Eating Salad at the Steak Buffet

buffetPlease read Acts 19:1-7 in your Bible.  For myself, I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.

Don’t settle for a lesser portion; sweat your comfort zone and allow God to do immeasurably more.

Here we find the beginning of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.  He left his home town of Antioch, crossed Asia Minor, encouraging the churches along the way.  This was what we call “Paul’s Third Missionary Journey.”  Some time previous to this, Paul had briefly visited the city and left two of his associates, Aquila and Priscilla there, to continue the work he started (18:19).  In 18:21 he vowed to return if that was God’s will.  While Paul was away from Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla had an encounter with Apollos, a man who KNEW ONLY THE BAPTISM OF JOHN (18:26).  This was a similar encounter, but we have no evidence Apollos was connected with this group.

Paul operated on the Jeremiah 29:7 principle; seek the welfare of the city and your own welfare will follow.  Ephesus was a city that knew a lot of material prosperity, so the “welfare” sought here was of a spiritual nature.  We’ve already noted it was a gateway city, merging land and sea trade routes.  It was also the city where the local Roman governor of Asia held court.  One example of the wealth of Ephesus is the 25,000 seat theater that also hosted the Pan-Ionian Games, a version of the Olympics.

The people of Ephesus were notorious for their superstition, idolatry, and worldly philosophy.  The use of magic items and oaths was particularly widespread.

The route Paul took from Antioch to Ephesus (v. 1) was not the standard trade route along the coast, but went through the middle of the region.  Though the text does not state this, but the choice of route implies that Paul was in a hurry to get back to Ephesus.

Upon arriving, Paul was introduced to twelve DISCIPLES.  Unfortunately, their discipleship only got as far as the baptism of John.  They had no knowledge of Jesus Christ, as demonstrated in the fact that they knew nothing about the Holy Spirit.

God put them in the path of the Apostle Paul.  He knew something was amiss and he knew just the right questions to ask to identify the problem of their incomplete faith.

  1. The problem: an incomplete faith.

Luke identifies the people Paul encountered as DISCIPLES (1).  Luke normally used the word DISCIPLES to refer to Christians unless some qualifier is added (i.e., “disciples of John” in LKE 5:33; 7:18.)  He also informs us at the end of the passage that there was ABOUT TWELVE MEN IN ALL.  Some take the number twelve to be symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel, a hint that these men were Jewish.  That may be, but Luke never seems to be shy about identifying Jews as such, especially when they are being antagonistic to the Church.

You can have a pretty active discussion of whether these men were Christians or not.  The good news is, the narrative doesn’t depend on a definitive answer.  The point is that their faith – however far it went – was not complete; Paul helped them to find complete faith.  They are ready symbols of all of us who haven’t quite understood or haven’t yet really committed ourselves to Jesus

We’re not told how they met or why Paul asked if they’d received the Holy Spirit when they believed (2).  Happily, the “how” of this event is not what’s important; otherwise we’d have been given more information.  What is important is upon meeting these DISCIPLES, Paul knew immediately there was something wrong.

He needed more information, so he asked, “DID YOU RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT WHEN YOU BELIEVED?”  The fact that Paul had to ask implies that these twelve men “talked the talk,” but didn’t “walk the walk.”  There was something lacking in their spirit/character/testimony.

That “something” was the Gifts of the Spirit and the Fruits of the Spirit, which God gives to His followers as proof of their faith (Ephesians 1:13-14).  When these supernatural abilities and character qualities are found in a person, they prove to ourselves and to others that we are in Christ.  It was the absence of these things to which Paul was reacting.

The twelve answered Paul in innocent ignorance: “NO, WE HAVE NOT EVEN HEARD THAT THERE IS A HOLY SPIRIT,” (2).  In verse three we find out they had been baptized by John, but he hadn’t taught them everything.  John the Baptist did speak about the Holy Spirit (see LKE 3:16), but only in relation to the Messiah.

To be fair, that was not his role: JTB’s job was to announce the Messiah’s coming.  His ministry was prepatory.  When the Messiah came, his work was over.  John said himself in relation to the messiah, “I must decrease, He must increase,” (John 3:30).  That is what happened; shortly after Jesus began His ministry John was imprisoned and then beheaded for his opposition to the king’s having married his brother’s wife.  While the Gospels portray John the Baptist as living a rather solitary life in the Judean wilderness (Matthew 3:1-6), he also had disciples of his own (Matthew 9:14; 14:12; Luke 5:33; 10:41; John 3:25).

Paul taught them the whole truth (3-4).  To do this, Paul needed to ask a second question, going back a bit further; “THEN WHAT BAPTISM DID YOU RECEIVE?”  (He clearly assumes they had some baptism?)

They replied that they had been baptized by John the Baptist.  We can presume that after their baptism, these men left the region of Judea and were not at hand to see Jesus’ baptism by John or any other part of the ministry, death & resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As Paul explained to them, John the Baptist’s baptism was good for its situation, but his ministry was supplanted by Jesus’ ministry.  John’s baptism was for REPENTANCE from sins (Matthew 3:6).  It was not, as we are used to it, for conversion to a new faith or membership in a church/synagogue/group.  The Bible does not tell us the words John the Baptist used when he baptized someone, but we can safely assume he did not baptize INTO THE NAME OF JESUS when these 12 guys were there, as this was something Paul’s group did for them.

  1. The solution: be obedient and go all the way with God.

These DISCIPLES responded in obedience and received a new baptism (5). Their new baptism was better because it was IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS. This is not a matter of using the right words; it’s deeper than that.  To do anything IN THE NAME of JESUS is to do it in His spirit, following His teaching, honoring His name, exercising His power, under His authority, and at His direction.

In the history of the Church, people have got wound up about which words you say when you baptize people.  To me, they missed the point.  The point is about genuinely being in Jesus Christ in all the ways I just mentioned.  Anything else is just not real.

These 12 DISCIPLES can represent people who are sincere and yet are not fully in Christ.  They made a good response to the truth they’ve known, but they don’t know the whole truth.  This fact would cause insecurity if not for the Gifts and Fruits of the Spirit being objective evidence.  The presence of the Holy Spirit gives us assurance that we are truly saved or brings accusation if the Spirit is absent.

Their baptism was needed and was important.  However, it was not by their baptism, but by Paul LAYING his HANDS on them that the twelve received the Holy Spirit, as indicated by the Spiritual Gifts of Speaking in Tongues and Prophesy.  In Acts, these are the first and second most frequent Gifts that accompany salvation.

The Laying on of Hands is a frequently mentioned ritual act with different uses; in every case, it was to be taken seriously (1 Timothy 5:22; Hebrews 6:2).  Biblical uses of this ritualistic gesture include:

– Consecrating offerings (Leviticus 1:4; 3:2; 4:15; 16:21) or items (Numbers 8:10 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9).

– Miraculous healing (Mark 6:5; 7:31-36; 16:18; Luke 4:40; 13:13; 28:8).

– Granting blessings (Genesis 48:14; Matthew 19:15; Mark 10:16).

– Granting authority, power, or installing officers (i.e., ordination; Acts 6:6; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6).

Prayer is sometimes given in conjunction with laying on of hands, but is not considered a single activity.

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues is the miraculous use of a language the speaker does not normally possess (ex., Acts 2, 10, + 19).  The NT recognizes two ways in which this Gift is exercised: publicly & privately.

– Publicly: when it occurs in worship, a second Spiritual Gift, Interpretation of Tongues, must be exercised to translate the utterance or the speaker is required to stop speaking.

– Privately, it can be used without a translator because it is an offering to God in prayer.  In this case, it expresses the heart of the worshiper without using any familiar language.

Especially in worship and other public contexts, Paul vastly preferred readily known speech to unknown speech (see 1 Corinthians 14:19).

The Gift of Prophesy likewise comes in two forms; foretelling and forth-telling (ex., Acts 19 and possibly ch. 8).

– Foretelling is miraculous communication of new things that are going to happen, given in advance of their occurring; communicating what God WILL do. The test here is whether they come true or not.

– Forth-telling builds on what God has already revealed but applies it with authority to a specific situation; communicating what God wants people to do.

A mistake some people make in applying this passage (and similar ones) is to say this one unique situation is supposed to be everyone’s experience: they apply it too broadly and too specifically.  By “too broadly” I mean that they don’t recognize the difference between descriptive and prescriptive. Without complicating matters, there are two types of Bible passages and they need to be interpreted differently.

– Descriptive passages narrate historical events.  In addition to the information they contain, narratives can be used to set examples to be followed or avoided.  Just because something happened once or twice in the Bible, it doesn’t by itself mean it should always happen that way.  The narratives do not fit a consistent pattern, except to say that the exceptions are the rule.

– Prescriptive passages that teach truths and give instructions.  God is communicating truth that prescribes righteous behavior and true hearts.  They can be used by literal application of the words expression truth propositionally.

