Sunday, November 25, 2007

Jesus’ Magnificent Kingdom Courage

Our church is blessed with many unsung heroes who make contributions and personal sacrifices behind the scenes, or with faithfulness that is not always given its due. Darlene Vanderscheuren’s music and accompaniments have provided a wonderful backdrop as we enter into worship each Sunday. This morning’s introit, “Be Still My Soul,” helped set the tone for a very special service.

The Trio – Ken, Chuck and Darlene – also performed twice during the service. They sang The Lighthouse during the offering and a moving rendition of Come to the Waters in the early part of the service.

The chorus, if you are not familiar with it, goes…

And Jesus said, “Come to the waters
stand by my side
I know you are thirsty,
you won’t be denied.
I felt every teardrop
when in darkness you cried,
and I strove to remind you
that for those tears I died.”

Our Scripture readings this morning were from Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Luke 23:33-43.

Pastor Brad’s message today was a continuation of last week’s message on Jesus’ Magnificent Kingdom Courage. After a recap of last week’s highlights (see below) Brad spent much of the sermon bringing new insights to some familiar passages in the Gospels by sharing some of the historical background on events of Jesus’ time.

The passage in Luke 14:28-33 is well known for its challenge to believers regarding the cost of being a disciple. But in the days when Jesus presented this challenge, it was also fraught with political meaning that his hearers well understood.

Herod Antipas, of the three sons of Herod and ruler of Galilee, had a well known set of marriage problems. Like many rulers through history, alliances are formed with rivals by marriages. Herod Antipas married the young daughter of a king of a neighboring adversary. This situation became increasingly complicated when he fell in love with a woman named Herodias for whom he built a large palace. This was a very public affair which was consummated in marriage. Added complications included the fact that she two was married to someone else, who happened to be his half brother and the daughter of another half brother.

When Antipas divorced his first wife, it did not set well with her father, the neighboring king, who proceeded to send an army of 20,000 men to teach the scoundrel Herod Antipas a lesson. Herod sent ten thousand men against this much larger army and got whipped.

When Jesus talked about the cost of discipleship, he used two illustrations to make his point to “sit down and consider” rather than doing things impulsively. The second illustration, however, was clearly understood in the light of the these events. “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able…”

Essentially, Jesus was highlighting the foolishness of the king, a public action that had real risks involved.

In Luke 7:24 we read another familiar passage. At this point John the Baptist was in prison for his speaking out against Herod’s adultery. John had sent messengers to Jesus in a moment of doubt seeking reassurance the Jesus was indeed the Messiah. After the Lord sent these messengers back with a reassuring passage from Scripture, he turned to the crowds to endorse the ministry of John the Baptist, which he did in this manner.

“What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.”

What was the meaning of the “reed swayed by the wind”? The following illustration is about Herod, his fine clothes and palaces, which contrast profoundly with John’s primitive attire.

In those days, rulers often imprinted coins which were used within their sphere of influence and commerce. No one could put his own likeness on a coin that would compete with Caesar, and for a Jewish ruler there was the additional prohibition against graven images. For this reason, many rulers used a symbol which served a similar purpose. The symbol imprinted on coins for Herod Antipas was a reed swaying in the wind.

The point Jesus makes here is that these people did not go into the wilderness to see kings in palaces. He encouraged them in their true quest, as if to say, “You are seeking a different kind of kingdom.”

In another familiar passage, Luke 8:2-3, we see that Jesus’ entourage was not just the disciples, but included women as well, from various walks of life. One of these included Joanna the wife of Cuza, manager of Herod’s household. These woman, Luke notes, “were helping to support them out of their own means.” How interesting. Money from Herod was being used to support the subversive activities of the kingdom.

With these and other stories Pastor Brad noted how radically confrontational Jesus was toward the powers of his time. In Luke 13:31-33 some Pharisees told Jesus that he should leave and go somewhere else because “Herod wants to kill you.” This was not a veiled or ambiguous threat. Jesus replied, “Go tell that fox ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.”

Even though today the fox has come to represent cunning, as in “sly like a fox,” in those days the fox was a symbol of a lion wanna-be. That is, lions killed and the foxes would clean up after, wishing they were the ones who could have the power to kill. Herod was called a fox because he was a Caesar wanna-be.

Jesus was essentially saying, “I will fulfill my purpose. I will accomplish my goal.” At the same time he was showing Herod’s true colors.

One lesson we can take from these stories and this message: Opposition is not a sign of failure. There will be people who do not like it when you share the truth in love.

At the end of this same passage in Luke 13, Jesus expresses his sorrow for Jerusalem and then chooses a very interesting metaphor. “I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing.” In a striking contrast to the fox, a hen has no means of self defense, and saves her chicks by sacrificing her own body.

There were others in this period of Jewish history who stood up against the powers of Rome (Acts 5:33-37) so that Jesus knew what the ultimate consequences would be for his stance against the powers. Those who stood up and spoke against the king were killed. But Jesus did not step down. When he spoke of the true kingdom of God, he knew it would be a death sentence for him.

May we ourselves with courage likewise be kingdom bringers.

No comments: