Sunday, September 14, 2014

Render unto Caesar, render unto God, Luke 20: 19-26

Today’s passage is one that is probably familiar to many of you here today.  It’s been used in a variety of contexts, not the least of which is to augment the idea of the separation of church and state.  However, it does not teach that.  Neither Jesus or the apostles ever taught separation of church and state.  That is not a Christian doctrine, but it is decidedly an anti-Christian doctrine that has been foisted upon us by an anti-Christian government, and fortified by a misinterpretation of this passage.  God is sovereign over all the world, and as such is sovereign over all governments of the world.  Man only thinks that he can separate government from God.

But we will look at the correct interpretation of this passage in just a moment.  First of all though let’s look at the context of this event.  This event comes as part of a trilogy of trick questions, concocted by a delegation made up of representatives of every religious faction in Israel; notably the chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, the Herodians and the Sadducees.  I will not bore you with the differences between these various factions.  Just know that  this was the equivalent of  getting the Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians and the Tea Party to all come together and agree on something.  All of these parties were traditionally political enemies or at least adversaries for religious control in Israel.  So getting them together and in agreement meant only one thing, Jesus was a considered a greater enemy, a greater threat to all of them than they were to each other. So these former enemies were united by a common enemy.

The only problem was that Jesus was anything but common.  And so they constantly were undone by Jesus’ wisdom which surpassed all their combined cunning and scheming.  But that doesn’t seem to stop them from trying.  These guys kind of remind me of Wile E. Fox on the old Roadrunner cartoons.  They keep coming up with these elaborate, clever schemes, and Jesus turns them right around on them time after time.  We saw that last week with the question they had concerning from where He got His authority.  Jesus answered their question with a question of His own which they could not answer without revealing their duplicitous nature, so they had to plead the fifth.  His wisdom is beyond their capacity to refute. 

But like Wile E. Coyote, these guys don’t know when to quit.  They become even more angry, more spiteful and even more cunning in their attempt to catch Him in something they can use to destroy Him.  Look at vs. 19-20;  “The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on Him that very hour, and they feared the people; for they understood that He spoke this parable against them.  So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, in order that they might catch Him in some statement, so that they could deliver Him to the rule and the authority of the governor.”

It’s interesting that Luke characterizes these spies as having to pretend that they were righteous.  Even though they were the religious elite, they had to pretend to be righteous.  So these spies who are pretending to be righteous come to Jesus, try to blend in with the crowd and then try to trick Jesus by asking Him a predetermined question that had been concocted by their superiors, the highest ranking officials in the religious orders of Israel.  It was a question designed to trap Jesus no matter which way He answered it.  As far as they were concerned, it had no right answer.  They thought that there were only two ways of answering it, and one way would seriously hurt Jesus’ standing with the people, and answering it the other way would put Him in trouble with the Roman government.  And they really thought He would answer it in such a way as to enable them to charge Him with sedition against the Roman government.  That was really their plan.  That way He would be executed by the Romans and they would seem to be innocent of the whole affair.  But of course they would reap the benefits by regaining and maintaining the status quo of their religious standing.

So here is their question, vs. 21,22; They questioned Him, saying, "Teacher, we know that You speak and teach correctly, and You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth.  "Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?"

Now we have already noted their craftiness, but notice also their flattery.  Be wary of people that come to you with flattering speech, ladies and gentlemen. Righteous pretenders love to use flattery to get an advantage. Some of the greatest injury to our church has come through people who were adept at flattery.  They love to butter you up by lavishing compliments on you before they stick the butter knife in your back.  Beware of flattery.  Note also that their own speech condemns them.  They say we know you speak the truth.  I love that one.  Those same flatterers that I have had the pleasure of encountering can’t help but say something to the effect like “Roy is a great teacher, no one is preaching the word of God like Roy is.”  And yet in the next breath they condemn you for preaching too much of it.  They criticize your doctrine.  One day they will be judged by their own words. 

So herein lies the craftiness of their question.  They really think that Jesus is just a rabble rouser.  He has a rough band of disciples traveling with Him that are made up of fishermen and tax collectors and at least one or two of them are considered Zealots.  The Zealots were radical insurrectionists who wanted to overthrow the rule of the Romans.  So that is more than likely the association that they made with Jesus.  They supposed that He would oppose paying taxes to Caesar.  Now if they could get Him to say that, then they would have a hangable offense with which to charge Jesus and bring Him before a Roman court. 

In fact, even though Jesus does not say that you should not pay taxes, actually quite the opposite, it does not stop them from lying and claiming that He said that when they brought Him before Pilate a few days later. Luke 23:2 says, “And they began to accuse Him, saying, ‘We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.’"

But the other possible answer that they supposed Jesus would say was just as condemning.  Because Caesar claimed to be divine and was considered a god in the pantheon of Roman Gods.  So if Jesus supported taxation they could not only use that to hurt His standing among the common people who were handicapped by the severe Roman tax on just about everything, but they could also claim He was guilty of breaking  Jewish law.  Furthermore, in the law it says that you shall make no graven image and the currency of the Roman government, particularly the denarius, was engraved with the image of the Emperor. So they figured they would get Him either way He answered, and they really expected Him to side with the insurrectionists.

Look at how Jesus answers them though.  His wisdom exceeds their trickery.  Vs. 23-25 “But He detected their trickery and said to them, ‘Show Me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?’ They said, ‘Caesar's.’ And He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

Now this is a brilliant answer, not only because He eludes their trap, but because He establishes truth in such a way that it becomes an enduring principle for the ages.  He doesn’t just answer their question in such a way as to escape immediate judgment, or get out of the question, but He fully answers them in a way in which they cannot refute, and at the same time establishes an enduring principle for how we are to live our lives today no matter what the culture or the time period we find ourselves in.  Such is the nature of the truth of the Word of God.  It is timeless.  It is enduring.  Even 2000 years later it is still relevant, still pertinent and still true.  That is why we preach the word of God, ladies and gentlemen.  It is truth, it is eternal truth, and only the truth will set you free.  Man’s attempts at rationalization cannot even begin to address life’s great questions, but God’s truth is able to discern between truth and error and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Jesus gives a two part answer and so I want to examine each part in turn.  Each part is a principle that we can employ as we make decisions on a day to day basis as to how we are to live in a godless world.  The first part of Jesus’ answer is, “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”  Now this is brilliant.  First of all, Jesus asks them for a denarius.  Matthew adds some additional information in his gospel which helps us to understand the significance of this a little better. In Matt. 22:19 Jesus says "Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax." And they brought Him a denarius.”  A poll tax was the tax levied at the census, when everyone had to register.  If you remember, that was the reason Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem to register for the census and pay a poll tax.  So this was the particular tax that the religious leaders were addressing.  And that poll tax was paid with Roman currency, which was a denarius. So Jesus asks to see the coin that was required by the Romans. 

And He asks them to tell Him what image and inscription is on the coin.  The answer is that it was Caesar, probably Tiberius Caesar, and the inscription even alluded to his divinity.  The point Jesus is making is that this is Caesar’s money, his image is engraved on it and his inscription is engraved on it.  So Jesus says, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” 

Now it’s helpful I think to understand the word translated “render.”  It is “ä-po-dē'-dō-mē” in the original Greek.  It means to pay back a debt, to give back something that belongs to someone else, to repay.  Now that helps us to understand what Jesus is saying.  Not only does the money belong to Caesar’s government, but the idea is that Caesar has provided certain things as the head of the government, and that has incurred a debt on their part.  They must repay that debt to the government. 

Now that is a godly principle, is it not?  We are to pay our debts.  If we owe something to someone, Jesus said in Matt. 5, then before you go to the temple to present yourself to worship God, go make amends with the one whom you owe.  In other words, you cannot worship God when you owe a debt to someone that you haven’t paid.  We saw that principle when we looked at Zaccheus a few weeks ago.  When he got right with God he immediately wanted to get right with those he had defrauded.  

So in effect what Jesus is saying is that since you owe the government for it’s services, it’s protection, it’s roads, it’s enforcement of laws, give them what is due them.  Pay your taxes because it’s a debt that you owe to the government for providing certain services to it’s citizens.  See, rather than teaching the separation of church and state, the Biblical principle is that God has established government to be His ministers of justice and order and the rule of law.  Paul says in Romans 13:1-2 “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”  He goes on to say in Rom. 13:5-8 “Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake.  For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.  Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”  And then Paul states the overriding principle in vs. 8 “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”  That’s the royal law of God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Even to the point of loving your enemy.

Let me tell you something to help put this in perspective.  When Paul wrote these words he was most likely in prison awaiting trial by none other than the Caesar of that period, who was the evil Emperor Nero.  This man would one day have Paul’s head cut off.  This was an emperor who castrated a young man and then married him in a public, royal, homosexual marriage ceremony.  This was the same guy that used to light up his palace gardens for parties at night  with Christians burning on stakes.  And yet Paul says give honor to whom honor is due.  As citizens we have a debt to our government that must be honored, even when it is not a God honoring government.