By “too specifically” I mean that Tongues and Prophecy are only two of about 20 Spiritual Gifts.  (As an alternative example, in Galatians 3:5 Paul wrote that working MIRACLES accompanied the Spirit’s coming to that church, not Prophecy or Tongues.)  All Spiritual Gifts are signs of real faith.  Along with the Fruits of the Spirit, they are ways that a real faith works out through our skin into words and deeds we can observe in daily living.

Let me explain the title of this message.  One strategy for getting a reduced cost lunch is to invite your vegetarian friends to the steak house.  “Eating Salad at the Steak Buffet” means you split the ticket evenly.  In that case, the steak-eater literally eats the lunch of the salad-eaters!

I’m teasing my vegan and vegetarian friend a bit.  But seriously, it makes no sense to settle for a little portion of what God offers us.  As we learned last week from Ephesians 1, God’s GRACE is RICH and He lavishes it on us generously.  Why settle for less?

One reason people settle for less of God or even nothing at all is that we somehow know that life will not be the same after we say “yes” to God.  We are not willing to puncture our comfort zone and thereby say “no” to God.  Even if it’s a polite “No thank you,” saying “no” to God is wrong.

However we explain a decision to settle for less, we must take courage and receive all God offers.  We must not settle for a faith tamed by science, secular culture, or selfishness.  To enjoy the view we must brave the heights.  Let’s have an adventure of faith by releasing the weights that hold us down: THEREFORE, SINCE WE ARE SURROUNDED BY SUCH A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES, LET US THROW OFF EVRYTHING THAT HINDERS AND THE SIN THAT SO EASILY ENTANGLES, AND LET US RUN WITH PERSEVERANCE THE RACE MARKED OUT FOR US (Hebrews 12:1).

Don’t settle for a lesser portion; sweat your comfort zone and allow God to do immeasurably more.

 

RESOURCES:

O         Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary on Acts, J. Bradley Chance.

O         More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, Peter H. Davids.

O         Illustrated Davis Dictionary of the Bible.

O         The Communicator’s Commentary, Lloyd J. Ogilive.

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Seven Modern Maladies and God’s Solutions (6 of 7)

Anger & Self-control

Anger can quickly lead to other sins.  If controlled, we can avoid a falling-out.

If you are 50 year of age or older, you probably know this guy:

skipper2

the “Skipper” character from the TV series “Gilligan’s Island.  Do you remember the character’s real name?  Jonas Grumby.  Do you remember the actor’s name?  Alan Hale Jr.

Do you remember we identified the Skipper as a symbol of GLUTTONY in a previous message?  Perhaps you’re wondering why we’re picking on the Skipper twice.

We needed a symbol for WRATH or anger, and who was the guy that when he lost his temper hit Gilligan on the head with his hat?  That must have happened at least once an episode.   As often as it happened, you’d think I could find a picture of it on the internet, but I could only find this one.  Remembering what I can of the episode pictured on your notes, I recall the Skipper was only pretending that he was going to hit Gilligan.  His anger never broiled over into really harmful violence.

Of course, that doesn’t make anger right.  Physical abuse is only one kind of abuse, and anger can cause all kinds of harm without leaving any physical marks as evidence.

  1. The vicious vice of uncontrolled anger (Matthew 5:21-26).

Anger is a feeling of opposition and the emotions/actions it motivates.  (I was careful to use the word “motivates” in that sentence to counter the excuse that someone “makes” us angry.  We always have a choice whether to be angry or not and therefore always bear responsibility for our choices.  No excuses allowed; angry reactions can be avoided.)  The classic word for this sin is “wrath.”

Anger can be a deadly sin.  It says “can be” because we need to understand that the one word, ANGER, can refer to two situations.  One situation is a flash of anger and the second is a settled and lengthy decision to remain angry and act upon it.

Initial anger (the “flash” of anger”) is most typically a morally neutral experience.  Like temptation, it can come out of nowhere to surprise us.  We are not morally responsible if a sudden feeling of anger hits us that way.

That said, if we predispose ourselves to feel anger by being characteristically unhappy, negative, overly sensitive, grudge-holding, or a drama queen, then even flashes of anger can be immoral; they are our responsibility because we’ve made anger a greater part of our character.  Anger isn’t as likely to come as a surprise to a person who makes it a way of life.  Character is always a factor in determining moral guilt.

A decision to be angry or sustain anger is more common than a flash of sudden anger.  It’s what we do with our feelings of anger that makes us guilty.  Words and actions are other factors in determining moral guilt or innocence.  What we choose to say and/or do in response to anger is where our responsibility clearly lies.

Motive is a third aspect in judging moral guilt; of the three motives for anger, only one of them is good.

FRUSTRATION is a motive for anger where the person says, “I didn’t get my way.”  We typically get frustrated over little things.  Frustration is founded on self-centeredness and immaturity.

FEAR is a motive for anger that says, “I might not get my way.”  Fear and anger are the two most basic human emotions.  We respond more quickly to these stimuli because a quick response might be necessary to survive a life-ending threat.  However, at least 90% of the things we fear never happen and when they do, they rarely threaten our survival.  This is a survival mechanism that God hard-wired into our brains; it can make us overreact to fear, causing nervousness that is unhealthy and too often immoral.   If fear is ongoing, we call it “stress.”

RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is a spiritual motive that declares, “It didn’t get done God’s way.”  There is only one instance in the Gospels were Jesus is said to be angry.  In Mark 3:5, Jesus is angry and distressed at the stubbornness of hypocritical hearts.  People commonly cite Jesus’ chasing the moneychangers and sellers out of the temple as a time He got angry, but none of the Gospel writers explain it that way.  Instead, zeal is the motive offered for that act (see John 2:17).  Following Jesus’ example, we can say several things about RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION to distinguish it as the only godly motive for anger

ANGER is a sin when it is based on self-centeredness; it begins as a perceived threat to self-interest.  RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION starts in love for God & addresses sin and/or disrespect of God.  RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is often a response to hypocrisy where ANGER is often a result of hypocrisy.  Here are several observations about the difference between the virtue of RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION and the vice of ANGER.

RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION defends the truth while ANGER often tramples over it.

Like Jesus, persons expressing RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION are not characterized by aggressive words and deeds while people given to ANGER are often aggressive in what they say and do.

ANGER tends to be sudden, explosive, and frequently out of proportion to the actual offense suffered.  RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is measured because it is a considered response and never out of proportion.

RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is never an act of revenge and would not consider “fighting fire with fire.”  Unlike ANGER, it seeks reconciliation, repentance, and restoration.

ANGER is characterized as flaring up over trivialities while RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION upholds fundamental moral issues, encouraging obedience to God’s will.

Unlike ANGER, RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is not about self-defense or even defending others or God’s reputation.  Instead, it is about doing what is right and calling others to do the same.

We’ve looked at Jesus’ example regarding anger, now we’ll look at what Jesus taught about anger in Matthew 5.  First, He proved the seriousness of anger; it can become a sin (vs. 21-22).

Were you to ask a stranger if they were a good person, what would be the most likely answer?  “Well, I haven’t killed anybody.”  Is that because we consider murder to be the most serious sin?  Would that person be surprised to hear that Jesus considers ANGER to be as serious a sin as murder?  That being angry is akin to murder?

“YOU HAVE HEARD THAT IT WAS SAID…BUT I TELL YOU” is the expression of contrast we read throughout the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus is introducing a newer, better, deeper, and more true understanding of spiritual and moral life.

Under the old way, anger that did not result in murder was more or less OK.  Certainly considered a “misdemeanor” if at all.  But under Jesus’ way, anger is a sin, without regard to whether violence occurs or not.

Second, to avoid being guilty of serious sin, Jesus commanded swift and righteous resolution of anger (vs. 23-26) by giving two examples, one set in a religious context and the other in a secular context.

In the context of temple, Jesus taught that resolution must precede worship.  Consider: ANGER is sin.  Sin disrupts our relationship with God.  Worship is impossible under that circumstance.  In this predicament, it is essential to pause BEFORE worship to reconcile with other person, (your BROTHER or sister).  By way of another example, 2 Peter 3:7 implies that a disrespectful husband risks having his prayers “hindered” by the way he treats his wife.  Here is an overlap of relational and spiritual that merits a deeper examination.  (I can personally vouch that Peter’s warning is true.)

In the context of the legal system of the day, Jesus appealed to a practical and wise side of the issue.  Jesus advised that it is easier to settle a lawsuit out of court than it is after the judge has arrived.  That is probably still true today!  Just as an issue should be settled before worship, so should an issue be solved before appearing before a judge.  The person who fails to resolve in a timely way risks losing everything.

In this teaching Jesus underscores the foolishness of giving into anger.  Whether it’s a quick fuse or a slow burn, anger has destructive consequences.   Wise people will consider the consequences and exert the self-control necessary to squelch anger, reconcile relationships, and honor God instead of disobeying His will.

