Murdering a Mockingbird
Luke 22:66-23:25

“The defendant is not guilty. But somebody in this courtroom is.”

            “One more thing, gentlemen, before I quit. Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal, a phrase that the Yankees and the Executive branch in Washington are fond of hurling at us…We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe—some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cake than others—some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of men.

            But there is one way in this country which all men are created equal—there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man equal of an Einstein, and an ignorant man equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest J.P. court in the land, or this honorable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults, as does any human constitution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.

            I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system—that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.”

            This excerpt is taken from Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, which tells the story of Atticus Finch, a small-town southern lawyer who defends an innocent black man from the false accusation of raping a white girl. This passage comes from Atticus’ closing argument, after he had already established an incontestable case for Tom Robinson’s innocence. He calls on the court to make the right judgment, but tragically, in a gross miscarriage of justice, the all-white jury convicts Tom. He is later shot in the back and killed while trying to escape from prison. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most tragic tales of injustice ever told.

            But there is a better one—one not fabricated from fiction, but one rooted in historical fact. We find the story recorded right here in this morning’s Scripture reading from the Gospel of Luke. Luke tells the story of human history’s supreme act of injustice—the false conviction and crucifixion of Jesus Christ!

 

An Unfair Hearing (22:66-71)

On the night before Jesus was unjustly executed, he had already suffered several injustices. He was the victim of religious profiling, false arrest, and police brutality. Now in the morning, he was about to become the object of an unfair hearing. As the council convened at the high priest’s house, it is curious that no formal accusation or charge is brought against Jesus, nor are any witnesses called. Instead, the council invites him to incriminate himself by telling them that he is the Christ. But Jesus knew exactly what they were doing and he decided to beat them at their own game. Rather than answering their questions with a direct “yes” or “no,” he used veiled language and kept hitting the ball back into their court.

Even though this hearing was completely unfair, you will notice that the dialogue contains three titles for Jesus, and they are all correct: Christ (67), Son of Man (69), and Son of God (70). Contrary to popular belief, the term “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name or a word you should shout when you accidently smash your thumb with a hammer. The term “Christ” is another word for “Messiah” which simply means “Anointed One.” This title carries kingly overtones, which explains why Pilate would ask Jesus if he was a king. Everyone in Israel knew that the Christ would be a descendent of the royal line of David. If they could get Jesus to claim kingship, they could charge him for treason.

The title “Son of Man” comes from the Old Testament Book of Daniel and refers to Jesus as the divine Judge. The Son of Man will sit at the right hand of God, which is the place of power and authority. Likewise, the title “Son of God” is an explicit declaration of Jesus’ deity. He is the supreme, unique, divine, eternal Son of God. And therefore, the council concluded that they need no further testimony. They charged Jesus with blasphemy because he claimed to be God. (Ryken 546)

These titles still point us to Jesus’ identity as God in human flesh! But like ancient priests and scribes, many people in our modern world do not believe this. Today people are apt to think of Jesus as a good moral teacher, a wise philosopher, or a promoter of pacifism. People love to quote Jesus’ words about peace and love and heaven, but they conveniently ignore his warnings about sin, judgment, and hell. People are quick to remind us that Jesus said, “Judge not lest you be judged,” (Matt. 7:1) but they do not remember “Jesus will come to judge the quick and the dead!”

            Jesus cannot be cherrypicked! He is not just one option on the smorgasbord of spirituality. Either you believe everything he said or nothing he said! He is either God or he is a liar! Either you are with him or against him! There is no middle ground!

            Who do you say Jesus is? Do you believe that he is the Christ, the Son of Man, and the Son of God? Have you bowed to him as your king? Do you revere him as your judge? Have you trusted him as your Savior? On Good Friday morning, Jesus was the victim of an unfair hearing! Have you given him a fair hearing yet?

 

A Coward in the Court (23:1-25)

After the unfair hearing, the chief priests ushered him to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. The Jews had convicted Jesus of blasphemy and they wanted him to be executed for it, but the Romans didn’t even consider blasphemy as a crime. To complicate the case further, only the governor had the authority to sentence a criminal to capital punishment. So, the council presented some “alternative facts” about Jesus in hopes of getting a Roman conviction. Contrary to their claims, Jesus did not mislead the nation, forbid tribute to Caesar, or directly claim to be a king (which would challenge Roman rule). After questioning him, Pilate found no basis for a charge against Jesus. But rather than acquitting him, he passed the buck to King Herod when he found out that Jesus was from Galilee.

Herod was surprisingly happy to see Jesus coming. He had long heard about Jesus and his miracles and now he had the opportunity to see Jesus’ magic show for himself. But Jesus refused to perform for the king; he even refused to speak to him. Herod was so disappointed by Jesus’ lack of response that he and the chief priests resorted to ridicule. They dressed Jesus up in regal clothing and mocked “the king” who in their view possessed little power and sent him back to the governor. Pilate’s slick political maneuvering paid off; from that that day on, instead of being adversaries, he and Herod became bosom buddies.

At this point, Pilate could still find no basis to charge Jesus and he genuinely desired to release him. He even appealed to the custom of the governor pardoning one prisoner in honor of the Jewish Passover, but in one of the greatest ironies in history, the chief priests began crying out for Pilate to release Barabbas instead. Barabbas was an infamous criminal—an insurrectionist and a murderer. Pilate was stunned by this preference, and he declared Jesus innocent for a third time. But the crowd shouted louder demanding Jesus’ blood.

On three different occasions Pilate found Jesus innocent of all misconduct, let alone a crime deserving of capital punishment. But in that moment, Pilate had to choose. As governor, he had the authority to either convict or acquit. He had to decide between doing the right thing or caving to political pressure. He had to pick to the road of justice or the path of self-preservation. Although the evidence in the case was clear, he chose the latter. Pilate was a coward in the court, and it led to the crucifixion of the only truly innocent man who has ever lived!

            When we hear this insidious story of superlative injustice—Jesus’ unfair hearing, the crooked court, and the cowardly conviction—we are reminded that every single person sitting in this congregation will someday come to the place where they have to choose between standing for justice or caving to convenience. We may have to choose between standing for racial justice or cowering to the pressures of prejudice! We may have to choose between standing for workplace justice or preserving our own job! We may have to choose between doing what is right or maintaining a relationship with a family member or friend. We may be forced to choose between doing what we know is right or listing to the crowd of voices telling us to do what is wrong.

            Political pressure has prompted decent men to do despicable deeds! Peer pressure has provoked good girls to compromise their convictions! We all must decide: Are we going to listen to God or follow the crowd. So, whenever you ever find yourself standing in the place of Pontius Pilate, what will you do? I hope that we will all learn from Pilate’s plight—may we always do what is right, no matter what the cost!

            Likewise, many of us sitting here today have been victims of injustice. Perhaps you have been the object of racial prejudice, social discrimination, religious bias, or an unfair labor practice. Maybe you have been misunderstood, misrepresented, or even mistreated. Maybe you have been falsely accused or falsely convicted of something and you are still facing the consequences today. Some things in this broken world just aren’t fair!

            If you are ever the victim of injustice, take comfort from the fact that Jesus knows your pain! Remember that he has suffered a greater injustice than any human being, and yet he forgave his offenders! Jesus died on the cross to atone for the injustice in our world.

And some day he will return in all power and glory and will restore justice to the earth once and for all! But until that day comes, may we all do our part!

 

Allow me to conclude with another allusion from Harper Lee’s classic. The memorable title “To Kill a Mockingbird” comes from a key conversation in the novel, which introduces the metaphor of “mockingbirds” as good, innocent people who are destroyed by evil.

Listen to these powerful lines:

“Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
“Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

When Pontius Pilate and the chief priests collaborated to kill Jesus, they murdered a mockingbird. As we consider justice in our society, may we all be like Atticus Finch, not Pontius Pilate! Let us pray!

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The Coward’s Crow
Luke 22:54-65

Before I say what I need to say to you today, I want you all to know how much I love you and care for you, and how immensely blessed I have been during my time of ministry with you all. I could not have asked for a better group of people with whom to share the best years of my life. And I am deeply grateful for the love and support that you have given me throughout our journey together.

What I am about to say will come as a shock to you and to our whole community. All weekend I have been agonizing over when and how to share this to you, and I thought about postponing it as long as I could. But it won’t be long before the news leaks out and rumors begin to circulate, so I wanted you to hear it directly from me while we are all together this morning.

I knew I would be too emotional to speak about it openly, so I composed a letter to read to you. Please forgive the formal nature of this, but I believe it’s for the best:

 

Dear Friends,

 

You have all known me for some time now and we have been through a lot together. I have never tried to hide my faults from you and my inadequacies and imperfections are apparent. Among other things, I have always struggled with the internal vices of hubris and arrogance which has often led to the outward sins of egotism, conceit, and overconfidence. I am quick to speak and slow to listen, and this impulsive behavior has gotten me into trouble in the past.

You all know that even the most faithful followers of Jesus sometimes fail, and I am certainly no exception to this. But I have always been thankful for the love, grace, and forgiveness that you have so freely extended to me. As the Psalm says, “You have not treated me as my sins deserve or repaid me according to my iniquities.”

That is why there is no easy way for me to say this—but this past Thursday night I made the biggest mistake of my life. I committed a shameful sin that has brought disgrace and embarrassment upon myself, my family, and our whole Christian community. I don’t want to go into all the details, but it will suffice to say that my pride led me down a dark path and I slipped in a way I never thought possible. I want you all to know that I am ashamed of my actions and I beg your forgiveness. I desperately wish it was possible to undo the damage I have done, but tragically, it is too late for that now.

So, after processing over the last few days, I have realized that, rather than keeping my sin hidden, it would be better to confess it to you publicly and face the humiliation head on. Furthermore, whether you will agree with me or not, I have reached the sad conclusion that the severity of my sin disqualifies me from continuing in my position of Christian leadership. Therefore, I am so sorry, but I regret to inform you that I resign from my ministry post, effective immediately. As I continue to pray for you, please pray for me as I discern the next steps for my life. May the Lord bless you and keep you all!

Cowardice in the Courtyard (54-65)

I told myself that I wasn’t going to share the details of my derailment this morning, but maybe I should explain what happened. This past Thursday night, I got caught in a precarious position, and I did something morally and spiritually despicable: I denied my Lord Jesus Christ not once, not twice, but three times!

I was in the Garden of Gethsemane when Judas showed up with the chief priests and the temple guard to arrest Jesus. I tried to defend him against the diabolical defector and his entourage of evildoers; I even struck one of them in the ear with my sword. But Jesus rebuked me and told me to put the sword away, and then he miraculously healed the wounded man. Even so, they seized him and led him to at the high priest’s house, and held him in custody until the morning, when a council would be assembled for questioning. I followed them at a distance.

