Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Mark, Week 36 - Always Close the Blinds

I don’t really like having my window blinds open at night. This is something my wife and I agree on for two different reasons. Her reason is very reasonable: when you’re inside and the lights are on inside, it’s hard to see people outside, but it’s easy for them to see inside. That’s a logical reason, that makes sense from a safety point of view. My reason comes more from a traumatic moment in my life.
I am one of those people that have never really liked scary stories, or being scared in general. In one of my houses, my sister swore that she saw a ghost, and I still don’t know if she was being serious, or just trying to scare me. Unlike me though, my family didn’t mind a good scaring. It was when I moved to another house that my trauma occurred. We moved to an old transfer town, Ione, when I was in 5th grade. The town was founded back when the gold rush days of the 1840. There was an old hotel that supposedly had a ghost haunting it, and a decrepit castle that overlooked the town. Halloween was also a very big event, with multiple haunted houses, and events going on. None of which I really cared for. 
The trauma happened one October night while I was sitting in my living room. I was alone watching some show on TV, what it was, I don’t remember. It was getting late, and I had the blinds of our bay windows opened. Mostly because I didn’t think to shut them. Secure in the recliner, I heard my mom rustling in the kitchen. That’s when I heard the rustling from outside, I turned to look and there right at my head level was a werewolf! My screams echoed through the house as I ran to my room.
I heard the door open and close, with the sound of my dad’s laughter from the front of the house. At 10 years old I shouldn’t have been as frighten as I was, but I was. My dad’s simple prank, has seared into my mind to always close the blinds of my house when the sun goes down. Since then I am usually on my guard to close the windows, even justifying in my mind almost every time I do it.

And it’s a call to be on our guard that Jesus calls us to, as we return to the Gospel of Mark this week. Where we pick up in Mark chapter 13 starting in verse 1.

As we return to the book of Mark, let’s look back to see where we find ourselves. In the last two weeks, we have been in a hostile situation. Jesus had flipped over tables and ran money changers and merchants out of the Temple in Jerusalem. As a result the religious leaders challenged Jesus’ authority to do this. Jesus met their challenge with a challenge of his own. This led to Jesus revealing the heart condition of the religious leaders. They were killing the work of God in their own lives, all the while putting on a show for the people around them.
From there, we saw last week that Jesus was questioned three times about topics that dealt with finances, relationships, and the Scriptures. Each question a “what if” that came from a place of trying to push God’s commands to their limits. Jesus responded with his own question, to which no one gave an answer. It was here that we learned that Jesus wanted us to trust him, getting rid of the “what ifs” that keep us from trusting God.
It is after these hostile encounters that we come to Jesus and his disciples exiting the Temple area. Let’s pick this up in verse 1 of chapter 13.

1 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” 2 “Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” “4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

As Jesus and the disciples exit the temple, the disciple’s focus was on the grandness of the buildings that the Jewish people had erected. This outward focus of the religious leaders, and what Jesus had just finished telling the people fell on the deaf ears of his own disciples. Jesus had just told the people in verse 38, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

Just as the religious leaders took pride in what people could see on the outside, the disciples were in the same mindset that the grandness of the building was greater than the problems inside it. 
To Jesus the outside grandness was fleeting. It wouldn’t last long, because it had been corrupted on the inside, and God wouldn’t allow it to stand for long in this way.
This must have unsettled or peeked the interest of some of the disciples, because soon after they asked him,

This is when Jesus speaks. Now, as I read Jesus’ words, I want you to listen for one idea that Jesus keeps bringing up. Because this one idea gives us the reason for why Jesus is giving this insight to his disciples.

5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.
20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. 21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
24 “But in those days, following that distress, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

There is so much that we could talk about in Jesus’ words here, but when we started this journey through Mark, we said we were going to focus on the big movements of the Holy Spirit and how the sections of the book flooded into one another. So, my question is, what was the point of this section? What is the main idea that Jesus was trying to get across to his disciples? 
Was it that bad things were coming? Was it to give a complete description of events? Or was it something else? What was the idea that Jesus said again and again throughout this talk?
The answer is, be on your guard. Jesus gives us information about wars, and rumors of wars. He tells us that there will be famines and earthquakes. Jesus tells us that his disciples will be arrested, questioned, and beaten. He tells us how hard it’s going to be, with descriptions of nursing mothers and winter climates. Jesus tells us about fake christs, prophets, and miracles. He tells us about celestial events, about the sun and moon going dark, and stars falling from the sky.  And Jesus tells of his return, mirroring the prophet Daniel’s vision. 
And through all of it and as Jesus closes the revealing of all of this, his emphasis is on one idea: be on your guard. 
Ten times Jesus makes reference to be on your guard. Using terms and phrases like, “Do not believe it”, “You know that it is near”, “Be alert”, “Watch!”
Two times he gives examples of what being on guard, or watching looks like, with the tree’s leaves and the master of the house returning.