  1. The vital virtue of self-control (James 1:19-27).

As James presents it, self-control is a matter of timing.  We write this because he makes three references to time as central to his teaching about self-control in communications.

The first reference to timing is QUICK TO LISTEN; which means to get all the facts before reacting.  Begin by checking your perceptions.

– Do you have all the facts straight or are you overreacting to a misunderstanding?

– Are you really angry at that person or are you angry because something going on in your mind or heart that does not involve them?  If there is not a cause and effect relationship, then your anger is more likely to be a sin.

– Ask yourself, “What is my motive?”  If it is to “get even” or anything other than giving God glory and reconciling people, there’s a good chance your anger is just selfishness, no matter how self-righteous or reasonable you can make it sound.  Cancel the “spin” in your head!

– Ask yourself, “Is this any of my business?”  Previously in this series we’ve learned that godly ambition includes living a quiet life, minding our own business.

Next, since you can’t read minds, look at the situation from the other person’s perspective.

– Try to think of extenuating circumstances or other meanings to their words and deeds.

– In conversation with that person, check your perceptions and their intention.  Tell them how you see things and ask them if they see them differently.  Try to forge a common understanding of what is causing anger in your relationship.

Finally, by faith, try to see the situation from God’s perspective.

– If there is not a command of God being violated or a good deed left undone, is there really any reason to take offense?

– Can you be certain you are in the right on the matter and how you intend to resolve it?

– We have been warned that on Judgment Day, all “careless words” will be judged by God (see Matthew 12:36).  How will you feel when petty and hurtful words are repeated before Jesus?

The second reference to timing is SLOW TO SPEAK, which means to prefer silence and to carefully guard your words.  As we’ve been learning on Wednesday Bible Studies, the Bible has a lot to say on the subject of words.  One piece of wisdom is that the best away we can avoid speaking rashly is to avoid speaking.  Silence may not always be the best choice, but taking time to think is always good.

The amount of time we need to take before giving a comment or answer depends on how long it takes you to do the aforementioned three steps of homework prior to answering.  Besides, if you take your time, you will find that a good deal of hurtful speech and miscommunication can be avoided.  Taking time may give you an opportunity to recognize bad speech and its effects.

The final reference to time is to be SLOW TO BECOME ANGRY. This means to carefully and prayerfully guard your actions.

Obviously, words aren’t the only way we give in to anger.  But they are the most common way and I believe that’s part of the reason why the Bible has so much to say on this subject.

It takes time to be certain an offense is truly intended, who is at fault, and decide what, if anything, needs to be done to reconcile the parties involved.  If you practice this, you will find that simply because you waited to react, the situation resolves itself.  God will always do a better job than we can hope to do.

Modern scientific studies of emotional intelligence show that our brain structures are set up to respond most quickly to anger and fear.  There is literally another set of brain parts that are used for reason, love, and self-control.

This is evidence of what we have learned by experience: it is not in our natural self to be self-controlled.  Doing right requires that we take more time and use the parts of our brain that work more slowly than the mouthy, angry, and evil parts.  James’ double use of the word SLOW reflects the findings of modern science!

Our best motive for self-control is to achieve the RIGHTEOUS LIFE GOD DESIRES (v. 20).  Stated briefly, the RIGHTEOUS LIFE GOD DESIRES is becoming more like Jesus.  James is also clear about the details of what a RIGHTEOUS LIFE looks like.  Verse 26 says that a RIGHTEOUS person has a TIGHT REIGN ON HIS TONGUE. Verse 27 says that a RIGHTEOUS person looks after the needy and keeps themselves from being morally POLLUTED BY THE WORLD.

Elsewhere in James we develop a broad view of a RIGHTEOUS LIFE:

2:10 = Keep the entirety of God’s commands, not just your favorite parts.

4:7 = Become submissive to God, resistant to the devil.

5:13-16 = Rely on prayer.

James instructs us that self-control is a mark of maturing faith.  Writing plainly, verse 26 warns that uncontrolled speech betrays a RELIGION that is WORTHLESS.  We need our faith to be true in order to be saved and to persevere in this life.  When trials and death come, a false faith will be WORTHLESS to us.

One way to cure self-deception about our status before God is to look at what we are doing.  James gave three examples:

A person who says what they think reveals they are self-deceived and they will find, on Judgment Day, that their RELIGION is WORTHLESS in regard to getting into heaven.

Anyone can claim faith, but God-approved religion is proven by two actions: keeping from following the WORLD so closely that your moral status becomes as dirty as theirs.  God approves service and protection for the neediest members of the community, not the wealthiest.

In James 3:2 we understand moral perfection is proved by control of what one says: WE ALL STUMBLE IN MANY WAYS.  IF A MAN IS NEVER AT FAULT IN WHAT HE SAYS, HE IS A PERFECT MAN, ABLE TO KEEP HIS WHOLE BODY IN CHECK.

Ideally, self-control is achieved by surrendering to the Holy Spirit and thereby being Spirit-controlled.  GLS 5:22-23 = self-control is one of the Fruits of the Spirit.

Anger can quickly lead to other sins.  If controlled, we can avoid a falling-out.

If you are younger than 50, you know all about

twitter

Twitter as a place where angry exchanges can easily take place.  Twitter is an app and website that aims at providing news and social networking by allowing users to post and interact with messages called “tweets”.  Originally, tweets were restricted to 140 characters, but late last year, the limit was doubled to 280 for most languages.   On this basis, it may be argued that Twitter’s greatest virtue is brevity.

Twitter was launched in July, 2006. In ten years Twitter grew to more than 319 million active users.  Another gauge of the influence of Twitter occurred on the day of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, when 40 million election-related tweets sent by 10 p.m.

The gentleman who may have benefitted most from all that election day activity was President Trump, who has also become one of Twitter’s most famous/infamous users.  I have a Twitter account with a whopping THIRTY followers.  This means 30 people get notified when I tweet.  Nine out of ten times my tweet is simply an announcement that I have posted my sermon notes on the internet.

Because of the relative anonymity (you can use a net name – pseudonym) and the brevity of the messages, Twitter has become a place where social interactions take on the form of angry opposition.  The word “Tweets” sounds like a happy thing, but the fact is, these brief messages too often take on hateful, condemning, and argumentative tones.  Occasionally you will hear about a celebrity who has closed their Twitter account because the messages left were so hurtful.

In fact, in February of this year the company announced that they were responding to constant criticism of the wrathful aspect of tweets by providing help for those who tweeted about self-harm or suicide, and restricting the access of users who encourage others to harm themselves or commit suicide.  This ought to come as no surprise to anyone: human nature is such that if we make it easy to hurt others, more people will engage in that behavior.

One of the things that is supposed to distinguish followers of Jesus from the rest of the world is the presence of peace and the absence of anger.  We will show the world we are different if we don’t tweet or talk in anger.  We will demonstrate we truly belong to Jesus if we take the time needed to act in love, not anger.  That will take pursuit of self-control and avoidance of the deadly sin of wrath.

RESOURCES:

Wikipedia.

Seven Modern Maladies and God’s Solutions (3 of 7)

Gluttony/Temperance

Gluttony is the vice of over-indulgence.  Temperance keeps need from becoming greed.

Anyone OVER 50 years old needs no introduction to

skipper

“the Skipper” from “Gilligan’s Island.”

          Of course, “Skipper” is a nickname and a title: extra points for anyone who can tell me the character’s actual name.  (A: Jonas Grumby.)  The Skipper and Gilligan are characters reminiscent of screen legends Laurel and Hardy.

The actor’s name was Alan Hale Jr.  (Can you imagine calling a man his size “JUNIOR?”)  In the show, the Skipper was easily the strongest man and probably the tallest character too.

Before Hale was cast in the role, actor Carroll O’Connor was considered for the part.  Thinking about Archie Bunker as the Skipper is almost too much for the mind to handle isn’t it?

A side note: in 2003 film and TV critic Thomas Carson wrote a book, Gilligan’s Wake, which supplied a back story for the Skipper, where he served with JFK on PT-109 and Captain McHale (Ernest Borgnine) from the “McHale’s Navy” TV show.  Blending history and fiction, the book was well-received.

I chose this picture of the character because its’ the one that best shows off the Skipper’s sizable paunch.  It’s true that a guy like me has no right to fault the Skipper’s figure.  The point simply is that the Skipper is our best symbol of gluttony because the evidence is piled up above his belt.  Hale was also a seafood restaurant owner, so no reason to limit dinners.

When he died in 1991, Alan Hale Jr.’s ashes were sprinkled over the Pacific Ocean, a fitting end to a character who spent 30 years on “Gilligan’s Island.”

  1. The vicious vice of GLUTTONY (Luke 12:13-21)

What is “gluttony?”

– An obsession over satisfying any physical appetite beyond what’s needed.