As the temple guards took Jesus inside the house, I stayed outside in the courtyard and watched what was happening through a window. The guards relentlessly mocked and beat him. They slapped him across the face and beat him with clubs. Every time they struck him, he winced from the pain, and they laughed even louder. I heard one of the guards ask him if he wanted to play a game called “Blind Man’s Bluff.” They tied a blindfold over his eyes and put him in the center of their circle. They pushed him back and forth, pummeling and spitting on him at every turn. With each punch, they yelled, “Prophecy! Who is it that struck you.”

The scene was unbearable to watch; I had to turn away. There were many people wandering through the courtyard that night and some of them kindled a fire to protect themselves from the cold. I sat down with them to warm my hands over the fire for a while. A servant girl was seated next to me. As the light from the flames flickered off my face, she looked at me more intently, and finally spoke, “This man was also with him.” Everyone around the fire knew what she meant; she was accusing me of being with Jesus. As soon as she said this, I noticed some of the temple guards looking at me too. And in a moment of panic, as I thought about what they were doing to Jesus, I chose the path of self-preservation and said, “Woman, I do not know him.”

As soon as the words slipped out of my mouth, a flood of emotions flowed through my mind and I felt sick to my stomach. I didn’t have much time to process my mistake before a man approached me and said, “You are one of them,” meaning one of Jesus’ followers. And without thinking, I did it again. I looked up at him and said, “Man, I am not!” He decided not to press the issue, but it drew enough attention that everyone kept looking at me. I covered my head with my hood and buried my face into my arms and fixed my eyes on the flames, hoping that no one else would recognize me.

            After everything that Jesus had done for me, I flat out denied him, twice. Of all people, how could I have done this? I promised him that I was ready to go with him to prison or even death, but when the time of testing came, I failed miserably. I feared being mocked and mistreated. I was afraid of being beaten for my association with Jesus. He had once told me that he was going to use me to build his church and the gates of hell shall not overcome it, but after what I did, I deserve to walk through the gates of hell! I had condemned Judas for what he did to Jesus, and now I have committed the same crime.

The fire died down as I sat there pondering my failure. About an hour went by before another man approached me and accused me of being with Jesus. This guy was more insistent than the others. He spoke loudly and tried to draw attention to me saying, “Look at this man’s complexion! Listen to his voice! He is a Galilean like the others! He must have been with Jesus.” At that moment, a few of the guards started walking toward me, and I felt the battle rage between faith and fear in my soul. And when I saw the hate in their eyes and the swords at their sides, I cowered again and shouted, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about!”

My cowardice in the courtyard achieved its intended result. When I said this, the conviction in my voice convinced the guards to turn around and walk the other way. But as I was still speaking, the clear sound of a rooster’s crow pierced the darkness, and my eyes shifted back toward the window. Jesus was standing there looking at me. He saw what I had done; he heard every word I spoke. His cheeks were swollen and his chin was covered with blood. There was an expression of disappointment on his face but his mouth did not move. His eyes were looking right through my soul; and I remembered the words he spoke to me earlier that night, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

I couldn’t look at him anymore! The weight of his stare was too heavy to bear. I ran away to a solitary place and wept bitterly all night. I have been weeping for three days’ strait. No doubt, you have all heard what happened to Jesus on Friday—in the morning King Herod interrogated him and Pontius Pilate condemned to die. At noon, they nailed him to a cross. And three hours later, he was laid in a tomb. Jesus is gone and it is all my fault!

Now you understand why I must resign my ministry post. After a failure such as this, I am not fit to lead anyone, let alone followers of Christ. If I had just spoken up, maybe none of this would have happened? If I hadn’t been such a coward, maybe I could have saved him?  

            I pray that none of you will ever deny Christ like I did. I hope you all will all learn from my failure. Don’t ever make promises to God you can’t keep! Don’t ever get overconfident in your faith! I got cocky when life was going well, but I cowered when my faith was tested. Perhaps you have heard the line: Pride goes before a fall! It is true! So, whatever you do, stay humble in every aspect of your life, but especially your faith!

            Likewise, don’t ever never let fear overwhelm your faith! There may come a time when you are called to stand up or speak up for Jesus. There may come a day when your relationship with Jesus will cause people to mock or make fun of you, ridicule or even threaten your life. Don’t be afraid! Don’t be a coward like me! Stay faithful to him! Trust me, you don’t ever want to hear the coward’s crow. We all have an instinct for self-preservation, but don’t let this rule your life! Don’t let fear diminish your faith! Whenever you are put to the test, may you be found faithful!

 

So, here we are! Its Sunday morning! It has been three days since Jesus was crucified and it’s my fault. I don’t think I will ever get over this guilt? I don’t think there is any atonement for my mistake? I don’t think there is any forgiveness for a sin as severe as mine. I don’t think there is redemption for a failure like mine?

            Wait! What? How can this be? Jesus is…

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The Judas Kiss
Luke 22:47-53

Even though the old English poet Robert Herrick remained a bachelor throughout his life, kissing was a common topic in his poetry. This little verse, titled “Her Legs” was a bit risqué for the 1640’s, but here goes:

Fain would I kiss my Julia’s dainty leg,
Which is as white and hairless as an egg.

 

At least we can take comfort in the fact that women of the Post-Elizabethan era shaved their legs.

Here is another poem titled “The Kiss. A Dialogue.”

 Among thy fancies, tell me this,
What is the thing we call a kiss?
I shall resolve ye what it is:

It is a creature born and bred
Between the lips, all cherry-red,
By love and warm desires fed,

And makes more soft the bridal bed.

It is an active flame, that flies
First to the babies of the eyes,
And charms them there with lullabies,
And stills the bride, too, when she cries.

Then to the chin, the cheek, the ear,
It frisks and flies, now here, now there:
‘Tis now far off, and then ’tis near,
And here, and there, and everywhere.

Has it a speaking virtue? Yes.
How speaks it, say? Do you but this,
Part your join’d lips, then speaks your kiss;
And this Love’s sweetest language is.

Has it a body? Ay, and wings,
With thousand rare encolourings;
And as it flies, it gently sings–
Love honey yields, but never stings.

 

Herrick waxes elegant about the sensual aspects of a kiss, but he exposes his inexperience in his last line: “Love honey yields, but never stings.” He obviously didn’t know that a kiss can be more agonizing than a scorpion’s sting. He didn’t know a mother’s anger when she kisses her little boy’s wounds that were inflicted by a schoolyard bully. He couldn’t have known the heartache a father feels as he kisses his freshman daughter goodbye after moving her into her college dormitory. Herrick’s lips never tasted the bitterness of kissing his wife’s cold casket and watching it descend into the ground after fifty years of marriage. And he most certainly never experienced the anguish that comes from a kiss of betrayal, which is exactly what Judas did to Jesus!

 

The Kiss of Betrayal (47-48)

Jesus and the disciples had already celebrated the Passover holiday by eating the last supper together. Judas quietly slipped away after dinner before the group entered the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Instead of keeping vigil as their master had commanded them, the disciples fell asleep while Jesus poured out his heart to the Father. With blood, sweat, and tears, he pleaded, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

It was, indeed, the Father’s will for Jesus to drink the cup of crucifixion, because just moments later, he heard a hoard of hostile voices approaching in the darkness. When the crowd got close enough, the torchlights revealed Judas’ face leading the chief priests, elders, and soldiers from the temple guard. They wielded swords and clubs as they came to arrest Jesus on a trumped-up charge of insurrection.

As the armed posse surrounded Jesus and his disciples, Judas stepped forward and leaned in to greet Jesus with a kiss. Now two men greeting each other with a kiss may seem strange in our society, but this was the common greeting for everyone in their culture. A kiss was a sign of close friendship; but Judas had prearranged this kiss to signify to the guards the one they were supposed to arrest. Jesus highlights this tragic irony when he asked, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” The kiss of brotherhood became the kiss of betrayal.

I know I spoke about betrayal just a few weeks ago, but it bears repeating today. Many of us have been victims of the kiss of betrayal; others are guilty of offering the kiss of betrayal; and some of us have been on both sides of this fence. Betrayal has ruined human relationships since the days of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Whether the specific form of betrayal was adultery, abandonment, lying, deception, gossip, slander, or some other type of back-stabbing behavior, we either need to forgive or be forgiven.  

If you are still carrying guilt because you betrayed someone, give it to Jesus! He suffered and died on the cross for your sins and he offers you atonement and forgiveness today! You can be redeemed! If you are still harboring resentment or guarding a grudge against your betrayer, give it to Jesus! Holding on to it will not help you! Jesus knows your pain; he can heal your heart and soothe your suffering soul!

            Jesus suffered this kiss of betrayal for us on the way to the cross. In a way, his suffering would not have been complete without this betrayal. How could Jesus sympathize with us in all our sufferings unless he himself experienced the Judas kiss? When you feel betrayed—when you are betrayed—tell your heart to Jesus. He understands better than anyone else. (Ryken 514)

 

Loving Your Enemies (49-53a)

As Judas offered his two-faced kiss, the other disciples realized what was about to happen, they asked Jesus if they should strike with the sword. Now we already know from verse 38 that they were carrying two swords, and before Jesus even had a chance to respond, one of them took the blade and struck the right ear of the high priest’s official, cutting it all the way off. Luke is silent about the identities of these two men, but John’s gospel identifies the victim’s name as Malchus and the aggressor as none other than Peter, the brash outspoken leader of the disciples. Maybe Peter was still trying to prove that he would never deny Christ. But in any case, when Jesus was threatened, it was the disciple’s instinct to fight back. (Ryken 515)

But Jesus immediately intervened and put a stop to the violence. He told Peter to put his sword away, and in an amazing act of love for his enemy, Jesus bent down to the ground and picked up the bloody ear and reattached it to Malchus’ face. Jesus performed the smallest and simplest miracle of his whole ministry by healing his enemies ear.

Back in Luke 6:27-29, in the sermon on the plain, Jesus had taught his disciples to: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.” Now as Jesus was being falsely arrested, he practiced what he preached. He highlights their hypocrisy by asking why they came after him with weapons at night when they could have arrested him any day he was teaching in the temple. They were treating him as a violent criminal, even though he had never shown any aggression toward anyone.

            There are many lessons we can learn from this scene. The first, and perhaps the most obvious, is: Listen to Jesus before you act! Peter hastily pulled a sword before he even heard Jesus’ reply. It is, likewise, easy for us to pray about something, but then act before we hear a response. Many of us are like Peter; we are impulsive, impatient—we want to act right now. But this often gets us into trouble. It is always better to listen to Jesus before we act. This discipline will save us a lifetime of heartache!