Now you may say well maybe Paul didn’t realize how bad Nero was.  Well, Jesus certainly knew how bad Tiberius Caesar was.  When Jesus looked at that denarius and said render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, He knew full well that in just 3 days by Caesar’s government He himself would be led like a sheep to the slaughter to hang from a cross by Roman soldiers.  And yet Jesus said, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesars.”  Listen, it’s not for you to rebel against those whom God has given a measure of authority to.  God established government for the benefit of His kingdom.  And God will hold Caesar accountable for things that belong to Caesar.  But He will also hold you accountable for your subjection to authority.

Peter says in 1 Peter 2:13-14, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” By such faithful acts, Christians “may silence the ignorance of foolish men” and be found as good citizens.  We give no cause for offense to the government by disobeying the government.  We owe them good citizenship.  And when we do so we can silence the critics. 

And that is exactly what happened here in the passage in Luke.  The religious leaders were silenced by the answer of Jesus.  They were unable to find fault with the wisdom of God. Luke 20:26  “And they were unable to catch Him in a saying in the presence of the people; and being amazed at His answer, they became silent.” Listen, if you want to silence your critics then rely upon the wisdom of God’s word and be obedient to God’s principles. Are you having wife problems? “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”  Fulfill the royal law, love one another.  Even love your enemy.  Are you having husband problems? “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”  Fulfill the royal law, love one another.  Even love your enemy.  Are you having business problems? “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”  Fulfill the royal law, love one another.  Even love your enemy.  No matter what the problem in this world of relationships, the answer is the same.  Owe no one nothing, instead love them. Give them what is due them. Honor them.  Respect them.  And you will silence your critics.

Now let’s look at the other side of the equation.  “Render unto God the things that are God’s.”  Now how are we to understand this principle?  Well, first of all, use the same formula that Jesus used in the first principle.  What did God make in His image?  Man.  Man was made in the image of God. Gen. 1:27 says,  “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  Folks, I don’t know if you have  contemplated the full implications of that verse or not.  But I have as far as my limited intellectual capacity allows.  We looked at it extensively in our study of Genesis that we have been doing on Wednesday night. 

To be made in the image of God indicates a number of things. But one thing is fundamental.  We were not made to be autonomous. We were not made to be independent, free agents. We were made for God’s purposes. We were made to be the bride of Christ.  We were made to be the objects of God’s love, to be like God, conformed to the image of Christ.  To be one Spirit with God. To be one in fellowship and communion with God.  That is why God made man.  Ephesians 5 makes it clear that marriage between a man and a woman is a picture of the church’s relationship with Christ. Just as a husband and his wife are to be one flesh, so Christ and His church are to be one spirit.  That is why Christ gave His life for the church, because He loved her with an even greater love than a man loves his bride.  God made man for His glory, for His pleasure, to satisfy His purposes.  We are not some cosmic accident.  We belong to God because He made us specifically for Himself. 

Now once you start to comprehend that concept, then the principle, “render unto God the things that are Gods” starts to become a little more clear, doesn’t it?  At the very least, we must respond in love to God’s love towards us.  We must give our lives to God, commit our lives to God.  We must give back our lives for His glory.  We must give ourselves totally and completely to Him, forsaking all others, being faithful only to your Him so long as you shall live... so help you God.  That’s where you start.  That’s what it means to render to God the things that are God’s. 

That’s what it means to be a Christian, by the way.  It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.  But don’t you dare take that word relationship lightly or flippantly.  It’s not a flirtatious relationship, it’s not a relationship marked by infidelity.  It’s not a relationship based on a casual friendship.  It’s not a modern day kind of relationship where you take all you can get without commitment, without sacrifice.   But “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”  Fulfill the royal law, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your might.” 

Listen, this passage isn’t so much a treatise on the importance of paying your taxes.  It’s the message of the gospel.  You were made and stamped in the image of God.  You were made for communion and a relationship with God. You were made to be one with God.  But sin broke that communion and relationship.  Man rebelled against his Maker, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.  Man obeyed Satan’s word, and rebelled against God’s word and as such rightly brought upon himself the sentence of death.  But God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes on Him, should not perish but have eternal life.   The eternal Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us.  But the world did not know Him.  They rejected Him.  These religious leaders, Peter said later in Acts 2, “delivered [Jesus] over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, and nailed Him to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.  But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.”

This same Jesus is now seated in heaven at the right hand of the Father, having paid the penalty for sin to those that will believe in Him.  Peter said, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself."  This is the plan of God to reconcile man, to make him holy by the blood of Jesus, and to put His Spirit within them so that they might be one with Him.

Ladies and gentlemen, the question of the hour is simply this.  Have you rendered unto God the things that are God’s?  Have you given Him your life?  Are you withholding from God what you rightfully owe Him?  One day every knee will bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Caesars will bow, kings will bow, presidents will bow, all the governments will bow before the throne of Christ.  But those who gave their lives in faith to Christ in this life will be seated on the throne beside Him in the next life.  And those who refused to bow to Him in this life, those who refused to give Him honor in this life, those who rebelled against Him in this life, even though they may bow then, will not be part of His kingdom.  But they will be cast out of the marriage feast into a place prepared for the devil and his angels, the Lake of Fire. 

I trust that if you  have committed your life to a marriage relationship with Christ you will be found to be a good steward today.  Not only of your obligations to the government, to your marriage, to your employer, to every governing authority established by God, but also I hope you are found to be a good steward of your obligation to God. 1Cor. 6:19-20 says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”  Render to God the things that are God’s.  God requires nothing less than your very life, your will, your purpose.  God rightly demands it all.  Give back  unto God the things that are God’s.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The rejection of the cornerstone; Luke 20:9-18

As I’m sure you realize by now, it is imperative that as we study each passage in Luke’s gospel, we must always consider the context in which it is found in first of all.  And so today we must remember that this parable comes as a result of the religious leaders of Jerusalem indignantly demanding to know what authority Jesus was coming into the temple and throwing out the vendors and money changers, and teaching and preaching to the people.  They wanted to know who or what was His authority.

But instead of answering them directly, Jesus asked them a question.  He said, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell Me: Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?”  And of course, the religious leaders decided that they couldn’t publicly answer that question because the people rightly believed that John was a prophet, in fact he was the prophet foretold of in Malachi that would prepare the way for the Messiah.  So if they said that John was a prophet of God, then the obvious rebuttal would be “then why didn’t you believe him?”  And if they said he wasn’t a prophet, the people might rise up and stone them.  So they said, “we cannot say”, or “we don’t know.”  They pled the fifth.  And so Jesus says, “neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Now that is the context in which Jesus gives this parable.  It is an indirect way of answering them.  He won’t answer them directly, but in the course of the parable, the answer will become clear where He gets His authority.  But there is another context to this passage that is not quite so apparent, yet just as important.

The greater context of this parable is found in the Old Testament.  The prophet Isaiah and Jeremiah as well as the Psalmist David spoke of Israel as a vineyard.  It was a well known allegory that especially the religious leaders would be familiar with.  And Isaiah in particular seems to be the one that Jesus is drawing inspiration from in this parable.  Let’s look at it for a moment.

Isaiah 5: 1 “Let me sing now for my well-beloved A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. 2 He dug it all around, removed its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it And also hewed out a wine vat in it; Then He expected it to produce good grapes, But it produced only worthless ones. ... 4 "What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? 5 "So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. 6 "I will lay it waste; It will not be pruned or hoed, But briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it." 7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel And the men of Judah His delightful plant.”

So in Isaiah 5 you have a song about the land of Judah in Israel.  And God speaks allegorically how he protected and provided for and nurtured Israel.  How He did everything He could do to provide for her and protect her.  And that as a result of His providence He expected to see Judah produce good fruit.  But instead, the song says that Judah produced nothing but worthless sour berries.  So God pronounces a curse upon them and says that He will remove His protection from them and let the animals and the thieves and whatever else may come in and ravage the land.

Israel’s defining characteristic  was that it did not worship a pantheon of idols, but worshipped the only true God, Jehovah. God had revealed Himself to them, through Abraham and then Moses and the prophets.  God had given them His word, His promises and His law. God’s word told them that they were to be different from all the other nations of the world not only in customs and diet and ceremonies, but in every facet of society, they were to be a holy people, set apart by God to be His people exclusively, to be a testimony and a witness to the world.

But though God kept His promise and providentially drove out all their enemies and blessed them with every conceivable blessing, the people took advantage of His providence to indulge their own greediness and corruption.  Furthermore, they lusted after the things that the rest of the world had. The prophets often used the analogy of a wife that turned  to whoredom and prostitution, going after every gross desire of the flesh to describe how Israel repeatedly went after the false gods of other nations and worshipped them.  They constantly wanted to be like the other pagan countries that surrounded them.

So God reminds them through this song in Isaiah that He had done everything for them that He could possibly do, taken away their enemies, protected them, provided for them in every way, but they had failed to produce fruit. And God warns them that because of their rebellion the day will come when He will turn away from them and His protective presence will be withdrawn.  One day they will wake up and find themselves like Samson, who the Bible says did not realize that God’s strength had left him and shook himself and went out to face his attackers and was captured and tortured.  So it will be with Israel.