Why does Jesus say these things? Why does Jesus answer his disciples request of knowing the destruction of the Temple, by emphasizing how they need to be alert? How they need to be on watch, and be on their guard?
Isn’t because we can easily become complacent in our relationship with God. Making too big of a deal about our surroundings, but not on the work of God?
These disciples were not focused on the work of God, but on the work of man. They are consumed with the creation, but not the Creator. They are living for building greater physical things, not on sprite things like building the kingdom. 
These disciples had the same mindset as the religious leaders, the outward grandness is all that mattered. But to Jesus, all of the outside looks are going to fall, and the question is, are we ready for the world to come crashing down around us, or are we going to crash with it?

We can fall so easily into this mindset in own lives, even in the little things. When children act out, it embarrasses the parents. So we fly into a rage, but in doing so, we mar their understanding of Christ. Discipline is encouraged in Scripture, but provocation isn’t. When the political climate shifts into venomous attacks, and we allow venom to pass our lips, we then mar the witness of Christ we have to others. When we become prideful in what we have built, boosting about all that we have accomplished, rather than giving the praise back to God who has given us everything, we hamper people giving glory back to God as he deserves.
Children grow and move away, politics sways back and forth, what we build gets sold. Are we using our time with these things to promote the kingdom, being on guard for the work of God through them, or are we focusing on things that are of temporary importance? 

This coming winter season, the leadership of this church is going to present projects for our congregation to help with renovations that are needed for our building. There’s a lot that needs to be done, so that the ministry God has given us here for the last 40 plus years, can continue to grow.
But this building will fall. These walls will crumble. This floor will be uprooted. None of these will be left on itself. The only reason we keep this building around, is because God has allowed us to use it as a jumping off point for his work. 
But this building is meaningless, if our focus is the same as the disciples. If we look at the building and say, look at the grandness that we have built, we have missed the calling of God in our lives, which is “Be on your guard.”

Changed lives, saved souls, God’s glory, this is the work that we are called to do. This is the work that we come together to accomplish. This is the work that goes beyond these walls. We are to guard against an attitude of creation focus. We are to guard against a lifestyle of complacency. We are to guard against losing sight of what really matters, and that’s the vision that Jesus has called us to. His kingdom above all else.
Bad things will come. Wars, earthquakes, famines, persecution, false christs, the question isn’t will these come, the questions is will we be on our guard, or not?

It is so easy for us to fall into the mindset of the disciples who focused on the grandness of the temple buildings, but God calls us to the mindset of being on our guard for his work. God calls us to use what we have for his kingdom purposes. Our time, our work, our relationships, our finances, our mental faculties, our will. 

This week my challenge to you is this, wrestle with this simple question, “Are you on guard for the work of God, or are you focused on things that will fall?”
Go through your daily routine: your actions and attitudes.
Then make a list of the things you do, words you say, and attitudes you have.
Which ones show that you are on your guard, and which ones show that you are not?
Finally seek God in prayer so that you are more on guard for his work.

When I was a 10 year old boy sitting in my nice comfy cozy recliner, I was not prepared for the fright I received. Since then, I have been on my guard, making sure that never happens again. Are we closing the blinds to the things that don’t matter, so that we may be on guard for the only thing that does matter, the work of God?

Now let us be on guard for the work of God that is happening all around us, and may we trust in his Spirit to accomplish that work. Amen.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Mark, Week 35 - What If...