            Second, and most importantly, this scene reminds us of our Christian responsibility to love our enemies. Jesus’ refusal to resist arrest and heal the servant’s ear show how utterly opposed Jesus is to wrongful violence. It also provides a model for how we should respond when we are mistreated, or even betrayed. We should never seek retaliation or revenge. Instead, we are to follow the example of Jesus in blessing our enemies. Do you have any enemies? Is there a particular person who repulses you? As I have mentioned in the past, I personally think that loving an enemy is one of the hardest things in life to do. But when experience God’s amazing grace and live in the power of the Holy Spirit, it is possible.

            Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. Even though Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, I don’t think Jesus was a pacifist. There is a time and place for the proper use of the sword. In the case of an unprovoked attack by an unlawful aggressor, we have legitimate right to self-defense, personally and nationally. The sword has a divinely approved authority in the hands of the state through a legitimate army in the application of a just war, but what Peter did was wrong. Jesus had the power to destroy his enemies, but he chose the path of loving his enemies!

 

The Power of Darkness (53b)     

Jesus concludes his remarks to the religious leaders with the haunting rebuke: “But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” This is a subtle reminder that even though Judas and the chief priests were on the frontlines of Jesus’ arrest, Satan’s fingerprints were all over this scene. He was still lurking in the background executing his diabolical scheme to murder the Messiah. This was, indeed, the dark hour Satan was waiting for—when his supposed power over God would be revealed.

Luke includes Jesus’ little line here to remind us that Satan is still lurking behind the scenes of our lives. He is still trying to disrupt and desecrate God’s plan for us to flourish. He rarely shows up in the limelight; he prefers to orchestrate his diabolical schemes from the background. But we see his fingerprints all over our land! We see his handiwork in the terrorism, mass shootings, domestic violence, drug addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, disease, and widespread depression that sabotages our society.

            Listen to this insightful first-person poem about Satan’s influence in our world. It is appropriately titled “The Judas Kiss.”

 

When the world has turned its back
When the days have turned pitch black
When the fear abducts your tongue
When the fire’s dead and gone

When you think it’s all said and done
When you are the ostracized
Selfish ridden dead goodbyes
Twisting of the tourniquet
When the pieces never fit

When the storm has blacked your sky
Intuition crucify
When the ego strips your reign
Assassinate the living flame

When you think it’s all said and done
Venom of a life insane
Bites into your fragile veins
Internalize and decimate
Patronize and complicate

Judas lives recite this vow
I’ve become your new god now

Follow you from dawn of time
Whisper thoughts into your mind
Watched your towers hit the ground
Lured the children never found
Helped your kings abuse their crown

In the heart of evil man
Plant the seeds of my own plan
Strong and powerful will fall
Find a piece of me in all
Inside you all

So bow down
Sell your soul to me
I will set you free
Pacify your demons

Bow down
Surrender unto me
Submit infectiously
Sanctify your demons

Into abyss
You don’t exist
Cannot resist
The Judas kiss

 

Do you know who wrote this poem? Was it Geoffrey Chaucer? Robert Blake? Emily Dickenson? No, it was written by the heavy metal band Metallica. Do you see Satan cheering the Judas kiss? May we all beware of his lurking in our lives!

 

Even though Satan had real power on the earth, he had no idea that God had already planned the biggest fourth quarter upset in history. Yes, Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss! Yes, nails would impale his hands, thorns would be pressed into his forehead, and a spear would pierce his side. Yes, he would suffer asphyxiation and breath his last breath on the cross. Yes, Satan did a victory dance at Jesus’ death! But he celebrated too early!

            Satan didn’t realize that there was still time on the clock! He didn’t know that God still had a masterplan and a trick play on the play chart! He didn’t know that God was about to defeat him on a last second play by bringing his Son back from the dead! But he would know all of this soon enough!

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A Pressing Prayer
Luke 22:39-46

A tale is told about a small town that had historically been “dry,” but then a local businessman decided to build a tavern. A group of Christians from a local church were concerned and planned an all-night prayer vigil to ask God to intervene.

            It just so happened that shortly thereafter lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground. The owner of the bar sued the church, claiming that the prayers of the congregation were responsible, but the church hired a lawyer to argue in court that they were not responsible.      The presiding judge, after his initial review of the case, stated that “no matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear: the tavern owner believes in prayer and the Christians do not.”

            Do Christians really believe in the power of prayer? That is the subject of today’s sermon.

 

Pressed in the Garden

After Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover and ate their last supper together in the upper room in Jerusalem, they retreated to the Mount of Olives just outside the city. It was Jesus’ custom to teach in the Temple in Jerusalem during the day and then he would retire to his campsite on the hill of olive trees. We can imagine many evenings when the disciples sat around the campfire singing joyful psalms of praise to God, listening to Jesus’ hopeful stories about the Kingdom of God, and spending time in peaceful prayer with their heavenly Father.

Although it was their custom to convene there every evening, this night would be unlike any other night. An ominous quietness overtook the camp and an eerie tension filled the air. The storytelling and singing ceased, and even though there were olive branches all around, there was no offer of peace on this night. Judas had already disappeared to do his dastardly deed, and for the first time in their lives, the disciples saw an unnerving anxiety in Jesus’ eyes.

Can you see Jesus sitting there in the darkness with the campfire flames reflecting off his solemn face? Can you smell the smoke of betrayal that was about to befall him? Can you feel his hands warming over the fire, the same hands that would be pierced for our transgressions the following day?

For just a moment, think about the darkest place you have ever been. Think of the place of anguish and pain, discouragement and despair. Think of the place where you were alone in your suffering and your worst fears were about to come true. Think of the place where the one thing you wanted was the one thing God determined you could not have. Think of the place where you felt trapped and there seemed to be no way out. Think of the place where you were pressed from every side and you felt crushed under the weight of worry. Think about the place where things got so bad that you thought you were going to die, and maybe you almost did. (Ryken 498) That is the place where Jesus was going!        

The disciples followed Jesus to the foot of the Mount of Olives where he entered the Garden of Gethsemane. The name “Gethsemane” comes from an Aramaic word that literally means “oil press.” It was a small flatland that was likely used for pressing olives into olive oil. Ironically, it was in this location, where olives were routinely pressed into oil that Jesus would experience the most intense pressure of his life. It was here where Jesus would endure the full weight of what was about to happen to him. It was here where the hypostatic union of Jesus’ divinity and humanity would be challenged. It was here where he would offer his most pressing prayer to his Father in heaven. Allow me to highlight three aspects of this prayer for us today!

 

1.) Prayer and Temptation (40)

As Jesus arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane and prepared to enter a time of solitary prayer with the Father, he gave his disciples the simple command: “Pray that you may not fall into temptation.” The specific temptation that Jesus referred to here was the possibility of denying him. He knew that he was about to be arrested and that this would ultimately lead to his crucifixion. During this time, the disciples’ courage would endure its most severe testing. To remain loyal to Jesus, they would have to face the fear of torture and death. It was a tremendous spiritual challenge. Jesus knew exactly what they were up against, so he told them to pray.

In this one statement, Jesus shows how much he believes in the power of prayer. He knew that temptation is overcome only by continued dependence on God. He had already modeled this for them in the Lord’s Prayer when he said, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Prayer is a primary defense against temptation.
Thank God that most of us will never face the kind of pressure to deny Jesus that his disciples did, but we all struggle with some type of temptation to sin, which is still a form of turning our backs on Jesus. The medieval monk, Thomas a Kempis, who wrote the spiritual classic, The Imitation of Christ, once said, “We usually know what we can do, but temptation shows us who we are.”
Some people struggle with moral weaknesses in the areas of pride, lust, or greed. These flaws make them susceptible to specific besetting sins like selfish ambition, compulsory spending, and pornography. Others possess less visible vulnerabilities, but they still wrestle with periodic temptations. For instance, feelings of loneliness and insecurity can entice people to engage in illicit relationships. Envy and jealous may tempt individuals to gossip and slander about other people. Arrogance and ignorance may produce postures of prejudice and overt acts of racism. Undue pressure and unresolved anger often leads to alcoholism and substance abuse.

            How about you? Do you have any moral weaknesses? Do you struggle with any besetting sins? Do you see any spiritual blind-spots in your soul? If so, I wonder how often you pray about these liabilities? I wonder how fervently and faithfully we pray and specifically ask God to help us overcome these temptations? Jesus told his disciples to pray because he knew that prayer was a primary defense against temptation. Do we?

 

2.) Prayer and Agony (41-44)

After Jesus charged his disciples to pray, he walked about a stone’s throw away from them to pray through his own temptation. He bent down on his knees and prayed the most agonizing prayer of his life, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” He is asking if there might be some other way for God to accomplish what lies ahead. Like the prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah before him, Jesus used the term “cup” as a metaphor for judgment. He asks to be delivered from drinking the cup of God’s wrath. He did not want to bear the pain of torture and crucifixion, but he was willing to submit to the will of the Father. He draws on the wording from the Lord’s Prayer “your will be done.”

These verses draw us into the deep mysteries of the incarnation, when God became human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. Philip Ryken comments on this remarkable passage:

In Gethsemane we see the human will of Jesus wrestling with the divine will. Humanly speaking, Jesus did not want to suffer on the cross, which was evil was itself and deadly painful. I say “humanly speaking” because we see his true humanity as clearly here as we do anywhere in the Gospels. As a human being, Jesus had the same instinct to preserve his life that anyone has. No one loved life more than he did. How could it be his will, therefore, to suffer the torture of his body and the curse of death? Jesus was averse to death. Everything in his humanity recoiled against it. It was his natural preference to live. So in the agony of his soul he asked the Father for some other way to bring salvation. (Ryken 501)

It is no wonder Luke uses the term “agony” to describe Jesus’ prayer. Even though the Father sent him an angel to strengthen him in his distress, Jesus prayed so earnestly that sweat beaded down his face and fell to the ground like drops of blood. This graphic metaphor depicts the utmost extremity of human anguish.

            None of us could ever fully understand the severity of Jesus’ suffering, but many of us know what it’s like to agonize in prayer over something. It is not difficult to identify with the conflict of doing God’s will versus doing our own will. Does this ever happen to you? Have you ever known exactly what God wanted you to do, but you didn’t want to do it? Or have you ever wanted to do something so badly, and yet, you knew God didn’t want you to do it? We face situations like this all the time. Perhaps you are facing a situation like this in your life right now! The war of the wills is absolutely agonizing!

            Whenever we agonize in prayer over something, I hope that we will come to the same conclusion that Jesus did! I hope that we will be able to sacrifice our instincts, desires, aspirations, and submit our will to God’s will, no matter how torturous the task is before us! God’s will is always the right thing to do and it’s always what is best for us, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.

            Consider this: it was God’s will for Jesus to die on the cross to provide atonement for our sins; it was also God’s plan to resurrect his son from the dead. This was the best possible outcome for the whole world! Had Jesus not obeyed the will of the Father, we would all still be dead in our sins and would have no hope of salvation.

            Do we really trust God’s will for our lives? Even if it includes suffering? Every Sunday we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” but do we really mean it?

 

3.) Prayer and Lethargy (45-46)

After Jesus finished his agonizing prayer meeting with the Father, he returned to the place he left his disciples. Instead of finding them in fervent prayer about resisting temptation, his eyes gazed upon their motionless bodies sprawled out all over the ground; they were fast asleep. They seem to have finally reckoned with the fact that their Lord was going to suffer, which lead to their fatigue. Even though exhaustion from sorrow is a real phenomenon, they failed to obey Jesus’ command. So, he subtly rebuked them for their spiritual lethargy by asking the question, “Why are you sleeping?” Then he renewed his command to get up and pray so they would not fall into temptation.

            Like Jesus’ disciples, it is easy for us to slide into spiritual lethargy, especially when we are enduring dark days. The times when we need to pray the most are often the most difficult times to pray. How often do we say to ourselves, “Oh, I really should spend some time in prayer about that,” but then we get distracted or tired or just lazy?

            I wonder what would have happened to the disciples if they would have remained vigilant in prayer? I wonder if Peter would still would have denied Jesus three times? I wonder if the rest of the disciples would have stayed with Jesus through his suffering instead of disappearing when he needed them most? I wonder if we would be more faithful to Jesus if we were more faithful in prayer?

            When Martin Luther’s puppy happened to be at the table, he looked for a morsel from his master, and watched with open mouth and motionless eyes. Luther said, “Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on the piece of meat. Otherwise he has no thought, wish, or hope.”

 

            This passage, that highlights Jesus’ pressing prayers, teaches us to pray for strength to overcome temptation, for our will to be conformed to the Father’s will, and to avoid spiritual lethargy!

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The Special Meal
Luke 22:7-38

            It is customary to offer a condemned death row prisoner one last meal of his or her choice just prior to execution. Various countries have different traditions in this regard. Historically, the “little glass of rum” is granted to the condemned in France. In America, most states give the meal a day or two before execution and use the euphemism “the special meal.” In Florida, the food for the special meal must be purchased locally and is limited to $40. In Oklahoma, where folks are more frugal, the cost is capped at $15.   

            In September 2011, the state of Texas abolished all special-meal requests after the condemned prisoner Lawrence Russell Brewer requested a huge meal that included a plate of two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions, a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger, a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, jalapeños, a bowl of fried okra with ketchup, a pound of barbecued meat with half a loaf of white bread, three fajitas, a meat-lover’s pizza (topped with pepperoni, ham, beef, bacon, and sausage), a pint of Blue Bell ice cream, a slab of peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts, and three cans of root beer. After he received all this food, he didn’t eat any of it. He said he wasn’t hungry.

For just a moment, imagine that you are on death row and you are going to be executed tomorrow. What thoughts might roll through your mind? And if you could choose one last meal before you depart from this world, what would you eat?

Even though he did not commit any crimes and Pontius Pilate had not yet sentenced him to die, Jesus was already on death row. As a matter of fact, Jesus was on death row before he began his ministry—even before he was born in Bethlehem. It was God’s plan to send his son to die for the sins of the human race at least since the fall of Adam and Eve when they ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Do you remember the prophecy that God spoke to Satan way back in Genesis 3:15? “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Jesus was condemned to die before he was even born, and Luke now describes his special meal the night before his execution. Today, Jesus’ “special meal” is commonly called the “The Last Supper.”

As Jesus prepared for his last meal on earth, he used the occasion to teach his disciples some final spiritual lessons. I don’t have enough time to share all of them with you in one sermon, but allow me to highlight four of them for you. And I would like to serve them to you in the metaphor of a four-course special meal.

 

1.) First Course: Divinely Directed Details (7-13)

The day of Unleavened Bread had arrived and Jesus sent Peter and John to prepare for the Passover feast. This was the commemorative meal where the Jewish people ate special foods to remind them of how God delivered their ancestors from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Among other things, the meal included unleavened bread, roasted lamb, bitter herbs, and red wine.

Peter and John already had their grocery list, but they did not know where they were supposed to prepare the meal. When they asked Jesus about the location, he gave them strangely specific instructions to follow a man carrying a jar of water who will lead them to a certain house with an upper room that would already be furnished for their feast. And sure enough, the two disciples found things just as Jesus said.

            This passage shows how Jesus divinely directs the details of people’s lives. Through his sovereign foreknowledge and providence, he had already prearranged the details of the Passover meal, right down to the man carrying the water jar the furnished upper room.

            Just as he did for his disciples here, Jesus divinely directs the details of our lives too. He knows all things and he is in control of every aspect of our existence. We often use the cliché: “Everything happens for a reason.” This is true! Even when things don’t make sense to us, we can trust God’s plan for our lives and for the whole world, down to the very last detail.

 

2.) Second Course: The Last Supper becomes the Lord’s Supper (14-23)

As Jesus and his disciples sat down at the table to eat, he told them that he was eager to eat this special meal with them before he suffered. He knew that this would be his last Passover meal before his crucifixion and he wanted to celebrate it with his apostles. He also knew that the feast was about to find its fulfillment. Passover was a time to look back and remember how God had saved his people in the past. Just as the lamb’s blood was sprinkled on the door posts to provide salvation in the original Passover, now Jesus, the lamb of God, would be slain to atone for the sins of the human race once and for all.

So, as Jesus ate his final Passover meal, he inaugurated a new Christian tradition. He transformed the last supper into the Lord’s Supper. He took the bread and the cup, gave thanks, and distributed them among the disciples. These elements were meant to be symbols of Jesus’ body and blood that he freely gave for redemption. He commanded his disciples to do this in remembrance of him.

Jesus tuned the last Supper into the Lord’s Supper; and therefore, we celebrate communion on the first Sunday of every month by eating the bread and drinking the cup together. Jesus did not specify how often or in what manner this ordinance should be observed, but it is meant to be regularly practiced in the church until the Kingdom of God is consummated when Jesus returns. Contrary to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church (that believes the elements actually become the body and blood of Christ), the bread and wine are symbols to remind us of Jesus’ body that was broken and his blood was shed for us.    

To say that Jesus died “for you” is to say something more than he died for your benefit; it is to say that he died in your place, suffering the death that you deserved to die. This can be illustrated by something that happened not long after the Civil War ended, when a man in farm clothes was seen kneeling at a soldier’s gave in Nashville, Tennessee. A sympathetic bystander asked him, “Is that the grave of your son?” “No,” the farmer replied, “I have seven children, all of them young, and a wife on my poor farm in Illinois. I was drafted into the Union army, and despite the great hardship it would cause to my family, I was required to serve.”

            But on the morning I was to depart, the man who now lies in this grave—my neighbor’s oldest son—came over and offered to take my place in the war.” When the farmer stepped away, the bystander could see the words he had written on the gravestone. They simply read, “He died for me.” This is the testimony of every believer in Jesus Christ: we have a Savior who offered himself in our place. Whenever we break bread and drink the cup at his table, we say “He died for me.” (Ryken 468)

           

3.) Third Course: An Awkward Argument (24-30)

During the feast, Jesus had already sparked tension in the discussion by publicly stating that one of the disciples sitting at the table was going to betray him. What an uncomfortable conversation that must have been for Judas, as the rest of the disciples began wondering which one of them was going to do this?

To make matters even worse, a dispute arose among the disciples as to which of them was the greatest. What an incredibly awkward argument this was; didn’t they realize that Jesus was sitting right there? Didn’t they understand that this was exactly the type of arrogance and competition that Jesus despised? I can only imagine the disappointment on Jesus’ face as he listened to his beloved disciples spoil his special meal by bickering over whose best. (This is like the couple who went out for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner and spent the whole evening arguing over which one was going to pay the babysitter.) The disciples still had so much to learn about the kingdom of God.

So, Jesus draws a comparison between greatness in the eyes of the world and greatness in the eyes of God. He points out the worldly perception of greatness is attached to power, authority, wealth, and fame, but God defines greatness by humility and servanthood. This is exactly what Jesus modeled throughout his ministry.

This is still a powerful lesson for us today! Our world continues to define greatness through the lens of power, wealth, and fame, and it is easy for us to be influenced by this type of thinking. Like Jesus’ disciples, we can fall into the trap of measuring success by our bank accounts, possessions, and titles. But we must remember Jesus’ teaching: True greatness is measured by how much we are willing to sacrifice and serve others!

            Do you want to be truly great in Jesus’ eyes? Don’t talk about how great you are! Be humble! Put others before your own needs and desires! Serve the people who are in positions that are lower yours! Then you will be great, like Jesus!

 

4.) Fourth Course: The Sifting of Simon (31-34)

As the dinner conversation continued, Jesus singled Simon Peter out for special attention, because Satan has zeroed in on this disciple, asking to take him through a sieve. Like wheat separated from chaff, Satan asked to test what Peter is really made of. (Some of you may remember that Satan did this to Job in the Old Testament.) But Jesus has prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail. This does not mean that Simon would succeed in the short-run, for Jesus goes on to note that when Peter has “turned back,” he will be called on to strengthen his brothers.” This implies that there will be temporary failure before final restoration. (Bock 560)

Well, Peter doesn’t like hearing that he would fail, and in a classic case of overconfidence, he declares to Jesus and the rest of the disciples that he was willing to face imprisonment and even death. But Jesus responds with the simple rebuke: “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

            Once again, we must remember that we are all in a cosmic spiritual battle. Satan still seeks to sift Jesus’ followers through a sieve by testing their faith. He uses the old tricks of childhood trauma, tragic loss, disease and debilitation, pressure and pain, fear and loneliness to get people to doubt God and turn their backs on him. If Peter could succumb to Satan’s sifting, we should certainly not be overconfident about our faith! Instead, let us humbly ask Jesus to sustain us by his grace.

            And finally, even if we do fall into temptation and our faith fails, let us not linger there forever! May we quickly confess our failure, repent from our sin, be restored, learn from our mistakes, and then get back to serving and strengthening our brothers and sisters!

 

            As I mentioned earlier, there are many other lessons we could learn from Luke’s account of Jesus’ special meal, but these must suffice for today. I encourage you to read this passage again and meditate on its meaning for your life and faith! And may we always remember:

 Jesus divinely directs the details of our lives!

  1. Communion commemorates the fact that Jesus died for us!
  2. True greatness is defined by humble service!
  3. Even when Satan sifts our faith, Jesus sustains us by his grace!

 This should give you enough to chew on for a while!

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The Bitterness of Betrayal
Luke 22:1-6

And he’ll tell her – He’s working late again, But she knows to well there’s something goin’ on.
She’s been neglected – and she needs a friend, So her trembling fingers dial the telephone.