Isaiah’s song goes on to say that even God’s favor is removed His anger is not yet spent. It says that He will call “a distant nation, and will whistle for it from the ends of the earth; and behold, it will come with speed swiftly.”  This nation of warriors will be relentless, untiring, and bring devastation and destruction like a ravaging lion.

Now that is the historical, prophetic context to this parable that the hearers would have immediately recognized as pertaining to Israel. But now let’s look at the parable as Jesus tells it.  And by the way, there is a parallel version of this parable in Matthew 21.  Matthew  adds some interesting factors to the story that Luke does not, such as He dug around the vineyard and put a tower in it which makes it almost identical to Isaiah 5.

But what Jesus does in this parable is He uses the analogy of Israel being a vineyard but then brings the focus upon those men that were put in place as vine growers, or caretakers.  This is where the story is focused, on the caretakers, those given the responsibility for the stewardship of the vineyard.  These were the ones who were responsible for the spiritual well being of Israel, for the good fruit of Israel.  They were the ones given responsibility for the stewardship of God’s word, for the administration of God’s kingdom.

Jesus says that eventually the owner of the vineyard sent a slave to receive some of the fruit that was supposed to be returned to the owner.  But the vine growers beat him up and sent him away empty handed.  So the owner sends a second slave and then a third, and these they beat up as well.  They refuse to give the owner his due.  He invested all the resources, he provided all the things necessary to expect good fruit, but they refuse to acknowledge their debt to him, and instead beat up his servants.

So finally, the owner of the vineyard decides to send his beloved son, in hope that they will certainly honor him.  But the vine growers seeing the son say amongst themselves, this is the heir, let us kill him and the vineyard will be ours.  And so they kill the son.

You can bet the religious leaders by now had figured out that this was a story about them.  They were the ones in charge of the administration of the vineyard.  They knew that Israel had mistreated or killed all the prophets that God had sent them in the past.  In fact, history tells us that Isaiah, who as I pointed out was one of  the originators of the vineyard analogy, was in fact sawn in two with a wooden saw.
But there were two groups of people there listening that day.  There were the disciples of Jesus that were in the temple that Jesus was preaching to, and there was the religious delegation made up of high priests and Pharisees and so forth.

So when Jesus asks the question, “What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do to them?”  I believe the disciples are the ones that answer ““He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others.”  But the shocked religious leaders say “may it never be!”  They know that what the disciples and Jesus are saying is that God will remove them from their stewardship and give it to others who will administer their stewardship in such a way as to bring forth fruit. But they say “may it never be!  We will never allow it.”  See, the whole point of their delegation was to say that Jesus had no authority.  They considered themselves the authority in Israel, and Jesus threatened them.  He threatened their power, their position, and so they wanted to kill Him.  And they would in just 3 days time.

Vs. 17, “But Jesus looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written:
‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”  I love how Jesus constantly quotes scripture.  He who was the Word made flesh, and speaks the word of God with authority.  He sets an example for us that endures today.  Especially in light of the way in which the word of God today is being discarded in favor of relativism in an attempt to not be offensive.

Jesus is quoting from Psalm 118 by the way, which most of the Pharisees would have known by heart.  Psalm 118 is what the people were quoting from when they called out “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” just a couple of days prior when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  And now Jesus uses that very same Psalm to say “I am the stone which you the builders rejected. I am the cornerstone spoken of in Psalm 118.  Isaiah added in Isaiah chapter 8 that He is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.

Listen, why do people stumble over Jesus Christ?  Why is Jesus offensive?  The religious leaders stumbled over Him because first of all He told them they were sinners just like everyone else.  Maybe even worse sinners than everyone else.  They were worse because they refused to recognize that they were sinners.  The only sin that God cannot forgive is the sin of unrepentance.  Please understand something folks.  The gospel, if it is being handled accurately, is not supposed to seduce people into the kingdom by singing songs of love, love, love.  The gospel breaks people over the rock of offense; the rock of Jesus Christ who alone is righteous and holy.  The gospel seeks to first of all convict you of your sin, to break your will to self rule, to autonomy, to doing what is right in your own eyes, and recognizing and submitting to the word of God that declares what constitutes righteousness and sinfulness.  That is what it means to confess Jesus as both Lord and Savior.

That is what Jesus meant when He said, “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”  Either you fall on the rock that is Jesus Christ in brokenness, bowing to His Lordship over your life, breaking your pride, breaking your selfishness, or the rock that is Christ will fall on you, scattering you like dust.  You will be destroyed.  God’s judgment will fall on you if you reject the Cornerstone.

But if you accept Christ as the cornerstone, then Eph 2:19-22 says “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household,  having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” A cornerstone was laid at the foundation of a building, by which the building is made true and all it’s lines are drawn from.   Christ as the cornerstone symbolizes that His truth is laid as the foundation for the church, upon which was laid the scriptures of the apostles.  The word of God then is the foundation that the church is built upon, which it must stay true to.  And as Christians, we are being built up into a holy temple, as we live our lives according to it’s blueprint.  When the Holy Spirit is living in our temple, then we will bear the fruit of the Spirit, having been conformed to the image of Jesus Christ laid down for us in His word.

Now that’s the interpretation of the parable.  Let’s look at the application.  If you remember we started with Isaiah 5.  That parable was a nationalistic allegory.  It was speaking of the nation of Israel that had rejected the reign of God over their lives, and though there were certainly a few individuals that had not bowed their knee to Baal, as a whole, the nation of Israel became apostate.  They became idolatrous. And so God brought a nation of warriors from Assyria who destroyed their cities, the temple and their palaces, destroying thousands of them and taking others into captivity.  By the time Jesus quotes Isaiah 5, almost 700 years have passed, and Israel has gone from 12 tribes to just three; Benjamin, Judah and Levi.  But their apostasy has resurfaced to the extent that they actually will crucify the Messiah, God’s only beloved Son.  So the warning of impending judgment is still appropriate.  Within the lifetime of many of those very leaders who call for Christ’s death, the Roman army under the General Titus would sack the city of Jerusalem and kill hundreds of thousands of Jews, and destroy the temple so that one stone wasn’t left upon another.  The stone that the builders rejected scattered them like dust.

I cannot help but see the parallels of Judah to the United States today.  We too were a nation that benefited from the presence of God in a very special way.  No other nation on earth had the blessings that America has had.  No other nation in the world was founded on Christian principles found in  God’s actual word other than America. God used religious persecution to bring a great nation of people together from many foreign countries, many of which had persecuted them for their religious views and for trying to be true to God’s word.  We have become the greatest nation on the face of the earth. In the beginning it was established on the word of God.  God’s word is written on our government buildings, its verses were inscribed on our monuments, even our currency stated our faith in God, and for almost 200 years our schools used the Holy Bible as it’s textbook.  Our country went on to export Christianity to the world through missionaries to every continent on the globe.  There were churches on every street corner.  Some of the greatest revivals known to man swept across this country, turning men’s hearts to God with great fervor.

Yet as time went on, we like Israel grew complacent, and we grew more and more materialistic.  We became consumed with possessions and the lusts of the flesh. Today America has become a nation that is not defined by their Christian values anymore, but rather defined by our decadence and rampant consumerism. And I am afraid that the time is coming soon, when God will whistle to a foreign army who will come against this nation with the same zeal that Babylon did against Israel.  And God will give our stewardship to a nation that will render to Him good fruit in due season.

But Jesus’ version of this parable is not just a nationalistic allegory, but also an ecclesiastical allegory.  Here in this version Christ added the element of the caretakers.  This was a veiled reference to the religious leaders.  The priesthood of Israel particularly had been entrusted with the oracles of God.  They had been entrusted with the worship, with the administration of the temple. They were to teach and to lead the people in righteousness and holiness.  But the fact that Jesus continually pointed out was that the religious leaders were actually hypocrites.  They had perverted the truth for their own purposes.  They had their positions by means of political appointment rather than divine appointment.  They had sold out to the Roman government for a measure of power.  They were in it for the money, they were in it for the acclaim of people, they were in it because they loved to appear righteous.  They were in it for the social standing.  And they were willing to kill the Messiah in order to keep their position and power.

Jesus is saying that their stewardship will be taken away.  Within their lifetime, the temple would be destroyed.  The ancestral records would be destroyed.  From what I understand today no Jew is able to know for certain if they are from a particular tribe.  So there can’t be priests anymore, because they had to be from the tribe of Levi. There can’t be sacrifices anymore, because they had to be done in the temple in Jerusalem. All that they relied upon, their power, their prestige, their position of reverence, was destroyed.   The cornerstone that they rejected fell on them and scattered them into pieces that could never be put back together.