I have found that one of the most annoying aspects of teaching in any situation, are the “what ifs” that get brought up. Children are notorious for bringing up “what if” scenarios. These “what if” scenarios usually come up when discussing the commandments of God. I’ll be having a discussion on how God says lying is a sin, and the inevitable question arrises, “Well, what if you have to lie to save a person’s life?”
Or, I’ll be having a discussion about stealing, and the question will be asked, “What if your family is starving?” And for almost every situation, there is a “what if” that goes along with it.
I think we bring up these “what if” scenarios, for one of two reasons. First, we are evaluating the validity of the statement being asked. “What if” scenarios help us explore the possible application of what we’re being presented with. If the statement is valid, then it should work in multiply situations. Once we arrive at the conclusion that the statement has truth to it, we move into the second reason for using “what if’s”. Where we use “what if” scenarios to see where the boundaries of the true statement end. We ask “what ifs” so we know how far we’re able to push the statement until it no longer becomes valid. In the examples I gave before, we all agree that lying and stealing are bad, “but”, we ask, “is there a point where they no longer are bad?”

It’s these type of “what if” scenarios, and more specifically this second reason for the scenarios, that we are going to find as we jump back into the book of Mark today. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be in Mark chapter 12, starting in verse 13.

As we open our Bibles to Mark 12:13, let’s bring ourselves up to speed where we find ourselves in the text.
It’s about Monday on the last week of Jesus’ mortal life on earth. In the next several days, Jesus will be betrayed, beaten, executed, and rise from the dead. All of this, Jesus had told his disciples on several occasions.
On this particular Monday, Jesus has already managed to get the religious leaders angry. Jesus did this when he told a parable the was explicitly against these religious leaders. And we’re told that it is because Jesus spoke against them, that they looked for a way to arrest Jesus. So it’s in this climate of hostility toward Jesus, that we come to our text.

As we get into the text, we’re going to focus on the three questions presented to Jesus, then on Jesus’ final response, and what seems to be the application from it all. 

Let’s read the three question one right after another.

The first question starts in verse 13. 

13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” 

Let’s drop down to verse 18 and the second question.

18 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

Finally in verse 28 is the third question.

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

Each of these questions deal with God’s word. The first about the coin is a question about worship of other gods. The Romans believed the Emperor to be a god. So, the “what if” scenario is simple: if the command of God is to not worship any other gods, and the person on this coin is considered a god to his people, then should we stop paying taxes? In this way the people wouldn’t be inadvertently worshiping other gods.
Now there is a dubious reason for this question as well, which has to do with catching Jesus in a situation that would look bad on him. If he says don’t pay taxes, then he’ll be in trouble with the Romans, but if he says pay the taxes, well, who really wants to hear that?
Of course Jesus sees through this question and replies with, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
It’s a simple answer, with profound implications. Where the religious leaders were trying a “what if” scenario, Jesus gave them a hard lesson in application. If you use the currency, then you should have no problem paying the taxes with it. But if you use anything of God’s then you should have no problem giving it back what God deserves as well.

The second question about the resurrection and marriage, is another “what if” scenario. What if we have a woman that gets married sever times, who’s wife is she in heaven? This is based on the Hebrew tradition of a kinsmen redeemer. Basically what would happen in the Hebrew society, is that the older brother would be married off first. Since men gained the inheritance from their parents, and therefore provided for their families, if a man were to die before he had an heir, his family would not be provided, and his linage would end. Enter the kinsman redeemer. The closest family member would then marry the deceased man’s wife, so that an heir would be produced.
A little convoluted, but it was a mechanism in the society to provide security for widows, and a linage for the deceased.
This question came out of a belief from this particular group of religious leaders that didn’t believe that people were raised to new life. Jesus again gives his answer, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven…27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”
Jesus recognized that the religious leader’s question wasn’t even a good ‘“what if” scenario, because the very premise was wrong.

Out of the three questions that were asked, it is only the third question who’s speaker isn’t coming at Jesus in a adversarial way.  The third question is actually a question that had been repeated throughout Jewish history, of which commands of God, hold the most moral weight? See, the rabbinical tradition held that out of the roughly 600 commands given by God, there were ones that had greater moral and applicable weight to them. Jesus responds by combining two ideas from the books of Moses. First was the Shema, which is the Jewish confession of faith from Deuteronomy 6:4, “‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” And an expanded understanding of loving a neighbor from Leviticus 19:18, “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

This what if scenario was simple “what if” we took the whole of God’s commands and put them into one. And Jesus said, that’s easy, love God and love people. 

With all of these “what if” scenarios, Jesus was very straight forward with his answers, and we can dissect what he said to a great degree. But as I read through this section of Mark’s Gospel, it seems to me that Jesus sees a deeper problem here. And so, even though we get Jesus’ answers to the questions that are presented to him, it is in verses 35-40 that we get Jesus’ answer to the heart of the matter. Let’s pick it up in verse 35.