And Lord, it hurts her – doin’ this again, He’s the best friend that her husband ever knew.
When she’s lonely – he’s more than just a friend, He’s the one she loans her body to.

Daytime friends and nighttime lovers  Hoping no one else discovers
Where they go – What they do  In their secret hideaway

Daytime friends and nighttime lovers  They don’t want to hurt the others
So they love – In the nighttime  And shake hands in the light of day.

And when it’s over – there’s no peace of mind, Just a longin’ for the way things should have been.

 

            This old Kenny Roger’s song was a #1 hit on the US country charts back in 1977. It is one of the countless country songs that describes the bitterness of betrayal, which is a common motif in country music. Whether it is a cheating spouse, a boyfriend breaking a promise, a parent walking out on a child, an employer offering an empty expectation, a coworker usurping an opportunity, or a so-called friend stabbing you in the back, betrayal is one of the most excruciating of all human experiences. Unfortunately, most people have tasted the bitterness of betrayal at some point in their lives. Have you?

            Betrayal is such a bitter pill to swallow because it involves deception from an unexpected source. Open opposition from a known enemy is hard enough, but all forms of unfaithfulness and disloyalty are downright devastating. And some of us, even many years later, are still struggling with the lingering effects of such treachery.

            If it is any consolation, even our Lord Jesus Christ tasted the bitterness of betrayal. Luke 22:1-6 records the events that led to the biggest betrayal in human history, where Judas Iscariot, turned his back on the Son of Man. One of his closest companions made a deal with the devil and conspired with the chief priests to get the Son of God crucified.

The Satanic Conspirator

As most of you already know, Judas Iscariot was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. By this time, he had spent over three years with Jesus and had heard his teachings and witnessed his miracles: he watched Jesus walk on water, feed 5000 people with a couple fish and a few loaves of bread, and raise Lazarus from the dead. Judas had every opportunity to become a fully devoted disciple of Jesus Christ, but there was always something about him that wasn’t quite right.

Now it was the last week of Jesus’ life, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (or the Passover) was rapidly approaching. This was the annual holiday when Jewish pilgrims flooded into Jerusalem to celebrate God’s deliverance of the Israelites from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Jesus had been teaching in the temple every day that week since he had entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were fed up with Jesus and now they were actively looking for a way to get rid of him privately because he had become so popular with the public.

It was at that very moment that Luke tells us that “Satan entered Judas.” When Luke said this, he reveals the diabolical dimension behind this scheme. Satan himself—God’s ancient enemy, the devil, reenters the biblical story and tries to get rid of Jesus once again. This was not just some run-of the-mill demonic possession; Judas Iscariot was possessed by Satan himself. This is the only scriptural reference to Satan taking possession of someone’s body. Instead of resisting the devil and trusting in Jesus, Judas opened the door for the devil to come in, and Satan pounced on the opportunity.

At the very least, this verse reminds us of the devil’s power and craftiness. Satan is the prince of darkness and he has the authority to manipulate and afflict people’s lives here on earth. Even if we don’t always acknowledge it as such, we see the effects of satanic influence all around us: drug addiction, domestic violence, child abuse, shootings, terrorism, and genocide, to name a few.

            If Satan could weasel his way into Jesus’ inner circle and take advantage of a disciple who was weakened by his own sinful desires, how much more should we be on guard and build up our spiritual defenses? Like Judas, if we leave ourselves open to the power of the devil by refusing to fully devote ourselves to Jesus, Satan loves to capitalize on an opportunity. But we can resist the devil through the power of Jesus Christ. May we always walk closely with Jesus!

 

The Bitter Betrayer

Even though Judas’ betrayal was influenced by Satan, we still must ask the question, “Humanly speaking, why did Judas betray Jesus? Maybe he was disappointed with Jesus, as most people were. Most Jews were hoping for a military or political Messiah to lead a rebellion against Rome and liberate their people from the oppressive regime. They were looking for an earthly king of a worldly kingdom. But by now, especially after Jesus’ prophesy of the fall of Jerusalem, it had become clear that Jesus was not this type of Messiah. So maybe Judas felt betrayed because Jesus failed to live up to his expectations. (Ryken 452)

What about you? Has Jesus ever failed to live up to your expectations? Have you ever been so disappointed by Jesus that you were tempted to betray him? Maybe he allowed you to experience some tragedy that you felt like you didn’t deserve or maybe he didn’t answer your prayer the way you wanted? Maybe he didn’t deliver you from some physical or emotional burden, and you lost your confidence in him? Disappointment often leads to betrayal!

Or maybe Judas betrayed Jesus purely for monetary profit. For his part in the conspiracy, the chief priests agreed to give him money. And we know from Matthew’s gospel that Judas was the one who brought up the subject of compensation for handing Jesus over, and they agreed to pay him thirty pieces of silver. (Matt. 2615-16) Later, when Judas felt remorse for what he had done, the first thing he did was give the money back. (Matt. 27:3-5) This fits in with what we have learned about Judas from the gospels. All along Judas had been helping himself to the disciple’s treasury. (John 12:6) Money certainly appears to be a leading cause of Judas’ betrayal. The ancient church father, Cyril of Alexandria said, “Those who seek to be rich, fall into numerous and unprofitable lusts, which sink people in pitfalls and destruction. The disciple who became a traitor is clear proof of this, because he perished for the sake of a few miserable coins.” (Ryken 452)

The pursuit of profit can cause people to do strange and horrible things. Money can gain such a hold on people’s hearts that it compels them to betray their friends and even their own family members.

One of my all-time favorite cinematic depictions of monetary betrayal comes from the Coen Brother’s 2000 film “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” where three fugitives are on the run from the authorities. After finding refuge and hospitality at the home of Washington Hogwallop, Pete’s cousin, they are awoken in the middle of the night and find themselves surrounded. The leader of the trio, played by George Clooney, says: “Pete’s cousin turned us in for the bounty.” Pete responds, “The hell you say! Wash is kin!” Washington Hogwallop then shouts, “Sorry, Pete, I know we’re kin, but they got this depression on. I got to do for me and mine.” Pete: I’m gonna kill you, Judas Iscariot Hogwallop! You miserable, horse eaten’ son of a…”

            Sometimes it doesn’t matter if one is family or not: coin trumps kin! This is one of the reasons why the Apostle Paul said, “The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil.” (I Tim. 6:10) Do you know anyone who has ever sold out a friend or family member for money? Betrayal is bitter, indeed!

 

The Betrayer in All of Us

In addition to Judas, the Bible recounts many bitter betrayals. The archangel Lucifer betrayed God. Cain betrayed his brother Abel and murdered him in cold blood. Delilah betrayed Samson and got his eyes gouged out. Job’s friends turned their backs on him when he lost everything. King David betrayed his wife Michal by hooking up with Bathsheba and becoming her baby-daddy! King Herod betrayed his own Jewish people by becoming bedfellows with the Roman Empire.

There have also been many biter betrayals throughout non-biblical history. Marcus Brutus betrayed Julius Caesar (Et tu Brute)—Henry VIII betrayed five of his six wives, not to mention that he beheaded two of them—Benedict Arnold famously betrayed the American Army during the revolutionary war—Lebron James betrayed the Cleveland Cavaliers by defecting to the Miami Heat, and then he betrayed the Heat by going back to the Cavs!

But among all the betrayers in human history, Judas’ is the worst! He committed his treacherous act against the only perfect person who has ever walked on earth. He turned his back on the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. With a two-faced kiss, he betrayed God in human flesh, the very one who was about to die for his sins on the cross.

            Well, I thought Judas’ betrayal was the worst of all time! That is, until I began to think about all the times I chose momentary pleasure, monetary improvement, and imposturous power over following Jesus. That is, until I began to think about all the times I betrayed Jesus with my sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. That is, until I thought about my own selfish ambitions and hypocritical attitudes. When I thought about all these things, I came to the sad realization that I am just as bad, if not worse, than Judas Iscariot. Who am I to cast judgment on Judas as the worst betrayer in the world—when I am just like him?

            If we are brutally honest with ourselves, there is a bit of betrayer in all of us. Sure, Judas’ betrayal kicked off the chain of events that put Jesus on the cross, but we all bear some sinful responsibility for Jesus’ bitter death. Many of us have been the victims of betrayal, but may we never forget that we are guilty of betrayal too!

 

            So, how should we respond to this? First, I hope that we will always remember that Jesus died even for all sins of betrayal. If Judas had humbled himself before Lord and repented from his betrayal, Jesus would have fully forgiven him. Like his fellow disciple, Simon Peter, who denied Jesus three times, he could have been restored completely. But his guilt got the best of him and he hung himself on a tree.

            Some of us are still struggling with guilt from a past betrayal. Confess it! Repent! And give it to Jesus so he can wash it away with his blood once and for all. Learn from your mistake and move on! May your guilt be transformed into gratitude for what Jesus has done for you!

Second, if you are still struggling with the pain of a past betrayal, take comfort from the fact that Jesus is familiar with your anguish and forgive as Jesus forgave you! Betrayal is always bitter, but you don’t have to hold onto the bitterness anymore! Jesus shed his blood for this too. Who betrayed you? Your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister, an aunt, an uncle, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a spouse, a friend, or someone else? Give it to Jesus right now! When you truly experience God’s grace, you can offer grace to the guilty!

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The Beginning of the End
Luke 21:5-8

Last April, Jennifer and I went to New York City for a few days to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. We had a wonderful time at the opera, Broadway, and exploring the many treasures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The only disappointing part of our trip came when we visited the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, which is the largest cathedral in America and the fourth largest one in the world. The cathedral is categorically colossal—it covers 121,000 square feet (601 ft. long, 232 ft. wide, and 124 ft. high). Construction began in 1882 but it wasn’t completed until 1941, spanning almost 60 years.

            Even though the cathedral’s gothic revival architecture was impressive, the stained-glass was stunning, and the tapestries were striking, the building’s interior left us with a hollow and empty feeling. After touring the structure, we decided to attend the morning mass. Unfortunately, it was one of the worst worship services we have ever witnessed. The Episcopal rector mumbled the Scripture reading, murmured an unemotive prayer, and muttered an unintelligible sermon. It was apparent that the priest didn’t put any preparation into his presentation. We had no idea what he was talking about, and neither did he! His words were as empty and lifeless as the cavernous cathedral. And it’s no wonder that this church averages less than a hundred people at its weekly worship.

            Later, when I read the history of the cathedral, I discovered that the primary motivation for building it was to rival the Catholic St. Patrick’s Cathedral on the other end of town. It is a shame that tens of millions of dollars have been spent on “keeping up with the Jones’,” or in this case, keeping up with the Catholics. Tragically, this “ministry” is all about the building. Therefore, allow me to make a recommendation to you: If you ever in New York City and you have a chance to visit the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, go and see “Wicked” instead! It will be a more edifying experience for you!