Folks, once again I’m afraid that there is a direct analogy here to the church leadership in America today.  We have a greater privilege than Israel ever had.  We have the complete scriptures, Old and New Testaments, inspired by God, written down for our instruction.  Christ took away the stewardship from the priests and gave it to the lowly disciples.  The apostles who were unlearned, uncredentialed, didn’t graduate from an approved rabbinical school were given the stewardship of the gospel.  And these faithful men proclaimed it, protected it, and preserved it in the New Testament scriptures and then passed it on to preachers and evangelists. Eph 4:11-13 “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,  for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

I wish I could unequivocally say that our generation of pastors and teachers had proved reliable in the stewardship of the gospel handed down from the apostles and prophets.  But I am afraid that even a cursory look at the state of the church today in America reveals that we have neglected our primary purpose - the protection, proclamation and presentation of the Word of God - because we have been too concerned about our position, our social status, and our little bit of power to really preach the full counsel of the word of God.  Even a cursory look at the majority of churches out there reveals that the clergy does not consider the preaching of God’s word a priority.  Today ministers are more like managers, overseeing programs and employees and property administration.  And the word of God is neglected.  People are starving for the truth and not getting it.  Instead we are building bigger buildings, adding bigger salaries, running coffee shops and bookstores and putting on concerts, but we have relinquished our number one priority; the preaching of the word of God.  I am afraid that in the very near future, this enterprise in America that we call the church will be done away with.  I heard Al Mohler and John McArthur speak on this subject last spring at a pastor’s conference.  Already legislation is in the works to take away tax exemption from churches, not only in contributions, but in property taxes.  If church contributions lost their tax exemption it would be harmful but not necessarily disastrous.  But if property taxes are one day levied against the church then most churches and church based institutions would be forced to close. And when that day comes I think we will see who was in it for the money.  When preaching the gospel may land you in jail then I wonder how many will want to preach at all.  I am afraid that day is coming soon in America, and it will be our own fault.  Church leadership has left it’s purpose which is proclaiming the whole gospel of Jesus Christ to the church.

One final application, this parable also has an individual analogy.  As the Jewish people were given a stewardship and that stewardship was taken away, so as Christians we are given a stewardship.  We are given the greatest gift of all, the gift of salvation.  God’s beloved Son willingly gave His life as a sacrifice for the sins of those who would confess Him as Lord. We are given the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ Himself to live within us to guide us, and strengthen us and teach us.  And we have been given the gift of God’s word, God’s very breath of life written down, easily available to everyone to carry with them.  Today the word of God has never been more accessible, more portable.  And yet what are we doing with our stewardship?  Oh, we may not literally beat up the pastor, but we can despise the preaching of the Word.  We may not literally crucify Christ, but we can insult the Spirit of grace by sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth.  Hebrews 10:29 says, “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, ‘THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.’  It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

God grafted us Gentiles, people who were outside of the covenant, outside of the nation of Israel, without hope, God grafted us into His vineyard.  He made us part of His chosen people, the church.  He has freed us from the enslavement of sin and the fear of death.  He has given us an inheritance in heaven, given us a promise to reign on thrones with Christ for eternity.  Such things cannot be comprehended.  And yet I’m afraid that many Christians today are totally enslaved to this world.  They are totally enamored by the lusts of this world.  Like the Israelites, we lust after the leeks and garlic of Egypt.  We lust after the very things that God has delivered us from.  Rather than seeking righteousness and holiness by suffering with Christ, we seek friendship with the world, we seek social status and prestige and bigger and better material things, rather than laying up our treasures in heaven.

Listen, I will close by referring to what Matthew includes in his gospel’s account of this parable.  In Matthew 21:43 it records Jesus as saying, “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.”  I don’t think that this verse is teaching that you can lose your salvation, but I do think it teaches that God expects a return on your stewardship.  Grace is not the result of works, but grace should produce works. Eph. 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

I don’t know your heart today.  God knows your heart.  But if your heart is right, then your fruit should be evident.  If God is on the throne of your heart, then God has a right to expect fruit from His vine.  Jesus said in John 15:16 "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain.”

How do we bring forth good fruit?  By being found true to the cornerstone.  By establishing our lives upon the cornerstone of Christ’s word, being built up into a holy temple in which the Spirit of Christ dwells.  By crucifying the desires of the flesh daily so that Christ may live in our mortal bodies.  By submitting joyfully to the rule of Christ over our hearts.  When Christ is our cornerstone, then we will build our lives on His foundation and according to His plan.  That produces a building that brings glory to God.  That produces a fruit that will remain.  I pray that today you come to the cornerstone in brokenness, that you may be built up according to the truth of God’s word.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Deus Ex Machina, Luke 20:1-8

Preaching through Luke has been a journey which began almost two years ago, and many of you have made that journey with me.  I hope that for those of you who have been able to attend regularly, that this study has provided you with insights into the gospel that you had never realized before.  Perhaps some of you may have really come to understand for the first time the truth of the gospel, the specificity of the way of salvation, and the necessity of sanctification.  My hope is that you have not just added some historical knowledge concerning the life of Christ on merely an intellectual level, but that the applications learned through studying Jesus’ teachings have radically changed your life – changing the way you actually live life. Changing the way you see the world. I hope it’s changed the purpose of your life from being self centered to being God centered.

And it is also my hope that through this study of Luke it has helped to flesh out the full personality of Christ for you.  I’m afraid that so many people have a one dimensional perspective of Jesus Christ that isn’t really true to the Bible.  But it’s important to know and worship Christ for who He is, not who we want Him to be.

Some of you know that I recently purchased an old Kawasaki motorcycle that I have been trying to restore. For some reason, there is a connection between surfing and motorcycles.  They would seem to not really all that compatible, but they both appeal to the same kind of personality I guess.  So anyhow, I ran across this company that started in Bali but now has stores around the world that restores café racer type motorcycles and sells surfboards and surf related stuff.  For me it’s like the best of both worlds. But they had this weird name which is Deus Ex Machina.  And so I wanted to know what that meant.  Turns out it is an old Latin expression which means god in the machine.  It was used to describe a device in  Greek poetry by which the author of the poem or play brought about a successful ending to his plot by the introduction of a god let down by a machine, or something like a crane, which solved a problem of a plot that didn’t seem to have a logical ending.  The god of the machine then is a contrivance of the author by which he is able to insert a god and artificially provide a solution to a dilemma.

Now I was reminded of that phrase as I was considering how we look at the nature of God.  Is God merely a contrivance, a device of our own engineering, that we somehow manipulate in order to extract us from a difficult situation?  Is the God of Christendom really that small as to be manipulated by the machinations of man? Can we just create God to be whatever we want Him to be, to solve our particular dilemma in just the way we want?  Can God be defined by mere mortals? Is God really just the god of the machine, something manipulated for our benefit?  How can we know the God of the Bible?

To answer those questions, to truly understand God, we must understand first of all that Jesus was fully man and fully God.  Jesus said to Philip in John 14:9, that “if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.”   That is an incredible statement.  And that statement means that it is essential that we fully understand the true nature of Jesus Christ,  His complete personality, because He reflects the nature and character of God exactly.  Hebrews 1:3 says that “[Jesus] is the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of [God’s] nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.” So it’s important that we see Jesus for who He really is, and that we worship God for who He really is.  Because Jesus said in John 4:24 that "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."  It does us no good whatsoever to worship a God of our own design.  We must worship God in truth.  As He really is, all that He is, even if He does not conform to our expectations, even when He doesn’t solve our personal dilemma.

So as we enter chapter 20, I would just remind you of the different characteristics or attitudes or personality attributes of Jesus that we have seen presented here in just the last couple of chapters of Luke, because it has direct correlation to the passage we are looking at today.  At the end of chapter 18 we saw the compassion of Jesus at the healing of a desperate blind beggar.  We saw the joy of Jesus in the opening story of chapter 19 about Zaccheus.  Joy at a lost sheep of Israel that was found, that was saved.  We saw the judgment of Jesus in the parable about the evaluation of the 10 slaves and the ten minas.  Uncompromising judgment that took away the mina from the worthless slave and gave it to another.  We saw the justice and wrath of Jesus when He called for His enemies to be slain before Him in His presence.

Then we saw humbleness of Jesus in the story of Christ entering Jerusalem on a donkey.  Then we saw the sorrow of Jesus as He saw the city laid out beneath Him and He wept over the city because He foresaw the terrible consequences of their rejection of Him as the Messiah.  Then we saw the righteous anger of Jesus as He entered the temple and chased out the merchandisers who had made the temple into a den of thieves.

All of those attributes collectively should help us to recognize a more complete picture of who Jesus really is; and ultimately, what God is really like.  And folks, that is so very important today in light of the common misconceptions about God and the gospel that is prevalent in the teaching of TV evangelists and many liberal churches.  Jesus said God must be worshipped in Spirit and in truth.  And so we must recognize God for who He is, who He says He is in His word, and then bow our knee to Him as Lord.  Any effort on our part to limit God, to redefine God, or to characterize God as anything less than who He really is, is simply idolatry.  You can say you are worshipping God and yet be worshipping an idol, a god devised by your contrivance, after your preferences, and after your prejudices.  We must worship God in truth.