35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:
“‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’
37 David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” The large crowd listened to him with delight.
38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

Jesus presents his own question, and we are given no answer. Why? Well, we get the answer to why there is no answer. The answer is, there is no real depth to the religious leaders. They have these questions that are to trick, or to confirm their beliefs, or to answer long debated thoughts, but none of them seek the truth of God. None of the religious leaders crave the God who is vast beyond all measure. Their “what if” scenarios, seek their own status, but not the depths of God.
Jesus brings up a seemly contradictory statement from David, trying to get the people to discover the identity of who he is. But they cannot, because they desire more of the “what ifs”, than the very word of God standing before them.
This is why Jesus tells the people to watch out for these religious leaders. Because their not out for God, their out for themselves. And really, isn’t this the point of “what ifs”? They’re so we can skirt the system. So we can find the loops holes. It’s an us focus. 
Which we have a tendency to do with God. I know I’ve brought up “what if” scenarios with God, because I wanted a way to justify my situation.
I can tell this lie, because it doesn’t have an impact on others. I can look at this picture, because it’s a fake. I can desire that, because God wants me to be prosperous. And the more “what if” scenarios I can come up with, the more ways I can manipulate the word of God to make myself feel better. It’s what we see in the “what if” scenarios presented here, and it’s what we can see in our own lives as well.

Yet, through Jesus’ words directed at the religious leaders, we can see that God wants us to get rid of the “what ifs” in our lives, and trust his word.

The question then is how? How do we get rid of the “what ifs” and trust God more? Following all of these questions is a simple situation. Let’s look at this situation in verse 41.

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Listen to these words again, “They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

We have a wealth of “what ifs”, but what we need is a poverty. We need to let the “what ifs” of a immature faith fall to the way side, and put in all that we have into the trust of God. Instead of seconding guessing him, trying to find a loophole, we believe and do what he says.
I wonder if this widow asked her own “what ifs” of her last cents, “What if I can’t eat? “What if I can’t pay for my house? What if…what if…what if?” We don’t know if she asked these “what ifs” or not. What we do know is she puts her trust into God, and let’s the “what ifs” fall. 

Though we started and ended with passages on money, I’m not asking you to give money, I’m asking you to trust Jesus. To trust him with your finances. To trust him with your family. To trust him with your past, present, and future. Let the “what ifs” that surround your mind, fall, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you into where he wants to take you.

As I read through this section of Scripture, the verse from Psalm 51 echoed in my mind, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise (Psalm 51:16-17).”

This week my challenge for you is to look at three areas of your life. Financial, Relational, and Scriptural. These three areas that come from the three question that were asked from the religious leaders. The taxes, the marriages, and the commands. Financial, Relational and Scriptural. Write down the “what ifs” you have in each, and then spend time in prayer. Praying that those “what ifs” would fall away, and all that would be left is trust.

May you trust in Jesus, who has done everything for you, so that your trust in him can be solidified. Amen.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Mark, Week 34 - Being a Dishwasher

Growing up, as far as I remember, I was basically a good kid. Yeah, I got into trouble, like the one time in first grade where I wanted to stay the night at a friend’s house so bad, that I skipped my school bus home and walked to his house. That made my parents a little up set, since we lived about 20 miles away from the school.
But most of my life I didn’t do anything too bad. That’s not until I was a teenager. Now, I don’t know why, but I was a real jerk to my parents when I hit about 13. And that kept going until I was about 17. Those four years or so, I was just rude and disrespectful. I had to clash with my parents over, what seemed like everything. And looking back, my parents were patient and generous, throughout the whole thing. Sure we got into arguments, but where I was coming from a place of disrespect, they were coming from a place that desired me to be better than I was. Of course I couldn’t see that.
It wasn’t until after I accepted Christ that things began to change. I realized that I had been fighting against them, because I didn’t want their authority over me. I didn’t want to submit to them. Instead, I wanted things my way. I wanted to figure things out on my own. I wanted to make my own decisions, and do what I thought was the best for me.
Of course, what I thought was the best for me, was no where near what was best. But my parents saw more clearly than I did. They saw what was best for me, and tried to move me in that direction, even though I would fight back. But once I began to put myself under their authority, things began to change. 
Now, it didn’t happen over night, but I do remember what was the catalyst to my ability to  submit to their authority. It was a decision to start washing dishes. See, my parents worked long hours. My Dad usually worked over 40 hours a week, and from time to time would do side jobs, and take on a second or third job. During the tax season, my mom would leave before I woke up and get home after I went to bed. So I decided to start doing the dishes without being told. This led to doing others things. And after a while my relationship with my parents improved drastically, because I finally started to put myself under their authority.

