be spiritually mature based on our accumulated knowledge, not on our ability to cast aside our knowledge and embrace the playtime of a toddler (dirty diaper and all) wholly dependent on our Father to care for us in every way, including removing the filth of our sins. The danger in the lesson of the religious leadership in the days of Christ, are meant for the Christian to understand in our own day in age. Those men believed they were owned by God. They had given themselves to God by declaration. But when Jesus came to them, looking to reform their hearts, in effect to follow up on the ownership deed they had given … the men took it back. They revealed that control was more important than salvation, or belief. Are we different? Do we claim Christianity, until Jesus asks to change some aspect of our lives? Only then do we decide our sin, is more precious to us, than His request? Does our life reveal our slavery, or His victories?
The priests asked “by what authority” does Jesus perform these actions? Satan asks Him the same question today. When it comes to your life, in the game Satan is playing with you, whether you like it or not, Satan asks Jesus “by what authority” does Jesus intend to change your desires for his sins? Have you given Jesus this authority, or are you yet holding it back, making sure Jesus does not touch “that” part of your life? Jesus is fully capable of changing everything about you. He can make you a new creature. He can make your life exponentially better than it is today. But only “you” can grant Him the authority to do so. He cannot take it. Satan cannot steal your decision to do so. When Satan asks the question “by what authority” to Jesus Christ in the matters of your life … what will Jesus be able to answer?