– A perversion of need into greed. Billy Graham wrote: “Gluttony is a perversion of a natural, God-given appetite.  We must fix in our minds the fact that sin is not always flagrant and open transgression.  It is often the perversion and distortion of natural, normal desires and appetites.  Love is distorted into lust.  Self-respect too often is perverted into godless ambition.  When a God-given, normal hunger is extended greedily into abnormality…it becomes sin.”  (7 Deadly Sins, p. 75.)

Overeating is a common example of gluttony, but it takes many forms.

– A thirsty person needs to drink.  Consuming too much of some kinds of drink leads to drunkenness.

– A hungry person needs food.  Too much food leads to obesity-related issues.

– A hurting person needs medication.  We’ve heard a lot about how opiod addiction has hurt so many people.

– A poor person needs to work, but workaholism hurts relationships and one’s physical health.

– A bored person needs activity.  We spend so much time and money on amusements, they can be addictive.

– An ambitious person needs achievement. Too much of self sacrificed to being #1 reduces relationships to superficiality.

What’s needed is moderation.  Take eating as an example, the Old Testament Law set aside days of feasting and fasting.  In both cases, the issue was never food; the issue was love for God manifest in obedience. The feasting and fasting were both commanded by God and were good.  In our day and theirs, sin intervenes when we do too much of either or do any of it out of an ungodly motive.  “Gluttony” is over-doing anything that is otherwise necessary and/or good.

Why is gluttony deadly?

– It is an expression of materialism. Where are your thoughts most of the day?  How often are you thinking about God and what He wants you to do?  How often do you cross the line between need and greed?

– It is another form of selfishness. Whenever we try to justify abundance and ignore the need of others, we are guilty of sinful self-centeredness.  Whenever our own pleasure becomes the most important thing, we’ve gone over into gluttony.

– It is a subtle version of idolatry. The maxim, “we eat to live, not live to eat” is a reminder that we’re not to let anything in this life take the place of God.  While we may not bow down and pray to a sandwich, it can still be idolatry.

– It violates God’s commands to honor Him with our bodies.  1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and Romans 6:13 are two examples of God’s commands to offer ourselves, body and soul, in service to Him.  Reminding ourselves that all things belong to God is one way we avoid gluttony.

Jesus gave a fictional example of the deadly reality of gluttony.  The context of the passage is Jesus’ refusal to be brought into a family feud (vs. 13-15).  He had the spiritual insight to know that the real issue was GREED and he wisely avoided taking sides.  Never one to waste, Jesus turned the incident into a “teachable moment.”

The main point of the parable: it is foolish to have an insatiable appetite for worldly things and neglect God. How do we know that?  We look at the specifics.

The man expressed the point of view typical for a glutton (vs. 16-19).  Rather than see his abundance as a blessing and honor God, the RICH FOOL’s only thought was how to hoard it and keep it for himself.  Rather than see his abundance as God’s supply to enable him to help others, he only made plans how to have more.

God condemned his point of view in v. 20.  Morally & spiritually, he was a FOOL.  In the Bible, ungodly and evil people are foolish.  Their problem is not a lack of intelligence, but a lack of attention to the things of God.  Evil deeds are the result.  The man in the parable is not condemned as foolish because he had wealth, but because he made the decision to waste it on himself. God grants us the ability to create wealth (see Deuteronomy 8:18) for two reasons; so we can care for ourselves, not depending on others, and also so we can help others who find themselves in need. On a practical level, he wasted time and money on himself: death would cheat him of all he’d stored up.

It is better to be RICH TOWARD GOD than well-stocked in worldly things.  Jesus ended with a stern warning in v. 21; “THIS IS HOW IT WILL BE WITH ANYONE WHO STORES UP THINGS FOR HIMSELF BUT IS NOT RICH TOWARD GOD.”

  1. The vital virtue of TEMPERANCE (Daniel 1).

What is temperance?  It is an attitude of moderation in regard to satisfying physical appetites.

– It is using worldly things without being used by them or getting too used to having them.

– It is owning things without being owned by them or forgetting that God is the true owner of all of them.

Temperance involves acts of self-control that disciplines one’s self by self-denial.  Moderation is only possible when we exercise our intelligence, practice self-discipline, and rely on the Holy Spirit. Falling into extremes requires less of these virtuous things, often resulting in a loss of truth and ruination of relationships.

God’s preference for moderation in all things is clearly revealed in Ecclesiastes 7:18 = IT IS GOOD TO GRASP THE ONE AND NOT LET GO OF THE OTHER.  THE MAN WHO FEARS GOD WILL AVOID ALL EXTREMES.  How much better would our American society be if all extremists took this line of thinking?

Obedience to God’s commands requires us to put Him before all worldly things.  Love for God is manifest in obedience.  Actions convey love for God.

Obedience is also required because God is self-identified as “jealous” of us.  God will not share you with the world.  We must be His; first AND foremost.

Why is temperance a vital virtue?  First, because temperance recognizes that our liberty in Christ is boundaried by our responsibility to obey God and bless others.  Human nature seeks to satisfy self first and take the path of least effort to do so.  Our new divine nature seeks to obey God first and bless others by pointing to God.  People who are prompt to insist on their rights and/or ignore their responsibilities reveal a heart in rebellion against God, making an idol of self.

Second, temperance seeks to avoid sin by keeping things in perspective; God’s perspective.  Temperance is founded on seeing the world as God does; flawed by sin, one day to be replaced.

Daniel is a great example of temperance.  The context of Daniel 1 is the historical fact of the “Babylonian Captivity.”  Daniel was one of many deportees from Judah.  In ancient times, the winners of a war took captives from the conquered people to be slaves.  The intent was to inculcate them with the victor’s culture and then send them back home to spread the influence of the conqueror to the subject nations.

Daniel was one of a group of especially promising young men who were going to be renamed, retrained, and put to work in government offices (v. 4).  Daniel is one of the most godly men in the Old Testament.

The place Daniel demonstrated the vital virtue of temperance was – unexpectedly – in his diet. The people serving in the king’s palace were naturally used to the very best food (v. 5), probably lots of it.  This was the king’s will and that was not a thing to be trifled with (v. 10).

Daniel’s objection to the king’s diet was spiritual!  We choose to diet for physical or emotional reasons.  But v. 7 says Daniel RESOLVED NOT TO DEFILE HIMSELF with the king’s food.  Though it might be used in an emotional sense, the word DEFILE is a spiritual term.  To defile something was to compromise or impugn its holiness.  We see the spiritual/religious/love-as-obedience-to-God aspect of Daniel’s dietary designs in three inferences.

– One, the food had probably been offered to idols first, which meant that to eat it made Daniel a participant in idolatry, even if it was “after the fact.”

– Two, the Babylonians did not observe Jewish kosher laws and thereby put food on the table that the Law had forbidden.

– Three, gluttony was probably encouraged at every meal.  Then – as now – conspicuous consumption of food is something for which the wealthy and powerful are notorious.  (Ask me about Roman vomitoriums and using bread as napkins.)

Daniel did not act in rebellion, but reasonably asked for an exception to the royal table. He overcame his handler’s hesitation by suggesting a test: a ten day veggie diet (vs. 9-14).  Eating veggies only was the only sure way to avoid eating meat offered to idols, so this is not a vindication of vegetarianism.  This situation came up because Daniel and his friends insisted on following God’s law, not man’s law.  If you choose to be a vegetarian or vegan, you are free to do so for other reasons; please don’t cite this chapter as justification.

The result of the ten day table test was that Daniel and his Jewish friends were healthier than the guys who bellied up to the “Royal Buffet” every meal (vs. 15-16).  Daniel’s instructor approved their special meal plan and God did too, as indicated by two stamps of “divine approval.”

– In v. 17 we see that God gave Daniel something like the Spiritual Gift of Discernment in his ability to interpret VISIONS and DREAMS OF ALL KINDS.

– In v. 20, God gave Daniel and fellow Jewish superior wisdom, making them TEN TIMES more able than ALL THE MAGICIANS AND ENCHANTERS in all of Babylon.

How do we practice temperance?  We can follow Daniel’s example.  Don’t follow the crowd.  The world will mislead and distract you from following God’s will.  This will result in sin and a life less than what God has chosen.  Don’t compromise God’s standards as you understand them.  In this situation, God did not give Daniel a new command to be a vegetarian or reward Daniel for that kind of diet.  Instead, we see Daniel used his brains and followed the Spirit to figure out a way to avoid idolatry.  Similarly, we must be creative to see God’s path.  New solutions may be needed!

We must recognize self-control is a biblical virtue and one area that needs control is our impulse to please ourselves.  Our spiritual nature must control our human nature.  We must be more concerned about pleasing God than pleasing ourselves.

Practice moderation in all things is a biblical virtue; simplify your life by practicing it.  Moderation has very few advocates and it is more difficult to achieve, but almost always puts you closer to God.

If you can’t do push-ups, practice your “push-aways.”  As in “push away” from the table.  More importantly “push away” from things that will tempt you to deny God.