And this is where we come to the Gospel of Mark this week. A place where the authority of Jesus is questioned. A place where some people are rebelling against the authority of Jesus. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be in Mark chapter 11 starting in verse 27.

As we jump back into the Gospel of Mark, let’s take a look back and see where we find ourselves.

Two weeks ago we talked about trust, and how the disciples trusted Jesus, only so far as it was within their plans. They were excited about Jesus being the Savior, but were not wanting to hear Jesus’ words about him dying. We talked about how we can have this kind of trust that falters too. Where our trust in God goes only so far, but when he calls us into something hard, our trust can struggle. 
This led us into last week, where we talked about how when trust falters, it’s easy to fall into the trap of looking good on the outside, but not having the fruit, or reverence, or faith on the inside. Yet, when we falter in our trust of God, we can slip into a place where the outside facades become easier to erect, than the dealing with the inner struggles that God calls us into.

But the question is where does this all stem from? That’s what we’re going to examine today. So let’s start reading in Mark chapter 11 verse 27.

27 They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. 28 “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”
29 Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 30 John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”
31 They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)
33 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Now we’re going to stop for a minute, because this interaction sets the stage for everything. Jesus is confronted by some religious leaders. This confrontation is a response to Jesus clearing the temple in the previous passage that we talked about last week.
They have a simple question, where does Jesus get his authority from? In the religious leader’s minds, he has to have some sort of greater power backing him in order to drive people out of the temple. It’s supposed to be a gotcha question. Jesus has no authority from the Romans, and no authority from the High Priest. This question is to make Jesus say that his authority comes from no one but himself.
But Jesus turns the tables on them. Jesus asks them his own question, telling them that they will receive his answer only after they respond. Jesus’ question about John is simple too, where does John’s baptism come from.
But this becomes a problem. If the religious leaders say it’s from heaven, then they have to agree that Jesus is the Christ, because that’s what John preached. Therefore Jesus’ authority comes from heaven.
But if they say it’s from a human, then the people that believe John to be a prophet would revolt against the religious leaders. It’s a catch 22 for them. So they answer simply we don’t know.

Jesus masterfully shows that these religious leaders are not in a position to judge him. He shows that they cannot comprehend John, and therefore are unable to comprehend Jesus as well.
But Jesus doesn’t leave it here. No, instead, Jesus goes after the religious leaders and the real reason they are unable to comprehend either John’s baptism, or Jesus’ authority. Let’s pick this up in verse 1 of chapter 12.  

1Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 2 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.
6 “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
7 “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.
9 “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture:
“‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
11 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
12 Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.

The parable is simple and direct enough that the religious leaders pick up on exactly what Jesus is trying to get across.
The man who planted the vineyard is God. The people who rented the vineyard are the religious leaders. The servants are the prophets, like John the Baptist, the son is Jesus, and the new tenants are the ones who will believe in Jesus.
To the religious leaders, Jesus isn’t holding back any punches here. He’s telling them that they are a part of a group that has been around for ages. This group are those who are constantly fighting against God. God sends a messenger like Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, or now John, and the people beat and kill them. Then God sends Jesus the Son of God into the world, yet that same group of people are now about to kill him too.
Now, I’m sure that these religious leaders didn’t think that they would put themselves into the same group who killed the prophets of old. I’m sure that these religious leaders wouldn’t put themselves in the same company of Herod who killed John the Baptist. But sure enough they are. It will be these same group of religious leaders that, in just a few days, will beat and kill the Son himself.

And why would they do this? Jesus reveals the reason in the parable. In verse 7 he says, “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.”
The renters wanted the vineyard for themselves. They didn’t want the Owner, nor the Son to come and take what, in their minds, was rightfully theirs. And Jesus is very poignantly pointing out that the religious leaders are the same way. Not really wanting God, nor the Son of God.
And what’s funny about this whole situation is that in the last few words of this passage we see them respond to Jesus, just as he said they would.