Our encounter at the cathedral was much like Jesus’ experience at the temple in Jerusalem. In today’s Scripture reading, Luke reveals that Jesus wasn’t impressed by architectural achievements or empty religion. Instead, Jesus uses his disciple’s admiration of the temple structure as an opportunity to announce God’s judgment on the Jewish people for missing the Messiah. As Jesus approached his death on the cross, he announced God’s future judgment on Jerusalem and the whole world. This pivotal event would unleash the beginning of the end.

            So, if you happen to be an end times junkie or you are just curious to know what is going to happen in the future, this passage is for you. Let’s look at it together!

 

Coming Judgment and Destruction

Remember Jesus was teaching in the temple just days before his crucifixion, when he overheard some of his disciples talking about the temple structure and admiring its beauty. The temple was magnificent! With its massive marble platforms, gold covered platelets, and gem studded walls, the Jerusalem temple was one of the most beautiful buildings in the history of the world. The Jewish historian Josephus describes the features—they “glittered so dazzlingly that they blinded the eyes of the beholders not less than one gazed at the sun’s rays themselves.”

But rather than joining in the admiration of the architecture, Jesus took the occasion to continue to prepare his disciples for his ensuing departure. He utters the shocking prophesy that the temple would be destroyed and not one stone would be spared. This prophecy would have been hard to believe, since the temple was in the middle of a 50 plus year grand renovation program.

Amazingly, Jesus’ disciples didn’t dispute his improbable prediction, but they did want to know when this was going to take place and what would be the sign that these things were about to take place. They wanted Jesus to give them a type of divine “heads up.” But Jesus gives them much more than a simple warning; he launches into a full-on dramatic discourse about God’s future judgment.

Jesus’ prophecies address both the immediate question about the destruction of the temple and the bigger question about the end of the world. On one hand, these prophecies of false Messiah’s, wars among the nations, earthquakes and famines, pestilences and persecutions would be fulfilled in A.D. 70 when the Romans would sack Jerusalem and destroy the temple. Verses 20-24 specifically refer to this event, when Jerusalem would be surrounded and trampled by Gentile armies.

But on the other hand, Jesus’ prophecies also have a far fulfillment. This refers to the final judgement at the end of the world. But in verse 9, Jesus says “but the end will not be at once.” This means that God’s judgment on the world will take place over a long period of time. Jesus’ death and resurrection would be the cataclysmic event that would put all of this into motion. This is precisely why there have been many false Messiah’s, wars among nations, earthquakes and famines, pestilences and persecutions over the past 2000 years and they will continue until the day the Son of Man returns in a cloud with power and great glory, as Jesus describes in verse 27.

            Allow me to share an abridged list of the fulfillments of Jesus’ prophecies. As for false Messiah’s, we have Simon Magus in the first century. His story is recorded in Acts 8 in the Bible. We also have Ann Lee in the 1772. She was a central figure in the Shaker movement and she claimed to be Christ’s female counterpart. (The Shakers made excellent furniture, but they weren’t very good messiahs.) And who can forget the cult leaders Jim Jones and David Koresh in the 20th century. (These false messiahs are the reason why I refuse to drink Cool Aid or live in Texas.) And there will be more false messiahs before the real Messiah returns!

              How about nations rising against nation? In addition to the thousands of wars that took place in the early and middle ages, allow me to remind you of some of the wars you have learned about: the 100 Years War, the 30 Years War, the War of the Roses, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, and the Syrian Civil war that we read about in our headlines today. And guess what, wars won’t end until Jesus returns!

How about earthquakes and famines? From the ancient earthquake in Antioch, Turkey (A.D. 526) where 250,000 of its 300,000 inhabitants died to the tsunami in Sumatra, Indonesia that killed another quarter of a million people 2004, earthquakes continue to devastate our world. And from the Irish potato famine in the 1840’s to the great famine in North Korea today, starvation has claimed the lives of millions of people throughout history. Do you know when earthquakes and famines will cease? That’s right, when Jesus returns!

            And for pestilence and persecution, do you remember reading about the black death plague that wiped-out half of Europe’s population from 1347-1351? Or how about the SARS epidemic in 2004? I wonder what the next world health pandemic will be? And the history of Christian persecution goes back to the Christians who were burned by Nero in Rome to the modern persecutions in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. It is said that there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than all the other centuries combined. Unfortunately, none of this will end until Jesus comes back.

            Jesus’ prophecies in this passage really do mark the beginning of the end. But thanks be to God that Jesus will one day return in all his power and glory and bring final judgment and redemption to the earth. We don’t know the day or hour this will take place, but we know that it is coming! The most important question is—are we ready for his return?

 

Readiness for the Return of Christ

            Within this long discourse about the destruction of Jerusalem and God’s judgment of the world, Jesus imbeds five clues to help us prepare for his return!

 

1.) Be Alert (8)

            In verse 8, Jesus warns us to be alert because many false messiahs will come claiming to be the real Christ. There are many imposter prophets out there claiming to know when the end of the world will come. Don’t believe any of them or follow! Jesus is the only true Messiah and his return will be unmistakable!

 

2.) Be Courageous (9)

            In verse 9, Jesus encourages us to be courageous as we endure the end time conflict. These things must take place before the end comes, but there is no reason to be terrified because God is in control. The souls of true believers are protected and secure for eternity, no matter what happens in this life!

 

3.) Bear Witness (13-15)

            In verses 13-15, Jesus tells us that trials and persecutions increase our opportunities to bear witness to him. When we oppressed for our faith, we should not be concerned about what we should say. Jesus himself will give us the words and wisdom to bear witness to Christ and what he has done for us.

 

4.) Be Faithful (16-19)

In verses 16-19, Jesus highlights the fact that some Christians will even be hated by their own family and friends, and some may even be put to death. Sadly, the persecution of Christians is still rampant around the world today. But Jesus calls all o his people to stand firm in their faith, and he promises eternal life to all who do so!

 

5.) Be Encouraged (25-28)

            And finally, in verses 25-28, Jesus speaks of the apocalyptic events that will take place in the sky and on the sea at the end of the end. While non-believer’s faint from the fear of God’s final judgment, believers should be encouraged because our redemption is drawing near! Christian’s have the hope of heaven in their hearts, therefore we can lift our heads and look toward the clouds and rejoice that our suffering will one day come to an end and we will be redeemed once and for all!

 

            Allow me to summarize these five principles and conclude my sermon with a brief story. 

Under the rule of Emperor Claudius the Cruel, Rome was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns. The emperor had to maintain a strong army, but was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. Claudius believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families.

            To get rid of the problem, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. A young priest, realized the injustice of the decree, and defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.

            When the priest actions were finally discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. The priest was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, on or about the year A.D. 270. The priest’s name was Valentine!

            Legend also has it that while in jail, Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, who had become his friend, and signed it “From Your Valentine.” For his great service, Valentine was named a saint after his death.

            As St. Valentine waited for the return of Christ, he endured the harsh persecution and hostility that Jesus spoke about in this passage, but he remained alert, courageous, faithful, and encouraged. He also used the oppression to bear witness to Jesus Christ. As we await the return of Christ, may we do the same!

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Rest in Peace (R.I.P.)
Matthew 11:25-30

A poem by Bryon Cottee titled “Rest in Peace”:

 

A face we love is missing

a voice we know is still,

a place is vacant in all our hearts,

that only you could fill.

Tears in our eyes they won’t go away,

we wish you were here with us today.

We know you never meant to hurt us,

or to make us cry.

Our love for you will always stay,

if only things didn’t end this way.

But now you’ve brought it to the final end,

we will always remember you as our friend.

We love you

Rest in Peace until we meet again

 

If you have ever walked through an old cemetery, you have most likely seen tombstones with the initials R.I.P. “Rest in Peace” is a short epitaph or expression wishing eternal rest and peace to someone who has died. A similar phrase “he sleeps in peace” was found in the catacombs of the early Christians and indicated that “they died in the peace of the Church, that is, united in Christ.” “Rest in Peace” didn’t appear on tombstones until the eighth century, but it became customary on the tombs of Christians in the 18th century as a prayerful request that their soul should find peaceful rest in the afterlife.

            Over the past few weeks we have been exploring the biblical concept of Sabbath rest. We were reminded of how God established the Sabbath rhythm himself by resting on the seventh day after he created the world and everything in it in six days. During Israel’s wilderness wanderings, we saw how God provided enough manna and quail in six days to feed the Israelites for seven days so they might enjoy a Sabbath rest. We also learned that God codified the Sabbath law in the fourth commandment to protect his people from the life of perpetual production that they experienced as slaves in Egypt. And last week, we saw how God established a host of holidays as extensions of the Sabbath to help his people rest from their labor and reflect on God’s character.

            Today I want to conclude our Sabbath series by highlighting the fact that the Sabbath was and is a foreshadowing of the final spiritual rest offered through the person and work of God’s Son Jesus Christ. I want all of us to know that Jesus has invited us to partake of the ultimate and eternal spiritual rest that only he can give! He extends this infamous invitation in Matthew 11:25-30! 

 

Come to Jesus (25-28, 29)

Jesus had just finished pronouncing judgment on the cities and towns in Galilee where he performed his most magnificent miracles. Even though he did some of his greatest work in towns like Bethsaida and Capernaum, by and large the people there rejected him and refused to repent from their sins. He even compared these towns to some of the most wicked cities in ancient history; their pride and arrogance would lead them to Hades instead of heaven.

Jesus expressed his exasperation in his prayer in verse 25. He thanks his Father, who is Lord of heaven and earth, for concealing his gospel from the “wise and understanding” and revealing it to “little children.” These metaphors provide a contrast between those who are self-sufficient and deem themselves wise and those who are humble, dependent, and want to learn the ways of the Lord. God is completely sovereign and it is his prerogative to reveal or conceal his gospel to whomever he chooses—and he chooses to reveal it to people who humble themselves before him.

In verse 27, Jesus declares that he is the exclusive agent of this revelation. Just as the Son praises the Father for revealing and concealing according to his good pleasure, so the Father has authorized the Son to reveal and conceal according to his will. Jesus’ reciprocal relationship with the Father gives him the authority to extend an invitation to all who are weary to find their rest in him. (Carson 277)

Jesus reiterates his invitation to discipleship in verse 29 when he says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…” The “yoke”, put on animals for pulling heavy loads, is a metaphor for discipleship. In contrast to the yoke of the Pharisees that burdened people with more laws, rules, and regulations, Jesus’ yoke is easy and light. He does not burden souls; he gives them rest!

Jesus’ invitation is still good today. He is still bidding everyone who is wearied and weighed down by the cares of the world to come to him and find spiritual rest. He is still calling us to repent from our sins and give up our pride and self-sufficiency! He is still summoning us to put our faith in him and follow in a life of discipleship. He is still offering us eternal salvation so that whenever we die, we can rest in peace in heaven forever!