Anyone UNDER 50 needs no introduction to

glut yelp

“Yelp,” a website and app that allows users to post and read reviews of local businesses, especially restaurants.  Yelp was started in 2004 by a couple of former PayPal employees.  At the end of last year, users had posted 148 million reviews, using a five star rating system.  Most of the people who use Yelp live in major metropolitan areas and are doing so on a mobile device.

Studies have shown that Yelp carries considerable clout.  A study showed that restaurants gain 5-9% more reservations for every star in their Yelp rating.  Of course, this kind of success attracts criticism and some have claimed the system is flawed and abused.

I suppose it is because of the connection to restaurants that Yelp was chosen as the symbol of gluttony.  However, given the amount of criticism Yelp receives each year, it may have been chosen because use of the site are “gluttons for punishment!”

At an entirely different site, Trulia.com rated Las Vegas, Nevada as the most gluttonous city in America.  Vegas’ rating of 113 (most other cities scored in the 20s) was probably based on the number of buffet restaurants, the number of plastic surgery offices (0.94 per 100,000 residents), obesity, drinking, and smoking rates.  If Vegas really is the capital of gluttony, then not EVERYTHING that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.  Some of it comes home on one’s tummy and thighs.

Gluttony is the vice of over-indulgence.  Temperance keeps need from becoming greed.

Gluttony is the sin of abuse and over-use of things that God created for our good.  It has deadly spiritual consequences and does our health no good either.

Remember, gluttony is not limited to food and drink.  Anything in this world can be a means of gluttony.  Part of our daily life must be making decisions that exercise self-control so that God’s good gifts never become a substitute for God Himself.

A Fishy Story

Please read Matthew 17:24-27 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Because of the law of love, keep the law of the land.

  1. The problem as the tax collectors saw it. (17:24)

The tax collectors saw Jesus and Peter as being delinquent on their taxes.  That was the presenting issue anyway.  I suspect this was a trap set for Jesus.  The passive aggressive way the question is framed supports this view.  Also, the Gospels mention several occasions when Jewish leaders tried to catch Jesus in an error or taking sides in a hotly-debated issue.  Kind of like our media!

This event happened in Capernaum, Jesus’ usual home when in Galilee, the province north of Jerusalem in Judea.  The word “tax” doesn’t actually appear in verse 24.  It literally says “two-drachma coin,” which was the temple tax rate.

This was the only tax collected by the Jews not the Romans.  The Romans were historically lenient when it came to religious observances that did not compromise imperial taxes and/or loyalty to the empire.  Interesting fact: even after the Jewish temple was destroyed in 72 AD, the Romans continued the tradition of the “temple tax,” but they used it to find their temple to Jupiter!

We might call this a “head tax;” if you’ve got one, you’ve got to pay it.  It was commanded in Scripture: see Exodus 30:11-16.  It is also mentioned in 2 Chronicles 24:6+9, where it is called “atonement for your soul.”  That sounds important!

One drachma was a day’s wage for a typical worker.  Imagine me showing up on your doorstep once a year and hitting you up for two day’s income.  It might not bankrupt you, but it wasn’t painless either.

Commentator William Barclay explains the need for the tax:

“The temple at Jerusalem was a costly place to run.  There were the daily morning and evening sacrifices each of which involved the offering of a year-old lamb.  Along with the lamb were offered flour and oil.  The incense which was burned every day had to be bought and prepared.  The costly hangings and the robes of the priests constantly wore out; and the robe of the High Priest was itself worth a king’s ransom.  All this required money.”

(The Daily Study Bible Series, Matthew, p. 168.)

  1. The problem as Jesus saw it. (17:25-26)

Jesus’ saw the problem as being the tax collector attempting to collect from Peter and Himself a tax from which they were exempt. The encounter started with the tax collectors jumping Peter at the door.  Maybe they were trying to surprise Peter and intimidate him?  Peter may’ve been intimidated or surprised and he blurted out, “YES, HE DOES,” then went inside to make sure He did.

Jesus overheard; I imagine the tax collectors made a loud accusation, trying to make Jesus look bad in front of the folks that typically gathered outside any place He settled.  When Peter came inside, Jesus commented: “WHAT DO YOU THINK, SIMON?  FROM WHOM DO THE KINGS OF THE EARTH COLLECT DUTY AND TAXES – FROM THEIR OWN SONS OR FROM OTHERS?”

The answer was obvious, and Peter got it; “FROM OTHERS” he replied.  This was true; it was the habit of kings of the day to excuse members of their family from paying taxes.  Jesus’ first point is that the king’s kids are excused from paying taxes.  This was one of many examples of the powerful oppressing the needy.

His next point is that He is Son to a much greater King; the very God who commanded the tax be collected!  Jesus’ knowledge of His unique place came early in life.  In Luke 2:49 we see that Jesus, as a 12 year-old, referred to the temple as “MY FATHER’S HOUSE.”  As God’s Son, He was not – according to usual standards – required to pay any taxes.

A third point is that if this tax really was “atonement for the soul,” He needed to do no atoning, because He was not guilty of sin. There was no separation between God the Son and God the Father. No offering was needed.  Just the opposite; Jesus IS our atonement!  In His sacrifice on the cross we find our sin forgiven and our relationship with God restored.

He turned the occasion into a teachable moment, revealing two things about Himself.  First, Jesus is LORD.  “THEN THE SONS ARE EXEMPT” Jesus said to Peter, continuing the dialogue (26).  As the Son of God, Jesus was not required to pay that tax.

When we accept the Lordship of Jesus, we accept His right to rule over our lives and offer ourselves in service to Him.  Ironically, it is in this surrender that we realize true freedom.  As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:17; NOW THE LORD IS THE SPIRIT, AND WHERE THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS, THERE IS FREEDOM.

Second, Jesus revealed that He is LOVE.  Jesus went on to say, “BUT SO WE MAY NOT OFFEND THEM…” (27).  The Gk word for OFFEND is skandalizein.  It meant to be a “stumbling block, a reason for sin, an obstruction in someone’s path.”  We must carefully guard against bringing offense or scandal if it’s at all possible.

A basic moral principle is the “preciousness of others.”  It’s based on Phillippians 2:3; DO NOTHING OUT OF SELFISH AMBITION OR VAIN CONCEIT, BUT IN HUMILITY CONSIDER OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELVES.  Jesus was under no legal obligation to pay their tax, but He did pay it, out of love.

  1. Jesus’ solution to the problem. (17:26-27)

The customs of the day did not require Jesus to pay the tax – the law did not apply to Him.  However, He voluntarily paid the tax because of the greater law of love.  Even though it was just tricky tax collectors setting a trap, He voluntarily paid the tax.

He performed a miracle to prove His legal exception and His true nature.  This miracle drives some people crazy.  The whole coin and the fish thing sounds like – well, like a fish story!           After all, why not just reach in His pocket and give Peter two coins?

First, pockets hadn’t been invented yet.  The French did that hundreds of years later.

Second, when we do what anybody can do, how does God get any glory out of that?  Miraculous and supernatural things serve as better evidence for God than everyday things.

Third, I picture the crowd outside waiting on the results of this confrontation and understood it to be a demonstration that will literally show them who is boss.

Jesus sent Peter out to the lake, which was probably nearby.  “Go fish” He said.  The first fish to bite would have something special in its tummy.  Peter was to take the coins he found there and use those funds to pay their taxes.

People who are troubled by these verses have not taken time to think it out or have a nutty predisposition against miracles.   Some think they are too smart – too “scientific” – to believe in miracles. Others think it depicts Jesus as misusing His divine power.

They’re both wrong.  Every Gospel miracle had a shared purpose: to show people Jesus is God’s Son.  The purpose of this miracle is no different.  Only the occasion is different.  Jesus claimed to be God’s Son and then proved He was by means of this miracle.

  1. How does this help you pay your taxes?

Go fishing – what can it hurt?  You will likely find this is a one-time event and won’t be repeated for you.  Notice that the fish had exactly what was needed, no more.  God supplies our “daily bread” without wasting any extra “dough.”

He supplies our needs, not our “greeds.”  Biblically, the ideal is that we can be self-sufficient enough to be generous with those in need and support God’s work too.

It can help with your attitude if you follow Jesus’ example of  humility and love.  Love for others is the second greatest command.  Jesus showed love by sincerely attempting to avoid causing offense to the legalistic crowd hung up on his taxes.

Because of the law of love, keep the law of the land

I’ll admit: on the outside this story reads strangely.  One commentator wrote that he’d been ashamed of the story because it felt so contrary to our reasonable and scientific culture.  It can feel silly to moderns who are so proud of their brains and have put their trust in science.

It is my prayer that we’ve looked more deeply.  With God’s Spirit we’ve seen this event through the eyes and ears of the people on the scene when it happened.   Hopefully it will make more sense and be visible to us as a time when Jesus used an unusual circumstance to teach very typical lessons on who He was and how we are to live like Him.

While it is a “fish story,” it is true and a parable of sorts that reminds us about God’s provision for us, our provision for each other, and our responsibility to see God in the details of daily living.