When we take all of this together, we can see that Jesus gives us an insight into why he went about this way of speaking to the religious leaders. We can easily ask, why doesn’t Jesus just answer the question? Why doesn’t he just tell the leaders his authority comes from heaven?
The parable gives us the reason why Jesus doesn’t do this. The renters knew for a fact that the son was from the owner, but that didn’t matter. They knew where the authority of the son came from, but that didn’t matter. What mattered to them was their own self-focus. It is the same with Jesus. It wouldn’t matter if Jesus would have revealed where his authority was from, because they didn’t care. All they wanted was to control their own vineyards, their own lives. They didn’t want the authority of Jesus, and consequently the authority of God, over their lives.
They wanted no other authority than their own.
This led to them allowing the temple of God to be used with the irreverence that we saw from the previous chapter, where merchants were swindling people of out of their money. Where people no longer treated the temple with esteem, but walked through it as if it were nothing. And where the non-Jewish worshipers were being pushed out.

And it can happen to us as well. When we duck the authority of God in our own lives, it can lead us to producing fakeness on the outside. We can do the religious walk, we can talk the religious talk, but our lives inside are dead. And when God sends something our way to bring us back, we kill it. 
We kill the words of Scripture, by ignoring them, or outright disbelieving them. We kill the messengers of God, who’s advice we ask for, but never intend to put into practice. And we kill the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, because we turn our backs on him as he seeks to teach us.

But this isn’t want God wants. God wants us to live under his authority. Because only by submitting to his authority, will we begin to experience the deeper things of God. Only when we submit to his way of thinking, will we begin to know the truth from lies. Only when we submit to his word, will we begin to live a fuller life. Only when we act in accordance with his will, will we be able to see our hearts and minds become transformed to God’s way of thinking.
This is where God wants us. This is what Jesus was trying to get these religious leaders to recognize. They were in rebellion against God’s authority, so even if Jesus would have slapped them in the face with the authority of God, they still wouldn’t be able to understand, because they wanted it their way. And God wants us to realize that we can easily slip into a lifestyle where we are standing against his authority. Which in turn keeps us from experiencing all that he has for us.
And in the end, we don’t even get to keep what we fought him for. He simple takes it away, and we are left with nothing. Just like the renters in the vineyard.

Today, I want to challenge you take part in a double action. The first, is the stack of cards here in front. On one side is a person bowing, on the other side is a verse from 1st Peter 5:6, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
My challenge is for you come up during our next song, and take a card. Then when you leave today, post it somewhere where you struggle with God’s authority. It might be in finances, so put it in the check book, or where you keep your debit card. It might be with what you watch on TV, so put on the remote. It might be following the rules of the road, so put it in your car. It might be the way you treat a specific person, so put it where you’ll see it before you see them. Today, let us seek God where we are not allowing his authority in our lives, and place the card there. Then every time you see it, go before God, pray, asking that you would be put under his authority.

Let us not be like the renters who kill the things that come from God, but rather place ourselves under the authority of God, so that he will lift us up. 

Now may the Lord, who’s authority is absolute, bring you under his will today. Amen.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Not Enough Evidence?

A few weeks ago I asked the question of our teens, “Why do you or why do you not believe that Jesus is Savior?” The results were split down the middle in teens that did believe and did not believe. From those who said they didn’t believe, it fell into one of three categories: Bad things happen, He’s unrealistic and contradictory, and he doesn’t seem to be there. 

As we jump into tackling these three categories, we have a simple question to ask of ourselves, “How much evidence do we need to believe in God?”
I ask that, because it’s different for everyone. Some people hardly need any, believing straight away. While others have no end to the amount of evidence they need to believe that God exists, and that if God exists it is the God of the Bible. 
No matter what the evidence is, people that do not want to believe in God will not believe in God, because they have already made up their mind that he does not exist. So, how much evidence do you need to believe that God exists? Because I am about to give you a ton.