Let me be absolutely clear.  God can not be defined only as love.  That word has become the catchall of the modern church.  The Bible does say that God is love.   But the Bible also says God is a God of wrath, God is Holy, God is Righteous.  God is the ultimate Judge of the Earth.   But many modern church leaders want to say that God is only a God of love, and therefore love cancels out all the other characteristics of God’s nature.  That is a dangerous thing.  That false doctrine causes someone like Rob Bell, former pastor of Mars Hill Church and creator of the Nooma films, to write a book called “Love Wins”, which denies the doctrine of hell and consequently a host of other essential doctrines.  According to his and many other modern theologian’s warped view of God, God cannot be a God of love and send anyone to hell.  And so His view of God conveniently overrides the scriptures, and wipes out the Bibical doctrine of hell, because in His mind they are incompatible.

Such a contemporary lopsided view of God causes someone like Joel Olsteen to stammer and stutter and sidestep the question of whether or not Jesus is the only way to get to heaven.  Because his distorted view of God as love does not allow for a God who would not accept someone who was sincerely seeking God through Buddha, or in Islam or through any other false religion out there.  As long as you’re sincere, he believes there is a good chance that the God of love will not be able to say no and will accept you into heaven irregardless of one’s faith .

The whole question then comes down to who or what is your authority?  Is our eternal destiny determined by our individual preferences or beliefs, or is there a God in heaven who has the right, the absolute authority, to establish the parameters of His kingdom, and to govern the affairs of His kingdom and His citizens?

The root of the problem is that man by his nature hates authority.  Man by his nature is rebellious.  It started with Adam and Eve in the Garden.  Their sin was not that they ate a piece of fruit that was off limits.  Their sin was a sin of rebellion.  They believed that they were a better judge of what was right and wrong, of what was good or bad for them than God was.  And so they acted in rebellion against God and did what they thought was good, when in fact it was evil.  Consequently rebellion is the source of all evil. 1Samuel 15:23 says, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.”

The problem with the world today is that it is rebellious, it hates authority.  The world hates any authority that tells them that what they want to do is sin.  And unfortunately, it is not limited just to the world. The modern church as well hates authority.  That is why there is an all out attack on the authority of God’s word from within the church.  The modern church as an institution hates absolute authority.  It rejects the authority of God’s word, and exchanges it for a doctrine of relativity.

The modern church today says that we have to accommodate the mores of the world.  And so today society says that women should be able to be in a place of leadership in the church.  Only a chauvinist would deny a woman the position of a minister of the church.  Yet the Bible clearly says in 1Tim. 2:12 in regards to the church, “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”  It says the same thing in 1 Cor. 14.  Yet the modern church doesn’t want to be told that, so they exchange the truth of God for a lie.

The church today says that sin in no longer sin.  It doesn’t matter if the Bible says that homosexuality is an abomination before God.  Society says that it is acceptable.  And so liberal church leaders say that God is love and therefore God accepts all forms of love.  They reject the authority of God’s word and instead say that they are capable of deciding what is right and what is wrong.  The church today winks at divorce.  But the Bible says that the person that divorces and marries another is guilty of adultery.  The Bible says that God hates divorce.  But the church says it’s not a big deal if you don’t love them anymore.  The Bible says that all fornication is sin.  But the modern church says it’s ok if you love the person. They reject the authority of God’s word.

But Paul warns in Romans 1:18 that there is a greater dimension to God than simply that of love.  It says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

So at the heart of the gospel is the authority of the word of God.  If you take that out, if you start to tamper with it, question it, subjugate it to man’s ideas of relevance and importance, then you take the heart right out of the gospel.  You take the power to save out of the gospel.  The truth can only set you free when it is actually the truth.

Now this problem with authority started with Adam and Eve like I said, and it has reached epidemic proportions today in the modern church, but it also was around in Jesus day.  In fact, you could say that it was even worse in Jesus’ day, because that rebellion culminated in the crucifixion of  God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.
And as we look at our text today we see this question of authority being enunciated by the religious leaders of that day.  In fact, it is a pretty serious delegation of religious leaders.  No less than the high priests were part of the delegation as well as the elders of the Sanhedrin, which was the religious ruling class of Judaism.  This was the highest levels of the Jewish religious orders coming to accost Jesus.

And what they ask Him is found in vs. 2, ““Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”  Now the question that raises is what are “these things” that Christ was doing?  And the answer is found in the end of the last chapter.  Jesus had come into the temple and started cleaning house.  He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves and He drove out those who were buying and selling.  It says in Mark that He wouldn’t allow them to carry their merchandise through the temple either.

I hope you get the full picture here.  Jesus grabs up a bullwhip, and He goes into the temple courtyard and starts driving these vendors out of the temple.  This is not a lovey dovey Jesus pictured here.  He is exercising the divine wrath of God.  These merchants had set up in the temple grounds with all kinds of animals for sale.  And so you’ve got this effect of something like cattle pens in the temple where people could purchase an animal for sacrifice. And they operated in conjunction with the priests who were making outrageous profits from selling these “approved” animals.

Then on top of that are the money changers.  The priests had the racket set up so that in order to pay your temple tax or even to buy a sacrificial animal, you had to pay in the currency of the temple.  They wouldn’t accept Roman money.  So they of course would charge you a hefty commission to change your currency into temple currency.  It was yet another form of extortion.

So Jesus sees all this going on.  In John’s gospel, there is a record of Him cleansing the temple in just this same way at an earlier time in His ministry.  So after all that time, Jesus has come back and the temple vendors and priests are right back at it again, and so He does the same thing that He did before, He grabs a whip and weighs into the middle of the whole mess, cracking the bullwhip and kicking over tables and chairs and driving the men out of the temple.  And He doesn’t even let them carry out their merchandise.  He drives them out and leaves their stuff scattered all over the grounds.

And as He is doing all of that, He says, “It is written, ‘AND MY HOUSE SHALL BE A HOUSE OF PRAYER,’ but you have made it a ROBBERS’ DEN.”    He is quoting scripture to them.  I love that.  All these crooked priests and the vendors running for the exits and Jesus is chasing behind them cracking a bullwhip and quoting scripture.  Furthermore, He is saying it is His house.  It’s not their house, it’s His house.

Now the next morning, the temple is cleaned out, the money changers are gone, the animals are gone, and Jesus comes back in there and sits down in the middle of the temple and begins to preach.  And people are hanging on to His every word.  Why?  Because He spoke with authority.  The people said about Him that never a man spoke as He spoke.

But the religious leaders don’t recognize that authority.  And so they come to Him in force and ask Him by what authority is He doing these things, who gave Him this authority?  Basically they are saying, “Hey Jesus, who do you think you are?  What right have you to come into the temple, our territory, and drive out the vendors?  What authority do you have to make a claim on the temple that it is your house?

Here is the thing.  As far as they were concerned, Jesus had no credentials.  He wasn’t a priest.  He wasn’t a graduate from some established rabbinical school.  He wasn’t of the tribe of Levi.  He wasn’t part of the Sanhedrin.  He had none of the credentials that they thought that He should have.

You know, I experience a similar kind of problem sometimes.  I don’t have a  degree from some big established seminary.   I don’t have the backing of some denomination.  I don’t wear the prescribed uniform of the typical religious leader.  I don’t even have a church building.  And so I sometimes get a little bit of that same criticism.  What authority do you have?  Who gave you the authority to preach about sin and hell and the judgment to come?  Who do you think you are?

And my response is the same as John the Baptist when he was asked a similar question.  I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  My answer is to quote the apostle Paul who said in 1Cor. 9:16 that I am constrained to preach the gospel out of compulsion.  Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.  My authority is only that God has called me to preach the word of God without apology, to preach the word in season and out of season, to reprove, rebuke and exhort with all longsuffering and patience.  I can say “Thus says the Lord” without hesitation because I speak from the word of God.  I don’t add the machinations and scheming of man’s wisdom.  I preach the word of God chapter by chapter, verse by verse.  And I believe that the word of God is the absolute truth.  The word of God is the breath of God that gives life.  It is the absolute rule of life and practice and everyman will be judged by it according to how they responded to it.  My job is not to build a church building, or draw a crowd, or entertain people, my job is to preach the full counsel of God’s word without compromise.

Well, Jesus uses a question to answer their question.  Because He knows that they have framed their question in order to try to trap Him.  To try to find a way to convict Him of blasphemy.  They have been planning and plotting to kill Him for a while now and this last episode in the temple on their own turf has pushed them over the brink.  They will in fact kill Him in just three days or so.  But for now, Jesus turns the tables on them and asks them a question.  Vs. 3 Jesus answered and said to them, "I will also ask you a question, and you tell Me: 4 "Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?"