Were You There?

board game

Casting about on the internet, I found part of a 2009 sermon by C. Philip Green entitled “Take A Risk.”  There he described a game published by Parker Brothers in the 1950’s.  It was called “Going to Jerusalem.”  (it’s worth $50 on Ebay!)

The players moved little plastic pieces across the Holy Land by looking up answers to questions in a little book of the Gospels provided with the game. Players started in Bethlehem, and moved their three pieces all the way to a “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem to win the game.

Pastor Green took exception to the fact that there was never any Crucifixion or Resurrection following the Triumphal Entry.  You just got to Jerusalem and quit.  He saw this as very unbiblical, promoting a shallow and impractical expectation of life and a lopsided view of Scripture.  Sure, it’s easy to get people to line up to be the life of the party, the “Grand Marshall” of the parade if that’s all there is, but there’s only been one man willing to face pain, humiliation, death, and taking on every other human being’s sin.
https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermoncentral–stories-discipleship-74176?+ref=TextIllustrationSerps

I have to agree with Pastor Green.  While the Triumphal Entry makes for a good game, we need to know the whole truth.  In the Bible, the Triumphal Entry was not an end in itself, it was the beginning of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  What we’ll see this morning is that the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem supports two points: One, Jesus is King, and two, He’s not the king you’re looking for, but He is the King you need!

Please read Mark 11:1-11 in your favored version of the Bible.  I have prepared these remarks using the NIV.

What if you were there to welcome Jesus?

  1. Who would you have been?

Obviously, you’d have been a Jew.  You would have been one of thousands of pilgrims attending the Passover; a Jewish feast day and arguably the most important.  (If you melded Christmas and July 4th, you’d have a similar vibe: patriotic and religious.)  Jewish pilgrims came to the feast from all corners of the Empire.

Passover occurs in the spring, during the Jewish month of Nisan, on the 14th day, which is often in early April.  Using astronomical data, our best guess is that THIS Passover was April 3, AD 33 or April 7, AD 30.

The last leg of your trip is from Jericho to Jerusalem, and could be the most difficult part of your journey.  Jericho is 17 miles from Jerusalem, but the Roman road goes up and over the Mount of Olives, elevation 2600 feet.

There is a village along this route, but it is so small, off the main road, and so close to the city that not many people ever stop there as they make this journey.  So why does Bethany rate a mention in Mark 11:1?  Mark tells us that during the days prior to His death, Jesus didn’t spend nights in the city, but stayed in Bethany.  Bethany was home to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.

This is one of many instances where Jesus is shows He was completely in control of the events leading up to His death.  He didn’t want to be handed over to the Jewish authorities too soon; His death had to occur during the Passover.  Staying in Bethany kept Him further off the public “radar” until His time had really come.

  1. What would you have done?

We could twist our heads around backward trying to make a firm calendar of the events of the last week of Jesus’ life.  For example, Mark has Jesus going directly from Jericho to Jerusalem while John has Him stopping in Bethany first.  There are ways to reconcile these seeming inconsistencies, but today we’ll skip all those details and look at the sequence Mark offers.

Every faithful Jew was expected to return to Jerusalem at this time every year.  If you were wealthy, you probably did.  If not, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Jesus’ coming into the city was something people anticipated and raised the excitement of THAT Passover to new heights.  They were familiar with the details of the predictions about the Messiah in the Scriptures, so Jesus’ method of arrival sent an unspoken message: “Here I am!  Your King has arrived!”

SO – on this day you greet Jesus as a King, with the great enthusiasms we read in vs. 8-10.  You spread your cloak out on the road before Him.  This is the ancient equivalent of the “red carpet treatment.”  (In 2 Kings 9:13, when Jehu was crowned king, the people greeting him in this way.)  Your hope is that this parade will be the first step to Jesus assuming the throne of David, overthrowing the Romans.

You spread out branches cut from roadside fields.  In this culture cut branches were associated with joyous times. (For the Festival of Booths, palm branches were cut to make temporary shelters.)

You praise Him by shouting, “HOSANNA!” and “HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST!”  Hosanna means “God saves!”  “BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD” was shouted by folks on one side of the road, while “BLESSED IS THE COMING KINGDOM OF OUR FATHER DAVID” was shouted as a response by folks on the other side of the road.  This antiphonal kind of worship was typical among the Jews; the Psalms were recited in this way.

  1. Why would this Passover be remembered?

Because it fulfilled Old Testament prophecy and a prophecy from Jesus Himself.  Jesus sent His disciples after the COLT as a demonstration of His miraculous fore-knowledge and divine authority over the events as they unfolded (vs. 2-4).

His miraculous foreknowledge is revealed in the fact that the animal was precisely where He said it was and the exchange occurred just as He said it would.  The fact that the owners initially objected shows Jesus had NOT made previous arrangements with them.  The disciples did not identify themselves or the LORD they represented.

His divine authority is indicated in the fact that the owners allowed the COLT to be taken by strangers who did nothing more than say, “THE LORD NEEDS IT AND WILL SEND IT BACK SHORTLY.”

This is the only time in the Gospels that Jesus rides anything.  He walked everywhere else.  The distance between Bethany and Jerusalem is just two miles.  The COLT is not needed for practical reasons, but was chosen to send a biblical message to the faithful pilgrims on the road; “Your Messiah has come!  God’s Promised One is here!”

You will also remember it because on that day your hopes and dreams were fulfilled.  At this time in history, the Jewish people had been under the heel of Rome for nearly 100 years.  They were understandably anxious to throw the Romans out of their land. During those years, men would claim to be the Messiah and amass a group of followers.  The inevitable result was a rebellion against Rome ending in bloodshed and even worse offenses imposed on the people as a means of punishment and discouraging further rebellion.

To these horrible violations you added with the typical and more personal abuses of authority you’ve experienced at the hands of Romans.

With the city crammed with pilgrims during the Passover, it was a yearly crucible for rebellion, and the Jewish leaders worried terribly about a repeat of past events.  You can see how easily a big public demonstration like this would provoke a deadly reaction in a way that Jesus’ teaching or miracles ever did.

One last fact to support this interpretation: when Jesus finally got into the city, what did He do?  Not much.  Verse eleven tells us He went directly to the temple, but just looked around a bit, then left!

That was surely unexpected and probably felt a little anticlimactic.  And it begs the question, why go to all of that trouble just walk in, look around, and walk back out again?

I believe the best explanation for Jesus’ action is because the parade accomplished Jesus’ purpose and there was nothing more to do.  He’d already made His point and there was no reason to linger.

Dr. William Craig Lane is a well-known apologist for the Christian faith.  I used his article on Mark 11 as a basis for my remarks and will quote a small part of it to conclude. (Go to https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/jesus-of-nazareth/the-triumphal-entry/ to see for yourself.)

“What lessons can we learn from the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry? Let me mention two. First, we see the Lordship of Jesus. The crucifixion of Jesus was not an accident that befell him unawares while visiting Jerusalem. Rather, Jesus understood and embraced his calling to undergo so excruciating a death. In fact he deliberately provoked the events that would lead to his execution. Throughout the process he displayed foreknowledge of the events of his passion and announced all these things in advance.

“The second lesson is related to the first: Jesus doesn’t always meet our expectations. The Jews expected a king who would be a great military leader who would establish God’s kingdom by force. But Jesus was radically different than they expected.”

At the beginning of this message I asked,

What if you were there to welcome Jesus?

I hope and pray your answer has come closer to the very message Jesus was trying to send: He came as King, but not the kind of King who meets worldly hopes or fulfills dreams we have written for ourselves.

I hope and pray you have decided to make Jesus YOUR King.  That you see in Him the fulfilling of all God’s promises on His terms and in ways that bless and challenge us in ways we didn’t anticipate or want, but have found to be exactly what we needed.

There is no better reaction you can have to the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry than to take your place among the crowds who welcomed Him.  No greater act of faith than to welcome Him as your own Lord and Savior.

Last Supper, Last Words (1 of 5)

gentle

Please read John 13:18-32 in your favored version of the Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.

While watching the Olympics recently, I saw that one of the networks has jumped on the recent live musicals fad to offer “Jesus Christ, Superstar” on Easter.  Personally, I don’t recommend watching it.

Since its first performance the rock opera “Superstar” has fueled debate about its portrayal of the biblical events.  We don’t have time to get into all that this morning, but I mention it because one of the failings of the musical is that it is about Judas, not Jesus, and it mistakenly portrays him as being politically motivated to betray Jesus.

The Bible, on the other hand, gives two motives for Judas’ actions.  One is greed.  He embezzled from the group’s purse and asked for a bribe to turn Jesus over to the leaders who wanted him dead.

The second motive is one we will see in today’s passage: the evil influence of Satan.  Judas acted in free will but he eventually became so committed to betraying Jesus that he actually sold out to the devil.  Judas’ character is a startling contrast to Jesus’.