Let’s talk about astronomy. Here are three things that point to the universe being made by God. 
First, the current theories of how stars form all have one problem with them: they require stars to exist in order for stars to form. It doesn’t matter if it’s a super-nova, or a black hole. New stars are assumed to come from dead stars, yet they question becomes where did the first stars come from?
Second, our moon is moving away from us at about an 1in 1/2 per year. If we rewind the clock, the moon would have been touching the earth 1.5 million years ago. Yet the make up the moon rocks we have studied, show that the moon is not of earth origin. In addition, the moon is 400x smaller than the sun, and the sun is 400x further away. This gives our moon the distinction of providing the only place in the solar system where a moon allows for a total solar eclipse. Which by we are able to examine the the atmosphere of the sun.
Third, Earth is perfect. It falls into what scientists call the gold locks zone. A few more degrees closer to the sun and our atmosphere would burn up. A few degrees further from the sun and we would freeze. If our rotation was any faster, we would experience violent winds that would cause major destruction. But if our rotation was any slower we would have extreme temperature changes.

This is just some of the amazing evidence that point to us not being here by chance.

Let’s talk about some evidence about the Bible. People will say that the Bible has been changed over time, and that it has contradictions. Let’s tackle both those ideas.

Has the Bible been changed over time? How many of us believe that there were people like the Pharaohs in Egypt? Or Julius Caesar in Rome? Or Alexander the Great in Greece?
The reality is, that the information we have about these people is very small. If we take the average amount of manuscripts we have for anyone person or writing of the ancient world and stack them on top of each other it would stand about 4ft high. 
If we then take all the New Testament writings we have and stack them up it would be about 6,600ft. 
We have over 25,000 manuscripts of the New Testament that we can compare and contrast against each other. And we’re finding more and older ones every year. And the evidence points to the New Testament that we have today, being the same that was written within the first 40 years of Jesus’ life. 
In addition to all the manuscripts we have of the New Testament, we have over 1 million quotations from the early Church fathers that we can connect with the New Testament. That means, if we didn’t have any of the manuscripts we have, we could still put together the New Testament we have today based only on the quotations of these men.

The second point about the Bible, is how the manuscripts of the New Testament vary from each other. Did you know that there are 96 ways to say John loves Mary in Greek? Yet they all mean the same things. This is what we’re talking about when we say that the manuscripts vary from each other. They say the same things, just in a different order. So depending on the background of the scribe, he might use a variation of a sentence, yet meaning the same exact thing. And we can compare the thousands of manuscripts to see just what these variants are.
Finally, let’s talk about contradictions. Here’s a problem we have reading the Bible in modern America 2,000 years removed from the original writings: we read everything from out point of view, rather than from the originals writers point of view.
Here are two examples: Proverbs 26:4-5 reads, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. 5 Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”
Seems like a contradiction to us right? But let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a Jewish person reading this. The reality is this is a form of Hebrew parallelism. Where it will say one thing and then reverse it in the next sentence. Which is strange to our way of saying things. We would say it like this, don't do this _______, (verse 4) unless this situation (verse 5).
So in verse 4 it's saying don't get sucked into a fools argument on their terms.
Then in verse 5 it's saying point out their foolish argument.
The first is a reminder to not let yourself fall into a trap. The second is to counter point the fool on your terms.
This contradiction is a really a type of speech we do not use in our modern syntax.
Let’s look at a second contradiction. This one come from Matthew 26:9-10 “9 Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: ‘They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, 10 and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.’”
The problem? In the book of Jeremiah that Matthew is quoting, there is no quote like this. Instead the only place in Scripture that mentions 30 pieces of silver is in the book of Zechariah. So the Bible is wrong right? 
Again, let’s put ourselves into the writers shoes. First off we need to understand that the order of the Jewish Old Testament and the Christian Old Testament are different. The Jews had the book of Jeremiah ordered first in the prophet section, whereas our Bibles have Isaiah first. Couple this with the common practice of referencing the first book of a section with all the following quotations. Thereby combining quotations from multiple prophets.
But all that to say, is that the point of the passage isn’t dealing with the 30 pieces, but rather the Potter’s field. Which is the focus of two chapters in the book of Jeremiah.

Here’s the evidence, and we haven’t even scratched the surface. There is more evidence found in astronomy. More evidence found in textual criticism. And more evidence found in debunking the idea of contradictions.
But does it matter? How much evidence is enough for you? The only person that can answer that is you. My challenge is if you want more evidence, or if you want to strengthen your belief, check out these two videos.

"Our Created Solar System - What You Aren't Being Told”

“How Badly Has the Bible Been Corrupted?” by Dr. Daniel Wallace

Let us boldly come to God with our questions, seeking the Truth, from the God of Truth. Amen.