Now what is Jesus talking about when He says the baptism of John?  Well, four times in scripture, Mark, Luke and twice in Acts, the baptism of John is called the baptism of repentance.  That was the significance of John’s baptism.  It wasn’t just a ritual.  In fact, it had been a ritual conducted by the temple for non Jewish believers to go through so that they could worship the God of the Jews.  It was a Gentile ritual.  So when John preached a baptism of repentance, he was saying in essence that a Jew had to repent just like a Gentile in order to receive Christ.  But the real significance of baptism was saying that you must confess and repent of your sins because the Messiah is coming.  You must get ready for the coming of the Messiah.  And the way to be accepted by Him into His kingdom is to repent of your sins.  That is the message of the baptism.  But the actual act of baptism is just a symbolic, outward sign that you are repenting of your sins.  That you bury the old man, the old ways, the old flesh in the water of repentance.  You die to that old man there in the water,  and you rise up to a newness of life in Jesus Christ leaving behind the old man.

Now that baptism of repentance is the framework for the question Jesus asks of the priests.  Was that message of John from God or of men?  Well, the Bible very clearly teaches the doctrine of repentance.  There are so many OT references to repentance that I cannot take the time to spell them all out here.  But David the Psalmist speaks often of the need for repentance.  It is a common theme in the OT.  David repented of his sin with Bathsheba and God forgave him.  He said in Ps. 51, “a broken and contrite heart O Lord you will not despise.”  He said in Psalm 32:3, 5 “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. ... I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; And You forgave the guilt of my sin.”

So the priests should have understood the doctrine of repentance.  But they did not want to accept it.  They weren’t about to humble themselves in repentance.  They weren’t about to acknowledge that they had any sin.  They had explained away their sin by creative Biblical interpretation. They had redefined the law so that they could say that they had no sin.  In fact, they thought they were righteous.

Listen, the most dangerous thing you can do, whether you are a Christian or a not, is to say that your sin is not sin.  That is the most dangerous thing you can do. To redefine sin so that it is not sin.  To say that you don’t sin, or that there is no need to confess sin anymore is a dangerous thing.  I spoke a little last week about the false doctrine called antinomianism which is sweeping through the modern church.  It is a basically the doctrine that says that as a Christian you no longer sin.  There is no more need to confess your sins anymore.  That grace has absolved you from all responsibility to live righteously and holy before God.  That is a very dangerous doctrine, folks. If there is no sin, then there is no need for the discipline of the Lord upon His children.  And so once again a false doctrine counters the authority of the word of God, because Heb. 12 tells us that we should strive against sin, but when we sin the Lord reproves us.  Vs. 6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES." ... 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” If God doesn’t discipline you for your sin, then you are not a son of God, you are illegitimate.

So rather than acknowledge that the baptism of John was from God, the priests confer together to try to find a way out of the question.  They are afraid of the people, because the people thought that John was a prophet.  So they are not going to speak against John, even though they obviously did not believe John.  Because John presented Jesus as the Messiah, didn’t he?  If they believed John, then they would have to believe Jesus.  Because John made it clear that he was the forerunner for the Messiah, and Jesus was the Messiah.  That’s another clue to a false prophet, by the way.  They don’t want to say anything that will offend people.  A false prophet wants to please people, to appeal to people, to flatter people for the sake of taking advantage of them.  And that is what these priests were doing.

So they confer together and decide to say, “we don’t know.”  That’s yet another clue to a false prophet.  They refuse to be dogmatic.  They consider the animosity of the culture, and the authority of God’s word that clearly states something as sin and consequently the need for repentance, and they say, “Well, we aren’t really sure that that is what the Bible is really saying.  After all, in that culture things were different.  But we live in a different culture and so we can’t say exactly what the truth is about certain things.”  They undermine the authority of scripture by saying it can’t be known, or it can’t be trusted, or there are errors in the translations which leaves the door open to other possibilities.  They don’t know the truth, or won’t say.

But here is the real dilemma of what these priests were facing.  The real crux of the matter is that if they accepted the ministry of John as having the authority of God, then they would have to accept the ministry of Jesus as having the authority of God.  They would have to accept that Jesus had every right to come into the temple because it was His house.  Psalm 110 says that the Messiah was the great high priest  forever according to the order of Melchizedek .  He surpassed all their authority.  In fact, He was the one who gave them their authority.  So He had every right to come into His house and clean out the robbers and cheats.

If they accepted the ministry of John, then they would have to accept that Jesus was the Messiah.  They knew that Ps. 45 says the Messiah was to sit on the throne of David, the king who was to rule over the nations, whose kingdom would never end.  And so they would have to bow before Jesus as their king and submit to His rule.

If they accepted the ministry of John, then they would have to accept that Jesus was that prophet like unto Moses, of whom Moses said in Duet. 18, “GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN.”  They would have to accept that He not only spoke the word of God like Moses did, but He was the Word of God incarnate, the Word made flesh and dwelling among them.  And yet they did not accept Him.  They rejected Him.

So they would not say. They would not see the truth.  They would not bow their knee. These were the ones of whom He said in chapter 19, “We do not want this man to reign over us.”  They would not accept His authority.  They would rebel and continue in their insubordination to the very God of the universe until one day God would destroy them in His presence along with all His enemies.   So Jesus responded to them in vs.8 by saying,  "Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things."  Jesus would leave them to their rebellion.  He would not answer them anymore.  From this time on, they were hardened in their rebellion and He would not answer them a word.  He had exhausted His patience with them.  It was as Romans 1:28 says,  “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not proper.”

Listen, I don’t know where you are at today spiritually.  Some of you may be really irritated right now because I had the gall to call your pet sin, sin.  Some of you may have your feathers ruffled and find yourself thinking, “who does this man think that He is?  What kind of authority does he have?  How can he know anything?”  My only answer is to say that the only authority I have is the word of God.  If God said it in His word, then I believe it and I will preach it. John chapter one describes Jesus as the Word of God made flesh.  The Word of God is true and authoritative.  But you can choose to accept it or not.  You can reject it and leave here today and continue in your rebellion and think that the god of your imagination is going to accept you just the way you are.  You can continue to worship Deus Ex Machina, the god of your machinations. And if that is the case, then you will have to face the consequences one day for trampling underfoot the Spirit of grace and the precious blood of Jesus Christ which was shed on behalf of sinners.  If you refuse to repent of your sins, then the blood of Christ avails nothing for you, and you will face the wrath and judgment of God, whether or not you choose to believe in it.

Some of you here today may be in the same situation as the priests and the elders were.  This may be the last time that God speaks to you.  The last opportunity for you to repent.  The summer season is coming to a close.  You may never come to this service again.  God may have given you His last warning before giving you over to a reprobate mind to do those things that aren’t proper.  I hope that is not the case for anyone here today.  I pray that today is the day of your salvation. Today is the day of repentance.  Don’t presume upon the grace of God.

Or some of you today can do like David did, and acknowledge and confess your sin to God and ask Him to renew a right spirit within you.  Today you can be right with God.  But please understand something.  Jesus is not just your Savior.  He is also your Lord and King.  To come to Christ you must do what those priests and elders of Judaism could not do; that is bow your knee to the will of Christ.  Allow Christ to sit on the throne of your heart, and live for Him.  Live no longer for your glory, but for His.  If Jesus is the Son of God, then He has every right to rule and reign over your life.  And if you are not willing to let Him rule, then you cannot be a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  You must submit to the authority of His word.  For those that come to Him in repentance, God has promised to give us the Spirit of Christ as our Helper, to empower us to live according to His word.  To help us to be obedient to His word from the heart.

Are you willing to let Christ take His seat on the throne of your heart today?  Is your body the temple of the Holy Spirit?  Is Christ reigning and ruling in His temple?  He has every right to the throne of our heart and our obedience.  Let’s pray.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The danger of superficial worship; Luke 19: 28-48

Whether or not you realize it, there has been a monumental shift within the modern church in the last century or so.  Particularly in the last half of the last century, events and attitudes that perhaps seemed almost imperceptible at first have quickly gained a momentum and coalesced into a movement that has brought about sweeping changes throughout the church.

I would like to say that all these changes have been good.  After all, there were some movements in the past such as the Reformation that swept through Europe and into America that changed the church for the better.  But I’m afraid that is not the case with this movement.  It’s difficult to put a name on it that encompasses everything that is going on.  Some people have suggested that the movement should be called the New Emergent Church.  But I don’t know if that is too limiting and in definitive .

Whatever it is that you want to call it, it is the most dangerous movement that Christianity has encountered since the Dark Ages.   It literally threatens to destroy not only the church as we know it, but it is also demonically designed to ultimately destroy souls by deluding them as to the true nature of the church, and specifically the true nature of the gospel.

Regardless of what you call this movement, regardless of the great diversity of denominations that are being sucked into it, it’s got one characteristic which is common to all.  This great demonic delusion is focused on undermining the supreme authority of God’s word.   There really is no other greater purpose of the church other than to protect, to preserve, to proclaim and publish the word of God that men might be saved.   And yet today the word of God is almost nonexistent in many main line churches.  And even when it is found, it’s importance, it’s prominence is diminished and relegated to an ancillary component of what is called worship.  The scripture, which is the very essence of Christ, the Word of God, the voice of God, is subjugated to the whims of fashion, trends, technology, translations that emasculate the Word, teachers that downplay the authority of the Word, and so called spiritual experiences which trump the Word.