Jesus’ gentleness to His betrayer is an example for us to follow.

  1. Jesus predicted His betrayal. (13:18-21)

Verse eighteen shows two things about Jesus.  One, I KNOW THOSE I HAVE CHOSEN means He knew the hearts of His disciples and loved them anyway.  Remember, He washed 12 pairs of feet.

The depth of Jesus’ love is powerfully illustrated in his treatment of Judas.  Jesus blessed the disciples in verse seventeen.  However, lest Judas think that he was part of that blessing Jesus said, “I AM NOT REFERRING TO ALL OF YOU.”  Judas’ betrayal was not worthy of blessing.  Just the opposite; he is cursed.  In Matthew 26:24 Jesus said, “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

Two, it was part of His mission to fulfill prophecy.  Jesus fulfilled prophecy by His choice to be obedient to God’s will and Judas by his choice to disobey.

Jesus quoted Psalm 41:9 to give the disciples insight into His emotional state.  He quoted all but the first part; EVEN MY FRIEND, WHOM I TRUSTED.  In this Psalm, David complained to God about his enemies, including his own son, Absalom, who betrayed him.  Jesus is saying that this Psalm has both historical and predictive elements.

He elaborated by using the most dastardly deed done by a trusted friend.  There are two seemingly contradictory phrases in verse eighteen:

SHARES MY BREAD indicates friendship, family, intimacy, and  hospitality.

LIFTED UP HIS HEEL refers to an Eastern expression for showing contempt to another.  These insights reveal the striking and emotional nature of Jesus’ words.

In verse nineteen Jesus paradoxically revealed His betrayal in order to help His disciples understand who He was: “SO THAT WHEN IT DOES HAPPEN YOU WILL BELIEVE THAT I AM HE.”  In this sense, verse nineteen is a word of prophecy.  When it comes true, the disciples are to consider it proof that Jesus is who He claims to be: the Son of God.

In verse twenty Jesus revealed that He and the Father were one and the disciples would join them in that unity of character and purpose.  Thus, anyone who accepted the disciples, accepted Him and anyone who accepted Him accepted God the Father.

Verse twenty-one shows the human side of Jesus’ nature.  The fact that His heart was TROUBLED may indicate a hope to receive  comfort from His disciples.  This would be a natural expectation from a human being.  Moreover, the text says Jesus was DEEPLY TROUBLED; that is the same word used to describe Jesus’ emotion in 11:33 when he saw the grief of people at Lazarus’ tomb.

  1. Jesus revealed His betrayer. (13:22-26)

As plain as Jesus made the “big reveal,” the twelve still didn’t get it (22).  HIS DISCIPLES STARED AT ONE ANOTHER: This is the kind of detail an eye-witness would mention. It is how you would expect folks to react to such a surprise.  They were AT A LOSS TO KNOW WHAT HE MEANT.  This happens a lot in the Gospels.

In verses twenty-three to twenty-five, questions were raised. Notably, by THE DISCIPLE WHOM JESUS LOVED, who has traditionally been identified as John.

Simon Peter’s rush to know specifics fits with what we know of his character.  Making use of his being next to Jesus, John simply asked Him, “LORD, WHO IS IT?”

Judas is unmistakably identified in verses twenty-six and twenty-seven.   Jesus’ answer was confusing at first.

At a time when bread was used in place of tableware, it was customary to use bread to scoop up meat or some other dish as one ate.  (As our Ethiopian brothers and sisters do today.)  It was also customary for the host of a dinner to make a point of giving a special morsel to honor a guest.

When Jesus chose this means of identifying His betrayer, it seemed that He was honoring and exposing Judas at the same time.  I believe Jesus is showing grace to Judas, showing him love, and maybe offering him one last chance to repent of his decision.

  1. Satan entered Judas. (13: 27)

The phrase SATAN ENTERED INTO HIM is extraordinary.  Let’s explore what it means.

Don’t miss the detail in verse twenty-seven; AS SOON AS JUDAS TOOK THE BREAD, SATAN ENTERED INTO HIM.  Judas’ willingly receiving the bread is his way of accepting his role, the moment of his decision to accept the role of betrayer, and his ultimate sell-out to Satan.  There was nothing “magical” about the bread; it is the act of accepting it when Jesus had specifically imbued it with meaning that has Judas crossing a line that demarked the “point of no return.”

This phrase marks a clear break between Judas the disciple and Judas the betrayer.  Judas gave up on any “second thoughts” or temptation to back out for any reason.  It means that Judas gave himself fully to the evil purpose that was the devil’s will.  Back in 6:70-71 we read, THEN JESUS REPLIED, “HAVE I NOT CHOSEN YOU, THE TWELVE?  YET ONE OF YOU IS A DEVIL!”  (HE MEANT JUDAS, THE SON OF SIMON ISCARIOT, WHO, THOUGH ONE OF THE TWELVE, WAS LATER TO BETRAY HIM.)

In Mark 5:12 and Luke 8:30 this phrase refers to evil spirits being sent into a herd of swine, which then drowned themselves.  Talk about spiritual evil and its deadly effects!

Jesus dismissed Judas with the words, “WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO DO, DO QUICKLY.”  I can think of reasons for Jesus to send Judas away.  One is to make the rest of the Last Supper time spent only with the eleven.  The other is to get the sequence of events leading to His crucifixion started.

Judas wasted no time: AS SOON AS JUDAS TOOK THE BREAD, HE WENT OUT.  The mention of NIGHT is historically accurate, but also symbolic; in John’s Gospel, NIGHT describes moments when evil reigns.

  1. Judas left to enact his betrayal. (13:27-30)

Verse twenty-seven makes it clear Jesus understood fully Judas’ role in what was to happen that night.  He had already predicted many times that it would happen.  Jesus knew when He would be betrayed, who would betray Him, and why it was necessary He be betrayed.  But now time was running out; He needed to get Judas going to move events along.

Skip ahead to verse thirty.  Did Judas feel exposed and that’s why left quickly?  Did he worry about reprisals or being restrained by the eleven?  Was their any guilt or shame in his heart or had the devil pushed all that away?

His emotional/spiritual condition aside, by getting up and leaving, Judas made a further choice ally himself with the devil’s purpose and committed himself again to the course of betrayal.  Ironically, this was one occasion where he was obedient to Jesus’ command.

Go back to verses twenty-eight and twenty-nine.  For their part, the disciples still didn’t get it: NO ONE AT THE MEAL UNDERSTOOD WHY JESUS SAID THIS TO [Judas].

They thought Jesus had sent Judas on a typical kind of errand SINCE JUDAS HAD CHARGE OF THE MONEY.  It was customary to give offerings to the poor as a means of observing the Passover. They rationalized; maybe Judas went out TO BUY WHAT WAS NEEDED FOR THE FEAST or TO GIVE SOMETHING TO THE POOR. These events happened during the most holy of Jewish holy days; the Passover, which was a feast day.  It’s human nature to find the ordinary in things we don’t understand.

  1. Jesus spoke to His glorification. (13:31-32)

The key word here is NOW (verse thirty-one).  Our Bibles separate verses thirty and thirty-one into different sections; I think this is incorrect because the word NOW links them.  This means there was something about Judas’ going forth that glorified Jesus as God the Son and also God the Father.

GLORY is the presence of God manifest in one or both of two ways: in light (a supernatural radiance visible to the eyes) and/or in acts of divine power; miracles.  In this situation, Jesus promised His disciples God’s presence was going to be revealed in a way they had been warned about but still did not expect: Jesus’ resurrection.

Jesus’ response to Judas’ betrayal was gracious and dignified.  We must be characterized by such behavior when we deal with those who oppose or persecute us.

As He did in other teachings (17:22), Jesus is directly attesting to the unity between Himself as God the Son and God the Father.  The chain of acceptance (verse twenty) and the chain of glorification (verse thirty-two) both explore aspects of the unity present between God and His people, also between members of the Trinity.

Jesus’ gentleness to His betrayer is an example for us to follow.

            So there you have it.  Whatever else may have been rummaging around in his head, Judas betrayed Jesus for money.  He was so sold out to the idea of betraying Jesus that the devil became his partner.

This depth of betrayal is too stunning for us to take in.  That’s one reason some people have sought to make excuses for Judas; to humanize him or at least make his decision a more ordinary thing.

Another mistake we make about Judas is thinking we’re nothing like him.  The Bible makes it plain that every sin is an act of betrayal.  It is rebellion against God.  Every sin carries the same deadly consequences as Judas’ treachery.

The good news is that Jesus has shown us the same tender mercy He showed Judas in the upper room.  He gives us multiple chances to repent and resist the devil.  He offers forgiveness that is complete and eternal.

Murder and Grief

(Please read Matthew 2:13-18 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

BOB SMIETANA (Bob.Smietana@LifeWay.comis senior writer for Facts & Trends.