            Have you accepted his invitation yet? Have you drawn the conclusion yet that you are not good enough, wise enough, or clever enough to get to heaven on your own? Have you humbled yourself before the Lord of heaven and earth and have received Jesus Christ as your Savior? Or is your soul still restlessly wondering and wandering?

            Consider the words from St. Augustine’s Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Also, consider the words of the French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words, by God himself.”

            I hope that we will all give up on trying to pursue our own happiness; for that quest leads to emptiness. Rather, I pray that we will simply come to Jesus and rest in his peace!

All Who are Wearied and Burdened (28)

            Notice to whom Jesus extends this incredible invitation—to “all who are wearied and burdened.” Who fits into this category? Everyone! Because of humanity’s fall in the Garden of Eden, every person bears the burdens of physical toil, emotional exhaustion, and spiritual brokenness to some extent.

            In addition to our normal jobs, many of us bear the physical burdens splitting wood, washing dishes, shoveling driveways, folding laundry, cleaning toilets, replacing plumbing, packing lunches, changing diapers, weeding gardens, tapping trees, cooking meals, and chasing kids. The problem with all these endeavors is that you must keep on doing them. The task is never finished!

            Even if we can keep up with the physical labor in our lives, our bodies begin to break down. As we get older we can look forward to weaker muscles, brittle bones, and saggy skin. Do you get excited when you think about bifocals, hearing aids, and bedpans? How about colonoscopies, CAT scans, and MRI’s? Do you think you will by-pass these things? Think again! They are coming faster than you may realize!

            Not only do we bear physical burdens through life, but we also collect mental and emotional baggage along the way. Some of us carry the weight of personality disorders, perfectionistic tendencies, and private insecurities. Some of us bear the mental burdens of economic apprehensions, employment anxieties, and financial fears. And others carry the emotional stress of marital conflict, family friction, and child discipline. And I haven’t even mentioned anything racial tensions, social unrest, or political squabbling in our nation yet!

            And if this wasn’t enough of a load already, many of us bear the spiritual burdens of our own faith struggles, character flaws, moral temptations, and ethical dilemmas. One of the biggest spiritual burdens people bear today is trying to earn their own salvation. They think that if they are good enough people or do enough good deeds or love enough people that God will somehow cancel out their sins and let them into heaven when they die. All this spiritual striving is exhausting—and pointless! No one can ever be good enough or do enough good deeds to go to heaven. The only way to get to heaven is by accepting Jesus’ invitation to come to him—by receiving him as Lord and Savior—by making a faith commitment to him and becoming his true disciple! Jesus is the only one who can offer rest for the weary and burdened soul!

 

Find Rest for our Souls (29-30)

When Jesus promises “I will give you rest” in verse 28 and “you will find rest for your souls,” in verse 29, he is not merely referring to an afternoon catnap, a good night’s sleep, or even a quiet Sunday morning Sabbath; he is offering eternal spiritual rest for weary souls. He is offering a down payment of peace in this life and ultimate peace and rest in heaven for eternity.

Just as God has given us the gift of the Sabbath, one day a week when we break away from the stressful routine of work and spend time resting, reflecting, and worshipping, Jesus offers us the ultimate Sabbath in heaven, where we will not be subject to any of the consequences of sin.

            In heaven, we won’t carry any of the physical burdens that drag us down in this life. There won’t be any physical problems—no stomach bugs, no root canals, no kidney stones, no strokes, no heart attacks, and no cancer! No more doctor’s appointments, no more medications, no more rehabilitation, no more hospital beds, and no more funerals. Our bodies will rest in peace!

            In heaven, we won’t carry any of the mental or emotional burdens that plague us now. No more mental illness, no more shootings, no more addictions, no more layoffs, no more break ups, and no more poverty or prejudice. And for you political junkies, there will be no more “alternative facts” or “fake news” in heaven! Our minds will rest in peace!

            In heaven, there will be no more spiritual struggles—no more character flaws or moral failures! We will live in perfect harmony with God and each other. We will truly rest in peace!

 

            One day someone will walk through an old cemetery and see your tombstone. Your name, birthdate, and death date will be inscribed on that block of granite.  It may even bear the letters R.I.P. or the words “Rest in Peace.” But will you really be resting in peace?

            Come to Jesus, all you who are weary and burdened, and he will give you rest!

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Politics & Religion
Luke 20:19-26

A little boy wanted $100.00 very badly, so he prayed for two weeks but nothing happened. Then he decided to write God a letter requesting $100.00. When the postmaster received the letter addressed to God, U.S.A., she decided to send it to the President.
The President was so impressed and amused that he instructed his secretary to send the boy $50.00. Mr. President thought that this would appear to be a lot of money to the little boy.
The little boy was delighted with the $50.00 and immediately sat down to write a thank you note to GOD that read: “Dear God, thank you very much for sending me the money. However, I noticed that for some reason you send it through Washington, D.C., and, as usual, those devils took half of it.”   

            This little story illustrates the way many Americans feel about taxes and politics—that our tax system is unfair and that our government is filled with scoundrels. The story also highlights the way many Americans approach God—as a cosmic Santa Claus who should give us whatever we ask. This is why so many people believe that “God is on my side but the government is against me!” This is obviously a false dichotomy, but one thing is for sure: the relationship between politics and religion has always been complicated.

Philip Ryken, the former senior pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and the current president of Wheaton College in Illinois, says:

            If you want to start a good argument, start talking about religion, or politics—either one. But if you want to start a war, then bring your religion into your politics.

            Few things seem to cause more difficulty than an unholy alliance between political power and religious faith. This is as true of Christianity as it is of any other religion. Think of the Crusades, or the Inquisition, or apartheid. Or think of the way Christianity was used to defend slavery. Then think of all the trouble we have doing evangelism today because when people hear about Christianity, they immediately associate it with a political perspective.

            In America, the close identification between the evangelical church and conservative politics makes it more difficult for secular people to give a fair hearing of the gospel. Then when we go abroad, where America is typically regarded as a Christian country, we find that people’s attitudes about Christianity are deeply affected by their opinion of U.S. foreign policy—often to the detriment of the missionary work of the gospel.

            My point is not to advocate this or that political philosophy, but simply to say that it is hard to get politics and religion right, and that when we get them wrong—as people often do, including Christians—it causes not end of trouble. (Ryken 362)

            It certainly is difficult to get the relationship between politics and religion right. We have seen this very clearly during this election cycle. But, in this morning’s Scripture reading, Jesus goes a long way to help us resolve the issue!

 

Trapping a Lion

Let me remind you that Jesus is now in the final days before his crucifixion. He has already ridden into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and the people have hailed him as the king who comes in the name of the Lord. He cleansed the temple of thieves and robbers who were extorting the peasants who came to worship the Lord. He taught publicly in the court of the gentiles and everyone hung on his every word. The religious leaders were jealous and felt threatened, so they began to challenge his authority. Jesus rebuked them with a scathing parable that exposed their hypocrisy and predicted their culpability in killing the Son of God.

As you can imagine, the religious leaders were livid, and as fire flamed in their eyes and smoke seeped out of their ears, verse 19 tells us, they sought to lay hands on him that very hour. How dare this country preacher from Galilee challenge their religious and political authority!

But the problem was that Jesus had become so popular with the people, that they could not get dispose of him and maintain their outward reputation. They needed to find a clever way to discredit him. So, they sent some spies from their ranks to infiltrate Jesus’ band of disciples so that they might catch him in something that he said and bring charges against him in front of the Roman governor, who had the authority to pronounce a sentence of execution.

These spies were crafty. They set their trap by buttering him up with empty words of flattery, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God.”

Let me pause for a moment and give you some free advice: Always beware of the motives of someone who strokes your ego and fills your head with words of flattery. My wife does this to me all the time. She says, “Have I told you lately how smart and handsome…? And I interrupt her mid-sentence and say, “What do you want this time?”

Then the spies show the depth of their guile by asking him a question that is not only politically charged and religiously controversial. How do you make a public figure uncomfortable? Back them into a corner where the walls of politics and religion meet! And this is exactly what they did to Jesus when they asked him, “Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?”

This was an explosive question in those days, and the answer one gave was potentially fatal. (It was worse than asking Hilary Clinton about her e-mails or Donald Trump about his tax returns!) The tribute was the basic Roman tax imposed upon every Jewish citizen—the price one paid for the privilege of living and working in the Roman Empire. The tax was highly unpopular, as most taxes are. This was not just for economic reasons, but also for political and religious reasons. The tax, to some extent, forced the Jews to participate in an oppressive government and a pantheistic religion. Thus, some zealous Jews considered the payment of the tribute to be a sin because the Romans were robbing money that rightly belonged to God. That is why, on occasion, the imposition of the tax had stirred up violent uprisings in Israel. (Ryken 364)

This question was a catch 22 for Jesus. It set him between the proverbial rock of religion and the hard place of politics. If Jesus supports paying the Roman tax, his allegiance to the Jews will be questioned. If he sides with the Jews, then the Romans would be called.

Although the spies devised a brilliant plan, once again they did not realize who they were dealing with. They were not clever enough to outfox the Son of God. Their nets were not strong enough to trap the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Jesus saw right through their smoke and mirrors and turned the tables back on them when he asked them to show him a denarius and asked, “Whose likeness and inscription does it have on it?”

The Roman silver coin, used for paying the tax, bore the portrait of the emperor and inscription “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, Augustus.” Strict Jews therefore regarded it as idolatrous and so refused to use it; copper coins were available for daily commerce. By getting the religious leaders to produce a denarius, Jesus exposed their supposed patriotism as nothing more than hypocrisy. Their money proved that they were part of the Roman economy, and thus that Caesar had a claim on their economic lives. (France 321)

Then Jesus gave his dramatic response to their diabolical question: “Then render unto Caesar what is Caesars, and to God what is God’s.” Once again, Jesus silenced his foes and slipped through their trap. During the process, he also established the proper Christian attitude toward the relationship between politics and religion. The people could hardly object to giving Caesar the coin that already bore his image, but not the worship he tried to claim by using a divine title. Although Caesar’s image was inscribed on the coin, God’s image is inscribed on every human being. Jesus is saying that it is possible to be both a faithful Christian and a responsible citizen: the kingdom of God can coexist with the Roman Empire.

Therefore, my friends, Jesus wants his people, both then and now, to first and foremost, be faithful to God; and we also need to be good and responsible citizens of the state, even if we don’t like it or disagree with its leadership, policies, or practices. So, what does this practically mean for us? Let me highlight a few implications of Jesus’ famous statement by asking what is Caesar’s and what is God’s?

 

What is God’s?