The incredible thing is that the greatest adversary of the church is not the atheists, nor the Islamists or any of the world’s agents in the media or government.  But the greatest danger to the church is coming from within the church itself. The authority and supremacy of the Word of God is being attacked on so many different levels within the church in a varieties of ways and yet the average person is completely unaware of it. One of the primary ways this is happening has been through a shift in emphasis from the preaching of the Word of God with authority to an emphasis on what is called worship, or praise and worship.

Worship leaders today are often given a form of leadership found in the church that circumvents being vetted by the credentials for pastors or deacons found in 1 and 2 Timothy and yet they have more influence in the church many times than the pastor himself.  People decide church associations today not based on what kind of preacher the pastor  is, or even if he is preaching the word accurately, but they pick  churches based on musical styles and often the worship leader’s talent.

Worship is often presented as a time of spiritual awareness, evoking an emotional response,  a euphoric feeling that comes through music, sometimes an ecstatic outburst of emotion that is attributed to the Spirit.  Worship has become a catch all for a multimedia presentation that encompasses, music, lights, images and sounds that coalesce in an experience that is loosely based on an even looser theology.  The problem is that very often that theology,   if it’s  not in outright error, is so lopsided in it’s perspective that it rarely presents the full gospel.  It’s very often a partial gospel, encompassing a lopsided view of God as a one dimensional being who is limited in scope to only an emotional quotient called love, and which consequently sacrifices all the weightier issues of salvation such as sanctification and holiness as being archaic and out of touch or even legalistic.

Now as I alluded to earlier, there is nothing new under the sun.  Technology may be newer, musical styles may have changed, but false theology has been around forever.  The devil just keeps repackaging it, reformatting it for the next generation.  Even in Jesus day, even with Jesus present, there are elements of false worship and errant theology that He has to deal with.  So in this passage we are looking at today, in addition to looking at the historical account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, we will see a contrast of true worship and errant worship.

First of all though, let’s consider the context of this passage.  It is obviously divinely connected to the passage preceding it.  In that parable, Jesus told a story about a king who came to receive his kingdom in a far away country.  And he put his servants in charge of the kingdom until he returned.  But there were people in that country, his citizens, that said “we will not let this man reign over us.”  Jesus says in the story that when the king returns, he first addresses those faithful slaves who were good stewards of what he entrusted to them.  He rewards the faithful.  But those that were unfaithful with their stewardship he takes away even what they have and gives it to the faithful.  And those that rebelled against his kingship, he says he will slay in his presence.

Now that is the immediate context of this passage we are looking at today.  Jesus is the King who is coming to receive His kingdom.  He came preaching “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”  He was the King come to receive a far away kingdom.  And while He was on earth, He entrusts His servants with a stewardship.  They are given the responsibility of managing the kingdom and utilizing it’s resources in a way that will benefit the kingdom.

And that is exactly what Jesus had been doing.  He had called 12 disciples to follow Him, to learn from Him.  They had been entrusted with His Word.  They sat under His teaching.  One day, they will transcribe those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and compile the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God.  So in the time of His incarnation, Jesus delivers the Word of God, the gospel, to the disciples, not only the 12, but all those that truly leave all to follow Him and accept Him as Lord and King.

Now on this day, Jesus begins the final part of His journey to Jerusalem.  He leaves Jericho, and approaches two small villages on the outskirts of Jerusalem and sends two of His disciples ahead into the village.  He tells them that they will find there a donkey and her colt tied up there.  And He tells the disciples that they are to bring Him the colt and if anyone asks what they are doing, they are to say that the Lord has need of it.  So they go on ahead and they find everything exactly as He said.

So they bring back the colt to Jesus and put their robes on it for a saddle and then put Jesus on it.  Now this is the first part of their worship.  Notice first of all that worship involves obedience.  These disciples are given a set of instructions that probably seemed kind of ridiculous to them at first.  Go into the next village and you will find a colt tied there.  Untie it and bring it here.  And if someone asks you what you’re doing, then say the Lord has need of it.  They probably were saying, “Right?!”  This is a good way to get arrested.  It didn’t make sense.  Jesus hadn’t yet been to that village, so how could He know there was a colt tied there?  And yet they unquestionably obeyed His world.  They didn’t argue.  They didn’t question. They did what He said, and the results were exactly like Jesus said they would be.

You know, the greatest detriment to true worship of God is our own intellect sometimes.  We think we know better than God how to design a church, or how to relate to people.  We think we know better than God how to attract a crowd, how to keep people’s interest.  So we circumvent the preaching of the word and engineer some type of human program that we think will accomplish the end result that we want.  But then at some point in the future, we discover that it didn’t really accomplish what we thought it would. 1Cor. 1:21 says that “since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe.”

What those disciples didn’t realize, is that by being obedient to the word, they were also fulfilling Biblical prophecy.  In Zechariah 9:9, written 500 years earlier, it was written, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

And that is another key to true worship.  True worship in accordance with the word of God accomplishes the will of God.  See, even though they did not initially understand what they were doing, or why they were doing it in this way, the word of God explained it.  The disciples were more than willing to celebrate Jesus as the coming Messiah, as the conquering King who would deliver their nation from the iron fist of Rome.  But if they had studied the scriptures, they would have discovered that Zechariah says that yes, He was coming as a King, but that His purpose was salvation, not to conquer Rome.  Zechariah says, “He is just and endowed with salvation, humble and mounted on a donkey.”  A donkey was not a war horse, but a beast of burden.  Jesus came to bear our burdens, to bear the burden of sin to the cross and be offered there as a sacrifice for our sins so that we might have salvation.  And salvation is the only way to enter His kingdom.

Jesus’ purpose in entering Jerusalem was completely contrary to the disciples expectations. Christ entered Jerusalem not to conquer Israel’s political enemies, but to conquer sin.  To defeat sin, by dying on the cross, being buried in the grave, descending into hell, and then raised by the power of God after three days.  He defeated sin by robbing sin of it’s penalty; spiritual death.  That is another element of worship that is missing in so many modern churches today.  There is no preaching about sin, no emphasis on the need for confession and repentance from sin.  Listen, there is no salvation without repentance from sin.  Salvation by it’s definition is deliverance from the penalty of sin which is death.  But there is hardly any mention of sin in modern worship today.  It’s all about relationship. It’s all about love.  It’s all about grace.  And yet the Bible is clear that there is no salvation without repentance of sin. Jesus said twice in Luke 13, that unless you repent you will perish.

I believe that repentance is pictured in the disciples laying down their garments in the road for Him to ride on.  The robe was a man’s covering.  It was his dignity, it signified his status.  We have the same thing today.  Our status is printed on our clothes.  We put little horses and polo players on our clothes so that people will know our status.  It tells people something about us.  Clothes are our first line of defense.  These disciples laid down their defenses.  Jesus says in another place that a man’s robe was used to keep himself warm at night.  And so I don’t want to belabor the illustration too much, but I believe that laying down your robe symbolized a laying down of your dignity, your status, it was humbling one’s self before God.  It was acknowledging your submission to the Lordship of the King. It was recognizing that your covering was ineffective, and you needed to be clothed in the robe of righteousness that Jesus provided for us at the foot of the cross.

I find very often in modern worship, almost the exact opposite of humiliation.  Instead of humbling oneself to worship, there is very often an exaltation of the musicians, an exaltation of the entertainers whereby they are receiving the adoration that belongs to God.  That is a dangerous thing ladies and gentlemen.  That’s why I said last week that natural talent is not synonymous with spiritual gifts. In fact, many times I think a natural talent can be a detriment to being used by God because it draws attention away from God to you.  That’s why Paul said he was given a thorn in the flesh, to keep him from exalting himself.  He was a brilliant man.  That was well known even to the Governor Festus and King Agrippa which prompted Festus to say, “Your great learning is driving you mad.”  So God gave Paul a thorn in his flesh to keep from exalting himself, so that the glory might be to God.  God alone deserves our adoration.

Now look at vs. 37-38 “As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting: "BLESSED IS THE KING WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"

So as the procession leaves Bethpage and ascends the Mount of Olives the disciples start to praise God with a loud voice for all the powerful works that they had seen.  Now this sounds more like what we think of when we think of praise.  But let’s look at the characteristics of their praise.  First they recognized Him as King, and secondly they recognized him as Lord.  So they acknowledge and praise Him as the rightful King of His creation, but they also submit to Him as Lord.  You may remember last week I referenced that depending on the politics of the president, I may or may not care for the guy currently in office in the White House.  But regardless, he is the president and I am a citizen of the United States.  There are times when that is a grudging acceptance on my part.  But my attitude is something else entirely when my guy gets in the White House.  Then I proudly say that he is my President.  Not just the president of the country that I happen to be living in, but my President.  There is a difference, because I am in agreement with his politics, his platform.