“Check into a hotel room this holiday season and you’ll likely get a Wi-Fi password along with your room key. You’ll also probably find a copy of Gideon’s Bible.  More than three quarters of hotels (79 percent) say their rooms feature religious material, according to a new survey from research firm STR, which focuses on the hospitality industry.

That’s up slightly from 2015, when 77 percent of hotels had religious material.

“Hotel Bibles made headlines this week, after Marriott decided to drop Bibles from the amenities offered at several new high-end hotel brands.

‘It’s because the religious books don’t fit the personality of the brands,’ a Marriott spokeswoman told the LA Times.

“The more expensive a hotel, the less likely they are to stock Bibles in their rooms. According to STR’s research, 57 percent of luxury hotel rooms have religious material.

“By contrast, 89 percent of economy hotel rooms have religious material. Small hotels (69 percent) and big hotels (70 percent) are less likely to have religious material than mid-sized hotels (86 percent).  Hotels in small towns (83 percent), off the Interstate (89 percent), or in the suburbs (83 percent) are more likely to have religious material than those at resorts (61 percent), in urban areas (67 percent), or by the airport (74 percent).

“Bibles have been a staple at hotels for more than a century, with many placed by the Gideons International, a Nashville-based Christian nonprofit, since 1908.  Founded by traveling businessmen, the Gideons placed their first Bible at the Superior Hotel in Montana in 1908.

“Hotel Bibles make up only 2 percent of the Bibles the Gideons distribute, according to the group’s annual report. More than a billion Bibles have been distributed worldwide since 1908—and almost 100 million were handed out in 2015.

“Craig Warner, executive director of The Gideons International, says a Bible offers comfort for travelers who may be far from home.

‘Travel can be stressful. And life can be stressful when travelling,’ says Warner. ‘It’s in their hour of need that people find a Bible in a hotel room. They may not be a person of faith but they still recognize other people find hope and purpose in God’s Word. For hoteliers, Bibles remain a service for their customers.’”

That is an appropriate item of good news on this Sunday when we look at Joseph’s second act of obedience in traveling and taking his family to Egypt.

<Retrieved from http://factsandtrends.net/2016/12/09/despite-worries-hotel-bible-remain-almost-as-popular-as-wi-fi/#.WFQC71UrLcu on 12/16/16.>

  1. This event fulfilled prophecies.

Hosea’s prophecy is quoted by Mathew in verse fifteen.  Compare Matthew 2:15 with Hosea 11:1; “WHEN ISRAEL WAS A CHILD, I LOVED HIM, AND OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON.”

What the prophecy meant in Hosea’s time.  Israel became a nation after they left Egypt.  On the most immediate level, this verse looks back to that time.  For example, in Exodus 4:22-23 God instructed Moses to refer to Israel as His SON.  Israel enjoyed this relationship with God because God chose them.  We see this emphasis repeated in the NT, where the Church consists of the ones God has chosen and called out of the world.  In Hosea’s prophecy, this is the first part of God’s promise that after a time of experiencing His wrath, His people will be restored.

What it meant in Jesus’ time.  In the history of God’s people there was more than one occasion when they fled to Egypt for safety.  (Even a king, Jeroboam, did this.)  God condemned them for a lack of faith.  They put more trust in the chariots of Egypt than in Him.  This happened so often that there was a sizeable collection of Jews in Alexandria and other parts of Egypt.  This means Joseph would have had no problem finding a place to stay.

What’s interesting is that Jewish historians of the time accepted the account of Jesus’ family living in Egypt as historical fact.  They went a step further and claimed He learned magic there and His miracles were practices of that magic.

What we’ve said repeatedly about Matthew is his intent to show Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy.  Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, Matthew picked up this verse from Hosea and recognized it as a prophecy that referred to the Messiah, though there was nothing there to indicate that before Jesus was born.

Matthew quoted Jeremiah’s prophecy in verse eighteen.  Here’s what we found in Jeremiah wrote in 31:15: THIS IS WHAT THE LORD SAYS: “A VOICE IS HEARD IN RAMAH, MOURNING AND GREAT WEEPING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN AND REFUSING TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE HER CHILDREN ARE NO MORE.”

What it meant in Jeremiah’s time.  RAMAH was a city 5 miles NORTH of Jerusalem.  BETHLEHEM was 6 miles to the SOUTH.  Perhaps the point is that the anguish of the grief in Bethlehem and the infamy of the crime against her would be so great that people on the opposite side of the city would be aware of it.  According to Jeremiah 40:1, RAMAH was also the staging area where the people of Judah were assembled and then deported to Babylon.  I’m sure that was an unpleasant association for the Jews.

RACHEL was Jacob/Israel’s favored wife, the mother to Joseph and Benjamin.  According to Genesis 35:19, Rachel was buried in Bethlehem where she died in childbirth.  (Her tomb is a holy site revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims to this day.)  This is akin to saying that Rachel would weep in her grave, sharing the grief of the people.

But if you read further in Jeremiah 31, to v. 17, God comforted Rachel with the promise that the people would be restored to Judah and He would make a new covenant with them at that time (see vs. 31-34).  In spite of all this unpleasantness, these verses are part of a promise of comfort.

What the prophecy meant in Jesus’ time.  The death of the male children in Bethlehem was another grief-stricken event in a history of having suffered cruelty at the hand of Herod.  It must’ve reminded people like Matthew of the grief suffered by their ancestors.  This verse was an emotional and spiritual connection between those who suffered tragic loss at Herod’s hand and their forebears, who suffered loss at the hands of the Babylonians.

  1. This event contrasted Jesus and Herod.

Herod is the vicious king who stopped at nothing to protect his throne from all perceived threats.  Herod’s character flaws are well attested in the Bible and by non-biblical ancient historians.  For example, Josephus wrote whole volumes about Herod’s ruthlessness.

From these verses we learn Herod…

– Intended to kill the newborn King of the Jews (13).

– Was furious at the Magi for not returning to him as ordered (16).

– He ordered the death of the male children (16).

He may have seen this as a measured response.  After all, it was only boys, only boys aged two years or younger, and only in Bethlehem (a very small village).   The actual death count may have been low, not enough to justify emotionally-charged words like “slaughter” and “massacre.”

But these facts only make it more chilling, don’t they?  That Herod struck at this specific group in this ways is cold-hearted and calculated.  It was carefully measured, enough to eliminate the new king, but not so much to arouse the population of Jerusalem to wrath.  Verse seven told us that Herod met with the MAGI secretly to inquire about THE EXACT TIME THE STAR HAD APPEARED.   His purpose was to be able estimate the age of the newborn king.  Herod was crafty – he was preparing to meet the threat on his own if the MAGI failed.  Combine that with verse sixteen where Herod targeted all Bethlehem boys up to two years old and you can estimate Jesus’ age when these events took place.

Jesus was the Prince of Peace, an innocent child.  This fact doesn’t need any more explanation does it?  The contrast between these two historical figures could not be greater.

            This week I read an interview Bible Gateway held with popular Christian author Max Lucado about his book, Because of Bethlehem: Love Is Born, Hope Is Here (Thomas Nelson, 2016).  A couple of their questions and his answers apply to our study of Matthew 2:13-18.  (By the way, Max Lucado is the author we’re quoting in our Advent candle-lighting devotions.)

ON THE SUBJECT OF KING HEROD:

            “While the Christmas story is full of beauty and wonder, there’s a bad guy. Describe the message his life offers.

            “Max Lucado: We can learn a lesson from the sad life of King Herod. It’s always better to step down from the pedestal than to be pulled off of it. Like the innkeeper, Herod missed an opportunity to see Jesus. God did everything necessary to get Herod’s attention. He sent messengers from the East and a message from the Torah. He sent wonders from the sky and words from Scripture. He sent the testimony of the heavens and the teaching of the prophets. But Herod refused to listen. He chose his puny dynasty over Christ. He died a miserable old man. The path marked Pride will lead you over a cliff. The path marked Humility will take you to the manger of the Messiah.”

ON THE SUBJECT OF JESUS, GOD INCARNATE:

Why did God decide to be become a human and go through everything he did?

            “Max Lucado: A chief reason is this: he wants you to know that he gets you. He understands how you feel and has faced what you face. Jesus is not “out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help” (Heb. 4:15–16 MSG). Since you know he understands, you can boldly go to him. Because of Bethlehem’s miracle, you can answer these fundamental questions:

– Does God care if I’m sad? Look at the tear-streaked face of Jesus as he stands near Lazarus’s tomb.

– Does God notice when I’m afraid? Note the resolve in the eyes of Jesus as he marches through the storm to rescue his friends.

– Does God know if I am ignored or rejected? Find the answer in the compassionate eyes of Christ as he stands to defend the adulterous woman.

– Does God understand you? Find the answer in Bethlehem.”

This is why we return to these Bible passages year after year.  We need to be reminded that God revealed the full extent of His love in Jesus Christ.  During Advent, it is our job to do the same.

(Should you like to see the video version of this message, please look up “EBCSF” on YouTube.)