            Since it is easier for us to identify, let’s begin with what belongs to God. As Christians, we already know that everything belongs to God, but sometimes we need specific reminders about Christian trifecta: time, talent, and treasure. How are we using the resources that God has given us to love and serve him? He is our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer, and we own him everything!

 

What is Caesars?

1.) Pay Our Taxes!

            This is the most obvious and immediate application of Jesus’ words. If Jesus advocates for the Jews to pay taxes to Rome, which was far more cruel and oppressive than most governments throughout history, he certainly wants us to do this today. For those of you who may protest because our government is using our tax money to promote ungodly policies, get over it! You may hate that some of your money goes to support war, abortion, or some other activity that you find morally repulsive, but that is not your decision! That being said, if you don’t like something, I encourage you to get involved in legitimate ways of changing it! So, if you want to honor Jesus, pay your taxes!

 

2.) Pray for Our Leaders

We all know how easy it is to criticize our political and civic leaders when we don’t walk in their shoes. It is much harder to humble ourselves and get down on our knees and pray for our leaders, especially the one whom we didn’t vote for. The New Testament calls on all Christians to pray for their governing officials. So, if we want to honor Jesus, pray for our political leaders!

 

3.) Practice Civil Obedience

            God wants us to respect and obey the laws of the land, even the ones we find ridiculous or trivial. This is how an orderly society is maintained. In the words of the Augsburg Confession: “The Gospel does not introduce any new laws about the civil estate, but commands us to obey the existing laws, whether they were formulated by the heathen or others, and in this obedience practice love.” (Article 16) There are, of course, times when the government may force Christians to act against God’s Word and moral law. Civil disobedience should only be considered as a last resort, when all attempts to honor the law have been exhausted!

 

4.) Participate in Public Life

            God has called his people to be salt and light for him everywhere we live, work, and play! For too many Christians have adopted a “Christ against culture” philosophy where they barricade and isolate themselves from society with the hopes that their “holy huddles” will prevent them from being influenced by the evils in the world around them. To render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s includes Christians serving their broader communities; not just their churches. Jesus is honored when Christians serve in civic positions, public schools, healthcare fields, justice initiatives, agricultural enterprises, and a host of other ways. How are you participating in public life? At the very least, I hope you will vote on Tuesday!

 

In the light of Jesus’ words here, let me conclude this sermon by offering a brief reflection on Tuesday’s election: For those of you who think our country is doomed in Hilary Clinton is elected, fear not! For those of you who think that our society will fall apart if Donald Trump is elected, take courage! Jesus, the Son, is still seated on the throne! And if the kingdom of God could endure the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Nero, Domitian, and a host of other tyrannical political leaders throughout history, it will certainly endure four years of Clinton or Trump! So, cheer up and remember that God is in control!

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The Crying King
Luke 19:28-44

How many of you remember the television show M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital)? When I was a kid, I hated M*A*S*H, but my Dad loved it, which meant that we watched the show all the time.

In one of the earlier episodes of M*A*S*H, the doctor known as “Trapper John” gets diagnosed with a stomach ulcer. Although initially upset about having to deal with a hole in his gut, Trapper John soon beams with joy when his bunkmate Hawkeye reminds him that according to Army regulations, Trapper was going home! His ulcer was his ticket out of the misery of the Korean War. 

            As the episode progresses, they arrange a huge farewell party for Trapper John. But minutes before Trapper shows up for his party, he is informed by the Company Clerk, Radar, that the Army had recently changed its regulations and his ulcer would have to be treated right there in Korea. Trapper goes to the party anyway and allows the festivity and joy of the evening to proceed for a good long while until he’s asked to give a final speech, at which time he tells everyone the truth: he’s not going anywhere after all.

            But throughout the party, both Trapper John and Radar have a look in their eyes that betrays the truth, if anyone had looked close enough to notice. Trapper John smiles and even laughs during the party at times but it’s a bit muted and the sadness in his eyes tells the reason why: it’s a nice party but it’s not going to end the way he had hoped or the way all the other partygoers were anticipating.

I wonder if someone had looked deep into Jesus’ eyes on Palm Sunday if they might have seen something similar. Like the other gospel writers, Luke portrays Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as a joyful celebration of the arrival of the king, but Luke’s version includes some dark events and some ominous words. I wonder if the sorrow in Jesus’ eyes said, “This is a nice party but it’s not going to end the way all the partygoers were anticipating.” Let’s take a look at Luke’s version of the triumphal entry story!

 

The Humble King (28-38)

As Jesus approached Jerusalem, he began to direct the events. Near Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, some two miles from Jerusalem, he tells his disciples to procure an animal for entry into the capital. Luke describes the animal only as a previously unridden colt, but the other gospel writers specify the colt as a donkey. The disciples must untie the animal, and if anyone asks what they are doing, they are to simply say that the Lord needs it. This may seem a bit strange to us today, but in this culture it was customary for dignitaries such as rabbis to use people’s property for personal reasons. (For instance, if your pastor tells you that he needs to borrow your vacation home or time-share for the Lord’s work, don’t ask any questions!) The owners had no objection to the disciples taking the colt once they knew that it was needed for the Lord’s service.

Once the donkey was secured, Jesus’ disciples fashioned a makeshift saddle out of their cloaks and mounted him on the beast. As he rode along, the a large crowd of people gathered and laid their cloaks on the ground to create a type of royal red carpet; they waved their palm branches in patriotic fervor; and they sang their hosannas of praise to God and shouted the words of Psalm 118:26: “Blessed is he who come in the name of the Lord.” Their king had finally come, and it was time to celebrate. But the whole time Jesus knew it wasn’t going to end the way the crowd was expecting; for he was not the type of king they were expecting.

Jesus’ choice of animal to ride for his coronation celebration shows us what kind of king he would be. A common donkey, a beast of burden, symbolized peace and gentleness. Kings typically rode on war horses, which symbolized pride and power. Jesus rode a donkey because would not succumb to the expectations of the crowd. He was not a political or military king. His mission was not to conquer the Romans or deliver the Jews from physical oppression. He was a humble king who came to conquer Satan and deliver the world from the penalty of sin.

            It is so sad, but people treat Jesus the same way today! It is easy to get excited about Jesus when we think he is going to give us what we want, but it is just as easy to turn our backs on him when he disappoints us. We love to pray to Jesus when we or a loved one is sick, but if Jesus doesn’t heal, we don’t want to pray anymore. We are quick to serve Jesus when we think he supports our personal agendas, but we want nothing to do with him when we find out that his plans are different from our plans. 

Jesus’ actions at the triumphal entry show what kind of king he is and isn’t! The irony shows us Jesus’ kingship is not a political or military, but it is spiritual. Jesus is no one’s political advocate or military conqueror; he is a humble king who came to Jerusalem to die for the salvation for our souls. Have you received Jesus as your savior and king?

 

Singing Stones (39-40)

Well, not everyone was celebrating the arrival of the king. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, Luke tells us that a group of Pharisees approach Jesus and ask him to reject the claims of kingship and rebuke his disciples. These claims were offensive to them. They did not even believe that Jesus was a genuine prophet from God, let alone the promised Messiah or Son of God. They saw only a false prophet riding on a donkey. They thought the crowd’s claims were blasphemous and they demanded that Jesus to put a stop to it.

But Jesus refused to silence the people’s praises. Instead, he rebukes the Pharisees when he says, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” By this, he is saying that if his disciples do not speak, the rest of creation will. He is implying that the inanimate creation knows more about what is taking place than they do. The Pharisees do not understand the nature of the God they spend so much time talking about. But for those who do see the king, praise is the only appropriate response!

            Like the Pharisees, we all have to make a decision about Jesus! Is he the King of Kings or a false prophet riding on a donkey? Was the crowd shouting words of blasphemy or words of worship? Do you understand the nature of the God you talk about? Have you made a decision about Jesus Christ?

If Jesus really is the King, our only appropriate response is praise and worship! When we consider who he really is and what he has done for us by dying on the cross for our sins, praise should leap from the depth of our souls to the tips of our tongues! Therefore, I say to you today: If Jesus is the king, speak his praise from your mouth! If Jesus is the king, shout his praise with your lips! If Jesus is the king, proclaim his praise with your whole being! Because if you don’t, the rocks will!

 

A Crying King (41-44)

As Jesus approached Jerusalem, Luke gives us a unique look at Jesus’ heart. As Jesus looked up at the holy city in the distance, I wonder what thoughts went through his mind? Perhaps he thought about the glory of King David when he established Jerusalem as Israel’s capital a thousand years earlier. Perhaps he thought about all of the words that the prophets had spoken about this city. Perhaps he was thinking about how in just a few days his hands and feet would be nailed to a wooden cross and he would be lifted up to die in that city. One thing we can be sure of it that he thought about how the Jewish people had waited so long for the arrival of the Messiah, and now that he was here, they had rejected him.

All of the emotions of Jesus’ humble humanity came to him at once; deep sorrow filled his heart and tears began to stream down his face. Amid all of the shouts and cheers of this Palm Sunday celebration, he began to weep over the city. Jesus was a crying king!

Like the weeping prophet Jeremiah from the Old Testament, with tears in his eyes, Jesus declares pending judgment for the nation. Though some individuals had responded to his call, the nation as a whole had rejected him. Rejection of the divinely selected king will cost greatly. The nation of Israel missed the Messiah who could bring them true peace, and now it was time for him to go. The consequence for missing the Messiah was physical destruction. Here Jesus looks ahead to A.D. 70 when the Roman government would have enough of the Jewish rebellions and would destroy Jerusalem. They would rampage the walls, demolish the temple, and murder the children.

            As we see Jesus’ tears trickle down his cheeks and consider Jesus’ prophecy of judgment on Jerusalem, it ought to cause us to stop and think about what we have done with the Messiah; both individually and as a nation. Have you put your faith in Jesus Christ as your savior or have you been holding him at arm’s length? Have you accepted him as your king or have you been rejecting the call of his kingdom? I plead with you to bow your life before the king today! Rejection always leads to judgment!

            And for our nation, I don’t know about you, but I fear for a nation that would reject Jesus with its attitudes, law, and policies. I fear for a nation that has the audacity to declare something right when God has called it wrong. I wonder about the consequences for a nation that has been visited by God but has missed him. Missing the Messiah always leads to judgment!

            It was thirty or so years after Jesus uttered these words before Jerusalem was destroyed. I wonder how long it will be before…

 

            Well, as we worship together today, remember that Jesus is a humble king who came to die to atone for our sins! Remember to wave your palm leaves, shout your blessings, and sing your praises to the king; if you don’t, the rocks will! But while you celebrate, make sure to remember to look at Jesus’ face. Make sure you see his tears of rejection and impending judgment. Make sure you know what will bring you true peace! Make sure you recognize the time of God’s coming to you! Make sure you hear the call of the crying king!

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