That’s a poor illustration perhaps of what it means to acknowledge Jesus as King, and Jesus as Lord.  Jesus as King is acknowledging His domain, His right to rule. Jesus as Lord is gladly submitting to His rule in my life.  Listen, true worship is submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in my life.  It’s not singing a couple of songs and continuing in my sin.  It’s not clapping my hands on Sunday morning and sleeping with my boyfriend or girlfriend on Sunday night. That’s why I started off by saying that true worship is obedience and then repentance.  You can’t worship God and continue in sin.  Nor can you refuse to acknowledge your sin as sin.  That is a big one today.  In the new worship mentality they first undermine the authority of scripture so that they can no longer say with certainty what constitutes sin.  Then they take away the onus of sin by an aberrant doctrine of grace, and then they eventually try to redefine sin as not sin after all.  And once the devil gets you to the point where you no longer think your sin is sin then he has you in the place that he can destroy you.  And that’s his goal all along.

Another important element of their praise was peace in heaven.  They are not talking about peace on earth - the absence of war or strife which is the social gospel that a lot of churches are buying into.  But the peace that heaven gives is peace with God.  And peace with God only is possible when the justice of God and the wrath of God against sin is satisfied. Paul says in Romans that we were enemies of God and that through Jesus we have peace with God. Rom. 5:10 “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Rom. 5:1 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And secondly, having made peace, we now glorify God in heaven.  How do we do that?  Do we do that by simply saying it, by praising God in song, by repeating “glory to God?”  No, not just singing praise, but living lives that bring praise to God.  We glorify God not just with our mouths, but by the testimony of a transformed life.  We saw that in Zaccheus.  His transformation brought glory to God.  Bartimaeus, his transformation brought glory to God.  You want to worship God?  Then let your transformation bring glory to God.  Jesus said in Matt. 5:16 "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  Your good works done as a result of your transformed heart will bring glory to God as people observe your behavior in your daily life.

Now when the Pharisees and the religious leaders heard the disciples praising Jesus as the Messiah King, these men revealed that they were in fact the very ones that said, “we will not have this man to rule over us.”  And so they said to Jesus in vs. 39, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples." But Jesus answered, "I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!"  Now this is an interesting thing for Jesus to say.  It actually has a dual meaning.  First and most obviously, Jesus is saying that God isn’t dependent upon our praise, but He can cause even inanimate objects to erupt in His praise if He so desires.  There is a notion out there that God is this pitiful, narcissistic kind of  God that sits in heaven almost in a fit of despondency, waiting and wishing that someone would call, someone would tell him how wonderful He is.  That somehow God just needs people to tell Him how great He is in order for Him to be happy.  And if you just do that on a regular basis, God will bless you in return.

I would just remind such people of what Paul said to the philosophers on Mars Hill, that “God is not served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things.” God’s happiness is not dependent upon our praise.

But this statement about the stones is also a reference to judgment.  In Habakkuk 2:11-12  the prophet writes about the judgment of God upon the city and says "Surely the stone will cry out from the wall, And the rafter will answer it from the framework. Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed And founds a town with violence!”  What Jesus is referencing here is that these men who are the rulers of Jerusalem that said “we will not have this man rule over us,” in denying Jesus the praise and recognition that He deserves are actually bringing upon their city the judgment of God for their rejection of His Son.  That is exactly what the parable indicated in the previous chapter.  That God would bring destruction upon those men that reject His Christ.  And that is exactly what would happen to Jerusalem.  God would bring judgment upon it just 40 years later because it rejected the Savior, God’s only Son.  So what Jesus in essence is saying, is that even if these people were to fall silent, the stones of your city will cry out as a testament to the foolishness and the consequences of your rebellion.

Now that explains Jesus reaction and statement in the next few verses. Vs. 41 “When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it,  saying, "If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation."

Jesus wept over the city because He knew that their worship of Him was superficial.  The crowds were following Him now, but they would be calling for His crucifixion in less than a week.  They had a man centered theology rather than a God centered theology.  In their version, God would bring the Messiah to deliver them from their enemies, to bring prosperity to their nation, to bring peace from their oppressors.  It was a social kingdom, a political kingdom, that was solely for their benefit.  And so Jesus is weeping over the city because He knows that in the plan of God there must be suffering before exaltation.  He must first be their sacrifice in order to be their Savior, and only then can He be their King and they His citizens.

But the crowds aren’t interested in sacrifice.  They don’t want to hear about suffering.  They want a solution to their immediate problems.  There are a lot of people today that are drawn to God, are drawn to a superficial kind of worship that is man-centric, that appeals to their emotions, appeals to their particular crisis.  And the new worship template promises them an easy solution to their problem.  God is love, and He just loves to love you, and because He loves you He will give you everything you want if you just believe that He loves you.  What they fail to teach you though is the full counsel of God’s Word that requires that you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your might.  And that if you truly love God like that, then God’s will must be paramount, it must take precedence over everything and every one.  That means you cannot love God and the world, you cannot love God and money.  You cannot love your family member or your girlfriend or your boyfriend more that God.  God must have preeminence. There is a cost to loving God, and the cost is the love of the world.

Well, Jerusalem would within the week reject Jesus Christ as their Savior, as their Sacrifice.  They would call for His crucifixion.  And just 40 years later the historian Josephus would record that Titus would encircle Jerusalem, he would erect a wall, he would bring a siege upon the city, and then after 6 months in 70 AD he would break through the walls of Jerusalem and massacre every man, woman and child.  Some would estimate that over 200,000 Jews would be killed inside the city.  And then Titus set fire to the city.  They believed that the walls of the Temple had gold in them and to get at the gold they burned the city and then tore apart the walls to get at the gold.   Today there is only one fragment of the city of Jerusalem still standing, the Wailing Wall.  It’s where the Jews go to pray for the Messiah to come.  They still refuse to recognize that He already came and they did not recognize the time of His visitation.  Some of you here today, I wonder if you recognize that today is the day of Christ’s visitation?  Today salvation has been presented to you.  The question is whether or not you will accept Jesus as Lord and follow Him or reject Him.

Immediately after entering the city, Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those that were selling. In vs. 46 Jesus says to them, "It is written, 'AND MY HOUSE SHALL BE A HOUSE OF PRAYER,' but you have made it a ROBBERS' DEN."  What an indictment against their house of worship!  They had prostituted the temple of God.  They had prostituted the sacrificial service.  They had set up money changers and animal brokers and so forth within the temple walls to supposedly accommodate those that were coming to worship God.  But instead they had corrupted the system to the point that instead of helping people worship God they were robbing people.

Ladies and gentlemen I am afraid that many churches today are prostituting the gospel of God.  The house of God has been turned into a carnival.  The church has bookstores and coffee shops and bazaars and dinners and marathons and car shows and flea markets and every possible entertainment and event going on.  Yet as Proverbs says the people perish for lack of vision.  The church has lost it’s vision, lost it’s purpose.  The church isn’t a community center.  It’s not a social hall.  It’s not a concert hall.  The church is a place where God’s people come together to worship God in Spirit and in truth.  It’s the place where the water of life is given freely and without charge.  It’s the place where people’s souls are fed, hearts are encouraged, and sinners are convicted.  It’s not a place where we try to make sinners feel good about themselves.  But where sinners repent and are delivered and set free.  But unfortunately many churches today are robbing people of the gospel of salvation.

In the earliest church in Jerusalem during the time of the apostles, they were feeding the widows and the apostles said let us set aside certain men for that task.  But as for us, the apostles said, “we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4)  That’s the priority of the church.  And that’s the priority of worship as well.

So Jesus cleaned house.  You know, I wish all these people that only believe that God is love could have been there that day when Jesus got a bull whip and overturned all the stalls and tables and drove out all the animals and vendors and money changers out of the temple.  I don’t think most of those people would recognize Jesus nor would they worship Him.  This was the second time by the way that Jesus cleaned out the temple.  In John’s account it says the disciples remembered the proverb that said, “the zeal for your house has consumed me.”

Folks, we need some old fashioned zeal for the house of God.  We need some zeal for the word of God and the preaching of the word of God.  We need to put an end to the prostitution of Christianity, the business of the church and get back to being about the business of the kingdom of God.

That’s what we see Jesus bringing the people back to in vs. 47, 48.  It says, after that “He was teaching daily in the temple; but the chief priests and the scribes and the leading men among the people were trying to destroy Him, and they could not find anything that they might do, for all the people were hanging on to every word He said.”  You see that?  Jesus was teaching daily in the temple.  He was preaching every day and the people were hanging on to His every word.  That’s zeal for God.  I long to see people with a zeal for the word of God, that don’t want to miss a service, don’t want to miss a message.  That are willing to sacrifice the enticements of the world for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ and becoming conformed to His image.

Jesus said in John 6:63 "the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”  Listen folks, Paul reminded Timothy to hold onto the scripture which he had learned  from childhood “which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”  Let’s not lose sight of the priority and preeminence of the word of God in our worship.  And then let us be obedient to the word of God.  And if we are obedient to the word of God then we will have no problem submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  And when the Lordship of Christ is evident in our lives then our lives will be a living testimony to the glory of God.  People will see our transformation, our good works and glorify God.

 I pray that starting today you will renounce superficial worship.  But diligently commit to living out Romans 12:1,2. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”